Revival of Music Education in Schools Faces Challenges, Experts Warn
As the September deadline looms for schools to unveil their “music development plan,” subject experts are cautioning that the government’s efforts to revitalize music education will fall short without additional training, funding, and specialized teachers.
The national music education plan, introduced last year, calls for a “high-quality music provision” across three areas: curriculum, co-curricular, and enrichment. Schools are expected to dedicate at least an hour a week per term to teaching music to 5- to 14-year-olds.
Sean Dingley, director of music at the Ridgeway Education Trust, expressed concerns that the government’s goals will remain unattainable without recruiting more music teachers and providing increased support for primary teachers. The pressure of standardized tests (Sats) and the English Baccalaureate further compounds the challenges.
According to non-statutory guidance, schools should ensure access to music lessons on various instruments and voice, provide space for rehearsals and individual practice, and organize regular performances and live experiences for students.
To support the implementation of the national plan, music hubs have been encouraged to create local “ecosystems” for music education, with schools purchasing whole-class teaching packages and instrument lessons from hubs. The Department for Education has allocated £79 million per year to fund these hubs until 2025, along with £25 million for instrument purchases.
While experts welcomed the focus on music education, there are concerns about the sustainability of funding for whole-class instrument teaching. Currently, schools often fund the first year of teaching, but afterward, the financial burden falls on parents, potentially creating inequalities.
Diana Salazar, director of programmes at the Royal College of Music, acknowledged the positive step of offering whole-class instrumental teaching to Year 3 or 4 students but raised concerns about the future of talented students. Without continued support, there is a risk that music education could become the privilege of the wealthy and privately educated.
Recent data shows a decline in the uptake of GCSE music in England since 2008, along with a drop of 12% in recruitment to music teacher training courses since last year.
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, criticized the government for sidelining the creative arts and argued that more funding and a review of school accountability measures are necessary to address the underlying issues.
In response to these concerns, the Department for Education stressed its commitment to providing every child with high-quality music education. To monitor progress, the department established a monitoring board composed of experts dedicated to tracking the implementation of the commitments outlined in the National Plan for Music Education.