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Making the case for music

On Thursday 22 February 2018 Kevin Rogers, County Music Inspector for Hampshire and a Council Member of the ISM and Henry Vann, Head of External Affairs at the ISM spoke at Rhinegold’s Music Education Expo about Making the case for music. This article is a summary which we hope will be helpful to colleagues working across music education.

Head teachers and your school’s senior leadership team are likely to be personally supportive of music. However, they are caught professionally between a rock (finance) and a hard place (accountability) when it comes to music in schools.

With budgets still under pressure, and accountability measures like the EBacc and Progress 8 working against music’s place in the curriculum(see evidence from the Education Policy Institute and University of Sussex), school leaders need your help to make the case for music.

Above all else, you need good quality music teaching that is creative, imaginative and inclusive: make it so strong that students and parents demand that your school continues to support music.

To demonstrate the quality of your curriculum and wider work, do you conduct student interviews and share the outcomes with your school’s senior leadership team (SLT)? Have you ever encouraged parents to send in letters about the difference music is making to their children? Feedback from your local community after musical events could be helpful too.

Encourage your SLT to consider the overall value of expenditure on music and not simply the specific cost of supporting, for instance, instrumental or vocal lessons for some students. We have gathered together the following suggestions from conversations over many years which we hope might be helpful are you make the case for music:

To demonstrate the value of school expenditure on music, we have to be able to demonstrate that all pupils genuinely engage with and benefit from music. Do all pupils regularly hear music played by students in assemblies, formal and informal concerts?

For example: can soloists for a concert do a practise run in front of their classmates? Do instrumental learners always bring their instruments to class lesson, so that their peers can benefit from their expertise? Do informal musical events (for example House Music Competitions) genuinely enable all students to participate? And who is involved: have you made sure you can track the involvement of children who are looked after, those entitled to pupil premium support and those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)? Do you routinely get students to describe the impact of musical events they have attended or participated in – and share this feedback with senior leaders?

These are all important to consider when proving to senior school leaders the value of music within our own institutions. But there is also wider research that we can draw on: the evidence is there if you look.

There are of course many resources out there demonstrating the positive impact of music education but here are two that draw a lot of evidence together – use them to find the research on how music can support specific aspects of learning / brain development that are the current focus of your school (for example ‘memory strategies’):

This is your brain on music by Daniel Levitin, and Professor Susan Hallam’s excellent review of evidence in The Power of Music.

More focused on the impact of learning an instrument is the recent pilot study by Professor Susan Hallam and Kevin Rogers, published in the British Journal of Music Education (BJME), which found that pupils learning a musical instrument experienced ‘greater progress and better academic outcomes than those not playing with the greatest impact for those playing the longest.’

As well as this evidence, your local music education hub can be your strongest ally when you are making the case for music in your school.

Wiltshire Music Connect, the local music hub in Wiltshire, produced an excellent resource called Why music matters. This resource summarises why music and music education is important and it helps promote music.

Even Ofsted might help: Ofsted’s mood music is changing: Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector and the head of Ofsted, warned against cutting Key Stage 3 short in 2017, saying: ‘Curtailing key stage 3 means prematurely cutting this off for children who may never have an opportunity to study some of these subjects again.’

If you add to this Ofsted’s commitment pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development then their inspections may be a friend.

And as additional information, universities don’t require students to have studied the EBacc. In fact, the Russell Group’s Informed Choices document states that the EBacc ‘is not currently required for entry to any Russell Group university’ and there is currently no published evidence to support claims that EBacc subjects are more valuable.

Finally, businesses just might be your friend.

The creative industries are work £92 billion a year to the UK economy – that’s bigger the oil, gas, life sciences, aerospace and automotive industries combined! They employ around three million people and are growing faster than the rest of the economy.

But even beyond our own industry, music is clearly a winner:

According to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) four of the top ten universities in the UK for graduate employment are specialist music education institutions. (This figure rises to six out of ten if you include all arts institutions.)

IBM say that creativity was ‘selected as most crucial factor for future success.’

A major report by Deloitte on the growing threat of automation says that ‘in the future, businesses will need more skills, including: digital know-how, management capability, creativity, entrepreneurship and complex problem solving.’

And the CBI report First Steps: A new approach for our schools, published in November 2012, identified the preparation of children who are ‘Determined, optimistic and emotionally intelligent’ citing ‘creativity’ as one of those core attributes.

This is all neatly summer up by Rudi Bogni, a former UBS Executive who said in the Times Higher Education on 25 September 2008:

‘During my professional life I have interviewed thousands of applicants. Forced to choose between a narrow-minded MBA and a broad-minded, intellectually curious graduate in music, I always chose the latter. I could train the musician to be a smart banker, but the MBA who thought he had learnt everything could no longer be stimulated or moulded into someone who never stops having doubts.’


This article is just a brief introduction to some of the evidence out there that can help you make the case for music in your school. If you want to get involved nationally, we would recommend joining the ISM as the subject association for individual music educators and signing up to support our trailblazing Bacc for the Future campaign – supported by more than 30,000 people and more than 200 organisations – at

But ultimately the best advocate for music in your school is you, and your teaching.

Useful links

There are also a number of useful social media groups that you may want to join if you are involved in GCSE and A Level music teaching as other teachers can help provide advice and respond to any questions you may have:

Download the Hampshire GCSE music leaflet

Download the Hampshire student survey questions