99% of music teachers want consultation on National Plan for Music Education
An ISM survey of music teachers shows 99% of respondents want to be consulted on the draft refreshed National Plan for Music Education before it is published.
The ISM's education report Music: A subject in peril?, published as we await the government's refreshed National Plan for Music Education (NPME), presents the findings from a survey of music teachers across the country. In the absence of any meaningful consultation with teachers on the contents of the refreshed NPME by the Department for Education, the ISM invited teachers to share their experiences and views with us directly.
Over 500 primary, secondary and peripatetic music teachers from all types of settings responded to our survey. Their responses tell a heartbreaking tale of the neglect and marginalisation of music in schools over the past decade. The report also makes recommendations based on its findings about what the government must do to address these issues.
It has been more than 10 years since the National Plan for Music Education (NPME) was published, 12 years since the introduction of the EBacc, and seven years since the introduction of Progress 8, all of which follows years of cuts to education spending. Schools are now attempting to recover from two years of serious disruption due to COVID-19, which impacted music provision across the country. Meanwhile, we await the long-anticipated refreshed NPME, due to be published in Spring 2022.
Against this backdrop, the ISM has published its latest music education report. The report takes stock of music provision in England’s secondary schools and looks at what must be done to improve it. The report collates and analyses the findings from the ISM’s recent survey of music teachers in England. Their accounts paint an honest and often sobering picture of decline and inequality in music provision across our schools. They also highlight the many wider policy issues beyond the scope of the refreshed NPME that need to be addressed by government if they want to deliver significant change in music education. For those who care about music education, some of the findings in this report will make for uncomfortable reading.
Music plays a valuable part in young people’s lives, both in the intrinsic value of studying music for its own sake, and in its wide-ranging extrinsic benefits. Susan Hallam, Professor of Education and Music Psychology, has shown that music can enhance language skills and literacy, support creativity, academic progress and attainment, enhance fine motor skills, motivate disaffected students and contribute to health and wellbeing. As the needs of employers change in the 21st century, and businesses look for broader skills and characteristics such as resilience, communication, and problem-solving, the importance of music in our schools becomes even more clear.
Music education is also a vital part of the creative pipeline that supports our world-leading creative industries, worth £116bn to the UK economy in 2019, and a valuable source of soft power internationally. In the challenging post-Brexit era, soft power will be more important than ever for the UK.
Yet music education in our schools has been steadily eroded over the past decade, as highlighted in Music Education: State of the Nation, published by the ISM, the University of Sussex and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Music Education in 2019. This report highlighted the significant negative impact of government policy on music education, through factors including accountability measures in secondary schools, and statutory English and maths tests in primary schools. Widening gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students, falling teacher recruitment numbers and a continuing decrease in the uptake of Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 music examination courses are all contributing to an overall decline in music education.
Underpinning all this is the issue of funding. Music is a curriculum subject and should be funded accordingly, yet real-term education spending per pupil fell 9% in the decade from 2009 to 2019, the largest cut in over 40 years. In order to address the wider issues surrounding music education, which are outside the scope of the NPME, it is essential that the government provides adequate funding for music education to schools. At the APPG for Music Education meeting in March 2022, experts from across the music sector agreed that variations in funding for school music affect the quality of provision, highlighting that no other subjects are expected to rely on outside agencies to deliver the curriculum in the way that music does.
A recent report by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Cost of the school day, found that ‘The cost of participating fully in musical opportunities at school is preventing pupils in low-income families from flourishing. Limited and stretched household incomes are directly having an impact on engagement and achievement in music for young people in England.’ The only way to achieve equity, accessibility and inclusion in music education is by ensuring equality of funding. Without this, the government’s Levelling Up agenda cannot succeed.
Although beyond the scope of the refreshed Plan, it is vital that the government reverses the devaluation of music as a curriculum subject, by addressing the accountability measures that have impacted both primary and secondary music provision. The report looks in detail at SATs, the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and Progress 8, and our findings show that these have all contributed to a narrowing of the curriculum, created a damaging hierarchy among subjects, and significantly decreased uptake of GCSE and A-level music courses. Reforming these accountability measures would go a long way to re-establishing music’s status in schools, even without additional funding.
The refreshed NPME
The NPME expired in Autumn 2020, and the refreshed NPME was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. The government carried out a Call for Evidence in 2020 to inform proposals for the new Plan. A press release launching the Call for Evidence on 9 February 2020 stated that the new NPME would shape the future of music education and that it would be the blueprint that would promote equal music opportunities. The ISM applauds the government’s ambition for the refreshed Plan. However, given the way in which the process has been undertaken and the limited remit of the Call for Evidence, we are doubtful that the refreshed Plan will deliver the stated ambition.
A Report on the Call for Evidence was published in 2021. Of over 5,000 responses received from individuals and organisations, 37.9% were from parents, and 35.3% were from individuals who were ‘a teacher or someone working in a school, college, music education hub or other music service’. The report showed that over a third of all respondents had not previously heard of the NPME, with the same number saying it had been ineffective in meeting its original vision.
There has been a lack of transparency surrounding the drafting of the refreshed NPME. Indeed its exact remit is unclear, although we do know from the Call for Evidence that it is unlikely to address wider policy issues such as funding and accountability measures. We also know that an expert panel, including representatives from academies and free schools, Music Hub leaders and the wider industry, has been working on it with the Department for Education (DfE), and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). There has been no official update on the work of the panel since its announcement in August 2021.
The ISM is deeply concerned about the lack of meaningful consultation with music teachers on the contents of the refreshed NPME. This is especially important given that none of the teaching members of the advisory panel are obliged to teach the National Curriculum. In addition, the questions in the Call for Evidence had a narrow focus, and failed to ask teachers how the NPME could be revised, ignoring the wealth of experience at their disposal from both the classroom and the peripatetic music workforce. Most importantly, the government press release of 9 February 2020 states that, ‘The responses [to the Call for Evidence] and experiences put forward will help inform changes to the plan which will then be fully consulted on.’
There is nothing to fear from consulting with music teachers. This is the opportunity for the DfE to learn from their knowledge and experience in order to improve the policy behind the refreshed NPME. Full consultation on the draft Plan would demonstrate how important it is to our education system, and would follow best practice in policy making. If the draft Plan is published this Spring, there is still plenty of time to hold a consultation before the new academic year begins. We have asked the DfE repeatedly to keep their promise and consult with the workforce on the refreshed NPME, and hope that they will reconsider their position urgently.
Summary of the ISM findings
In order to establish the current situation of music education in our schools and to seek the views of teachers both on the impacts of DfE policy and on how the NPME should be refreshed, the ISM ran a survey of classroom and peripatetic music teachers between November 2020 and January 2021.
Over 500 primary, secondary and peripatetic music teachers from all types of settings responded to the survey. The findings lay bare just how bad the situation is in our schools. They confirm that inequality in music education in England, which the NPME was meant to address, still exists – in classroom and instrumental provision, in Senior Leadership support, in the type of schools pupils attend and, most starkly, in funding.
Nearly 100% of respondents thought that music teachers should be consulted on the draft refreshed NPME before publication as originally promised by the DfE. Teachers shared their thoughts on how the NPME should be refreshed, with several themes emerging:
• Provide increased and ring-fenced funding for music departments and instrumental and vocal tuition
• Reverse the narrowing of the curriculum and reform the EBacc
• Support the workforce
• Raise the status of music
• Make provision diverse and accessible
• Ensure the NPME is realistic to deliver
The results also show that music education provision varies greatly, with some schools offering the bare minimum, and others offering a wealth of both classroom and extra-curricular experiences. COVID-19 is still having a negative effect on some musical activities, mostly within primary settings, with extra-curricular ensembles and choirs still not having resumed in some schools.
Teachers reported that the Key Stage 3 (KS3) curriculum continues to be narrowed, mostly in academies, either through placing music on a carousel or rota system with other subjects, or through a shortened KS3. They also told us overwhelmingly that accountability measures such as the EBacc and Progress 8 have caused harm to music education, both in relation to KS3 provision, KS4 subject uptake and post-16 options.
Lack of funding for music departments came across strongly in the data. Overall, 61% of respondents said that their budget was insufficient. 67% of teachers working in academies and free schools and 57% of teachers working in maintained schools said their budget was insufficient. Our survey data showed that the mean yearly departmental budget in maintained schools was £1,865, while in academies and free schools it was £2,152 and in independent schools £9,917.
Teachers reported low per-pupil spending (in one case as low as £1 per pupil per annum) and significant budget cuts, which they felt was limiting the learning of pupils and stifling department growth. They often had to raise additional funds through concerts, in order to provide resources for their students, and in some cases paying for smaller items like drumsticks themselves.
Overall, the responses provide a heartbreaking account of the neglect and marginalisation of music in schools. The government’s failure to consult teachers about the refreshed NPME only reinforces the impression that the subject is undervalued, and its teachers are not respected. Music teachers consistently show an extraordinary level of passion, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice and commitment, particularly evident during the pandemic, and their views deserve to be heard. This report seeks to tell their story.
The recommendations of this report relate to the current situation in school music departments in England, the continued decline of music in schools and the measures which need to be put in place to address them, including teachers’ own suggestions.
Music teachers want to be consulted on the draft refreshed NPME before publication.
They want the refreshed NPME to include:
• Increased, ring-fenced funding for music departments and instrumental and vocal tuition
• Action on the narrowing of the curriculum and reform of accountability measures
• Support for the music workforce – both classroom teachers and peripatetic instrumental and vocal teachers
• Recognition of the need for a higher subject profile and to increase its perceived value
They also want the refreshed NMPE to be:
• Fully representative of Early Years, Post-18 and SEND provision, including a more inclusive and diverse curriculum
• Realistic to deliver, recognising the differences which exist between schools, funding and resources
Based on the findings of this report, the ISM calls for the government to:
• Keep its promise and consult the sector on the contents of the refreshed NPME before final publication
• Ensure the refreshed NPME is the blueprint that promotes equal music opportunities, as promised
• Provide additional funding to support delivery of the refreshed NPME for curriculum music as well as Music Education Hubs
• Ensure the refreshed NPME provides clarity as to the roles and responsibilities of schools and Music Education Hubs relating to the delivery of a music education for all pupils
• Ensure that classroom music, including a strong focus on singing, is at the heart of the refreshed NPME
• Ensure the refreshed NPME addresses the quality, provision and access to music education for Early Years and SEND pupils, and improves signposting of music-education opportunities for 18–25-year-olds
• Publish details on how the implementation and delivery of the refreshed NPME is to be monitored
• Reform the secondary accountability measures to prevent a narrowing of the curriculum at KS3 and fewer opportunities for studying music at KS4 and KS5
• Ensure the delivery of the Arts Premium that was not only a Conservative manifesto promise but previously agreed in the 2020 budget
• Revisit the purpose and delivery of whole-class ensemble teaching so that the funding can produce the best results possible
• Ensure music teachers are properly remunerated, trained and supported and address the insecurity of the peripatetic instrumental and vocal teacher workforce. The Plan must not be used as a way of reducing wages and increasing insecurity to make budgets stretch further
• Promote the value of music both within its own right and for its benefits beyond formal skills and qualifications
Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians said:
‘I cannot overstate the importance of the ISM’s new report, ‘Music: a subject in peril?’. Hundreds of music teachers took the time to tell us their experiences in the classroom and this report is an honest reflection of their experiences.
This is a critical time for music education with the refreshed National Plan for Music Education due any time now. Although the Plan has an important part to play in the future of music education, it will not be able to fix the issues which the report uncovers. We call on the DfE to adopt the recommendations of the report which can be found here.
In particular we need to address the huge inequalities in music education which are rooted in inadequate funding, and there needs to be a fundamental overhaul of the accountability measures, in particular Progress 8.
What is clear is that our music teachers are dedicated and passionate and they know what good music education is. The Department for Education must commit to a full consultation on the refreshed National Plan for Music Education before implementation.’
If you have any questions about the report or would like any further information, please contact the ISM's Head of External Affairs, Colin Stuart, at [email protected].
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