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ISM report highlights devastating impact of COVID-19 on music education

Today, the ISM has published a ground-breaking report entitled The heart of the school is missing, which looks at the devastating impact of COVID-19 on music education in our schools across the UK. Most shocking is the discovery that almost 10% of primary and secondary schools are not teaching class music at all, even though it is a requirement of the curriculum.

The key findings include:

  • 68% of primary school and 39% of secondary school teachers stating that music provision is being reduced.
  • Extra-curricular activities are no longer taking place in 72% of primary schools and 66% of secondary schools this academic year.

About the report

Studying music must not become the preserve of the privileged few but this research has highlighted worrying inequalities for pupils at a local and national level. This has huge implications for diversity. Teachers are constantly adapting, but COVID-19 has exacerbated a postcode lottery which is contributing to an ever-widening gap between those who can access instrumental tuition and those who cannot.

The evidence from the report is clear, COVID-19 threatens to further erode music education in the UK. The ISM urges all four governments across the UK to implement the recommendations made in this report, particularly amending guidance on music teaching and introducing a consistent approach to assessment. We also call on the DfE to publish the revised National Plan for Music education without delay.

In a blog reflecting on the report’s findings, the Incorporated Society of Musicians’ Chief Executive, Deborah Annetts, said:


‘We are disappointed but not surprised to discover that music education provision is being reduced in our schools as a direct result of the pandemic, with opportunities for pupils to make and create music even more limited both in and out of the classroom. Our survey findings suggest all aspects of music education are being impacted including singing in schools, practical music making, instrumental learning and examinations.

'It is vital that every child can access a quality music education. Therefore there needs to be sustained and meaningful leadership across the governments of all four nations actively encouraging safe music teaching in schools. We need to see clear, timely and consistent guidance across all four nations for the rest of the 2020/21 academic year and beyond so that music education is not disrupted further. If we do not do this then not only will less privileged children go without, but the heart of the school will be damaged in the long term.’


The full blog can be read here.

More information

The survey of UK music teachers was launched on Monday 7 September 2020 and ran until 5 October 2020. Within that time, 1,307 responses were received.

Singing, practical music making, extra-curricular activities and instrumental lessons are all being negatively affected by coronavirus:

  • Teachers report that face-to-face instrumental lessons were not continuing in 35% of primary schools and 28% of secondary schools.
  • 86% of secondary music teachers report that they have re-written schemes of work due to coronavirus.
  • 16% of secondary music teachers report that they have no access at all to specialist music classrooms and 43% of music teachers are required to move between non-specialist classrooms to teach some or all music this academic year.

One teacher was even quoted as saying they have been forced to use 15 B & Q buckets as drums in the classroom.

Music teachers’ health and well-being are being negatively impacted through the changes they are experiencing in the delivery of classroom and extra-curricular music as well as the reduced support they are receiving from their schools.

ISM campaigns

Going forward, the ISM will continue to argue that a broad and balanced curriculum must be delivered in all schools, whatever their status, across all four nations of the UK. Part of that board and balanced curriculum must be music.

To ensure that music education is protected, the ISM is calling for the governments of all four nations to:

  • Demonstrate clear leadership, through actively encouraging safe music teaching in schools and the wider community.
  • Provide clear, timely and consistent guidance to facilitate music teaching for the rest of the 2020/21 academic year and beyond.
  • Adopt a consistent approach to exams and assessments, ensuring that some subjects are not prioritised over others.
  • Guarantee that pupils sitting music assessments are rewarded for their achievements and that none are disadvantaged by the pandemic.

We also call on the DfE to implement the recommendations set out in the ISM’s State of the Nation report on music education published in 2019.

Young people deserve access to a world class music education, sustained over a period of time to enable them to progress, and the ISM will always be at the forefront of campaigning to make that happen.