Music education questionnaire - the results

Our survey of ISM music education professionals identified access to live musicians, better primary teacher training and free instrumental tuition for all as important priorities. Deborah Annetts outlines the findings, and explains what’s next.

Following on from a number of articles looking at different aspects of music education, we asked for your views on what constitutes an excellent music education using a questionnaire made available both online and by post.

The responses we received came from head teachers, class teachers, music service managers, private teachers, lecturers, accompanists, conductors and examiners – a real cross-section of our membership. Many respondents were educators from state, independent and specialist schools, as well as universities, conservatoires and other higher education institutions. A large number of members worked at primary and secondary levels but we also received questionnaires from people working in early years, higher education and conservatoires. Of the respondents who taught in state schools, 25% also taught in an independent school.

The majority of responses came from respondents based in England, but we also received questionnaires from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and overseas.

There were many thoughtful and interesting comments which provided invaluable information about the current state of music education, and the issues which concern you. This article details some of the major themes which emerged from the responses.

Strengths of the present music curriculum

The first interesting result was that there was strong support for the current music curriculum for its broad scope, hands-on experiences, and opportunities for performing, listening and composing. Respondents liked its inclusivity, variety and diversity, as well as its flexibility and creativity. The ‘fun’ element, the use of music technology and the good balance of development of skills and senses were also praised.

Weaknesses of the present music curriculum

The strongest criticism of the current music curriculum was its lack of notation, depth and musical literacy. There was concern about the skill level of the workforce at primary school level, resulting in provision which lacked consistency and a curriculum which was not always well taught. This was especially applicable to Key Stage 1 and 2. There was also concern that classical music was being lost and that there was too great a jump between level 9 to GCSE and GCSE to A Level standards.

We were very interested at the high level of engagement of our members in government music initiatives. In particular our members were heavily involved in Wider Opportunities as well as Sing Up and Creative Partnerships.

Positive outcomes from these initiatives

Respondents overwhelmingly supported the government initiative on singing, and also felt that Wider Opportunities had increased musicianship and instrumental take-up. The initiatives were also seen as helping deprived children (boys in particular) become more involved in music than they might have done and as playing a role in building confidence and self-awareness (both in children and staff). Respondents endorsed the wider access being given to music and felt these initiatives were raising the profile of music in schools and in society generally.

Negative outcomes from these initiatives

There was concern that not all primary schools had benefited from these initiatives. A common concern was that primary schools were using them to cover for PPA time and that classroom teachers were not always engaged with these opportunities. There was a concern that access was restricted to a limited number of pupils. Most respondents wanted these initiatives to be funded on a more sustainable basis but at the same time there was also a wish for a rigorous review of their effectiveness.

Funding of music teaching in the state sector

There was universal condemnation of the lack of funding of music teaching. In addition, funding was viewed as ‘uncertain’, ‘insecure’, ‘erratic’ and ‘patchy’. One respondent said ‘the loss of free instrumental teaching has been devastating in state schools’. The lack of provision of music teaching to deprived children was a major concern with the cost of instrumental teaching proving prohibitive for many. The role of Head teachers was also something many respondents raised with not all of them being seen as supportive to music. Indeed a repeated comment was that funding needed to be ‘ring-fenced’ so that Head Teachers could not use it for other subjects.

Important aspects in music education

Respondents felt that aural skills and singing were the most important aspects of music education, followed by ensemble work and instrumental skills with composition and music technology seen as least important.

There was a high level of course attendance with nearly 30% of respondents attending continuing education.

What makes a good music education?

There were strong themes in the responses to this question. Practical participation, singing, instrumental learning, live experience and enjoyment were all rated extremely highly. Other areas highlighted were creativity, composition, listening, rhythm, musical literacy and aural skills.

In order to deliver a good music education, teachers should ‘know their stuff’ and be able to make music ‘accessible’ and ‘fun’ with children being involved in the process. One respondent who summed up the thoughts of many said that a good music education ‘should give children awareness and respect for all musical genres, open up opportunities and expand knowledge.’

Another suggested that ‘a good music education should prepare those who wish to work in the profession, give children the opportunity to enjoy music and create a literate audience for the future.’

How can we engage children with classical music?

There was an extraordinary unanimity in response to this question. By far the most common response was that children should have the chance to work with ‘real live classical musicians.’ The preferred route was for children to get as close to working musicians as possible with ensembles or performers coming into schools. Experiencing live classical music was seen as critical.

One respondent commented ‘never teach anyone anything until they are ready to learn.’ Others made classical music accessible by using short extracts from well-known pieces, contextualising the music, asking children to compose music based on a theme and then finding as many links to classical music as possible. A recurrent theme was that music teachers must be inspiring and take children on an exciting journey. The word ‘inspire’ was mentioned frequently.

If I were Education Minister for a day...

We asked respondents how they would improve music education if they were Education Minister for the day. This generated many detailed responses, with members clearly engaged by the nature of the question. The key issues which emerged were teacher training (music and classroom teachers), access to instrumental teaching, funding and issues around the curriculum.

  • There was a very strong desire for instrumental teaching to be free to all. Many respondents were concerned that deprived children were missing out on instrumental teaching, and that the charges levied made it exclusive. There was also a desire for greater provision of instruments for children and endorsement of the instrument amnesty. It was felt that access to music centres should be available to all and music services should be better funded and expanded. There was also a call for professional ensembles to visit state schools and for composer and artist residencies in schools.
  • There was real concern about what is currently happening in primary schools. Many respondents called for every primary school to have a qualified, specialist music teacher. Better music teacher training for primary classroom teachers was called for so teachers had an appreciation of the benefits of music education. The importance of quality teacher training with musical competency within the PGCE and practical INSET training was repeatedly stressed for primary school teachers..
  • Singing, listening and aural skills were viewed as very important with inspired progression and higher expectation of pupils’ abilities something to be aimed for. The importance of singing was mentioned many times. There was a desire for Head Teachers to be more supportive of the role of music in schools and many respondents wanted music made more central to the curriculum with an increased status and profile.
  • Better linkage was needed: between different levels of schools, between the national curriculum, instrumental teaching and extra-curricular teaching and for a more inter-disciplinary approach to music teaching. Respondents also asked the ISM to highlight the work going on in early years provision, adult and community education and we will address this over the coming months.

What next?

Many thanks to all of you who completed our music education questionnaire. They were all read with interest, and as you can see from the analysis, will assist us as we begin formulating our policy on music education and what it should look like in the UK over the coming years.