Music education: call for evidence – further guidance

The ISM has put together some further pointers on areas which you may wish to include when responding to the Call for Evidence from the Department for Education. The Call for Evidence closes on Friday 13 March 2020.

The importance of music education

All children should have access to a high-quality music education. Studying music builds cultural knowledge and skills. It improves children’s physical and mental health, wellbeing and wider educational attainment. Participation in music, coupled with a coherent and sustained music education, delivers positive benefits to wider cognitive development (e.g. improved literacy and numeracy skills). Music education also plays an important role in social mobility, contributing to improved life outcomes.

In the UK, the creative industries, worth more than £111 billion to the UK economy, rely heavily on the pipeline of creative talent from schools which has been essential in creating the UK’s world-renowned music industry (worth £5.2 billion).

Curriculum music

In the context of a persistent decline in music education in England, it is pleasing to note the DfE’s position in the introduction to the Call for Evidence that the “opportunity to study and understand music isn’t a privilege, but a vital part of a broad and balanced curriculum”. Curriculum music is the foundation of an effective music education. Access for all is fundamental: high quality music education must take place in the classroom, in all schools irrespective of status, across Key Stages 1, 2, and 3. A culture of singing should be embedded in all schools via classroom teaching, supported by Hubs as necessary.

High-quality curriculum music education includes performance, composition and listening as key aspects of musical knowledge, skills and understanding. Academies are not obliged to follow the National Curriculum (of which music is a statutory component), which is problematic given that 72% of secondary schools and 27% of primary schools are academies, according to the National Audit Office. Music must also be taught across Key Stage 3 and not prematurely curtailed in order to prepare for GCSEs or KS4 equivalents. Schools need to receive clear guidance from the DfE that headline accountability measures must not erode the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum at Key Stage 3.

This is particularly important given the decline in uptake of music at GCSE (-16.7% between 2014 and 2018) and at A Level (-38% between 2010 and 2018) (APPG for Music Education 2019). The ISM reiterates its call to create a sixth pillar for creative subjects.

Teacher workforce

The high-quality delivery of music education in the classroom depends on a workforce that is sufficient both in number and quality. The number of classroom music teachers at both primary and secondary level has declined significantly (a 13% drop in the number of music teachers between 2010 and 2017), and many work in single-person departments without time to access professional development. Music should be taught by a subject specialist teacher as part of the curriculum in all state schools for all pupils for at least one hour every week across all of a three-year Key Stage 3, so that all pupils receive a sustained high quality music education. All secondary schools should have at least one full time music teacher who exclusively teaches music. It is crucial that the role of classroom music teachers is re-prioritised by the DfE, focusing on recruitment, retention, and professional development so that all schools are equipped to provide a high-quality music education to all students.

NPME and Hubs

Building on the foundations of curriculum music, a broad music education includes instrumental learning and ensemble membership, as well as attending musical events and participating in other extra-curricular activities. The National Plan for Music Education (NPME) and Music Education Hubs (Hubs) have played an important role in these aspects of music education. The main objective of the NPME when it was launched in 2011 was to ensure that access to music education was not impacted by a postcode lottery.

To achieve the Government’s policy of levelling up access to music education, the refresh of the NPME is a great opportunity to improve access to and quality of music education, particularly in areas of deprivation. This needs to be supported in messages from the Department for Education and also Ofsted. The DfE should take steps to speak directly to school governing bodies to communicate the value of music education in schools and Hubs.

Funding of Hubs

The refresh of the NPME cannot succeed if Hubs are not funded properly. It is to be welcomed that there has been a slight increase this year from £75.84 million in 2019/2020 to £76,105,440 in 2020/2021. However, the current figure of £76.1m is not enough to deliver quality music education provision to a growing school population, retain a quality workforce and combat reductions in funding from local authorities.

Hubs cannot deliver their core and extended roles effectively without sufficient and sustained funding. Many peripatetic music teachers suffer job insecurity because of the current funding regime. This needs to be addressed in the refreshed NPME.

Hub roles and KPIs

In order to ensure the effective delivery of music education for all pupils in schools and Hubs, the NPME refresh must provide clarity as to the roles and responsibilities of schools and Hubs. The metrics for measuring the work delivered in response to the NPME need to be revised to go beyond ‘levels of activity’ currently used.


Finally, the revised NPME should address the quality, provision and access to music for all students. In particular this means addressing music education for Early Years, students with SEND, and children from deprived areas. In addition, the NPME should improve signposting of music education opportunities for 18 to 25-year-olds.

The Call for Evidence closes on Friday 13 March 2020.