Mixed Quality in Music Education
Ofsted report on music education in England
Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, has released a subject report delving into the state of music education across schools in England. The findings reveal a significant disparity in the quality of music instruction, both in primary and secondary schools. While strides have been made since Ofsted’s 2012 report on music education, especially at the primary level, there is still much room for improvement.
Primary School Music Integration
Strong Emphasis on Singing
In the primary sector, the report indicates that almost all young pupils have regular opportunities to engage with music as part of the curriculum. Music lessons are conducted weekly in key stage 1 and 2, with a notable focus on teaching pupils to sing. Singing emerges as the standout element in the primary school music curriculum.
Secondary Schools Falling Short
Inadequate Time Allocated to Music
However, the picture changes when we shift our focus to secondary schools. Ofsted’s research reveals that a considerable number of secondary schools do not allocate sufficient time to music education. There is a pronounced variation in the amount of curriculum time dedicated to music in key stage 3. Alarmingly, in nearly half of the schools visited, leaders failed to ensure that students had the necessary time to follow the curriculum as intended, leaving them ill-prepared for further musical studies. Most secondary institutions failed to capitalize on the progress and enjoyment of singing that pupils had experienced during their primary years.
Music Education’s Core Focus
Emphasis on Musical Improvement
In schools with robust music curriculums, the report identifies a clear focus on teaching pupils to excel in music rather than simply engaging in musical activities. Many senior leaders recognize the pivotal role that extra-curricular music, both instrumental and vocal, plays in complementing the curriculum. However, challenges persist in re-establishing extra-curricular lessons as schools return to normalcy following the disruptions caused by COVID-19.
Challenges in Teacher Confidence
Confidence Gaps in Music Instruction
The report also highlights issues with teacher confidence, particularly in primary schools, where educators often lack confidence in teaching music and demonstrating high-quality work to their pupils.
Amanda Spielman, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, commented:
“I’m pleased to see primary schools prioritizing music in the curriculum. However, it’s evident that secondary schools need to allocate more time to music, and in most cases, teachers require additional support to deliver high-quality music education. I hope school leaders and teachers can use our report to develop robust music curriculums that prepare students for advanced musical studies.”
Recommendations for Improved Music Education
Ofsted’s Recommendations to Enhance Music Learning
The report puts forward several recommendations to help schools ensure that all students receive a high-quality music education. These include:
- Supporting subject leaders in developing a curriculum that systematically and progressively cultivates musical skills in all students.
- Ensuring that students have ample opportunities to nurture their musical talents and interests through extracurricular activities and instrumental or vocal lessons.
- Encouraging teachers to provide ongoing feedback to students, enhancing their musical technique and expressive quality.
- Continuously enhancing teachers’ subject knowledge, including their musical proficiency and their comprehension of high-quality musical performance suitable for their students’ age group.
- Actively seeking support from local music hubs and other sources of expertise to enhance and refine the curriculum.
The report’s subject visits took place between December 2022 and June 2023, providing a comprehensive assessment of the state of music education in England’s schools.