Music teaching too variable in quality and often not given enough time

Ofsted has today published a subject report looking at how music is being taught in England's schools

The report draws on evidence from subject visits to a sample of primary and secondary schools.

Read the ‘Striking the right note: the music subject report’ .

The report found that there is significant variation in the quality of music education in both primary and secondary schools. Since Ofsted’s report into music education in 2012, many schools, particularly at primary level, have taken important steps to make music more prominent in the curriculum. We found that almost all primary school children had frequent opportunities to learn music in reception and music was taught weekly in key stage 1 and 2. The strongest aspect of the curriculum in primary schools was teaching pupils to sing.

While many primary pupils now have regular opportunities to learn music as part of the curriculum, at secondary level, Ofsted’s research shows that too many schools still do not give music enough time. There was considerable variation in the amount of curriculum time allocated to music in key stage 3. In just under half the schools visited, leaders had not made sure that pupils had enough time to learn the curriculum as planned by the school. This meant that pupils were not adequately prepared for further musical study. Most secondary schools did not build on the strong progress and enjoyment that pupils had experienced in their singing at primary school.

The sample of schools we visited showed that those with stronger musical curriculums focused on teaching pupils to get better at music rather than just having them ‘do’ music. Most senior leaders understood the critical role that extra-curricular music, both instrumental and vocal, played in complementing the curriculum. However, there are ongoing challenges re-establishing extra-curricular lessons as schools return to normal following COVID-19.

Many teachers, particularly in primary schools, reported lacking confidence in teaching music, including demonstrating high-quality work to their pupils.

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said:

"I’m pleased to see primary schools making music more prominent in the curriculum. However, music is not given enough time in secondary schools and it’s clear that in most schools, teachers need more support to deliver a high-quality music education.

"I hope school leaders and teachers can use our report to develop strong music curriculums that prepare students for future study."

The report makes a number of recommendations to help schools ensure all pupils receive a high-quality music education, including:

  • Supporting subject leaders to develop a curriculum that deliberately and incrementally teaches all pupils to become more musical.
  • Making sure that all pupils can develop their musical talents and interests, by offering extra-curricular activities as well as instrumental and vocal lessons.
  • Ensuring that teachers provide ongoing feedback to pupils that improves pupils’ music-making in both technique and expressive quality.
  • Continuously developing teachers’ subject knowledge, including their musicianship skills and their understanding of what high-quality music-making should sound like for pupils in the age group they teach; this approach should align with the choices set out in the school’s curriculum.
  • Actively seeking the support of local music hubs or other sources of expertise when developing and improving the curriculum.

All subject visits were carried out between December 2022 and June 2023.