Press release

Not enough music in music lessons

In a major survey over the last 3 years Ofsted found wide differences in the quality and quantity of music education in English schools.

One in 5 of the schools visited were judged inadequate for music. The findings and recommendations are published in a report today.

In too many music lessons there was insufficient emphasis placed on active music making, and too much focus on talking or written exercises. The scarcity of good vocal work in secondary schools, where nearly half of those inspected were judged inadequate for singing, and the underuse of music technology across all levels were found to be significant barriers to pupils’ musical progress. For example, insufficient use was made of audio recording to assess and improve pupils’ work.

Across the primary and secondary schools visited, around twice as many girls as boys were involved in extra-curricular activities. In secondary schools, only 6% of students with disabilities or special educational needs were involved in additional tuition, compared to 14% of students without these needs.

Nearly all the schools recognised the importance of promoting a diverse range of musical styles, but far fewer had a clear understanding about how students should make good musical progress. The report, ‘Music in schools: wider still, and wider’, is complemented by six new films (link below) exemplifying good practice in a wide range of settings, designed to help all schools.

Launching the report, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said:

Inspectors looking at music teaching in nearly 200 schools saw quality ranging from outstandingly good to extremely poor. Too often, inspectors simply did not see enough music in music lessons.

Too much use was made of non-musical activities such as writing without any reference to musical sound. Too much time was spent talking about tasks without teachers actually demonstrating what was required musically, or allowing the pupils to get on with their music making. Assessment was often inaccurate, over-complex or unmusical, particularly in secondary schools. All this limited time for practical music, detracting from pupils’ musical improvement and enjoyment.

School leaders need to monitor and challenge robustly the quality of music teaching and curriculum planning. I hope that schools and the new music hubs will use our recommendations to improve the quality of their music education.

The report recommends that schools give sufficient, regular time for developing aural awareness and musical understanding, and ensure that opportunities for pupils’ practical, creative application and response to music are given priority.

It recommends that schools do more to ensure the sustained participation and musical achievement of specific groups of pupils; particularly boys; pupils with special educational needs; pupils known to be in receipt of free school meals; and children who are looked after.

Best practice case studies of music teaching highlighted in the report include a range of lessons from every type of school in different styles (see notes below). Poor teaching also highlighted shows entire lessons, for example, where teachers did not play or sing a single note. In one lesson students sat passively while the teacher spent almost 20 minutes explaining complicated assessment objectives. One Year 9 class completed the copying of information about the lives of Eric Clapton and Johnny Cash but did not engage in musical activity.

The six films include examples which highlight the impact external providers can have on achievement and participation. These films cover a diverse range of schools, including a primary school where 98% of pupils are from minority ethnic groups, a high-attaining boys’ secondary school, and a special school for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties.

Notes to editors:

  1. The report, ‘Music in schools: wider still, and wider - quality and inequality in music education 2008-11’ is available online.

  2. Good practice films to accompany the report, are available on YouTube.

To complement the report, Ofsted revisited six schools from the 2008-11 music survey. The six schools represent a range of contexts; five were graded good or outstanding in their music survey inspection and the sixth school was visited as part of the ‘good practice’ sample. Each film lasts for about 15 minutes. Discussions with the headteacher (including consideration of how he or she manages and supports music in the school), teachers, and external partners are included, as well as showing a range of classroom and extra-curricular practice. The films also explore the further improvements that the schools have made since they were visited by Ofsted. Each film focuses a number of different aspects and priorities highlighted in this report.

  1. Links to the videos on YouTube:

Music in schools: wider still and wider. Good practice case study London Oratory School

Music in schools: wider still and wider. Good practice case study John Scurr Primary School

Music in schools: wider still and wider. Good practice case study Flegg High School

Music in schools: wider still and wider. Good practice case study Churchfields Junior School

Music in schools: wider still and wider. Good practice case study Whitefields Schools and Centre

Music in schools: wider still and wider. Good practice case study Cotham School

  1. The report is based on evidence from inspections of music between September 2008 and July 2011 in 90 primary schools and 90 secondary schools. The schools were selected to provide a sample of those in differing contexts and geographical locations across England. However, the schools selected for the survey did not include schools that were in special measures or had been given a notice to improve. A further nine primary schools and one special school were visited to observe examples of good practice that were nominated, through the Department for Education, by local authority music services, and by national music initiatives. Inspectors observed classroom curriculum lessons, assemblies, extra-curricular activities and instrumental lessons; held discussions with headteachers, teachers, students, pupils, parents and others involved in partnerships; and scrutinised documentation, as well as pupils’ and students’ work. Observations were also drawn from visits by inspectors to performance events including the annual National Festival of Music for Youth in Birmingham and The Schools’ Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

  2. Best practice case studies of music teaching highlighted in the report include a range of lessons from every type of school in a range of styles, for example two Year 9 lessons:

In one school a lesson started with a simple counting game. Next the teacher played a musical idea, several times over, while they continued counting. After picking up this idea the whole class was soon singing and counting. They listened then to a recording of music by Purcell; more advanced students with the score and others the base line notation until they all understood how the bass worked, internalising the music by focusing on vocalising and listening. The students left the lesson, literally knowing the music ‘inside out’.

Another Year 9 lesson was conducted almost wholly in musical sound. After increasingly complex polyrhythmic games on djembe drums, the teacher added vocals and tuned percussion riffs. The students listened carefully and sang back the riffs. Using these ideas, they then began creating group compositions. Through outstanding practical activity, without notation and little verbal instruction, the students grasped an excellent aural understanding and this helped them to produce creative, musical compositions.

  1. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

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Published 2 March 2012