Music education in UK schools devastated by pandemic, survey finds

Students will lose out emotionally and academically, say teachers, as lessons and concerts are cut back for all age groups

Music education in schools is facing an “unprecedented crisis” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with singing, instrumental lessons, extracurricular activities and end-of-term concerts all badly hit, a new report says.

There is “genuine cause for alarm” over the impact of the virus on music provision, says The Heart of the School is Missing report produced by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM). “Beyond the intrinsic value of studying music for its own sake, there is a plethora of evidence that studying music builds cultural knowledge, creative skills and improves children’s health, wellbeing and wider educational attainment.”

More than two-thirds (68%) of primary school teachers and more than a third (39%) of secondary school teachers reported a reduction in music provision as a direct result of the pandemic in a survey carried out by the ISM at the beginning of this academic year.

Almost one in 10 primary and secondary schools are not teaching music as part of the curriculum at all. Some lessons “contained no practical music-making”, the report says.

Singing has ended in more than a third (38%) of primary schools, and instrumental lessons have ceased in almost a quarter (23%).

Extracurricular musical activities have been discontinued in nearly three-quarters (72%) of UK primaries and two-thirds (66%) of secondaries. Schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been hit harder than those in England.

In addition, more than half (53%) of primaries and almost two-thirds (63%) of secondaries that normally hold a festive concert at the end of the first term of the academic year will not do so this year.

“We cannot sing, and the children are hugely disappointed when they ask to sing and we tell them no,” one primary teacher told the ISM. Another said: “Due to staggered breaks/lunch and the need to constantly wash hands, the amount of time spent on music has been reduced.”

A secondary teacher said: “Honestly, it’s impossible to state how devastating this will be in the long run for music as a subject. There is no provision at all for instrumental lessons, ensemble projects, bigger inclusive performances or even classroom ensemble work. This will, of course, harm students emotionally and academically.”

The health and wellbeing of both children and music teachers had been affected by the changes to music provision, according to the report. “Music is central to the recovery curriculum, playing a vital role in schools helping their students to explore and express the varied emotions and challenges that they will have experienced during the pandemic, building stronger relationships and communities within schools and with families.”

Almost all instrumental teachers (99%) reported that teaching had changed for them this year, with a third (35%) of primaries and just over a quarter (28%) of secondaries discontinuing instrumental lessons in person.

One teacher told the ISM: “They [pupils] need instant feedback and guidance on their vocal pieces in order to build confidence and control in their voices and performance. It’s almost impossible to do this if they record and send it to me.”

Deborah Annetts, the ISM’s chief executive, said: “We are disappointed but not surprised to discover that music provision is being reduced in our schools as a direct result of the pandemic, with opportunities for pupils to make and create music becoming severely limited both in and out of the classroom.

“It is vital that every child can access a quality music education. Therefore there needs to be sustained and meaningful leadership across all levels of government, actively encouraging safe music teaching in schools and in the wider community. We need to see clear, timely and consistent guidance across all four nations for the rest of the 2020/21 academic year, and beyond, so that music education is not disrupted further.”

The ISM surveyed more than 1,300 music teachers across the UK in September and early October this year.


Harriet Sherwood

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Music disappearing from curriculum, schools survey shows
Fewer schools in England offering subject at A-level and fewer pupils taking it at GCSE

Sally Weale Education correspondent

09, Oct, 2018 @11:01 PM

Article image
Mindfulness in schools does not improve mental health, study finds
Students who engaged with the meditation practice benefitted but many were bored by it, say researchers

Sally Weale Education correspondent

12, Jul, 2022 @10:30 PM

Article image
School exclusions data in England only 'the tip of the iceberg'
Five times more children being educated in schools for excluded pupils than official figures show, say researchers

Sally Weale Education correspondent

09, Oct, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
Welsh schoolchildren to receive early help with mental health problems
Pupils at more than 200 schools across Wales will be able to access on-site help as part of government’s £1.4m pilot scheme

Steven Morris

25, Sep, 2017 @9:20 AM

Article image
Playing music in childhood linked to a sharper mind in old age, study suggests
Researchers find link between learning instrument while young and improved thinking skills later in life

Guardian staff and agency

29, Aug, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Mental health in schools: Lily’s story
A headteacher tells the story of one child’s personal struggle to pass her GCSE exams while recovering from abuse


31, May, 2016 @6:20 AM

Article image
BME teachers often given stereotypical roles in schools, survey finds
Research revealed fears of being tagged a troublemaker and lack of support from senior staff in handling racism incidents

Richard Adams Education editor

13, Apr, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
Schools asking parents to pay for basic supplies, survey finds

Parents are being asked to make voluntary contributions for items once covered by school budgets, say teachers

Richard Adams

11, Apr, 2014 @11:05 PM

Article image
Sex education should be mandatory in all schools, MPs demand
Ministers scolded for lack of addressing inadequate teaching despite huge demand from teachers, parents and students

Sally Weale, education correspondent

17, Feb, 2015 @12:01 AM

Article image
Ban mobile phones in schools to protect pupils’ mental health | Letters
Letters: Social media and screen time have a relentless impact on their students, says Shannon Turner


26, Sep, 2017 @5:49 PM