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NAPLAN’s cost on music and creativity

NAPLAN testing may be threatening our children’s creativity Credit: Picture: News Corp Australia
Graham Strahle
| August 14, 2015

One of the continuing concerns about NAPLAN is that it takes teachers’ attention away from subjects that it does not test. That includes music, along with other arts subjects, foreign languages and history. The consequence is not just that children may be under-achieving in these subjects but that their whole development may be negatively impacted.

Researchers Greg Thompson and Allen G. Harbaugh raised the alarm two years ago when they identified adverse effects of NAPLAN on pedagogy and curriculum in Western Australian and South Australian schools.

Nicky Dulfer, researcher in education at the University of Melbourne, has added to criticism of NAPLAN. She says teachers are reporting that they have less time to teach subjects that are not tested by NAPLAN. “In many schools teachers commented that a great deal of time and effort was spent on practising for NAPLAN, [and] this comes at the cost of other activities,” Dulfer told News Ltd’s Brooke Lumsden. “Subjects like music, art, PE were mentioned”.

Justin Coulson, an Honorary Fellow at the University of Wollongong, reaches the same conclusion in a scorching critique of NAPLAN in The Daily Telegraph. “Naplan delivers a narrowed curriculum as students miss out on various educational opportunities (such as sport, arts and drama, music and sometimes even lunch) for extra classroom time on Naplan practice,” he writes.

Others including Richard Gill and Stewart Riddle have spoken against NAPLAN’s negative effects on music and creativity.


  1. Greg Cook

    This research underlines the work of Caldwell, Vaughan et al, in ‘Transforming Education through the Arts’ pub. Routledge 2012 where a study across Western Sydney schools showed a:
    Comparison of NAPLAN results of Year 5 students in the music program showed that in reading, writing, spelling, grammar & punctuation and in overall Literacy moved at least a year ahead of the control group. NAPLAN results showed a lower percentage of ‘program’ students below the minimum national level in writing, spelling, grammar & punctuation when compared to the control group. (Pp 86.8)

    The outcome in Science & Technology showed a 6 month gain in achievement by the program students. (Pp 87.1) This lead the authors to comment:

    “The impact of participation in the Arts reported above is astonishing…” (Pp 87.5) and, in terms of Social/emotional well-being (SEWB) to say:

    “…the findings demand the attention of policymakers who are often at their wits’ end to know what to do in their efforts to assure student well-being on indicators* like those in the ACER’s SEWB survey.” (Pp 104.3)

    1. Martin Lass

      It’s all very well to point out the positive results of NAPLAN, but it misses the point. For the improvement in one area, there must be a corresponding deficit in another area. One cannot magically increase the quantity of time and effort a child can give without risking burn-out. If more focus is given in one area, other areas must necessarily suffer.

      So the real question is about the VALUE of each area of the curriculum. And, in this respect, it is often like trying to compare apples and oranges. How does one assess the value of, say, literacy compared to the value of physical education or musical education?

      Which brings me to my main point: It’s about a child’s OVERALL education, development, and enrichment–physical, emotional, AND mental.

      Undue focus on one area to the detriment of the other areas, e.g. on the education of the mind to the detriment of the education, development, and enrichment of the life of the body and of our emotional life, can only hope to produce a lopsided human being.

      Music has now been scientifically shown–in particular, learning to play a musical instrument–as one of the best ways to bring about the integration of mind, body, and emotion. It literally myelinates new neural pathways across the corpus callosum in ways that no other activity or endeavour does, which connects left and right hemispheres of the brain, and, corresponding to this, both sides of our human nature.

      Integration is the key, in my opinion–balanced and harmonious development of HUMAN BEINGS, not the creation of “robots” and “computers” that can add, spell, repeat back formulas and historical dates, and engage in philosophical pouring of the empty into the void but cannot participate with joy and freedom in the wonder, awe, and mystery of human existence much less get along emotionally with other human beings.

  2. Michael Griffin

    Several years ago Ken Boston (ex head of education SA, NSW, Ofsted UK) warned Australia from blindly following UK and US models of standardized testing.

    “The (UK) government’s approach to the key stage tests has sucked the oxygen from the classrooms of primary schools.” -Ken Boston

    Repeat: This was the head of testing (Office for Standards in Education) in the UK warning Australia, given his experience.

    The UK abolished the Year 6 level of tests about 7 years ago. Just prior I was having my first experience teaching in a British education school. I would have year 6 students bemoan the fact that the second half of the school year was used for ‘practising test papers’. Teachers teach to the test.

    Therefore non-tested subjects remain marginalised. In a ‘panic’ to improve numeracy and literacy bureaucrats take the position ‘more of the same is the answer’ at the expense of a balanced diet. You cannot force someone to learn, to be motivated. Deep learning is driven by curiosity, autonomy and creativity, a belief in one’s own competence, and in a relaxed and happy environment. As I write this from the UK BBC news has moments ago announced that British school students are among the unhappiest in Europe. 14/15 countries examined.

    The US and UK testing regimes have failed to lift their respective academic performance. Both countries are not even close to world’s best performing education systems on any measure.

    Why does Australia follow flawed education models?

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