Music Australia News

Fears over instrumental music teaching in SA

Music students at Keithcot Farm Primary School, SA
Graham Strahle
| October 26, 2015

Uncertainty surrounds the future of instrumental music teaching in South Australian public schools following a shake-up of Instrumental Music Service (IMS). A unit within the State Government’s Office of Education, it sends teachers out to schools to provide individual instrumental tuition and ensemble teaching to students across Years 3-12.

IMS is currently undergoing a revamp that will see its functions spread across 20 “focus schools” to give a greater number of students, especially those in disadvantaged areas, the opportunity to learn an instrument. To be known as Instrumental Music, the new model will be phased in from the beginning of 2016 and be fully operational by 2017, according to a report issued by the Department for Education and Child Development.

While the Department says efficiencies will be gained, criticisms have been raised against the plan. “Teachers and unions fear the proposal cannot work without greater resourcing,” wrote The Advertiser’s Tim Williams in August.

Friends of the Instrumental Music Service SA have expressed fears on Facebook, saying that: “South Australia may lose one of its most celebrated educational treasures – as it is currently constituted. The proposed ‘new model’ is scant in detail and leaves many questions unanswered. It appears that the IMS team would be broken up, appointed to different schools and lose their ensembles.”

IMS has long been regarded as a model for the delivery of instrumental teaching since its beginning in 1962. Statistics gathered in 2013 show that it taught about 7,000 out of 125,000 students in SA Government schools.


  1. Don Crook

    The above comments from the education department are very disappointing but unfortunately have been coming for some time.
    I taught with the Music Branch under Mr David Bishop and the late Allan Farwell.
    They were the hausien days of the instrumental program in public schools.However gradually it was de-centralised and became very beaurocratic.
    Personally I do not think it can be changed unless we really understand that music is a key factor in a persons well being and education.
    Don Crook
    Drum Teacher
    Percussion Teacher
    Senior Drumbeat Facilitator.

  2. Stuart Jones

    In principle I like the idea of music tuition to disadvantaged kids. It would take a very special group of teachers though, to produce good outcomes within the increasing constraints of the DECD model.

  3. Jason Fox

    Be careful in touching something that has been outstanding and changed so many lives over so many years. IM should not be a simple numbers game it just doesn’t always work like that. Good luck SA with the continued success of future IM in state schools. I’m a product of SA IM and proud.

  4. Patrick Power

    7000 students in 2013…that’s 350 each if only 20 schools are made “focal points” That is 70 lessons per day per school….How are these schools going to find the facilities to cope with that load? Who is going to administer each focus centre? And how are the disadvantaged students, who probably have both parents working, going to get to these lessons? Instrumental music education is getting hammered at the tertiary level and it would appear the same flawed logic is being applied at the school level. It would not seem possible to extract any efficiency out of this.. unless of course the end is to stop instrumental instruction altogether.

  5. Stephen Millar

    My understanding of these changes to the IMS is that there is a desire to reach more students with the available staff. Since the huge cuts in the mid 90’s, there haven’t been enough instrumental teachers to meet demand. This proposal doesn’t add or cut the number of teachers, it aims to reduce travelling time between schools, so that more time is available for lessons. The downside is that the smallest programmes will lose their instrumental teachers, and the specialist teachers like double reeds and early music don’t really fit. They’ll need to teach a range of ‘standard’ instruments. I also heard that the initial 20 sites will be expanded quickly. So overall, some losers, some winners. Of course, what really needs to happen is to find a few million dollars a year to employ dozens more teachers, but that’s not likely in the near future.

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