Efforts to Solve England’s Music Education Crisis

Image Credit : Arts Council England
Graham Strahle
| May 8, 2018

An education conference being held in Brighton, England, is looking what it describes as a crisis facing music in that country’s primary and secondary school systems. Organised by a body called CMU (Complete Music Update) Insights and bringing together teachers, musicians and music industry professionals, The Education Conference will look into why music’s place in the curriculum has been deprioritised in “the vast majority of English schools”.

One of the conference days, on 16 May, addresses the question ‘Why is there a crisis in music education?’. Specifically to be discussed will be how lesson times, staff and facilities for music have reduced since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate in 2010. This is an exam system that measures and ranks students’ attainment in the later secondary years across a number of core academic subjects for entry into universities – these being English, mathematics, history or geography, sciences and a language.

The Baccalaureate has been widely criticised for having diminished music’s place in the curriculum because, by excluding that subject, it has led to schools concentrating their resources elsewhere.

Sounds familiar? In this country, NAPLAN has been similarly blamed for sidelining education in music and the creative arts in the primary school system by focusing on literacy and numeracy at the expense of broader educational objectives.

The negative impact of the English Baccalaureate is explained by Chris Cooke, business editor and co-founder of CMU, in his background story to the conference. He writes: “Creative subjects like music are excluded from the EBacc, meaning schools are less likely to prioritise them, because achievements in those subject areas don’t have a positive impact on their perceived success. It also means that when schools face funding cuts, creative art subjects are the obvious place to seek savings.”

Cooke believes one solution is to allocate more responsibility for music education outside the school system. In the UK, so-called music hubs provide instrumental lessons and music-making opportunities for students as part of a government subsidised national plan for music education – see our previous story on these hubs.

Indeed, Cooke suggests that in some cases they might be better places for students to learn music and that services they offer could actually replace some school-based teaching.

“Music should definitely be in the curriculum, to ensure everyone has access to it. But when it comes to more proactive music making projects, perhaps activity outside the classroom – and even outside the school – are more appealing and have more potential.”

The Education Conference, which runs on 16 May, says it will look at these plus a range of other ideas to bolster music education for young people. It suggests, for instance, that a coordinated effort is needed between schools and music employers to redefine the way the subject is taught at schools and to strengthen employment outcomes for school-leavers.

“Step one is building closer ties between employers and educators in music,” proposes the event’s website. “What skills is the music industry looking for and are those skills being taught? Most musicians pursue portfolio careers and run their own small music businesses – beyond the crucial art of songwriting and performance, is music education preparing young people for that challenge? How can we better support young music entrepreneurs entering the business? And how can the different strands of music and music education better collaborate to capitalise on the opportunities and meet the challenges?”

The conference calls no less for “a new manifesto for music education” to try to solve these questions. Ideas it comes up with might well have relevance in this country.

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