Music education in schools is suffering, Ofsted report confirms

Harriet Clifford
Wednesday, December 16, 2020

An Ofsted report published today on education in schools has further confirmed the damaging impacts of COVID-19 on music learning.

Praiwan Wasanruk

Based on 297 one-day visits carried out by Ofsted in November 2020, the qualitative results of the report found that: 

  • Not all primary schools were teaching the full range of subjects, restructuring the timetable to ‘prioritise English and mathematics’ and leaving subjects such as music until later in the year. 
  • Music was cited by many primary schools as one of the most challenging subjects to offer remotely, and in some cases it wasn’t being offered at all.
  • Some secondary school leaders said that the lack of equipment in the first national lockdown affected pupils’ learning in music. 
  • Practical elements in music were being adapted in some primary schools, while others were continuing to teach both theoretical and practical music. 
  • In secondary schools, many Key Stage 3 pupils were doing less practical work in music because leaders had prioritised KS4 and KS5 to use the music rooms. 
  • Many schools say that going forward in music, ‘organising safe access to practical work for all pupils presents an issue’, while others were able to provide practical work through ‘classrooms on wheels’. 

The report comes shortly after the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) published The Heart of the School is Missing, a report which found that COVID-19 has had a ‘devastating’ impact on music in schools, with almost 10 per cent of primary and secondary schools not teaching music at all.  

In response to today’s report from Ofsted, ISM’s chief executive Deborah Annetts said, ‘Ofsted have confirmed what the ISM already found in its key report The Heart of the School is Missing, that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to music education provision being reduced in England. 

‘Our recent research showed that opportunities for pupils to make and create music are becoming more limited and now Ofsted have explained that this is due in part to the decision-making of some schools. 

‘However, it cannot be forgotten that the Department for Education published guidance at short notice, in some cases giving schools just a few days to implement safe practices.’ 

In the wake of the ISM report, several organisations have provided short-term solutions to the impact on children’s music making, such as Rocksteady’s offer of free online music lessons to all primary schools from January. UK charity Awards for Young Musicians (AYM) has also made a commitment to continue providing support for children and young people from low-income backgrounds. 

The full Ofsted report can be read here