Behind the statistics

What the research tells us

GuitarMaking Music offers an insight into the current realities of music learning and teaching in the UK. This insight is a reflection not only of the statistics but also of the views of our research partners from across the music education sector and the many teachers and learners who took part in the surveys.

While numbers can highlight trends and reveal changes to patterns of playing, teaching and learning, to understand why those trends are appearing and what those changes mean we need to take into account a range of individual experiences and opinions. This section draws on those experiences and opinions, gathered through our surveys, through one-to-one interviews and through roundtable discussions, to provide context and a more rounded picture of instrumental playing, teaching and learning in the UK today. It is a picture of unprecedented engagement, with more people than ever before playing instruments (often more than one) and actively making music.

But it is also an uneven social and geographical picture in terms of access, provision and progression, as well as in terms of the quality of teaching and learning. Despite concentrated investment in first access music provision at school, only a small minority of young people go on to learn through formal music education progression routes. Those who do are significantly more likely to be from social grades AB than from grades C1-DE.

In the words of one teacher respondent: ‘Generally cost of shared or individual lessons to parents is the main factor as to whether pupils can move forward with their chosen instrument – this is far more apparent in the state schools.’
Another said: ‘In schools where music is prioritised and invested in, it is always the case that instrumental teaching has enough school and parental support to flourish. In places where Music Services and Music Education Hubs are not supported financially by local authorities, or spend much of their time dealing with bureaucracy and fundraising, I believe instrumental teachers will always struggle. Music is not prioritised enough in the state education curriculum and this of course has a negative effect on a child’s appreciation of music and their desire to make music.’
‘Much of my whole-class teaching is in areas of social deprivation, and parents are both unable to afford to fund lessons and also are not familiar themselves with instrumental tuition, so it is not something they consider continuing,’ said another respondent.

Yet the sheer number of young people making music in alternative settings suggests a huge enthusiasm from children to play instruments – and that the formal routes and experiences they are offered through formal music teaching provision sometimes fall short.

What can be done to address these challenges? Why is so much good work being done in some places and not others? What is the impact of funding pressures on the front-line delivery of high quality musical experiences for all – and should resources be more strategically allocated to rebalance this? Does the increasing take-up of pop music instruments threaten the future of our orchestras and classical ensembles or is it an opportunity to create new and more diverse types of ensembles that can co-exist alongside established groupings? Can and should the music education sector make more strategic use of digital technologies to help signpost, steer and monitor music learners through clearer progression routes and music making opportunities? And what needs to happen to ensure teachers are appropriately trained and equipped to meet the evolving demands of learners in this changing environment?


There are divergent views about what ‘progression’ means in the music education context. One contributor describes the nature of musical progression as ‘essentially chaotic’, while others view the wider diversity of progression routes now available as positive.

Feedback from our research partners suggests that uneven regional provision is an important factor in progression, as learners’ decisions may be influenced not by preference but by availability. Musicians live where the work is and there may be whole geographical areas with no teachers of some instruments.

With decreasing funding from local authorities for the arts, in the context of funding cuts from central government, the role of Music Education Hubs has taken on greater significance in ensuring children can progress. But pressure on Music Education Hub funding coupled with diminishing local authority budgets may threaten to widen regional inequalities even further. This needs to be addressed at national level and should also be reflected in funding priorities5.

Learning in schools

There is clear evidence that learners – particularly those in the transition from primary to secondary school – are disengaging from formal structures while maintaining a passion for music in informal settings.

Several factors are at play here. One identified by teachers themselves – and supported by other contributors to this research – is that schools are continuing to undervalue music. This is fed by a perception across the sector (rightly or wrongly) that policy and assessment guidelines are inconsistent and undermine creative and cultural learning. Teachers repeatedly point to a lack of support from school leaders who – under pressure to deliver on literacy and numeracy – are less interested in creative and cultural learning despite strong evidence of the benefits of a holistic curriculum to learners and school culture in general. It would appear that important research findings that demonstrate the benefits of music learning have not been sufficiently communicated or are not convincing enough and that there is a need for greater advocacy for music education, especially within schools.

Whole-class ensemble music learning – while providing early experience – is not translating into an increased commitment to formal learning.

One teacher said: ‘The projects in the schools are free of charge for parents and organised by the school. When continuing, parents have to pay for it and have to organise it. Both I found to be factors that prevent continuation.’

With the introduction of School Music Education Plans from September 2014, Music Education Hub representatives will be helping to support young people’s choices at KS2 class level. But there may be a danger in relying on Music Education Hubs to continually do more when their funding has been reduced over recent years5.

The lack of ongoing engagement in formal learning structures suggests that the quality of classroom music teaching may be less engaging than it could be – or that the arts are being undermined by a focus on core curriculum subjects. This is a contentious area – not least when there is evidence that teachers are working longer hours and (in both the public and private sectors) often for less pay. But it is evident from the findings of this report that – although the reasons are numerous and complex – the transition from primary to secondary school sees a dropping off of musical engagement.

Although much primary music teaching is exceptional, according to Ofsted6, there is also a need for better teacher training and continuing professional development. Initial teacher training and PGCE courses typically provide just eight hours on music teaching; students need greater opportunities to work in the classroom alongside more experienced colleagues in order to adequately fulfill their obligations as music teachers.

The announcement on 22 July 2014 of £18m of additional funding for Music Education Hubs in England is a welcome development. But this is in the context of falling investment since 2010. 2010/2011 - £82.5m. 2011/2012 - £77m. 2012/2013 - £75m. 2013/2014 - £63m. 2014/2015 - £58m

6 Music in schools: wider still, and wider – Quality and inequality in music education 2008-11. Ofsted. March 2012.

Next: 6. Next steps

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