Music education in schools is facing an “unprecedented crisis” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with singing, instrumental lessons, extracurricular activities and end-of-term concerts all badly hit, a new report says.
There is “genuine cause for alarm” over the impact of the virus on music provision, says The Heart of the School is Missing report produced by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM). “Beyond the intrinsic value of studying music for its own sake, there is a plethora of evidence that studying music builds cultural knowledge, creative skills and improves children’s health, wellbeing and wider educational attainment.”
More than two-thirds (68%) of primary school teachers and more than a third (39%) of secondary school teachers reported a reduction in music provision as a direct result of the pandemic in a survey carried out by the ISM at the beginning of this academic year.
Almost one in 10 primary and secondary schools are not teaching music as part of the curriculum at all. Some lessons “contained no practical music-making”, the report says.
Singing has ended in more than a third (38%) of primary schools, and instrumental lessons have ceased in almost a quarter (23%).
Extracurricular musical activities have been discontinued in nearly three-quarters (72%) of UK primaries and two-thirds (66%) of secondaries. Schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been hit harder than those in England.
In addition, more than half (53%) of primaries and almost two-thirds (63%) of secondaries that normally hold a festive concert at the end of the first term of the academic year will not do so this year.
“We cannot sing, and the children are hugely disappointed when they ask to sing and we tell them no,” one primary teacher told the ISM. Another said: “Due to staggered breaks/lunch and the need to constantly wash hands, the amount of time spent on music has been reduced.”
A secondary teacher said: “Honestly, it’s impossible to state how devastating this will be in the long run for music as a subject. There is no provision at all for instrumental lessons, ensemble projects, bigger inclusive performances or even classroom ensemble work. This will, of course, harm students emotionally and academically.”
The health and wellbeing of both children and music teachers had been affected by the changes to music provision, according to the report. “Music is central to the recovery curriculum, playing a vital role in schools helping their students to explore and express the varied emotions and challenges that they will have experienced during the pandemic, building stronger relationships and communities within schools and with families.”
Almost all instrumental teachers (99%) reported that teaching had changed for them this year, with a third (35%) of primaries and just over a quarter (28%) of secondaries discontinuing instrumental lessons in person.
One teacher told the ISM: “They [pupils] need instant feedback and guidance on their vocal pieces in order to build confidence and control in their voices and performance. It’s almost impossible to do this if they record and send it to me.”
Deborah Annetts, the ISM’s chief executive, said: “We are disappointed but not surprised to discover that music provision is being reduced in our schools as a direct result of the pandemic, with opportunities for pupils to make and create music becoming severely limited both in and out of the classroom.
“It is vital that every child can access a quality music education. Therefore there needs to be sustained and meaningful leadership across all levels of government, actively encouraging safe music teaching in schools and in the wider community. We need to see clear, timely and consistent guidance across all four nations for the rest of the 2020/21 academic year, and beyond, so that music education is not disrupted further.”
The ISM surveyed more than 1,300 music teachers across the UK in September and early October this year.