From education to employment

Government must tackle growing inequality in access to music in state schools

Results of a new survey published today by UK record labels association the BPI reveal the stark and growing disparity between the provision of music in state and independent schools.

The survey of 2,200 teachers* also found that the gap widens in schools with higher free school meal populations – a common indicator of poverty.

Schools in areas with poorer pupils deliver markedly fewer opportunities for their students to participate in music, whether through clubs and societies or by learning to play a musical instrument. In stark contrast, almost all independent schools and state-funded schools serving more affluent communities give students the opportunity to take part in a school musical or in a play featuring songs.

Whilst many state school teachers report that music provision has declined in recent years, music education in independent schools is as strong as it has ever been.

The BPI welcomes the proposed Model Music Curriculum as an important step in addressing this inequality, but stresses the need for Government to get its delivery right by ensuring that non-music teachers in primary schools are just as equipped to teach it successfully as those teachers with a greater depth of knowledge.  Government must also ensure that it holds all schools and academies accountable for delivering music and creative studies as part of a broad curriculum.  

Main BPI survey findings (see Notes to Editors for more details):

  • State schools have seen a 21% decrease in music provision over the past 5 years, compared to a net increase of 7% in music provision in independent schools over the same period. Around 30% of state schools have seen a decrease in curriculum time for music, or a reduction in the number of qualified music teachers.
  • Only 12% of the most deprived schools have an orchestra, compared to 85% of independent schools.
  • 1 in 4 schools serving disadvantaged communities offer no music instrument lessons to students that want them.  Almost all independent schools and those serving affluent communities do.
  • Only 64% of schools serving disadvantaged communities give students a chance to take part in a school musical or musical play, compared with 91% of the most affluent state schools and 96% of independent schools.
  • 89% of independent schools run a choir in lunchtime or after-school compared to only 60% of the most disadvantaged state schools.
  • Almost 40% of state-funded secondary schools now have no compulsory music lessons in year 9. Students from disadvantaged communities are least likely to have regular music lessons by age 13/14.
  • Only 44% of music lessons in a primary school are delivered by a music specialist.
  • 1 in 5 primary school teachers report there is no regular music lesson for their class.

The BPI therefore calls on the Government to:

  1. Intervene to reverse the worrying trend of reduced music provision and curriculum time in schools, providing additional funding where necessary;
  2. Address the disparities in access to music instrument lessons, which particularly affect those in the most deprived schools, by boosting funding for musical instrument lessons to ensure the most deprived pupils have the opportunity for tuition;
  3. Recognise music as a core component of the education of young people, and ensure that it is a clear requirement in the accountability framework that music should be regarded as an essential part of a school’s performance;
  4. Ensure all pupils have access to musical group activities, whether in school or through the music hub;
  5. Add non-specialist teachers to the independent panel of experts helping devise the curriculum to ensure that it works for all teachers and for all schools.

Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive BPI & BRIT Awards, said:

“People may have different talents and aspirations, but the one thing that gives us all an equal opportunity to fulfil our potential, whatever our background, is education.

“These BPI findings make us profoundly concerned that music education and tuition in state schools is beginning to lag far behind that in the independent sector. This inequality is not just deeply unfair to children in the state sector, it risks depriving our culture of future talents as diverse as Adele, Stormzy and Sheku Kanneh-Mason.  We believe that every child in this country should have the same opportunity to access tuition and to discover and develop their musical talent.

“it is clear that Government needs to inject additional funding for musical instrument tuition in state schools and to recognise music as a core component of a child’s education, one which should be reflected in Ofsted’s judgment of a school’s performance. We warmly welcome the proposed new Model Music Curriculum for schools, but it is vital that Government ensures that the curriculum also works for the many non-music teachers that take music lessons in primary schools.”   

The BPI and the music industry have a strong commitment to education and to young people. The BPI organises the BRIT Awards, which raise money every year for the BRIT Trust, the charitable arm of the recorded music industry that to date has distributed over £21 million to causes that promote education and wellbeing through music. The BPI and the BRIT Trust established and continue to fund the BRIT School, a fully state school offering an excellent, free, music and performing arts education to more than 1300 pupils aged 14-19.  Alumni from the school have gone on to achieve successful careers across the creative industries, and include well-known artists and actors such as Adele, Cush Jumbo, Ella Eyre, FKA Twigs, Imogen Heap, Jessie J, Katy B, Leona Lewis, Loyle Carner, Kate Nash, Kate Tempest, Katie Melua, Rizzle Kicks, and Tom Holland.

The BPI/BRIT Trust also helped to fund and support the launch of East London Arts and Music school (ELAM), a state school for 16-19 year olds in Bromley-by-Bow that has been awarded Ofsted “Outstanding” status.

*The BPI survey questions were answered by over 2,200 teachers in state-funded and independent schools across the primary and secondary sectors via the Teacher Tapp survey app. The fieldwork dates were 8-12th January 2019.  Post-stratification weights are applied to the sample to ensure it reflects the population of teachers in England in terms of gender, age, role seniority, region, school phase and school sector.

Evidence from the survey

There are now stark inequalities in who is getting a music education at school

The results of the survey showed a dramatic difference between the levels of music provision in state schools, particularly the most disadvantaged, and the independent sector.

The status of music in the school curriculum now varies considerably according to the kinds of students who attend the school. In the independent sector, 92 per cent of teachers agree that music teaching is of some or high importance in their school. In state-funded schools serving the most affluent communities in England this figure is 72 per cent. By contrast, only 45 per cent of teachers who work in state schools serving the most disadvantaged communities agree that music is treated as important in their school.

Figure 1

NB: State-funded schools are grouped according to the proportion of students at the school who are eligible for free school meals, an indicator of poverty

Independent schools and state-funded schools serving more affluent students have a wide range of musical activities available to students in lunchtime or after-school. By contrast, almost one-third of schools that serve our most disadvantaged communities have NO musical clubs available to students.

Figure 2

Which of these music activities are available to students as lunchtime or after-school clubs?


State-funded overall


State-funded most affluent (Q1)

State-funded Q2

State-funded Q3

State-funded Q4

State-funded most disadvantaged (Q5)










Orchestra or string ensemble









Wind or brass band









Guitar/ukulele/recorder club









Other music club









None – we have NO clubs at my school (either after-school or at lunchtime)









None – we have lunchtime or after-school clubs, but not these









Almost all independent schools and state-funded schools serving affluent communities give students the chance to take part in a school musical or play with songs. Only two-thirds of schools serving disadvantaged communities give students similar opportunities. Furthermore, one-in-four schools serving disadvantaged communities offer no music instrument lessons to students who want them (almost all independent schools and those serving affluent communities do).

Figure 3

There are signs that inequalities in access to a good music education are increasing

The teachers in our survey tell us that music education in independent schools is as strong as it has ever been. However, many state school teachers report that provision has declined in recent years and they are most likely to report this if they work in more disadvantaged schools.

The independent sector has seen a net increase of 7 per cent in music provision over the past five years. The state sector has seen a 21 per cent decrease in music provision over the past 5 years. (Figure 4).

Figure 4

Figure 5

Causes of the decline in music education

We do not believe the decline in music education is due to cultural change or a decline in parental demand since there is no change in music activities in the independent sector. It is also not due to a change in how teachers value music education, since they value it reasonably highly regardless of the type of school they work in (though independent school teachers do value it more).

Figure 6

In the state-funded sector it is clear that the combination of real-term falls in per-pupil funding AND the accountability system are having a material impact on music education. The accountability system has pushed music education to the fringes of how school success is judged. The curriculum has narrowed in many schools. For example, one-third of state-funded secondary schools now have no compulsory music lessons in year 9 (in more disadvantaged communities this figure is around 50%). Falls in school funding have caused schools to remove ‘extras’ that are expensive to deliver.

Primary Schools

Only 44 per cent of music lessons in primary school are delivered by a music specialist. Indeed, one-in-five primary teachers report that their class has NO regular music lesson at all. Many primary schools have nobody who plays the piano on their staff (70% of teachers reported that recorded music was used last time they sung in the hall). Four in 10 (40%) primary schools have no opportunity for students to learn an instrument during the school day in a group, e.g. recorder, guitar or ukulele.  It might be helpful to provide primary teachers with a music curriculum, but training will be needed to give them confidence in delivering it.  Many primary teachers do not sing with their class. When we ask them which one subject they would ideally like to stop teaching and pass to a specialist teacher, just over a quarter (26%), select music. This makes it the second-most popular subject to want to give away (behind PE).

Figure 7

About the BPI (British Phonographic Industry): The BPI champions the UK’s recorded music industry, safeguarding the rights of its members and of the artists, performers and label members of collecting body PPL. The BPI’s membership consists of well over 400 independent labels and the UK’s three ‘majors’, which together account for 85 per cent of legitimate domestic music consumption and 1 in 8 albums sold around the world. The BPI promotes British music overseas through its trade missions and the Music Exports Growth Scheme. It provides insights, training and networking with its free masterclasses, Innovation Hub, Insight Sessions, WidsomWednesdays events, and reports.  The BPI administers The BRIT Certified Awards, co-owns The Official Charts, organises The BRIT Awards and BRITs Week, and is also home to The Mercury Prize. 

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