Striking the Right Note: Key Talking Points from Ofsted’s Music Subject Report

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Helen Brookes provides a vital overview of the main points and thoughts of Ofsted’s music subject report to ensure your school adapts for the 2023/24 academic year.   

On 21st September 2023, the music subject report was released. It contains the main findings of HMI and Ofsted inspectors from visits made between December 2022 and June 2023.

This new report follows the three music subject reports published between 2012 and 2013:

The inspector visits took place across 50 schools (primary and secondary). Participation was optional, and schools were able to volunteer (or decline) to take part.

The research took place over one school day and involved the inspector speaking to SLT, subject lead, and pupils as well as observing music lessons. Evidence was gathered on pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment.

To shed some light on the key talking points from the 2023 music subject report, here’s a summary:

A Summary of the 2023 Music Subject Report

Inspectors reported positive findings in all the primary schools visited, witnessing evidence of weekly music provision.

They also noted the sufficient opportunities for music in EYFS, and that the teaching in the reception year prepared pupils well for KS1.

However, in a small number of the schools participating in the report, the findings showed that pupils did not have sufficient opportunity to engage in music, in both KS1 and KS2 and that, rather than providing regular, planned, weekly lessons for their pupils, schools were offering isolated activities during the academic year.

For KS3, the findings were less favourable, with inspectors finding greater variation in the amount of curriculum time available for music lessons.

In half of the schools visited, school leaders had not assigned enough time for the curriculum to be delivered as planned by the school. Subsequently, this impacted pupils’ ability to study music at KS4.

The inspectors also found that in most secondary schools, the KS3 music curriculum was being delivered in termly or half-termly blocks. For the students, this would mean large periods with no music provision and an impact on consistency and connected learning. The impact was that the long-term musical development of the students was reduced across the key stage.

The findings of the report suggest that school leaders confused offering a range of opportunities with ‘curriculum ambition’ rather than ‘incrementally developing students’ musical knowledge and skills.’

In the schools visited for the report, the strongest aspect of the curriculum in primary schools was teaching pupils to sing.

However, singing significantly reduced in secondary schools. It was not included as a routine part of the curriculum, and there was no intention to build on the ‘strong progress and enjoyment that pupils had experienced in singing at primary school.’

The report found that the weakest aspect of the curriculum was the teaching of composition. There was an inconsistency in the teaching and learning of foundation knowledge needed to enable pupils to build and analyse their own compositions.

In the few schools where there was a clear understanding of what pupils should be able to do, staff had musical expertise or access to expertise through organisations such as music hubs.

The most significant finding was around staff expertise and training. Schools were realistic about the subject expertise of their staff.

In some of the primary schools, leaders ‘knew that some of the staff did not have the confidence or knowledge to teach aspects of the music curriculum well’ and that this included those leading the subject. Although this was known to school leaders, they did not have a clear plan for training staff and ‘addressing these weaknesses.’

In terms of the secondary schools visited:

  • 50% of secondary school leaders ensured subject-specific training.
  • Staff engaged with professional music associations and music hubs.

However, this left 50% isolated, or receiving below-standard training from non-specialist staff, which resulted in poor effective curriculum design and knowledge.

Finally, the report details the impact of COVID-19 on school extracurricular activities, including school ensembles, orchestras, and choirs. These were still in the process of being re-established.

The report also references the previous music subject report of 2012, regarding inequalities in provision.

The most recent edition found that this inequality still exists and that there ‘remains a divide between the opportunities for children and young people whose families can afford to pay for music tuition and for those who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds.’

In addition to this, pressure on school budgets was impacting buy-in, further school support, and the possibility of subsidising lessons for some pupils.

50% of primary schools visited did not have any instrumental or vocal lessons and only 50% of schools were offering extra-curricular opportunities.

8 Recommendations from Ofsted’s Music Subject Report

The main recommendations from the 2023 music subject report include:

  1. Schools should make sure that there is enough curriculum time to develop musical knowledge and skills incrementally.
  2. The curriculum must be holistic in nature to cover performance, composition and listening.
  3. Teachers need to provide ongoing feedback to pupils to help improve the quality of pupils’ music-making.
  4. Teachers should routinely demonstrate what high-quality musical responses sound like.
  5. Schools should seek the support of local music hubs and other sources of expertise.
  6. Further support for subject leaders is recommended to develop a curriculum that deliberately and incrementally teaches all pupils to become more musical.
  7. Continuously develop teachers’ subject knowledge.
  8. Use formative assessment in monitoring progress.

To conclude, schools must ensure parity in the delivery of music within the school curriculum. Those taking a lead on subject delivery must have appropriate support in terms of subject knowledge and the opportunity to work with music specialists to help develop skills in delivery.

Local music hubs, including music services, can be a vital link to building high-quality provision, and this relationship should be strong and robust.

Equity and equality are key components of a well-constructed and well-delivered music curriculum in a school. Barriers to learning should be minimised as far as possible, and by liaising with a local music service, the necessary resources and provision will be able to be provided.

Need Some Assistance Delivering the Music Curriculum?

Striking the Right Note is easier with Services For Education by your side. Our multi-award-winning organisation offers high-quality music provision and music CPD to help support your teachers and pupils.

To discover more, take a look at our extensive list of music services or get in touch today.

About the Author

Helen Brookes GMus PgCe PgCert SOI – Head of WCIT, Services for Education

Born in Birmingham, Helen attended primary and secondary schools that valued and promoted excellence in musical education. In 1986, she completed her music degree at the University of Huddersfield. Helen completed a PgCe at Birmingham City University and is a qualified secondary school teacher. Her teaching has covered both primary and secondary as a music specialist and during this time she developed projects specifically engaging boys in music.

In 2018 Helen completed the PgCert ‘Music and Children with Special Needs: Sounds of Intent’ (University of Roehampton). Helen is committed to inclusion and equality in music education opportunity. Helen has conducted orchestral and choral ensembles and has promoted performance opportunities for local communities. In addition to her Head of Department role Helen continues to teach violin across all school settings. Helen has worked for the Music Service since 2005.