Should ‘whole-class music’ lessons be compulsory throughout primary school?

For my Gold Arts Award Unit 1D, I explore whether or not compulsory musical lessons throughout primary school are a good idea, researching on the internet and asking questions of various teachers. 

Should ‘whole-class music’ lessons be compulsory throughout primary school?

The question of compulsory whole-class music lessons came to me as I considered the arts world as a whole. For most people who pursue the arts throughout their lives, their journeys begin at school, when they sit in a classroom in their first music lesson aged five. My first thoughts on the matter were that, no, whole-class music lessons should not be compulsory, because I have various memories of being in lessons with friends who simply did not want to be there. However, through my research, my view has been changed and I now agree with the view held by the government, as well as music teachers all over the country, that whole-class music should be compulsory at primary level.

When it came to trying to formulate an answer to this question, my first thought was of my own experience. I studied music throughout primary school and for the first two years of secondary school when it was compulsory, and continued to do so until the age of 16 when I completed a GCSE in the subject. During these years, I noticed varying degrees of interest and enthusiasm among my peers. Those that were musically ‘gifted’, or those who studied individual instruments on a peripatetic basis generally had more enjoyment for the subject and had more of a drive to do well, and indeed it was these students with whom I still found myself in a class years later at GCSE. The fact that a number of my peers were pleased that they had the choice to drop music at the end of Year 9 only highlighted to me that it was not in these pupils’ best interests to have to study the subject for so long before they had this option.

I then began my conventional research, and my first idea was to look at the UK Government’s National Curriculum. I read through and annotated various points of interest and learnt that the purpose of studying music is to increase children’s self-confidence, creativity and sense of achievement. The aims also highlighted some transferrable skills that the subject offered, such as the ability for children to effectively use their voices and to work well with others. There were also some non-transferrable skills, such as the ability to compose, to ‘progress to the next level of musical excellence’ (which I noted would only really be a goal for the minority of students) and to understand how music is created, produced, communicated and learn about the elements of music. The subject’s content for the two primary Key Stages were various forms of learning this, obviously with a lesser intensity at a younger age. Whilst the aims of the individual lessons were far more advanced than I was expecting at this age (with some using terminology I picked up during my GCSE study of the subject), the overall goals were useful and certainly were transferrable skills. As I noted after reading the curriculum, I wouldn't be altogether surprised if it were possible to see a difference in the confidence levels and oratory skills between a child who did study music throughout primary school, and those of a child who did not.

My next stage of research led me to the internet, where I decided to type my question into Google, to see the results that this would yield. Various webpages came up as results (with varying levels of relevance!), but two that struck me were both Government resources. They were the Government’s National Plan for Music – The Power of Music to Change Lives, and an article on the Education Hub – Everything you need to know about Music in Schools. From these pages, I learnt that music plays a key role in brain development, by nurturing of language and motor skills, as well as emotional intelligence, and that learning to play music together is vital for a rich and rounded education. I also read that the Government have a National Plan for Music, in which they have pledged £25million for schools, which should fund around 200,000 musical instruments. The devising of the curriculum was teacher-led, and music is the second-highest centrally-funded part of the National Curriculum. My take-away from this is that music is genuinely important for the development of a child’s brain, and that the government have clearly recognised its importance. These two sources of information played a big part in swaying my opinion.

The main element of my research which changed my opinion was the final one. I got in touch with five music teachers, all of whom I have encountered during my study of the subject, and asked them all questions, which differed depending on whether they taught at primary or secondary level. I have inserted the two lists of questions at the end of this document. From these questionnaires, I found that, generally, primary school students are far more enthusiastic about learning music than their secondary school counterparts. Even when the pupils are new (to primary music), they generally settle in and become very involved and enthusiastic as time goes by. In terms of extra-curricular music, those who study an instrument with peripatetic lessons are still generally more interested in the subject, particularly as their attention is better held during these one-to-one lessons and would most likely have more of a musical ability. 

The fact that near-enough equal Music opportunities are offered in primary schools across Britain is an impressive feat, and not nearly appreciated enough, not least by myself before I began my research of this topic. When the UK’s classroom-music facilities are compared with those of the USA, for example, there is a clear difference between the two; the UK is far more equipped. 

To conclude, I think that whole-class music lessons should be compulsory throughout primary school. Whilst I was originally of the opinion that they should not be, due to a lack of interest from some students, as well as a lack of useful skills provided, having now learnt that the skills music lessons give you are both transferrable and crucial, as well as having heard from primary school teachers that the almost all pupils enjoy primary music lessons, my opinion has changed.

Header Image Credit: Wes Hicks, Unsplash


Joseph Young

Joseph Young

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  • Tom Inniss

    On 25 October 2023, 14:42 Tom Inniss Voice Team commented:

    Really interesting to hear how your opinion changed due to the research you conducted! Very well informed and interesting read!

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