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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The National Review of School Music Education

Special report

The following article is adapted from the Executive Summary and Key Messages of the National Review of School Music, and from a media release 21 November 2005 by Dr Brendan Nelson MP, Australian Government Minister for Education.


The recently published National Review of School Music offers a snapshot of school music education in contemporary Australia. It identifies and discusses issues, challenges and opportunities for school music, and generates strategic directions and recommended actions. It was prompted by a widespread recognition that music is an important part of every child’s education, but also by a general perception that Australian school music education is approaching a state of crisis.

The Review was funded under the Australian Government Quality Outcomes Programme. Murdoch University’s Centre for Learning, Change and Development (CLCD) led an expert national team to undertake the Review. The Steering Committee was chaired by Professor Margaret Seares AO, and was supported by a specialist group of ‘Critical Friends’.

The Review has provided an important gauge of the music and education communities’ opinions and commitment to the issue, having received more than 1,170 submissions and 4,700 petitions and letters of support during its investigations.

Key messages from the Review

International and national research shows that music education uniquely contributes to the emotional, physical, social and cognitive growth of students. Music in schools contributes to both instrumental and aesthetic learning outcomes; transmission of cultural heritage and values; and students’ creativity, identity and capacity for self-expression and satisfaction.

While there are examples of excellent music education in schools, many Australian students lack access to effective music programs. Music education in Australian schools is at a critical point where prompt action is needed to correct these inequalities.


Improving and sustaining the quality and status of music education should be an immediate priority. Action is needed to:

  • Improve the equity of access, participation and engagement in school music for all students
  • Improve teacher pre-service and in-service education
  • Improve curriculum support services (advisory, instrumental music, vocal music and music technology)
  • Support productive partnerships and networking with music organisations, musicians, the music industry and the Australian community
  • Improve music education in schools through supportive principals and school leadership, adequately educated specialist teachers, increased time in the timetable, adequate facilities and equipment
  • Improve levels of accountability
  • Improve the overall status of music in schools.

Quality teaching

The quality of music education depends on the quality of teaching, in partnership with quality support. The work of teachers is enabled through the support provided by systems, sectors, schools, principals, parents, the wider community and through partnerships with music organisations and industry.

Music teachers currently in schools need greater assistance through curriculum support materials, advisory services, networks, mentoring and professional development.

The Review has developed Guidelines for Effective Music Education. All key stakeholders need to endorse and implement these guidelines.

Effective teacher education is essential

Music-specific professional development is urgently required for generalist classroom teachers currently in schools.

Hours for pre-service teacher education for music have contracted radically in the last ten years and do not adequately prepare generalist primary teachers for teaching music in schools. Urgent action is needed to address this problem.

Pre-service teacher education for specialist primary, secondary, instrumental and vocal teachers needs to be reviewed and improved.

The partners in effective music education need to take leadership and action roles

At a national level, the Australian Government has an active leadership role to play in stimulating and supporting effective music education in schools through, for example, initiating curriculum projects, supporting partnerships across jurisdictions and sectors, supporting improvements in teacher education, providing stimulus grants, and ensuring national accountability mechanisms are used. Cohesive approaches to music education and national consistency are needed.

State and Territory governments have an active leadership role to play in their respective jurisdictions through departments of education, curriculum authorities and partnerships across agencies and with local government, music organisations, musicians and the community. Their focus is on ensuring access, equity, engagement and participation for all students in their jurisdiction, through the provision of teachers, facilities, equipment, support and valuing of music. Accountability measures are also crucial.

Catholic and independent school sectors have leadership and action roles to play in collaborating with education and music partners to ensure that standards of music education are met for all students in their jurisdictions.

At a local level, principals, school leadership groups and teachers have leadership and action roles in timetabling, resourcing, supporting and valuing music education in their schools. Partnerships with music organisations are critically important.

Teachers are vital to the quality of music education for all students. They need to take proactive roles in ensuring the quality and status of music in schools by developing their own professional expertise, learning and values.

Parents and caregivers have a role in valuing and supporting music education as integral to the engagement and retention of students in schools. Communities play a vital role in effective music education.

Professional and community music organisations, the music industry, musicians and music professional associations have necessary partnership roles to play.

National Music Education Summit

A number of steps will be undertaken to build on the Review's findings.

A National Music Education Summit is to be held in the first half of 2006. The Summit will bring together music and education experts, parents and teachers to discuss the Review’s recommendations and to develop a comprehensive and detailed response.

Dr Brendan Nelson, Australian Government Minister for Education, will present the Review's report to State and Territory ministers for their consideration and will write to every school principal and peak parent group.

In the interim, Dr Nelson will also ask Teaching Australia, formerly known as the National Institute for Quality Teaching and School Leadership (NIQTSL), to consider the report when deciding on accreditation requirements for teacher education courses.

Key Learning Areas

The Arts

Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Curriculum planning
Educational planning
Educational evaluation