It’s Taking a Long Time

Advocacy for school music education appears to be a lifetime’s work. Tenacity and endurance are indispensable. The provision of a competent, effective school music education was adopted as one of its first priorities when MCA was established 17 years ago. It is now at least on the government’s agenda and there seems now to be very wide public support but we have not progressed much further than that.

Quick Recent History from MCA’s Perspective

MCA commissioned research into trends in the provision of music education in schools. The report came out in 2003 and showed a downward trend, to no-one’s surprise. MCA and others sought Commonwealth intervention and the Education Minister commissioned the National Review of School Music Education, published in 2005. The then Coalition government responded with some baby steps and was berated by the Opposition for not implementing it properly. Labor won in 2007 with some big promises for music education but it did not implement the recommendations either, instead setting up the process to develop national curricula. It appeared initially that the arts would be overlooked but advocacy by the National Advocates for Arts Education (of which MCA is a member) and commitment by then Arts Minister Peter Garrett saw them included. The draft Australian Curriculum in music should have been released by the time you are reading this article, will be tested in 2013 and implemented in 2014. That is the plan.

A national curriculum for music is a fine idea and its advent is a great opportunity for advocacy for music education. But the curriculum is useful only if it can be taught, and at this time it cannot be taught in most primary schools because the teachers have not been educated in music.

Crunch time is coming. There is still no plan to train the teachers.1

For teachers trained to teach history, for example, a new curriculum only requires them to use their present skills to deal with new subject matter. In music and the arts, most generalist teachers have minimal or no skills and have to begin at the beginning.

Analysis of the Current Situation: Pre-service Education of Teachers

A new Commonwealth body, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), has charge of developing standards for teachers. It has taken a comprehensive view of these standards and subject-area skills form only a rather small part of its prescriptions. Nevertheless, it is required to define the subject discipline knowledge and skills required to deliver the Australian Curriculum and the states have agreed to take these descriptions as the basis for their expectations of teachers.

It is the university schools of education that have the responsibility for the pre-service or ‘initial’ education of teachers and they should teach their students the competencies prescribed by AITSL. These university courses are accredited by state regulatory authorities such as the Victorian Institute of Teaching. If someone graduates from an accredited course, they are then accredited or registered by the state authorities and are eligible for employment as teachers. Graduates from unaccredited courses are not eligible for employment. The whole situation therefore hinges on the accrediting authorities’ demands of the universities.

The requirements for delivering arts competencies are at the moment severely inadequate. The average mandatory music education delivered to students is 17 hours. We are guessing that it should be at least an hour per week for the full four years. That would add up to say 112 hours out of the total course of about 1250 hours. Note that in Finland, the provision is 270 hours and in Korea 160 hours, to name two countries that exceeded Australia in the international PISA scores for school outcomes in reading, maths and science. 112 hours is a compromise.

112 hours would double the best-performing university commitment of 54 hours (Monash). A couple of universities offer none at all (yet are still accredited). This would be a big change.

But there is an Australian Curriculum in each of five art forms. There is in-principle agreement that all school students should be taught all five. Could we expect a university to teach every undergraduate all the necessary competencies in each of five art forms? That could take 560 hours of instruction out of the total of 1250 hours. Could we expect the average undergraduate to achieve the full set of competencies?

What will it be reasonable for the accrediting authorities to demand?

MCA is now exploring that issue with its associate organisations in the National Advocates for Arts Education. It has met with and alerted the Minister and other authorities. It may be judged impracticable to demand that all university pre-service courses teach all the competencies for all five art forms. In that case, rather than teach watered-down versions of all five, it would be better to teach a lesser number properly, and offer introductory courses in the others.

The above description is based on the premise that music education is delivered by the primary classroom teacher. Our belief is that it should actually be delivered by specialist school music teachers as in Queensland and Tasmania. But that is a much more expensive solution so at present, MCA is concentrating on the possible solution entailing generalist teachers.

Analysis of the Current Situation: Arts Education for the Existing Workforce

MCA research indicates that only 23% of public schools offer a competent music education. A new study that has just come to the MCA finds that no classroom music at all is offered in 63% of primary schools and 34% of secondary schools.2) Since primary school music in Queensland and Tasmania is taught by music specialists we could restate the figure for primary schools in the other states as 63% /(100% minus say 20%): 79% of primary schools in the other states offer no classroom music.

We could guess that the main reason for this is that the existing workforce is a product of the system that does not give an adequate pre-service education in music to primary school teachers.

AITSL will have defined the competencies in music required for graduation from an accredited course. What is to be done to deliver those skills to the existing workforce?

It is an enormous task. So far we have discovered no plan nor even a clear assignment of responsibilities. More investigation is required on our part.

Secondary Schools

So far as secondary schools are concerned, the responsibility for delivering a music curriculum cannot be assigned to a classroom teacher because secondary schools use subject area specialists. The training of these specialists could no doubt benefit from evaluation but that is more than MCA can undertake at present. However, the fact that one third of secondary schools appear not to offer music is an issue that is more in our line of fire and we can do some work in that area.

MCA Music and Media Symposium

Thirty music industry leaders gathered at APRA, Sydney, on April 19, 2012, for an MCA symposium to consider how to bolster the presence of Australian music in the broadcast and online media.

Australian music gets exposure through Australian radio and television mainly because it is required by government regulation. There is increased access to Australian music through online providers. The general view to date is that they cannot be subject to similar regulation. The radio industry claims that in that case it is put at a competitive disadvantage because it has to comply with regulations while its online counterparts do not. The Convergence Review accepts the argument, envisages the ending of the Australian content regulations, but proposes that they should be retained for the present while broadcasting is still so important.

This has the enthusiastic support of the music industry. As a result of the Symposium, the MCA has written to the Minister for Communications supporting the retention of radio regulations and their extension to digital-only radio in 2013, and stronger requirements for Australian music content on broadcast and subscription television. This includes extension of the investment requirement on subscription television providers to music, and mandatory instead of optional inclusion of Australian music as a requirement for tax offsets for film and premium television productions.

Many other issues were raised at the Symposium, including a desire to improve the operation and outcomes of the radio quotas, looking for instance at time-of-day requirements and the purpose of the quotas (e.g. not just more broadcasts but more listeners, or how to use them to boost careers of emerging artists or exposure for new releases). There will be much more to report in future issues of Music Forum.

Music Council Advocacy Submissions

Review of the Australia Council

To the Commonwealth Office for the Arts.

The MCA responded to the Review in what others have called a ‘forensic’ style. The response can be read in full on the MCA website. Generally the Music Council supported the attempt for greater flexibility so that the Council can keep up with a changing world. It questions whether the Council should have the prime purpose of fostering a ‘distinctively Australian arts practice’, should be a public advocate for the arts, and whether support to artistic ‘access’ should be hived off to the Office for the Arts. Like many other respondents, it finds that too little detail has been given about the proposed new operational structure. It supports use of more peer assessors as a way of ensuring that applications are evaluated by people with relevant expertise.

Subsidies to Recording, and Melba Records

Unsolicited submission to the Minister for the Arts, the Hon Simon Crean MP, concerning the conclusion of the period of funding to Melba Records in the amount of $1 million per year, on the instructions of the previous government.

The MCA noted that Melba Records productions have received high praise from critics and applauded the quality of Melba’s work. Indeed, it might be seen as evidence of what is possible with adequate funding. However, the $1million per year provided to Melba compares with the total of $5 million spent by the Music Board of the Australia Council on an enormous range of activity — including support to recording. The MCA proposed that the funds then supporting Melba Records continue to be provided to the Music Board but without instruction as to their designation, so that it may give urgently needed support to individual composers, musicians, music SMEs3 — and recording. Melba Records could continue to seek support from the Music Board, but in competition with other applicants.

The Convergence Review

Unsolicited submission to Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Communications, Broadband and the Digital Economy.

The Music Council’s and the industry’s special interest is in sustaining a robust presence for Australian music in the broadcast and online media into the future. This also was a main theme for the Convergence Review. At present, this is achieved through Federal regulations requiring free-to-air broadcasters to devote stated percentages of broadcast time to various types of Australian programming and requiring subscription television services to invest a percentage of their revenues in local production.

However, it is recognised that since it seems impossible to make consistent regulations for online providers, given that many are not based in Australia, the current regulatory regimes may not survive and should be treated as temporary or transitional. The Review recommends therefore that current regulations should be retained, with some changes, for the time being but proposes alternative arrangements for the future around, for instance, requirements for investment in content production. The MCA submission supports most of the Review’s proposals but recommends extensions to better serve Australian music: in particular, an extension of music content requirements in various forms of television. Other recommendations are being formulated.

The MCA is working on further proposals for strategies to support Australian content in the post-quota era.

Productivity Commission Review of the School Education Workforce

Unsolicited submission to the Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations on behalf of the National Advocates for Arts Education.

The Music Council found the Review to be unsatisfactory because, despite two submissions from the MCA, the second attempting to remedy omissions in the Commission’s initial report, the special problems of teacher competencies in music were ignored. This submission drew the attention of the Minister to the problem and its special relevance to the imminent release of the Australian Curriculum in music and the incapacity of the workforce to deliver it.4 The Music Council’s concerns were also brought to the attention of the Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett.

Funding University Music Schools and Conservatoria

Unsolicited submission to the Minister for University Education, Chris Evans.

The Higher Education Base Funding Review found that ‘studio-based creative arts courses’ are underfunded, but then omitted to recommend increased funding. The Music Council is leading an alliance of the music schools that are most heavily involved in studio-based teaching in an attempt to rectify this omission. Under the recommendations of the review, even if music were moved to a higher tier, there would be additional funds only, on the face of it, if the government gives more funding to the entire university sector. The situation is quite complicated. The MCA is proposing to the Minister a scheme that could solve music’s problems in the interim without provision of extra funds by the government. By the time you read this, a presentation will have been made to the Minister or his key staff.

The School of Music at the ANU

Letter to the Vice-Chancellor in response to his invitation to comment on the proposed contraction of the program.

The MCA acknowledges that the ANU School of Music, like others, is underfunded and requires subsidy from the university. Excerpt from the MCA letter:

‘You state that “Change is essential if music is to survive at a tertiary level here and across the rest of the sector. The ANU School of Music has taken a creative and comprehensive approach to regeneration and devised what I believe will be a sector-leading curriculum model.”

‘We agree with your first sentence. The change that is essential is that funding to Australian tertiary music schools is increased to a level at which they can offer the “internationally competitive” programs that the government stated as its objective in its instructions to the Higher Education Base Funding Review. It would be gratifying to have your support in bringing about that change.

‘Our deep wish is that the inadequacy of the model you propose will be recognised and that it will not be adopted by any other institution.

‘Thank you for your invitation to comment. We trust that in the event, any changes to the program of the ANU School of Music serve to strengthen it.’

Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement

Submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

MCA notes that a cultural exception has been applied but that it is less robust than in, for instance, the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the agreement that so far we regard as the best instance of cultural exception among Australian free trade agreements. The Malaysia draft agreement omits measures imposed for the protection of national treasures of artistic, historic, or archaeological value.

ArtsPeak Submissions

MCA was a co-signatory to submissions by ArtsPeak, the national ad hoc alliance of national arts service organisations, concerning support to the small to medium arts sector, the National Cultural Policy, and the Australia Council Review.

Music Council Research

Music and the Media: Government Regulation in Australia and Abroad

By Lynn Gailey. You can view this at MCA’s website under RESEARCH, and in this knowledge base, starting with Broadcasting Content Quotas — An International Overview. This paper describes the regulation of the media — radio, television and online — in Australia and in other countries, especially with regard to its function in ensuring a sufficient place for Australian music.

Music in Australia Knowledge Base

There is a number of new articles, including a major review of statistics by Hans Hoegh-Guldberg (Overview of Music Statistics: Introduction and subsequent articles). See also the article ‘Is the Music Sector Getting Better Statistics?’ in this issue of Music Forum (August 2012, pp 62-64).

Journal of Music Research Online

A new paper has been added. It is by Sally Macarthur and an abstract is published in this issue of Music Forum. (p 58)


Richard Letts. Entered on knowledge base 28 May 2013. Originally published in Music Forum, Vol. 18, No. 4, August (Spring) 2012, 66-71.


  1. Creative Australia, the National Cultural Policy launched in March 2013, notes: “The growth and stability of the cultural economy depends on a strong continuum: beginning with an arts education for all in schools ..”. … “The Australian Government working with state, territory and non-government education authorities to implement the Australian Curriculum: The Arts, which will introduce universal arts education in schools across Australia ..”. In view of the current state of school music, there is a long way to go. Ed.↩︎
  2. Irina Petrova: What Makes Good Music Programs in Schools? A Study of School Music across Australia and a Comparison with England and Russia. 2012, University of NSW. See Major Research into School Music Education, Primary School Music Teaching, and Secondary School Music Teaching, which review and discuss Irina Petrova’s work.↩︎
  3. Small and medium enterprises.↩︎
  4. As discussed in the beginning sections of this article.↩︎

Dr Richard Letts AM is the founder and Director of The Music Trust, founder and former Executive Director of the Music Council of Australia (now Music Australia) and Past President of the International Music Council. He has held senior positions in music and culture in Australia and the United States, advocated for music and music education, conducted research, written policy documents, edited four periodicals, published four books and hundreds of articles.

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