Developing the Project

Irina Petrova gained her Master of Music Education degree in 2006 from the University of New South Wales. The Master’s thesis compared primary school music curricula in New South Wales with the United Kingdom, Russia, and the United States.

The Master’s thesis explored the extent to which primary school music education in different countries is based on or follows psychological theories of child cognitive development and progressive educational practices (p 2). Following this qualitative research, the work included a survey based on a questionnaire aimed at primary school teachers in NSW, where primary school music is mostly taught by generalists rather than specialist music teachers.1

In her historical research into child cognitive development, Petrova covers an enormous span of time from Plato (429–347 B.C.E.), who asserted that “musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, …”, via the Age of Enlightenment luminary Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) and many others, to two 20th century psychologists: Belarus-born Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), who focused on the importance of culture in settling specific acquired thinking skills (p 22), and the Swiss Jean Piaget (1896-1980), who asserted that child development is linked to stages of chronological age. He discounted the role of cultural influence and considered that the ideal test of a child’s learning occurs when he or she is faced with unfamiliar, new and increasingly difficult tasks (p 24).

Petrova’s Master’s thesis set the stage for her continuing work, for which she gained a PhD in 2012 from the University of New South Wales with a massive treatise titled What Makes Good Music Programs in Schools? A study of school music across Australia and a comparison with England and Russia. Like the previous thesis, this one features an impressive mix of qualitative and quantitative research. The former includes a literature search spanning forty years to 2009 in Australia, as well as Russian and British references, which is documented in meticulous detail in the appendix part of her thesis. The reference list alone runs to 68 pages, referring to the detailed documentation which together with other appendices takes up several hundred more.

While Petrova’s qualitative research is certain to elicit many comments2, it is too wide-ranging for the present set of articles based on her work to be built into the knowledge base in great detail (the thesis itself, online, is worth an extended visit). One of the major objectives of the knowledge base, however, is to promote and help improve the statistical base of the Australian music sector — a task which has occupied much work on the knowledge base (see Overview of Music Statistics: Introduction), though it is still incomplete.

The next section attempts to sum up Irina Petrova’s own descriptions of her work in the MCA journal Music Forum — descriptions that were largely but not exclusively derived from the surveys she carried out for her PhD thesis for primary and secondary schools, respectively. The analysis of primary and secondary schools is contained in separate articles to avoid excessive length.

Irina Petrova wrote these articles before the Australian Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean, launched the new Australian cultural policy document, Creative Australia, on 13 March 2013 — replacing its 1994 forerunner Creative Nation. An essential component of the plan is a commitment to make the five defined arts subjects (dance, drama, media arts, music, and visual arts) part of the curriculum from pre-school to Year 12. Petrova’s research demonstrates how huge this challenge is — a fact that at least the initial media reports following the launch failed to grasp. (Comment added 15.3.13. HHG)

Issues Arising from the Research

Irina Petrova has described her main conclusions in successive issues of Music Forum — primary school music in the Summer 2012 issue (November) and secondary school music in the Autumn 2013 issue (February).3

Primary Schools

The dominant issue is: School music education is in a vicious circle due to inadequate primary teacher training. “It is confirmed that teachers’ musical qualifications are the major factor impacting the quality of music programs.” (Music Forum article 1, p 55). “The issue is rooted in a lack of primary music teachers who know music. The issue also directly hits the quality of secondary school music because students going from primary to secondary come with a great variety of abilities in music, at worst with no formal primary music education. Therefore the number of students who have achieved well in secondary music programs is falling as teachers need to cater to the needs of students with a diverse range of musical abilities.” (Music Forum article 2, p 52).

In 2009 when these surveys were conducted, a huge 62.7% of all primary schools in Australia had no classroom music. It is reasonable to conclude, says Petrova, that Australian primary music education is in a state of crisis, though she sees a possible silver lining in the fact that primary classroom music may have survived despite it all.

A second crucial issue is the lack of qualifications of many primary music teachers. Slightly less than half the primary teachers surveyed (48.4%) had a high level of musical attainment, while 22.5% had a moderate and 29.1% a low level.4 Musical attainment is the major criterion that determines primary teachers’ confidence. In the absence of such qualifications, experience in teaching music was a major factor that contributed to confidence among teachers.

The lower the level of musical qualification or attainment, the less likely teachers are to be engaged in music-specific activities. Respondents with low or no musical attainment said they were unlikely to be engaged in a majority of teaching activities apart from singing and moving.

The study also identified a need to strengthen pre-service and in-service training for all teachers with little or no musical attainment (rather than advisory curriculum services or consultants which these teachers proved unlikely to contact).5 As far as the music advisers themselves were concerned, a small survey suggested that 25% did not feel confident in giving advice to school teachers.

The survey highlighted the importance and necessity of music-specific resources for raising the status of music in schools, and effective teaching. However, government school surveys show that lack of resources has been an issue for music education in Australia for years.

Teachers’ perceptions of how their school fulfils the demands of the music vary significantly across states and territories, as explored (subject to sampling limitations) in the second of this series of articles, Primary School Music Teaching. Provision of resources (software, recordings, instruments, books and other written material) was generally better in independent schools than in government and Catholic schools. The research also made clear that without specialist music advice, assistance or consultancy, curriculum support materials make little sense and are of little use to non-specialist teachers.

Petrova offers the following conclusions in her first Music Forum article (p 59 – italics added):

  • “Thus, the issue of student access to classroom music remains unresolved. The thesis exposes the apparent reluctance of the relevant agencies to address the problems in the provision of quality classroom music education.”
  • The outcomes of this study predict that the “vicious circle” in music education will continue. The basis for these interpretations is rooted in a number of deficiencies inherent in pre-service primary school teacher training in music.”
  • “It is important to address this issue now when the mechanisms for the implementation of two recent national initiatives — the School National Curriculum6 and the National Professional Standards for Teachers — are being established.7 In Australia there is a need for changes in teacher training in music at a tertiary level in terms of content of study and hours devoted to music, especially for primary school generalist teachers. As the national government initiatives will not happen immediately, the findings of this thesis may be taken into account by the educational authorities. It is suggested that the content of teacher preparation courses, standards of teacher accreditation and registration, and content of school syllabi are measured against similar benchmarks. This arrangement should include collaboration with teacher education institutions, teacher registration institutions and educational policy makers.”8

Secondary Schools

“The article focuses on the state of music education in secondary schools in terms of student access, pre-service and in-service training, and support for teaching music. The aim … is to point out again that the state of provision at primary level is worse than at secondary level.” (Music Forum article 2, p 52, italics added) Indeed, 33.8% of secondary schools reached in the survey did not offer classroom music teaching, compared with 62.7% of primary schools.9 Petrova’s literature review reveals that the state of Australian secondary music education was acceptable at times but in general quite poor. Secondary students did not always have equal opportunities and missed out in participation in music due to conditions surrounding music provision – e.g. due to “crowded curriculum” (too many cross-curricular activities and subjects), impact of other subjects, lack of confidence among music teachers, and shortage of teachers.

Petrova’s surveys show that secondary music teachers are much better educated than primary teachers. Of the total 141 secondary teachers reached, 125 (88.7%) were highly qualified, 13 (9.2%) were moderately qualified, and only three (2.1%) had low or no qualifications.10

Teacher confidence is highly correlated with formal qualification. Highly qualified teachers were confident teaching years 7 to 12 and reasonably confident teaching tertiary entrance course or equivalent. Moderately qualified teachers (small sample) were confident teaching years 7-10, less confident teaching years 11-12 and even less teaching the higher level.

In conclusion (p 53):

  • “There was no evidence that training of secondary music teachers is insufficient in Australia.”
  • “The thesis confirms that almost all secondary school teachers had musical training prior to their formal study and obtained musical qualifications.”
  • “It is confirmed that the state of primary school teachers’ training in music is worse compared to training of secondary music teachers as perceived by respondents.”

Professional development. One of the prior objectives of the secondary school survey was to gain a picture of in-service teacher training, focusing on its adequacy for teachers with little or no musical attainment relative to those with high or moderate qualifications. In view of the tiny number of teachers with low qualifications that showed up in the survey, the focus shifted (though this in not spelled out in the Music Forum article). Based on Table 10.114 in the main thesis, this part of the survey was based on 124 highly qualified teachers and only 12 moderately qualified ones. They were asked to rate the adequacy of in-service training on a scale from 1 (inadequate) to 7 (fully adequate), where an average below 4 is assumed to indicate inadequacy. Among highly qualified teachers the average was 3.06 (somewhat inadequate) but there was a fairly wide range of responses as shown by the variance of the distribution (2.94). The 12 observations of moderate qualifications showed a much more consistent pattern (which helps to justify showing the result even if the sample is small). The average score was 2.17 showing greater dissatisfaction, and a variance as low as 1.24 indicating that the moderately qualified teachers, few as they were, were in considerable agreement about the inadequacy of in-service workshops.

Support by musical advisers has been historically lacking. Almost half of the secondary music teachers in the sample never contacted music advisers/consultants. The highest percentage contacting consultants was from Queensland, and the most frequent contacts in South Australia. A large proportion from South Australia, Queensland and Victoria said music advisers never visited their schools.11

Resources. The Music Forum article goes on to comment on levels of support for teaching class music, the necessity of music-specific resources as lack of resources has been an issue for years. The survey concludes that the resource situation is better in secondary than primary schools.

Staff meetings do not meet the full demand of the music curriculum. Many felt that staff meetings were not helpful at all.12

Petrova’s concluding paragraph is quoted in full: (p 55)

“In conclusion, although a delivery of classroom music in secondary schools is marginally13 better than in primary schools, the issue of student access to secondary school classroom music also remains unresolved. There are no mechanisms of accountability that establish and monitor the standard requirements for provision of qualified teachers, resources, facilities, and equipment to schools at any level of government in Australia. If the governments provide funding for resources it is reasonable to suggest that they need to establish an approved model, develop a mechanism to monitor it, and exercise their power until their policies are implemented. At present, the governments’ goals in relation to equal opportunities in music learning in primary and secondary schools have not been realised. Dmitry Kabalevsky14 once stressed that from Aristotle’s time to the present, music has played an important role in all aspects of a child’s education. We have to either agree with this statement or disagree. There is no third option.”

Quality of Surveys

Table 1 compares the responses to the primary and secondary school surveys. Of 7,675 primary schools that existed in 2009, Petrova was able to reach 6,284 (81%) and at that stage secured some important information about each school from the principal or senior staff member she contacted. This led to the crucial finding that 62.8% of primary schools had no classroom music teaching.

She also reached 2,466 of 2,700 secondary schools (91%). This secured what appears to be a firmly based finding that 33.8% of secondary schools had no classroom music.15

The next hurdle she met was the refusal of 40% of primary and 63% of secondary school principals of schools with classroom music teaching to permit contact with teachers, with 70% citing no reason in the case of primary schools, where the most common reason given was that teachers were too tired at the end of term or school year. In secondary schools, the most commonly stated reason (13% of schools) was too much extracurricular work, but more than three-quarters of these principals were not interested or gave no reason.

As a result, the number of eligible teachers that could be reached was reduced to about 1,400 in primary schools and just over 600 in secondary schools. The response rate was 18.4% in primary and 23.2% in secondary schools, resulting in 258 and 141 completed surveys, respectively.

The limited number of responses evidently affects the quality of the results.The bottom part of Table 1 showed that the distribution of responses by states and territories results in some quite small numbers, especially for secondary schools. There were also significant differences in the apparent response rate from area to area as shown by the left-hand box. Primary schools on this indication are under-represented in Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory, while the percentages exceed the official statistics in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT. Secondary schools are relatively well represented in NSW, Tasmania and the ACT, and particularly low in WA and the Northern Territory. This assessment is solely based on school numbers without regard to how these schools are distributed by size or within each state or territory between capital cities, other cities and towns, and rural and remote locations.

In conclusion, these surveys are primarily affected by the willingness, or lack thereof, of school principals to permit the research (which is most disappointing for secondary schools, of which there are much lower aggregate numbers in the first place), and by the response rate of eligible teachers whose accessibility had already been reduced due to the refusal of so many principals.16

Feedback from the Surveys

Each article needs be studied and each offers its own conclusions. The following notes leave some findings out in the attempt to encapsulate the statistical findings which has been the main concern while studying the Petrova thesis.

Primary School Survey

  • Almost two-thirds (62.7%) had no classroom music, and in the largest state, NSW, 45% of classroom teachers were not specialist music teachers, mainly in government schools but a minority in Catholic schools. Throughout Australia, the highest proportion of primary schools with two or more specialist music teachers was in independent schools (16%).
  • The primary music teaching workforce, predominantly female (82%), is aging with over two-thirds aged 40 or more, significantly higher than for the total Australian workforce.
  • Less than half of music teachers (48.4%) were highly qualified by their formal musical education, 22.5% were moderately qualified, and 29.1% had low qualifications, or none. Among the states, the proportion of highly qualified teachers was highest in Queensland (69%) compared with 57% in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, 53% in Tasmania (small sample), and only 27% in NSW. At the other end of the spectrum, NSW had the highest ratio of teachers with low or no musical qualifications (49%), and South Australia showed a curious “either-or” pattern with very few moderately qualified teachers and having the second-highest proportion in the bottom group (40%). In Queensland and Western Australia there was only 12-13% in that group, and in Victoria 25%.
  • Independent schools had the largest proportion of highly qualified music teachers (65%), compared with 47% of Catholic schools and 44% of government schools.
  • On the positive side, seven out of eight primary music teachers had some musical training before starting their pre-service training at college or university. Most of the teachers with high qualifications had taken music as part of their secondary school education. More than 90% played one or more musical instruments, and almost all had played an instrument for five years or more.
  • Teachers with high formal qualifications were much more likely to find their pre-service training adequate compared with less qualified teachers who were less satisfied; younger teachers more likely to do so than their older colleagues, and males more than females. In-service training, on the other hand, was considered generally less adequate, across all groups but in particular by teachers in the lowest qualification group.
  • Level of qualifications, and confidence in teaching music, generally go together in primary schools — a key finding.
  • Teaching resources available to meet the demand of the primary music curriculum was found to be most sufficient in Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland, and least sufficient in South Australia and (especially) in NSW.
  • The physical resources generally considered least sufficient were computer software, video recordings and electronic instruments. Books and written records, traditional instruments, and (slightly further down the scale) audio recordings, were considered most sufficient. Among the mainland states, Western Australia led the sufficiency race for every type of resource followed by Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, and NSW once again bringing up the rear.

Secondary School Survey

The sample was smaller in Australian secondary schools allowing less detailed analysis by states and otherwise. One of the main reasons was a high refusal rate by principals when asked to allow interviews with a music teacher, which was unfortunate for the quality of the resulting estimates. This was after gathering the data to show that about one-third (33.7%) of schools reached offered no classroom music teaching — based on the much larger numbers and not on the minority of teachers responding from those schools for which principals agreed to approach a teacher. The response was particularly small among smaller schools, assumed to be largely secondary sections of combined schools. In summary:

  • Almost nine of ten secondary school music teachers were highly qualified by their academic background to teach music. This generally applied with some variation across age groups, presumably due to the small sample. Male teachers (40% of the total sample, largely confirmed by official statistics showing 43%) were more likely than females to fall into the highly qualified group (94.7% against 84.5%).
  • Like their primary school counterparts, a high proportion (91%) chose musical subjects in secondary school. Half the sample attended every year from 7 to 12. All played a musical instrument or sang in choirs, or more infrequently solo. A significant minority, more than among primary school teachers, played one or more concert- or ensemble-type string, brass or woodwind instruments.
  • Almost half the secondary teachers had taught music for 16 years or more. About 30% had commenced their training during the eighties and another 30% during the nineties. At the two ends, 17% had begun their musical training before 1980, and 23% in 2000 or later.
  • Ignoring the tiny statistically unrepresentative group of badly qualified teachers, all were highly confident about teaching years 7 to 10, and not much less confident about years 11 and 12. The highly qualified teachers were still reasonably confident about preparing students for tertiary music exams and extensions; the smaller group of moderately qualified teachers less so.
  • What areas of secondary music teaching need improvement? In terms of survey averages, the assessment and evaluation of progress mostly needs to be improved, and developing musical skills least. On five criteria and analysing only the three states with most observations, Queensland scores best on average, with NSW next and Victoria third.
  • Of five indicators of how to improve the teaching environment to meet curriculum demands, the same ranking is obtained, again with NSW ahead of Victoria to gain second place. Assessing the sufficiency of teaching resources (computer software etc), Queensland pulls further ahead of the other states included in the analysis. Victoria is second here, NSW third.
  • In the primary school analysis, Western Australia scored highly, but the sample of Western Australian secondary schools was disappointingly small (5). Hence the statistical evidence is lacking on whether its secondary schools would pull ahead of Queensland, as they tended to do for primary schools.
  • Finally, the quality of pre-service training was considered “almost” or “barely” adequate on average; in-service training was judged more harshly; and professional development (PD) workshops obtained the highest average ratings. These sweeping statements can be assessed against the details in Petrova’s thesis, which the knowledge base has no intention of supplanting, just supplementing with what is hoped to be a reasonably user-friendly introduction.

Next Steps

Irina Petrova’s thesis is so important for the build-up of a statistical picture that it should be given maximum exposure beyond a smallish research community which is willing to plough through 450 pages of thesis supplementeded by some 800 pages of appendices. The task I have set myself as editor of the MCA knowledge base is to help “popularise” the survey findings for primary and secondary schools — with a critical eye on the statistical quality as well as admiration for the range this work covers.

To maintain the continuity while acknowledging that there is a limit to the size of files that can or should be accommodated in the wiki format we use, the articles Primary School Music Teaching and Secondary School Music Teaching continue the table numbering started by Table 1 above.


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Entered 6 March 2013. Revised and extended 15 March 2013 to reflect on the analysis carried out in Primary School Music Teaching and Secondary School Music Teaching, and on the launch, on 13 March, of Creative Australia, the new national cultural policy.


  1. The survey showed (p 202) that seven of 42 teachers had musical qualifications (17%). They all felt confident teaching primary music, whereas half of those without these qualifications did not.↩︎
  2. The MCA encourages an active and ongoing debate to help remedy the relative neglect of and crying need for improved school (and early-childhood) music, and invites comments for the knowledge base — for email contact see Help to Build the Knowledge Base.↩︎
  3. They are “Primary School Music — Still alive despite years of neglect” (“article 1”) and “What Makes Good Music Programs in Secondary Schools?” (“article 2”).↩︎
  4. Musical qualification or level of attainment is defined in the 2012 thesis, pp 247-248, as follows: High: Musical Degree or Diploma, Bachelor’s Degree with a music specialty, Master’s Degree in Music or Music Education. Moderate: Bachelor’s Degree with no music but supplemented by Grade 5 or higher in musical instrument playing, or completion of a Diploma of Associate in Music in Australia. Low (or none): Bachelor’s Degree with no music and Grade 4 or lower in musical instrument playing, or no formal music education.↩︎
  5. Both primary and secondary music teachers generally approved of professional development (PD) workshops and a large majority had attended them. However, the percentage was highest for teachers with high qualifications and lowest for those with low or no qualifications in music.↩︎
  6. The latest report on the arts by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is a 30-page report, Shape of the Australian Curriculum: The Arts (August 2011). A chapter on “scope and sequence of the Australian arts curriculum” devotes a total of 12 pages to the five art subjects: dance, drama, media arts, music, and visual arts. Each subject is described for each of six stages of education: Foundation to Year 2, and then five two-year bands up to and including Years 11 and 12 (senior secondary school).↩︎
  7. Surely this statement gains further importance in the wake of the Creative Australia announcement on 13 March1203. HHG↩︎
  8. Petrova adds this coda to her first Music Forum article (p 59): “The change needs to start sooner rather than later as the voice from the educational field calls on behalf of others that: “Classroom music needs all the help it can muster before it dies completely. Cheers.” (a comment in the survey by a music teacher, QLD, July 15, 2009).”↩︎
  9. This statement merely compares secondary with primary schools but does not by any means imply that the secondary school situation is satisfactory. Furthermore, the historical literature research in Petrova’s thesis shows that “several states have difficulty staffing classrooms distant from the capital cities” (p 215), and while the provision of secondary school specialists in Australia was better than in the primary schools, schools were “lacking teachers in Victoria and in areas distant from the capital cities in other states and territories.” (p 221). This information appears to be come mainly from an article by Ann Carroll (1988), “Secondary school music education in Australia: The Current Picture”, Australian Journal of Music Education, 1, pp 92-102. It is highly likely, however, that the relative lack of qualified secondary music teachers prevails in many rural and remote areas.↩︎
  10. The low proportions, and low absolute numbers, make it tricky to draw conclusions for the minor groups, that is, to differentiate between the three groups. There is a confusing passage in her second Music Forum article dealing with attendance at professional development (PD) workshops (p 54): “While a clear majority of secondary school music teachers attended music professional development, almost a third of respondents who did not attend any music professional development were teachers with a moderate level of musical attainment, and twenty percent of teachers had little or no musical attainment.” This is misleading. Table 10.108 in the thesis shows that as few as 10 of the 141 teachers had never attended a PD workshop (7%). Of these, five (50%) had high, three (30%) moderate, and two (20%) low musical qualifications — proportions she quoted in Music Forum. These numbers are small and subject to sampling error. The point is lost in Petrova’s description that 89% of secondary music teachers are highly qualified, and merely 2% have low qualifications, or none. At most, the statement in article 2 should have focused on the finding that 96% of highly qualified teachers had attended PD workshops, compared with 77% of the 13 moderately qualified and only one of the three in the bottom group. It may be the “expected” direction but it is disputed that it should have rated as a major finding to be featured in the Music Forum article.↩︎
  11. The state samples are quite small, and the differences are probably not statistically significant. Secondary School Music Teaching contains a number of tables dealing with various aspects of the analysis discussed on the basis of Petrova’s Music Forum table.↩︎
  12. Petrova also reports that comparison of responses across states and territories show differences among but also within states, indicated by variance. This doesn’t seem to be derived from the survey — the samples are small and at most permits some differentiation between the three largest samples (NSW, Victoria, and Queensland).↩︎
  13. More than “marginally” perhaps, except for the adverse influence of new secondary school students who were badly taught in primary school. HHG↩︎
  14. Dmitry Kabalevsky (1904-87) was one of the founders of the Union of Soviet Composers in Moscow and remained one of its leading figures.↩︎
  15. The higher percentage reached (compared with primary schools) was thought to be associated with secondary schools being generally larger, and many small primary schools being located in rural and remote areas. However, secondary schools include secondary departments of combined schools, which made up 46.7% of the total number of 2,700 in 2009, when the surveys were conducted. While the explanations in her thesis indicate that she was able to establish the proportion of schools with no classroom music at least for the 91% of schools reached, Secondary School Music Teaching contains a text box showing that 30% of all secondary schools and secondary departments had 200 students or less, but only 4% of the secondary teachers who responded to the survey came from such schools. It is plausible that the lack of response mainly affects combined schools, especially in rural and remote areas.↩︎
  16. Other factors affect the reliability of the results, including the variability of responses measured by statistical variance.↩︎

Hans founded his own consulting firm, Economic Strategies Pty Ltd, in 1984, following 25 years with larger organisations. He specialised from the outset in applied cultural economics — one of his first major projects was The Australian Music Industry for the Music Board of the Australia Council (published in 1987), which also marks his first connection with Richard Letts who was the Director of the Music Board in the mid-1980s. Hans first assisted the Music Council of Australia in 2000 and between 2006 and 2008 proposed and developed the Knowledge Base, returning in an active capacity as its editor in 2011. In November 2013 the Knowledge Base was transferred to The Music Trust, with MCA's full cooperation.

Between 2000 and 2010 Hans also authored or co-authored several major domestic and international climate change projects, using scenario planning techniques to develop alternative long-term futures. He has for several years been exploring the similarities between the economics of cultural and ecological change, and their continued lack of political clout which is to a large extent due to conventional GDP data being unable to measure the true value of our cultural and environmental capital. This was announced as a major scenario-planning project for The Music Trust in March 2014 (articles of particular relevance to the project are marked *, below).

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