The Stevens Report

The numbers themselves are based on the raw data that was provided in the report, Trends in School Music Education Provision in Australia report (the “Stevens Report” (2003)). Professor Robin Stevens, like the National Review of School Music Education (NRSME), a Commonwealth review that reported in 2005, was not able to put firm numbers on provision. This was a result of several factors:

  • Unco-operative State Education Departments
  • The lack of data collected re music by the States
  • Confusion surrounding what music provision actually means.

This last point is important. At the time, our definitions of a music program were broadly similar to those of the NRSME. Prior to the NRSME we were using the words, meaningful and sustained. Since the NRSME the definition has become more tightly focused under the phrase “continuous, sequential and developmental”. As in the NRSME, “sustained” meant that provision was available throughout primary school and into the early years of high school. Later this was refined a little more to meaning from K–10.

Essentially, what we were trying to find out is what percentage of students could expect to receive a music education, as compared with a musical experience or at best a series of musical experiences, while at school.

While additional quantitative work to measure provision would be welcome, at present the Stevens Report constitutes the best data available.

Government Schools

What Stevens was able to tell us was:

  1. The number of schools (in each of the systems) (Stevens Chapter 1)
  2. The number of students in total and the number in each system (Stevens Chapter 2)
  3. In addition, in some States, Stevens was able to ascertain estimated numbers of specialist music teachers (Stevens Chapter 3).

What Stevens was not able to tell us was how many generalist teachers ran ‘meaningful, sustained’ programs for their classes. Other information from Stevens suggests that most generalist teachers wouldn’t be able to provide meaningful and sustained programs but that there would be some that can and do- something the NRSME has subsequently broadly agreed upon.

Stevens was also able to demonstrate that while music is described in each of the State curricula, it in most cases was neither meaningful nor sustained. For instance, music is a requirement in NSW only in Years 7/8 where 100 hours of study is provisioned over those two years — while music is prescribed in NSW primary schools but is not all that often available. Similarly, in Victoria, and some other States music provision is reliant on the determination of the school principal, usually based on gaining access to a specialist teacher.

In these cases neither Victoria nor NSW could claim to have ‘meaningful or sustained’ music programs in the majority of its schools.

Conversely, Queensland would appear to have the best provision of specialist music teachers in both primary and secondary schools.

The data Stevens provides suggests that around 55% of State schools in that State have a specialist music teacher. The Queensland government has subsequently claimed a figure of 87% provision of music specialists in Queensland primary schools. This without doubt represents the high water mark in provision in Australia.

Overall, these figures mean that notionally 1 in 3 schools has access to a specialist music teacher – 6,854 schools vs 2,319 specialist teachers. This of course does not account for the fact that some schools have multiple specialists. For instance, here in Melbourne both Blackburn and McKinnon Highs have upwards of 20 specialist attending the school for an FTE (full-time equivalent) of 6 or 7 teachers per school.

It also means based on these numbers (2.27 million students and 2,319 specialist teachers) that each teacher would be required to teach on average 979 students per week. (if the program was to be sustained as per our terms). Clearly, this is not possible.

The best case scenario we could extrapolate from these figures was that a specialist music teacher could teach up to 200 students per week, in a combination of class and small group tuition. Add a relatively small number of generalist primary teachers, (around 2,500 teachers or 5% of so of the total primary teacher workforce) who are likely to have the skills and confidence to deliver a meaningful and sustained music programs in their classrooms. Should this be the case then these teachers could deliver programs to a further 60,000 or so students making the total provision around 525,000 or about 23% of the total school population.

There is of course some provision by private providers, however this provision is rarely universal, the content is often of an unknown standard and they are frequently not self sustaining. There appears to be no record keeping at any level with regard to these groups whether they be AMA (Australian Music Association) members like Engadine Music or Musiccorp providing the data or the likes of Musica Viva or the Song Room. This is not to say that the groups themselves do not keep records but there is certainly no central collection point for this data.

To cross-reference this hypothesis we looked to the 2001 AMA study entitled Australian Attitudes to Music. One of the questions in this study was: Where did you learn to play/or sing?

In 21% of cases respondents said it was through school. Interestingly, the follow-up survey undertaken in 2007 shows that now just 17% of respondents have learnt through school music programs. This survey contains over 1,000 interviews and is accurate to +/-3% Finally, overseas countries like the US, UK and Canada have many similar issues to those encountered in Australia. According to MENC, (Music Educators’ National Conference) in the US, provision is no better in that country and in Canada than 25% of students. In the UK, the Music Manifesto reports that it commenced with an 8% base provision in 2001.

Private Schools

The number quoted in terms of provision in the private school system was in excess of 80%. It should be noted that this was not to include Catholic Parish style primary schools, where provision is as low if not lower than State schools.

The schools in question were the Independent schools and the leading Catholic Schools. Stevens generally found much higher level of provision in the independent school systems. Music is one of the valuable added parts of the curriculum being sort by parents who choose to send their child to a non-government school.

The Stevens Report itself gives a number of examples.

It is safe to say that with few exceptions, these being specialist private schools like the agricultural college in Toowoomba or newly opened private schools where music is not yet a core part of the schools activity, almost all independent private primary school schools have music classroom specialists and most have these staff supported by instrumental or vocal teachers.

Though somewhat later, the Australian Music Association (AMA) was able, through a web-based survey undertaken as part of the AMA’s submission to the NRSME, to verify its view that the vast majority of private schools (80%+) provided meaningful and sustained music programs.

This survey undertaken in February 2005, viewed 95 randomly selected private school websites. 78% of these schools featured musical images on their home pages. In fact, music making images were second only to images of smiling, happy, well turned out, relaxed students. Images of music making far outnumbered any other curricular images including images of computers, science, sports and certainly any other arts activities. Images of music making even outnumbered images of school icons such as the schools’ historic buildings or images of the school crest.

Delving further into the websites we found only four colleges where music was not offered as a sustained program from entry to the school through to graduation.

Overall, we found that music was available in 95% of the sampled schools. Of those one was the agricultural college mentioned above and three were newly established community/Christian schools whose range of curricula was still to be fully developed.

So that is the history of the 23% and 88% figures, now so often quoted, though generally without the qualifications initially placed beside them, in particular the ‘meaningful and sustained’ criteria.

As I said initially when we spoke about these numbers I was the one who did the calculations, though I consulted others at the time with my conclusions. I’m still happy to stand by the numbers, as I think the premises on which they are based are sound and that the data gathered at that time meet any test of reasonableness.

That said they were never meant to be definite but rather indicative.

I hope that answers the question.


Ian Harvey

PS: Interestingly, the Australia Council’s Australians and the Arts study comes up with a similar percentage of students reporting that their musical experience was based around school learning as the number extrapolated from Stevens. I don’t have the figures to hand, but could find them if you want.

Further Explanation

As you will see from the explanation below the figures are based around

  • Delivery of the music curriculum by specialist music teachers
  • The criteria “continuous, sequential and developmental”, as opposed to a set of experiences.

The basis of the numbers was also that music provision is sustained in line with the NRSME view that music be available from K to 9/10. So most NSW schools in fact miss out because the mandated provision combined with delivery by specialist teachers is for years 7/8 only — where 100 hours of music learning is mandated because there was little chance of getting music in Year K-6 and limited, elective opportunities in either years 9 or 10.

The same goes for Vic, WA, SA. The position in primary schools is better in Tassie as there number suggest that about 50% of primary schools have a specialist.

The Influence of Queensland on the Numbers

There are currently 1,338 primary schools in QLD. 996 of these are State system schools. According to Education Department figures, 87% of primary schools have a music specialist. This means that 866 primary schools have access to a specialist music teacher.

There are 7,380 state primary schools in Australia at last count. This means that the Queensland provision equates to 12% at best of the student population, assuming that the schools serviced by a specialist music teacher are collectively of average size for the state. Of course all these numbers are by way of extrapolation.

To check the reasonableness of the numbers I looked at two other sets of numbers that were available to me at the time.

Australian Attitudes to Music

This was a study by the Australian Music Association, carried out by Ibis. In 2001, 21% of respondents said their music experiences were based in schools. In 2007 this number was 17%. The 17% is just outside the 3% margin for error, so it is possible provision is declining but you could use the AATM numbers as definitive set of numbers.

Australians and the Arts

This was the 2001 Australia Council report. I can’t find the number at present but somewhere in that report was a number of similar proportion to the AATM and the extrapolated Stevens numbers of 20-something % of people having experienced music at school.


Ian Harvey, March 2008. Entered on Knowledge Base 21 March 2014.

Executive Officer Australian Music Association, Director of sales and marketing consultants Morton Group, Past Treasurer MCA.

The Australian Music Association (AMA) provides an annual statistical analysis for its members.

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