The information on school music education is limited by the ability of school authorities to provide data. Some school systems do not collect statistics on the provision of music education. Despite the systematic research of the author during 2013 the tables below reveal many important gaps in our knowledge of this subject.

Number of Schools

We are interested in the number of music programs at primary and secondary level. Presumably a combined school gives the opportunity for one of each, so a combined school is double counted here in our totals. This means the total number of schools in a state, as shown here, will exceed the number of separate institutions by the number of combined schools.

Information from the departments in SA, WA and TAS differs from the ABS figures.

  • SA: The numbers for the secondary schools are provided by the Department and differ from those from the ABS. The 48 “combined schools” are called “area schools” in SA and these schools include both primary and secondary components.
  • WA: Departmental numbers: 86 senior high + 6 high + 62 district high (latter years 8-10, regional, mostly quite small.)
  • TAS: Departmental numbers: 138 primary schools, 57 high schools, 8 colleges.

Music Taught in Government Primary Schools

In states in which music education is the responsibility of generalist classroom teachers, the education departments do not know in how many schools/classes music is taught.

  • NSW: The Board of Studies does not know where music is or is not taught. It writes that since music is a mandatory component of the curriculum, “it would be reasonable to expect that it is taught in all registered Primary Schools”. We estimate that there is no systematic classroom music in 80%+ of schools. The statistical basis for this is not strong but there is considerable anecdotal corroboration. There may be some specialists paid from discretionary funds but the number is not known. The Department is about to collect data.
  • VIC: Some specialists paid with discretionary funds, but no statistic available. We estimate a very high percentage have no music.
  • QLD: There are specialist music teachers in 87% of primary schools. The others lack specialists because they are small and/or remote. Music is taught by generalists in an unknown percentage of those.
  • SA: Approximately 86 schools use specialists paid with discretionary funds. Generalists may provide music education in others but there are no data available.
  • WA: Access to School of Instrumental Music service is conditional on the school providing a classroom music program. Almost all primary schools that fulfil the requirement hire specialist teachers with “DOTT” discretionary funds.1
  • TAS: Schools are allocated staff based on student numbers. Schools then have flexibility in how they allocate the staff resource. Some positions are for classroom teachers and others can be filled as each school decides. The ethos is such that almost all primary schools choose to employ a specialist music teacher, except where location or size make this too difficult.
  • NT: Music is in the curriculum and valued; “music programs are delivered by both specialist music teachers and general classroom teachers depending upon the priorities of individual schools. Generalist classroom teachers are required to have appropriate skills” [and, writes the department, the skills are assessed and monitored].
  • ACT: provision is “a school-based decision, dependent on curriculum organisation and staffing considerations. In some schools, specialist music teachers deliver music curriculum in conjunction with classroom teachers, or in others generalist classroom teachers deliver the music curriculum. … the Directorate does not collect information related to localised school curriculum delivery decisions.”

Music Taught in Government Secondary Schools

In all state systems, music is taught in secondary schools by specialist music teachers. But not all secondary schools offer music. Here, only the number of schools offering music has been sought. Other basic information which was not sought: in which years is music mandatory, elective? % of students taking music, by year level? % of students taking music exams at high school graduation?

  • NSW: There is a legislative requirement that all secondary students receive 100 hours of music instruction over years 7 and 8. The Department does not know in which schools music is actually being taught. It does know the “number of current teachers with accreditation to teach music”: 565 are appointed to “a position with a first competence of music” and of those, 546 are classroom teachers. Another 318 are appointed to “a position with a first competence other than music”, so some of those may give some of their time to music. The number of teachers would, on the face of it, be sufficient to supply music instruction to most of the 436 secondary schools or programs. The Department is about to collect data. A Departmental source says that regional schools have difficulty in recruiting or retaining music teachers.
  • QLD: Exact number not provided but Director states that almost all have a music program. There is separate information that regional schools have difficulty in retaining music staff.
  • SA: Two or three secondary schools do not have music because they are too small to manage the staffing. The 48 area schools almost all do not have music because their secondary programs are very small. However, music begins to be offered through the Open Access College via the internet.
  • WA: There are 86 senior high + 6 high + 62 district high (latter years 8-10, regional, mostly quite small.) 73 senior high, 11 district high have music.

Instrumental Music

This is a summary only of instruction provided under departmental auspices; it does not include programs set up by individual schools and funded by e.g. parents. Note that some of these programs offer only some categories of musical instrument. A number begin lessons on different instrumental families at different year levels: e.g. strings in year 3, brass and wind in year 5. This detail is not included here.

  • NSW: Only the Conservatorium High School, where individual lessons are provided.
  • VIC: Reaches almost all secondary schools and almost no primary schools. Best provision in 9 “best practice” schools, also “selective entry” schools. Fees are decided locally. There may be some free provision.
  • QLD: Extension of classroom program. Includes ensembles. Reaches an estimated 90% of secondary schools.
  • SA: The Instrumental Music Service teaches about 7,000 out of 125,000 students, from year 3, mostly in metro region. 5.6% of eligible students participate. Includes ensembles.
  • WA: The School of Instrumental Music teaches 15,236 out of 275,700 students. About 75% of schools without service are remote. There is online provision to some schools in the Pilbara and the wheatbelt. Entry is competitive, more applicants than places. Instruments are available for rental at low prices. The School is facing budget cutbacks, loss of positions.
  • TAS: From year 3, offered for a fee for service, but organised by the Department. Includes ensembles. 92+ schools, 1320 students including 40 competitive scholarships.
  • NT: Available face to face or by videoconferencing in all schools in the 6 main centres, from year 5 to 9. Access by audition from year 10. Cost $50/year. Includes ensembles. 1500 student in urban areas participate – c.20% of urban students population
  • ACT: Instrumental Music Program is a centrally administered service with a staff of 12, providing “an extension to the classroom music programs”. 1952 students receive lessons, taught in groups of up to 22, all on “homogenous instruments”, for two 3/4 hours sessions per week; school-based staff are required to offer a third session each week. Does not run school bands but offers training to primary school teachers to do so, and runs seven system-wide ensembles. Negotiated parent contributions. “In most cases schools support student participation through subsidised rates or access to equity funding.” Instruments are provided free. Much more information at

Number of Catholic and Independent Schools

It is interesting to note the high proportion of combined schools in the independent school sector. Does this facilitate the use of specialist teachers at the primary level?


Richard Letts. Entered 28 November 2013.


  1. Principals have discretionary funds to hire outside teachers who then give relief time to classroom teachers.↩︎

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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