Independent Society of Musicians Written evidence (EDU0083)


The Independent Society of Musicians (ISM) is the UK's largest non-union representative body for musicians. Founded in 1882, the ISM supports over 11,000 members across the UK and Ireland, including many music teachers. As a subject association for music, we supply a range of music education materials and have published several reports into the state of music education in the UK. We also provide the secretariat for the APPG for Music Education. The ISM is a financially independent, not-for-profit organisation with no political affiliation.


  1. Summary

A high-quality arts education at secondary level is a crucial part of the talent pipeline that feeds the UK’s creative industries. The creative industries contribute £116 billion per annum to the UK economy and are a vital part of the country’s soft power internationally. Subjects such as music, drama and art also teach young people a range of skills that will help them to achieve successful careers in the 21st-century economy, as well as benefiting them culturally and in terms of well-being.

However, arts subjects are in serious decline in English state secondary schools. This is due to government policies that have steadily undermined music and other arts subjects since 2010. These have been guided by a focus on teaching knowledge rather than skills and the belief that academic subjects are more important than arts subjects.

Particular damage has been done by two state secondary accountability measures introduced since 2010: the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and Progress 8 (used to calculate school league tables). These measures aim to ensure that all pupils study a broad range of ‘core’ academic subjects. However, they have increased inequality of access to arts subjects by creating a two-tier system, where EBacc subjects are prioritised in terms of funding and curriculum hours, and subjects such as music are relegated to second-class status.

A significant decline in education funding since 2010 also means that schools have less money to spend on arts subjects. Research including the ISM’s own 2021 report, Music: A subject in peril shows a widening gulf between arts provision in state and independent schools.

The decline in arts education is contributing to the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention in the arts. The National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) predicts that nine of out 17 secondary subjects, including music, drama and art, are expected to be 20% or more below the DfE’s teacher recruitment targets for the 2023/24 academic year.

The ISM believes that every child is entitled to a broad and balanced education that includes high-quality arts provision. We are calling for a review and reform of accountability measures and more funding for arts education to restore the status of arts subjects in our schools.


  1. Impact of state secondary accountability measures: EBacc and Progress 8

The EBacc is a suite of subjects that pupils are encouraged to study at GCSE: English, maths, a science, history or geography, and a foreign language. It was introduced in 2010 by Michael Gove (then Education Secretary) and was based on the 1904 Secondary Regulations and the Russell Group of universities’ list of facilitating subjects. The government has a target of 90% of pupils taking the full EBacc by 2025.

Progress 8, introduced in 2016, measures the progress that pupils make between the end of primary school and their GCSEs. It is calculated from their top 8 GCSE results but is heavily weighted towards EBacc subjects. Progress 8 scores are the basis of school league tables.

The combined effect of the EBacc and Progress 8 has been to narrow the curriculum, focusing education away from arts subjects in secondary schools. There has been a stark decline in both uptake and provision of arts subjects in English schools since they were introduced:

GCSE Subject




% change (2010-22)

Art & Design





Design & Technology










Media/Film/TV Studies










Performing/Expressive Arts










Data from the Joint Council for Qualifications

Without reform of these accountability measures the decline of arts subjects will continue at secondary level, with the risk that some will disappear from the curriculum altogether.


  1. Funding

Data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows that real-term education spending per-pupil fell 9% between 2009 and 2019, representing the largest cut in over 40 years. Despite an additional £7.1 billion allocated to schools through to the end of the current academic year, the per-pupil spending for the year is still 1-2% lower in real terms than in 2009-10.

The ISM’s research for Music: A subject in peril? found that 61% of respondents’ music department budgets were considered insufficient. Music teachers reported low per-pupil spending and significant budget cuts. Many teachers told us they raised additional funds through concerts or paid for items themselves.

The report also revealed a wide gap between budgets for music departments in different schools. The mean yearly budget in maintained schools was £1,865; in academies and free schools it was £2,152; and in independent schools £9,917.


  1. Teacher recruitment and retention

There is a growing crisis in the recruitment of specialist music and other arts teachers, with schools including leading Multi-Academy Trusts reporting that they are struggling to fill music teacher vacancies:

Research from Durham University suggests that a supportive working environment is a key factor in the retention of teachers, outweighing factors such as pay. Retention of arts teachers has been negatively impacted by the following:

The crisis in teacher recruitment and retention is harming the government’s own ambitions for education. For example, the refreshed National Plan for Music Education states that all schools should deliver one hour of curriculum music per week, but with the current shortfall in teachers, it is hard to see how this ambition can be realised.


Importance of music and arts subjects

The creative industries are a vital part of the UK economy, contributing £115.9 billion in 2019, 5.9% of the UK economy, and employing 2.2 million people. However, the importance of creative education goes beyond the talent pipeline. Arts subjects teach many of the skills that businesses seek in employees:

Arts subjects enhance understanding of other subjects such as maths and English:

It is widely agreed that the arts support the overall wellbeing of young people, including Arts Council England research and British Council research.

The ISM also emphasises the value of studying music and other arts subjects for their own sake. All young people, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, deserve a well-rounded and culturally rich education. However, if current trends continue, we risk arts education becoming the preserve of the privileged few.


  1. Calls for reform

The ISM has long campaigned for the reform of secondary accountability measures. In 2012 we launched the Bacc for the Future campaign, which called for the EBacc to have an arts pillar. It was supported by 218 organisations and nearly 40,000 individuals.

In February 2023 we launched a follow-up campaign in partnership with Edge Foundation, Save Our Subjects, focusing on reform of Progress 8. It is supported by organisations across the education and arts sectors, including the teaching unions the NEU and NASUWT, subject associations for music, art, drama, dance, and design and technology, and other organisations including the Design Council, Best for Britain and Parentkind.

The case for reforming accountability measures and prioritising arts education has also been made by the Times Education Commission and many other influential bodies:

Other major bodies have signalled a change in direction in education policy and an understanding of the importance of teaching creativity and creative thinking in schools:


  1. Recommendations

The ISM’s Save Our Subjects campaign calls for urgent government action to restore the status of arts education at secondary level:

The ISM is also urging government action on the teacher retention and recruitment crisis:

2 May 2023