The relative lack of quantitative information on music education from early childhood via primary and secondary school to post-secondary and studio teaching has long been a main concern to the Music Council of Australia. This is especially evident for school education, but is also important for early childhood education because if its lifelong impacts, and for private studio music teaching, neither of which has any statistical base to speak of. Tertiary music education has a potentially more easily available information base which has not led to meaningful statistics.
Two major reports set the stage together with ongoing work within the Music Council of Australia, summarised in the concluding subsection. The problem, however, remains a relatively weak statistical base for a vital area of the music sector.
In 2003, the MCA in collaboration with the Australian Society for Music Education (ASME) and the Australian Music Association (AMA) commissioned a National Report on Trends in School Music Education Provision in Australia — commonly known as the Stevens report after its chief investigator, Associate Professor Robin Stevens, a Principal Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music who remains a leader in music education research in Australia.
During the following year, the then Australian Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) instigated a major National Review of Music Education. The 313-page report was published in 2005. It was authored by a team of eight headed by Western Australian academics Robin Pascoe and Sam Leong, reporting to a 15-member Steering Committee headed by Professor Margaret Seares of the University of Western Australia School of Music, formerly chair (1997-2001) of the Australia Council. The MCA had a considerable input into the study with its executive director on the Steering Committee and several people associated with the Council either on the committee or listed as "critical friends" in the report. Robin Stevens was also on the Steering Committee.
The National Review collected data by many different methods while the Stevens report concentrated on finding available statistics across the spectrum of Government, Independent, and Catholic schools — the main classification of Australian schools covering levels "K to 12". The National Review is briefly reviewed below, with the emphasis on statistics. With its wide brief, the review is not primarily statistical but it did conduct surveys of schools and teachers, students and parents, as well as gathering information by other means. It remains a crucial contribution to the knowledge of school music education with its detailed recommendations.
A third report, Sound Links, links school music to local community music as discussed in the third subsection below. It represents another initiative in which the Music Council of Australia has played a major role.
Robin Stevens was assisted by investigators in each state and territory in attempting to map all sections of Australia's school music education systems statistically. The task was complicated by the fact that Australian schools are a very diverse lot, covering three quite different systems (Government, Independent, and Catholic) in each of the six States and two Territories making up the nation, in a wide variety of locations ranging from metropolitan to regional, rural and remote. This diversity in itself makes the statistical task complicated, even when data are available which most of the time isn't so. The main conclusion of the investigation defines the situation neatly:
"The challenge of this research project has been to work with an incomplete set of statistical data from the various states and territories. .. [T]he lack of uniform policies and practices in relation to the collection of statistical data about music education at the state and territory level has been a major impediment to identifying not only the situation in each state or territory over a reasonable time span but this has also meant that national trends have been difficult, and in most cases impossible, to ascertain. Nevertheless, ... one of the positive outcomes of the research has been a reasonably comprehensive mapping of the current situation regarding music education in government schools but to a much lesser extent in the Independent and Catholic school systems with some national trends being able to be identified in relation to certain of the research questions." (p 167)
The three commissioning organisations (MCA, ACME and AMA) posed eleven questions for the investigators (main conclusions summarised for each item from pp 167-176):
Each of these items is discussed in detail in a separate chapter of the Stevens report, covering each of the three systems in each State and Territory.
In the preamble to its recommendations, the Stevens report noted: "Due to the limited nature of the statistical data available from the states and territories, the usefulness of the findings is less than had been hoped. Nevertheless, one of the most important findings to emerge from the research is the fact that there is the lack of uniform policies and practices in relation to the collection of statistical data about music education at the state and territory level. Indeed, aside from statistics collected, end-of-secondary-education assessment authorities (which have a statutory obligation to do so), for whatever reason, state and territory education departments either do not collect or (as has been evident on some occasions) are unwilling to release statistical state on music education. This has made the identification of trends at both state/territory and national levels almost impossible in most instances." (p 176)
It adds, however: "Despite some shortcomings in this research study, it has nevertheless set a useful benchmark in relation to several aspects of music education policy and practice and with a more detailed examination of some of these issues, a replication study could prove most useful as a means of identifying trends in the overall pattern of development in music education in Australian schools." (p 177)
Even so: "The key recommendation from the current research is the need for a comprehensive national survey of school music education in Australia. (italics added) The present research has been undertaken on a very limited budget and the scope of its research questions has necessarily been limited by the available funding. Having identified some of the current issues in music education and also the lack of available data — particularly longitudinal data — from government education authorities as well as the almost total lack of information from the Independent and Catholic school systems, a large-scale and adequately funded research project needs to be undertaken." (p 177) Hence, the report recommends a strategic alliance between the MCA and one or more university partners to prepare an application for an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant.
In view of the importance of developing comprehensive music education statistics, this author can only agree, and trusts other organisations such as ACME and AMA will support such a project. The Stevens report, now almost a decade old, did an admirable job based on highly incomplete data to get as far as it did in its analysis. But a major statistical gap remains, probably the most serious in the entire music sector.
The above conclusion remains, despite the major review mentioned in the initial paragraphs as the second major source document for music statistics. It was published in 2005 for the then Australian Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST). Its "key messages" (pp 5-7) are listed here followed by the concluding paragraph of the main report:
"The conclusion of the research undertaken by the Review is that music in schools has been diminished — there has been decreased systemic and school attention to music; music suffered a loss of identity and status; participation in music in schools has decreased; and, consequently, perceptions of the status of music in schools have suffered. The solution to this situation is to give increased attention to music in schools; focus on quality (as identified by the work of the Review); build and re-build the place of music in the school curriculum; and, as a result, raise the status of music in schools." (p 144)
The national review collected information in many ways ranging from literature reviews, submissions and site visits, to surveys of schools, teachers, students, and parents. The surveys focused on student participation and achievement in music education, and how music (and arts) curricula are delivered in classrooms across Australia at all stages of schooling. They also explored the provision of specialist teachers, and how instrumental music is included.
Following its research into available statistical sources in a "snapshot" of the current situation (Part 3 of the review), the authors came to a similar conclusion as the previous report: "The information collected and reported about student participation and achievement in music K-12 is limited. As with previous reports (Stevens, 2003), it has proven difficult to gather information. It has been difficult to make comparisons about music participation and achievement across States and Territories. The level of demonstrable accountability in States and Territories is, with one exception, limited. National Annual Reports on Schooling have not reported on music since 1998 .. and music does not appear in the national Key Performance Measures (KPMs) and Assessment Cycle outlined in the proposed action plan for 2002-2009 .. . At this national level then there is no current accountability mechanism for the Arts as a learning area, let alone for music as a component of the Arts Learning Area." (p 52)
One illustrative statistic shows annual numbers of Year 12 students participating in music declining relative to other arts between 1991 and 2004 (provided by DEST in 2005). There are some apparent irregularities in these statistics, covered by the following comment: "Within the limits of this data, participation in Year 12 music enrolments has grown approximately 3% over this time span (discounting the anomalous music enrolment data for 2000). By comparison, there has been approximately 66% growth in performing arts and media and a steady 19% increase in visual arts enrolments." (p 51)
The school survey used a stratified sample of 525 "sample schools", and a special selection of 147 "music schools" shown during the review's submission process to be "effective music education" providers. For the sample schools, the response rate was 30% despite reminders through telephone and email, so the results "need to be interpreted with caution" (p 64). However, the distributions across states and territories and between government and other schools were reasonably representative of the total pattern.
A summary of selected findings from the surveys follow (from pp 64-66):
included teachers in the school (56%), difficulty finding suitable teachers (33%), teachers brought in (31%), external providers (14%) and difficulty retaining teachers (12%). A greater proportion of music schools reported quality being affected by teachers in the school (80%) and teachers brought in (62%).
These examples are intended to provide some of the flavour of the National Review of Music Education. The survey results and other parts of the review will be taken up in a future article on music education issues.
As well as taking the initiative with the Stevens report and having important inputs into the National Review, the Music Council has initiated several other projects. The reports are available on the MCA website through the links shown below.
Sound Links: Community Music in Australia explored, as its original Australian Research Council grant subtitle indicates, "the dynamics of musical communities in Australia, and their potential for informing collaboration with music in schools" (Brydie Leigh-Bartleet, Peter Dunbar-Hall, Richard Letts and Huib Schippers, Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre, May 2009). The linkage partners were, once again, MCA, the Australian Society for Music Education (ASME) and the Australian Music Association (AMA). Sound Links examines the musical life of six contrasting communities across Australia, including a Brisbane suburb, Inala, which has a significant Indigenous population, and Borroloola, a remote Indigenous community in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. All six community studies explore the links between musical activity in the local community and school music education, providing case studies of what each can contribute and how they can become something more than the sum of their separate contributions.
The authors note (p 24) that "the National Review of School Music Education .. acknowledges that “communities play a vital role in effective music education” (DEST 2005, p. vii); however, the final report still primarily focuses on music in schools. With this in mind, the Sound Links project has aimed to build a synergy with the outcomes of the National Review, and enhance understanding of Australian community music and education."
For example, the Dandenong Ranges Music Council, "considered to be a model for community music organisations throughout Australia" , was formed in 1979 by a group of people keen to bring music to the community. To build up an empirical base, "Sound Links undertook 30 interviews and focus groups with over 60 participants. These participants included primary school students, secondary school students, school music teachers, principals, community music facilitators, DRMC participants, parents, and local council workers. All of these participants are involved with the DRMC." (p 56) 
Generally: "To accommodate the aims of Sound Links, a combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies were used, with emphasis on the former. These included ethnographic case studies of selected communities, analysis of available documentation, field visits, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, participant observations, and an online survey to validate the findings of the case studies." (p 45)
Appendix 5 of Sound Links (by Jodie Taylor) reports on the results of the online survey. "The survey was .. distributed to a wide-range of music educators, community music facilitators and practitioners, music therapists and arts administrators, mostly through their mailing lists. Over 200 people responded, representing every state and territory." (p 125) The largest group of respondents were school teachers (60%), followed by community music practitioners (38%), professional musicians (36%), community music facilitators (25%), and arts or music administrators (23%). There were smaller groups of university lecturers (10%) and music therapists (5%), as well as people describing themselves as private teachers, researchers, conductors, TAFE music educators, amateur musician/entertainers, and music examiners. Evidently, many respondents wore different hats as is common in the music sector.
The results include two tables showing "success factors" for community music and school music, respectively. Between 58% and 64% of those answering the question ticked "inspiring leadership" (highest) followed by "careful planning", "location, venue & facilities", "support from community" and "choice of repertoire/style/genre". Just over half noted "sufficient funding" and "highly skilled facilitators". At the other end of the scale, "corporate connection and support", "multi(cultural) sensitivity", and "political support" were noted by only 17-18% of the respondents, and "attention to (community/cultural) sustainability" by 26%. The remaining categories were "sufficient equipment" (37%), "networking with local organisations", "effective PR", and "support from community leaders" (between 43% and 47%). In addition to the tabulated success factors outlined described here, "respondents strongly reiterated the need for more funding, sponsorship and voluntary support." (p 126)
Success factors for school music ticked by two-thirds or more of respondent were topped by "support from school" (92%), "support from parents and the broader community" (80%), "highly skilled educators" (76%), "facilities & equipment" (72%), "careful planning" (69%), "choice of repertoire/style/genre" (67%), and "inspiring leadership" (66%). "Sufficient funding" was a success factor for 61% of those who answered the questions. All these percentages except "sufficient funding" were higher than the top success factor ("inspiring leadership") for community music. The lowest responses on school music — all less than one-third — were for "multi(cultural) sensitivity" (20%), "clear curriculum" (28%), "links to out-of-school activities" (31%), "links to community" (32%), and "attention to sustainability" (33%). The two remaining categories were "successful pedagogical models" (44%) and "synergy between classroom & instrumental programs" (48%).
These response patterns reveal similarities including support from the community, careful planning, inspiring leadership and choice of repertoire, though the success factors were more focused on the major items for school music with support from the school seen as important by over 90%. At the other end of the sample, the low readings for multicultural sensitivity and attention to (community/cultural) sustainability might warrant further analysis. Both factors are seen as important in the detailed descriptions in the six case studies.
"In a synthesis of the discoveries in [the] online survey, results from the MCA's inaugural Music in Communities Awards, and the six case studies, the research team formulated "The Nine Domains of Community Music in Australia", a sort of taxonomy of features that might be considered when investigating the musical life of communities or indeed, in designing a community music program or organisation." (MCA website, accessed 23.4.2012)
The three headings above summarise the current state of statistical information on school music education. Other sources are not at this stage statistical, but represent resources that may be used to develop harder data.
One remarkable survey which covers a wide range of issues and activities in this area is The Different Beats Survey 2004, designed by Helen Lancaster in association with the Australian Music Centre. While it doesn't substitute for comprehensive data on post-secondary music education, and relates to a period several years ago, it could provide insights when more statistics are sought.
The National Council of Australian Music Schools (NACTMUS) was formed in the 1990s. Its appeal to tertiary music education providers to join the organisation goes as follows (in summary): "In an increasingly dynamic environment within Australian higher education, music needs to have a clear and strong voice." NACTMUS is a member of CHASS (Council for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences) "which has a strong track record of being able to influence government policy", as well as MCA, and "should be an important reference point for issues regarding music as a discipline, and music as a career path." This voice can be:
Its aims are to achieve 100% representation of tertiary music education, to hold biannual general meetings and promote scholarly dialogue, and to develop resources which will assist the institutional work of members, through using the NACTMUS website as a portal for relevant databases such as RHD [research higher degree] examiners, position statements on key issues, and statistical and qualitative documentation of the sector and its work (italics added).
At present there are no comprehensive statistical data on NACTMUS member activities, though a basis for a survey exists which could be exploited. The task is limited insofar as the number of organisations is limited. According to work carried out for the MCA by Rachel Hocking in 2008:
The above does not cover TAFE colleges nor the special conservatorium in New South Wales country towns (nor any equivalent institutions that may exist in other states). A full survey of post-secondary music education opportunities should cover such institutions.
Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Original version completed 25 April 2012.