This article presents a statistical analysis of primary school music in Australia based on Irina Petrova's doctoral dissertation, published in 2012. It continues from the initial description of her work (Major Research into School Music Education) which was based on her own conclusions in two articles in Music Forum, dated November 2012 and February 2013 and dealing with primary and secondary schools, respectively. Secondary schools are the subject of Secondary School Music Teaching, the third and final article in this series.
Because one of the main challenges for this knowledge base is to assemble a comprehensive numerical picture of the music sector, the content here is primarily statistical, dealing in turn with the following topics:
The article takes a critical look at statistical quality, in particular in relation to the distribution across states and territories.
The table numbering starts with 2, as one table dealing with the responses to Petrova's two surveys, conducted in 2009, went into the initial article. The object is to maintain the continuity between the articles.
Similar considerations apply to government, Catholic and independent schools discussed below. In total, the percentage of schools with classroom music seems to be similar between government and non-government schools (the published 2009 statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics did not distinguish Catholic from independent schools).
Australian schools are classified into three groups.
Government schools operate under the direct responsibility of the relevant state or territory minister. Non-government schools are established and operate under conditions set by state or territory government regulatory authorities. They can be either Catholic or independent schools. The former are generally administered by Catholic education offices; independent schools comprise other non-Catholic, non-government schools.
Tables 2 to 4 highlight an important difference between states, relating to NSW compared with the rest of Australia: 45% of classroom teachers in government schools in that state were generalists rather than specialist music teachers. The proportion as well as the absolute number of non-specialists is highest in NSW government schools, but 22% of primary music teachers in NSW Catholic schools were also non-specialists. The proportion was 36% for all primary schools surveyed in the state.
A minority of primary schools with any classroom music teaching employed more than one specialist music teacher. Only 2% of government schools did so, compared with 4% of Catholic schools, and 16% of independent schools.
Across the age groups, only 12.3% of females and 10.9% of males were in their 20s. There was a strong increase in the percentage towards the older age groups, with 37% of females being 50 and over. The distribution for males was probably similar; the higher proportion in the 30-39 group may be due to sampling error in a small sample — or it may have a real basis though it is unclear what that might be.
Irina Petrova made the point in her Music Forum article on primary school music teaching that a significant number of teachers have taught for more than 16 years. "This suggests a high level of music teaching experience in the profession. The older teachers were more educated in music compared to younger teachers; musical training of primary teachers was routine and much more extensive." (p 58)
Her point is well made. The box to the left compares the percentage distribution of age groups between 20 and 64 years which we estimate to be in the Australian workforce at a similar age range as teachers. The difference between the fairly constant shares of around 25% for each age bracket in the total workforce, and the rise in the percentage from young to older age groups in the teacher sample, is quite dramatic. Some may be due to teachers joining the workforce later than the average worker, but this can't explain the difference.
Qualification or musical attainment is a central concept in Irina Petrova's thesis. She distinguishes between "high", "moderate" and "low" (including no) qualifications. The measure of qualification is supplemented by whether the teacher had prior musical training and whether she or he took music while in secondary school, and for how long, and whether they were currently playing musical instruments or singing, and for how long.
Table 6 shows actual number of observations to the left and percentage distributions across the three qualification levels to the right. Just under half of the total sample of primary school teachers (48.4%), were highly qualified in terms of the music education they had received, while 22.5% were moderately qualified, and the remaining 29.1% had low qualifications, or none.
Relatively more men than women were highly qualified to teach classroom music (65.2% as against 44.8%), and a smaller proportion had low or no qualifications to do so (23.9% compared with 30.2%).
The percentage of teachers with high qualifications tended to fall with age, though a high proportion of highly qualified persons in the 30-39 group may be at least partly associated with a biased sample of males (refer box comparing the sample with the total Australian workforce for each age group and sex).
Conversely, of the five mainland states, NSW had the highest proportion of primary music teachers with low or no musical attainment (49%), and in South Australia, despite its relatively high proportion of highly qualified teachers, the proportion was 40%. No explanation has been found for the polarised distribution in South Australia. Victoria also had a relatively high percentage of teachers with low musical attainment (25%). The two remaining mainland states, Queensland and Western Australia, both had about 13% in the "low" category, and in Tasmania only one of the small sample of 19 respondents (5%).
Whether music was chosen as a subject when these teachers went to secondary school is an additional indicator of past musical exposure. Table 10 was derived from a more detailed presentation in Petrova's thesis (p 257).
To put these figures into perspective, the reader is reminded that 48.4% of respondents had high, 22.5% moderate, and 29.1% low musical qualifications (Table 6). Perhaps surprisingly, 21% of those with high music attainment had not taken music in secondary school — the same proportion as in the total sample. This compared with only 10% of those with moderate qualifications not choosing music as a secondary school subject (and 31% of those with low attainment, which is less surprising — as well as being roughly comparable with the 33% in Table 9 who didn't undertake musical training prior to their teacher training).
Those who did undertake music as a subject in secondary school were classified into four groups: those who did every year from 7 to 12, Year 12 only, two years or more including Year 12, and one year or more excluding Year 12. This seemed to be the best indicator of any intentions to choose music as a teaching career:
Petrova's detailed tables (10.10 to 10.14, pp 260-264) showed in summary:
The vast majority of teachers had played their major musical instrument, or sung, for more than five years (Table 12). This was particularly the case for those with high or moderate qualifications, but 64% of the bottom group also stated that they had played their major instrument for more than five years.
The general degree of confidence across gender and age groups does not appear low, at least on paper (Table 14). This could be partly due to the survey approach including the fact that teachers were asked to fill in a mail survey with their self-assessed expression of whether or not they felt confident about their teaching. Males appear, for what it is worth, to be more confident about their music teaching than females. Likewise, teachers in the oldest age group (50+) assess themselves as generally more confident than the younger age groups. However, the proportion of any group feeling confident never falls below 86% of the total in Table 14.
According to Table 15, confidence improves with experience at least in the second five-year period of music teaching. The table focuses on teachers with low qualifications and shows how confidence is particularly low among new teachers (one to five years of experience). It then increases to a peak among the small number of teachers with six to 10 years' experience but deteriorates thereafter. Among teachers with 16 years or longer experience, 22% were still not confident.
Irina Petrova reports that many teachers added concerns to the formal survey response that affected their confidence (pp 270). Factors that deterred their confidence included (brackets show number of observations):
A group of 19 non-confident teachers (p 271) mentioned factors such as not having any training, not playing an instrument, lack of qualifications in music, limited knowledge of music, lacking support, lacking resources, and that their training as teachers did not cover teaching methods — hardly statistically significant but the sort of supplementary material that any good survey should be alert about.
The survey form contains 13 questions (most requesting ratings for several items as in Charts 1 and 2 below, where the items are teaching tasks), to which the teachers were asked to indicate their response on a scale from 1 to 7. The scale above each set of questions in the form was marked "1: not very much; 4: not sure; 7: a lot". A score of 4 is considered the midpoint between positive and negative response.
The other dimension on Chart 1 depicts the similarity with which the seven tasks ranked by their average extent of challenge is reflected by each of the three qualification levels — ranging from "planning music lessons" and "teaching listening" at the least challenging end to "teaching organising sound" at the higher end. For highly qualified teachers, the average challenge score ranged from a low 2.46 for "planning music lessons" to 3.60 for "teaching organising sound", which is not very far below the midpoint "not sure" level.
This is a good example of how strong the message of the Petrova thesis can be.
Teachers of different age groups appeared to find some tasks more challenging as they age, but not all tasks (Chart 2). For the planning of music lessons, which was the least challenging task in the overall analysis, there was probably little challenge which could be related to age (given the inherent sampling error). The same probably applies to performance and listening suggestions. The oldest age group of 50+, which like the 40-49 group is larger than the younger age groups, seems to be relatively highly challenged on teaching listening, and perhaps evaluating progress. The most consistently age-related challenge ratings, however, were for teaching performing and teaching organising sound/composing, both showing a continued increase from young to old.
The primary music teachers were asked how adequate they felt their pre-service training had been in the tertiary teaching institutions they attended. Given that the midpoint of 4 divides the adequacy scale between largely favourable and largely unfavourable (with a score of 1 meaning quite inadequate), there was a clear difference between teachers in terms of musical qualifications. The "high" group rated 4.37 on average, which is not tremendous when the maximum possible score is 7 but compared favourably with the average for the "moderate" group (3.00) and especially with the group of least qualified teachers (2.48, tending towards "quite inadequate").
By age group, both groups under 40 showed average scores above 4, and the two older groups showed much lower averages (3.16 and 3.31, respectively). Male music teachers (average score 4.32) were significantly more positive than female teachers (3.37). Males were also better educated as music teachers (Table 6).
In contrast to pre-service teacher training, all groups were dissatisfied with the adequacy of their in-service training. Teachers with high musical attainment showed an average adequacy score of 3.38, a full point below the 4.37 for pre-service training. The adequacy scores for those with moderate and low qualifications both averaged around 2.8, which indicates considerable dissatisfaction.
Professional development (PD) workshops rated better among primary music teachers. As many as 87% had attended such workshops though the percentage was lower for teachers with low or no formal qualifications in music. These workshops were generally rated as beneficial (average score around 5 on a 7-point scale for five criteria)., but even those in the low group returned average scores between 3.90 and 4.54, generally above the midpoint of 4.
The four age groups showed average scores ranging from 2.87 to 3.36, and the average was similar for women and men (3.10).
Chart 3 shows the average sufficiency score of each of five staff and related resources (teaching staff, time allocated in the timetable, support staff, specialist staff, and available facilities). For Australia as a whole, the average score was best for facilities (4.47), time in timetable (4.39), and teaching staff (4.26) — all above 4 as distinct from specialist staff (3.87) and support staff (3.69). The pattern, however, differed considerably among these states. Chart 3 shows that Western Australia led the field on three of the five staff and related resources, Victoria on one, and Queensland on one. Victoria and Queensland clocked in as number 2 on two of the resources, South Australia on one. Third position went to Western Australia and Victoria (twice each), and Queensland. South Australia scored three number four positions, Queensland one and NSW one. NSW came in last on four criteria, South Australia on one.
We can make a crude ranking of this, giving first position five points, going down to one point for last position. The maximum total score is 25 and the minimum 5. Western Australia on this crude ranking model scores 21 points, Victoria 19, and Queensland 18 — observations that may be too close to declare an outright "winner" among the three in view of the rough and ready ranking model. Clearly, however, South Australia lags behind with 11 points, and so even more does NSW with six, only one point above the minimum.
The primary music teacher survey revealed mainly minor differences in respect of perceived sufficiency of teaching resources, between government, Catholic and independent schools (Chart 4). The only sizeable difference among schools related to specialists, led by independent schools with an average of 4.35 compared with 3.76 and 3.78, respectively, for government and Catholic schools. Independent schools may have a slight edge on the four other criteria as well, but it is quite small and probably not statistically significant.
The distribution of mainland states in Chart 5 shows that the least adequate teaching resources in Australian primary schools are computer software, video recordings, and electronic instruments (scores less than 3). They are better served with audio recordings, though only two states, Western Australia and Victoria, achieved average scores above 4. The most sufficient resources are traditional instruments (all states scoring 4 and above) and books and other written resources (all above 4 except NSW).
The pattern of mainland states is extraordinary in one respect: Western Australia has the highest scores for all six resource types, whether or not they are generally considered inadequate as for software, videos and electronic instruments.
Doing a crude ranking as for Chart 3, Western Australia scores the maximum 30 points (all six types of resources scored the maximum of five each). Victoria, with four second places, a third and a fourth, scores 21, and Queensland (two seconds, two thirds, a fourth and a fifth) scores 17. South Australia with three third places, two fourth places and a fifth, scores 14, and NSW, with two fourth places and four fifth and last places, gets 8.
Finally, Chart 6 showing teaching resources for each type of primary school did not uncover any significant differences, except possibly that video recordings and electronic instruments seem to be considered a little more adequately resourced in independent schools than in government and Catholic schools.
It is recommended that you peruse Major Research into School Music Education, as a reminder of Irina Petrova's own conclusions as she expressed them in Music Forum. One of her recommendations was to work quickly to address issues in time to influence the current discussion of the School National Curriculum and other public debates as effectively as possible.
The basic problem is that the majority of primary schools in Australia (63%) do not receive classroom music teaching. Irina Petrova's point which is amply supported by her thesis is that inadequate primary teacher training impacts on the quality of secondary school music education because many students enter secondary ill-equipped for further education in music. In primary schools the lack of quality is exacerbated because music teachers with inadequate music skills are more likely to lack confidence to teach students. Unsatisfactory in-service training and other factors do not improve the situation.
The analysis of Petrova's research in this series of knowledge base papers supports her conclusions and we hope at the same time makes them more accessible beyond academia. It is important to expose these issues to a wider public, and the knowledge base is designed to do just that.
There is a host of issues to overcome to revive the quality of primary school music teaching. They include:
The paper on Secondary School Music Teaching follows with more general conclusions.
Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Entered on knowledge base 9 March 2013.