Education is key to securing Scotland's place as a global musical powerhouse

Published: 26 Feb 2019

The joy and challenge of learning music is an integral part of the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people in Scotland today, a new study has found.

What’s Going On Now? (WGON) is a major and once-in-a-generation examination of music education and youth music-making in Scotland (access the report at

Following a tender process, The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) was commissioned by Creative Scotland to undertake the study across a 12-month period from early 2018 to early 2019.

During the research, RCS reported to the Music Education Partnership Group which includes representation across a range of partners including Association of Directors of Education Scotland, Heads of Instrumental Teaching Scotland, the Educational Institute of Scotland, Drake Music, National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and Scottish Opera, amongst others.

The review comes at a time when the accessibility and affordability of music education across the country is under the spotlight.

What’s Going on Now? was launched this morning (Tuesday, February 26) at Thorntree Primary School in Shettleston, Glasgow with children from the school’s samba band and strings programme, as well as music students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

What’s Going On Now?, which builds on research published in 2003, seeks to explore the formal, informal and non-formal sectors of music education in Scotland. Following close examination of a range of music education data, an extensive stakeholder survey and detailed exploration of case studies in Shetland, North East Glasgow and Perth and Kinross, What’s Going On Now? revealed that:

  • Music is one of the most popular subjects on the school curriculum – it is the sixth most popular Advanced Higher in Scotland (in England music is around the 25th most popular A-level subject)
  • Despite financial challenges, Scotland’s Local Authority Instrumental Music Service teach 60,000 pupils each week, a 10% increase on 2003
  • Creative Scotland’s Youth Music Initiative (YMI), which provides funds for more than 240,000 young people each year to access high-quality music-making opportunities, is an integral part of Scotland’s music education and youth music ecology
  • The evidence indicates that music education in Scotland is shaped by supply and not demand, and there is an unmet demand of more than 100,000 young people across the country

The report made the key findings and recommendations that:

  • There is inequality in access to musical provision across Scotland which must be tackled through establishing common guidance for Instrumental Music Services across local authorities, and the development of effective pathways into continuing study of music
  • The intrinsic value of music to individuals and the economy are not understood and more must be done to change perceptions of music and its purpose and impact.
  • While the Youth Music Initiative ensures more than 200,000 Scots pupils each year get an experience of music tuition within school, more should be done to build on YMI and further realise the potential of music for pupils.
  • There is significant unmet demand for music tuition from pupils therefore strengthening the sector through greater and more innovative partnership working is required

Commenting on the study and its findings, John Wallace, Chair of Music Education Partnership Group, said: “Scotland is incredibly rich in musical culture across all genres. It gives Scottish identity its focus, has a beneficial effect on everything it touches, and affords us a distinctive voice internationally. The music industry is a burgeoning sector full of opportunity. As an effective investment in the future of our young people, Scotland needs to maintain, sustain and develop its music education.”

Joan Parr, Creative Scotland’s Interim Director, Arts and Engagement, commented: “Creative Scotland welcomes the publication of this report, which evidences the significant impact that music and creativity has on children and young people living in Scotland. We are delighted that the report highlights the positive impact that the Youth Music Initiative is having on creating access to high quality music making opportunities.

“Music enriches the lives of children and young people through developing skills, confidence and wellbeing, as well as providing opportunities for collaborating with others, learning about music and having fun. We look forward to continuing to work with the Music Education Partnership Group to increase opportunities for young people to achieve their potential through music-making.”

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills John Swinney said: “Music education is of enormous benefit to young people and, as set out in the Programme for Government, the Scottish Government is committed to working collaboratively to find solutions to help ensure instrumental music remains accessible to all. I welcome the What’s Going On Now? research and will give full consideration to its recommendations.”

Thorntree Primary School, where the report was launched, is one of four East End primary schools taking part in the Baby Strings programme delivered by Glasgow CREATE, established in January 2016 by Glasgow Education Services, to raise attainment and achievement. Primary one children are prepared for using instruments in primary two through songs and games which help develop vocabulary, rhythm, pitch and motor skills. Primary four children are learning ukulele, primary seven pupils have samba tuition and there are strings tutors working with children in primaries five to seven.

Shona Heggie, Head Teacher of Thorntree Primary School, said: “As a school in the East End of Glasgow, music is an integral part of our curriculum plan for raising attainment and closing the equity gap.  The additional Pupil Equity Funding from the Government has made it possible for us to create a fantastic, innovative and transformational project with our learning community partners which has given our children the beginning of a music education which will develop concentration, language and maths skills and hopefully a skill for life.”

(Image: Thorntree Primary School pupils Maria Isaac, Lewis Gale and Lexy Pullar with Royal Conservatoire of Scotland music students Benedict Morris and Charlie Galloway. Photograph © Royal Conservatoire of Scotland/Robbie McFadzean)

About the Music Education Partnership Group (MEPG)

MEPG exists to nurture, sustain and protect Scotland's world-class music education systems. It is the successor to the IMG (Instrumental Music Group) and IMIG (Instrumental Implementation Group) but has a wider reach, broadly covering all aspects of music education, both formal and informal for ages 0-25.

The group was established in 2015 and its wide ranging membership covers local authorities, stakeholders in instrumental and vocal music, publishers of educational materials, national companies and organisations celebrating the diversity and inclusiveness of our Scottish cultural environment. The group will continue the good work of IMG and IMIG in aligning with the Scottish Government’s sixteen National Outcomes and will focus its attention particularly on those concerning young people, inequalities and opportunities.

The group endorses wholeheartedly the National Vision Statement for Music Education Music: Enhancing Learning, Enriching Living and uses this as the foundation of its visionary partnership work.

MEPG Membership: Aberdeen Music School; Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM); Association of British Orchestras (ABO); Association of Directors of Education In Scotland (ADES); BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (SSO); Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA); CoSLA; Creative Scotland (CS); Douglas Academy; Drake Music Scotland; Dumfries and Galloway; Edinburgh Council; Edinburgh Music School; nyaagscotland; Education Scotland (ES); EIS; Enterprise Music Scotland (EMS); ES; Feis Ros; Feisean nan Gaidheal; Feisrois; Fischy Music; Highland Council; HITS; Live Music Now (LMN); MEC; Music Mark; Musicians Union; National Parent Forum; National Piping Centre;National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYCoS); NYOS; National Centre of Excellence for Traditional Music Plockton; Rock and Pop representative – Behind The Noise; Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS); Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO); SCO; Scottish Association for Music Education (SAME); Scottish Ballet; Scottish Brass Band Association (SBBA); Scottish Centres of Excellence representative; Scottish Ensemble; Scottish Government; Scottish Government; Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (SNJO); Scottish Opera; Scottish Parent Teacher Council ; Scottish Schools Pipes & Drums Trust; Scottish Youth Parliament; Tinderbox; Sistema Scotland; Making Music; South Lanarkshire Council; St Mary’s Music School; Traditional Music Forum; Trinity College London.