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Evidence of benefits of school music tuition inconclusive

03 July 2015 | Tags: children and young people, education, attainment

A new study by NatCen Social Research examining the impact on attainment of providing musical instrument tuition in school, as compared with drama and singing classes, has found inconclusive results. The study, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, highlights the challenges of providing music tuition as a major barrier to any effect on attainment.

Seeking to test previous research that has linked music tuition to improved attainment by examining it in a real world school setting, the study randomly allocated 900 pupils at 19 primary schools in England into a stringed instrument singing or drama workshop of 10 students. Each pupil received tuition once a week over a 32 week period and was tested to see if their maths skills and literacy improved.

Researchers did not find any evidence to suggest that music tuition had more of an impact on maths or literacy than drama when comparing all children in the study and children who receive free school meals.

The research suggested, however, that the challenge of providing music tuition in schools was likely to be a key reason no impact on attainment was found. Some of the music tutors struggled to keep students focussed on learning music and others, especially those not used to teaching primary age children, needed extra guidance in running lessons.

Teachers did identify some benefits of the classes; reporting that confidence and social skills had improved for some pupils but this was not measured as part of the trial.

Emily Tanner, Head of Children, Families and Work at NatCen Social Research said: “We took a rigorous approach to testing the possible link between learning a musical instrument and improved educational attainment for disadvantaged children, but this research highlights the challenges of putting it into practice in schools.  The practical difficulties schools faced in this trial suggest that  successfully delivering music tuition to large numbers of children will  take longer for schools to set-up and the potential benefits may take a number of years to be realised. Keeping primary age children engaged in learning a stringed instrument in school proved particularly difficult and it is likely that smaller group sizes and more support for the tutors would have helped.”


For further details contact Leigh Marshall: 0207 549 8506 or 0782 803 1850.

Notes to editors

The full report is available here:

About Act, Sing Play

Act, Sing, Play was a programme that offered music (singing and strings) and drama tuition to Year 2 pupils. Developed specifically for this study, it ran from September 2013 to June 2014 in 19 primary schools in England, providing 32 sessions in each school over the year. The study received a high evidence strength from the EEF of 4 out of 5 padlocks.

About NatCen Social Research

NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.

About Education Endowment Foundation

The Education Endowment Foundation is a charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust, with a Department for Education grant of £125m. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £57 million to 100 projects working with over 620,000 pupils in over 4,900 schools across England.