Making sure young Disabled people aren’t forgotten in music education

Coronavirus has affected everyone’s lives this year, and has disproportionately impacted on Disabled people’s lives, including being doubly-negative for Disabled people of colour.

It also has had big implications for music education and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Our sector has had to adapt and change at an incredible pace, and we are all feeling the jolt.

ISM Report

A new study out this week from the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) shows the scale of the challenges facing music education, with statistics demonstrating that almost 1 in 10 primary and secondary schools now aren’t teaching music as part of their curriculum at all. Extracurricular activities have been stopped in 66% of secondary schools and 72% of primaries, where singing has also largely been discontinued.

The report, titled “The Heart of School is Missing” also outlines the impact of the COVID crisis on teachers:

“Teachers’ health and well-being was being negatively affected by the changes they have experienced as they try to balance concerns around their own health with the needs of their pupils. Changes to the curriculum, timetables and pedagogy coupled with feelings of isolation and loneliness could have lasting mental and physical effects on the music workforce”.

Disabled people absent in report

These statistics will ring true to everyone working in music education, who will be hoping that the report will bring about changes whenever we begin to recover from the Coronavirus crisis. However, as with much media coverage of the pandemic, Disabled people are conspicuous in this report by their absence.

As the Disability arts alliance We Shall Not Be Removed points out, “The pandemic impacts on livelihoods, health, social care and creativity are all frighteningly magnified for disabled people.”  This is also the case for young Disabled students and Disabled teachers. We urgently need more specific and targeted information and evidence about the effects of Coronavirus on inclusion in music education and on the diversity of the music education workforce.

People walk down the centre aisle of the audience holding signs in the air
A protest for inclusion, staged at our We All Make Music event.


There have been great strides taken towards inclusion in music education over recent years, but there is still a long way to go. The impact of Coronavirus will set us back on our journey if we are not proactive in collecting evidence about the real experiences taking place in (and out of) schools. Without information and evidence about the impact of the pandemic on the experience of Disabled pupils and teachers, we don’t have a clear picture of the situation and can’t work towards a better, more inclusive, future.

Andrew Miller, UK Government Disability Champion Arts & Culture and founding member of We Shall Not Be Removed commented:
“Music making for and by disabled people is universally understood to be beneficial, but all too often we are significantly underserved by the industry and music services. In the case of this ISM report, we are entirely ignored which is inexplicable, especially in light of the recent publication of Youth Music’s Reshaping Music which outlined the many challenges young disabled musicians already faced pre-pandemic”.

Alongside the lack of info about music education in specialist schools in the ISM report, we have also seen worrying headlines that young Disabled people are being ‘forgotten’, like this recent Guardian article: “20,000 children with special needs unlikely to return to school because of safety concerns”.

Young Disabled people face the prospect of complete invisibility in the music education narrative. This is a situation which concerns everyone working in music education and carries with it a considerable amount of urgency. It is our duty to ensure that we do everything in our power to ensure inclusion, equality and access within music education in these extraordinary times.

It is for these reasons that we (alongside the We Shall Not Be Removed alliance) work to campaign for representation. For Disabled people from a wide range of backgrounds to be part of the workforce that is making decisions on research, policy and practice. To bring the lived experiences of Disabled people into those discussions.

Build an evidence base

We want to recognise the hard work that is happening in difficult circumstances, with teachers and schools dealing with an ever-changing and incredibly complex series of challenges. But let’s not forget now, in these hard times, the power of music and the value of inclusion. Let’s continue to work together to develop new ways to include and to diversify our music education sector.

As part of our work, including the Youth Music-funded Think22 programme, we advocate for the needs of young Disabled musicians. Today we are calling for an evidence-base to be built which documents the impact of the pandemic on their music education.

Music has a particular role to play in this crisis.

Playing music can support: wellbeing, dealing with the trauma of the pandemic and the impact of lockdowns, recovery for young people transitioning back to school and connection for those that aren’t.

Young Disabled people must have equal access to the vital social and personal benefits that music gives. Young Disabled people must not be removed.

Read more from Think22

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