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Teaching Music during the Coronavirus Outbreak

Guidance for musicians who teach, following updated Government guidance, November 2020

The advice on the following pages covers:

This guidance was updated on 19 November following new restrictions in all parts of the UK.

The latest Government guidance on Covid-19 must always inform your decisions as to what activity is allowed and appropriate. Guidance is produced by the UK Government (for England) and by the devolved governments for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Links to all relevant guidance are highlighted below.

The MU’s advice is for general guidance only. The MU can accept no liability for the consequences of decisions taken on the basis of our advice, including any illness or other adverse impact.

Your MU Public Liability Insurance is valid provided you, and any venue in which you are working, are following the current Government guidelines (and subject otherwise to the MU’s PLI policy terms and conditions).

Access to Statutory Sick Pay, Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) depends on your employment status. Find out more on the Government’s website.

Please contact your regional MU office if your education work has been affected and your particular circumstances have not been addressed by the announcements so far.

Teaching in England

Our advice for members who teach relates to the Government guidance on working safely in the performing arts during Covid-19, guidance for full opening: schools, working safely in out of school settings during Covid-19, new national restrictions for 5 November, and education and childcare: new national restrictions for 5 November.

England is subject to new national restrictions until Wednesday 2 December. Schools are open, and music teaching can continue in schools subject to each school’s approval and appropriate Risk Assessments being in place (see below).

Government guidance on new national restrictions for 5 November states that only ‘formal education’ rather than ‘extracurricular classes such as music and drama tuition’ justifies students leaving their households. We are seeking further clarity on these definitions and pushing for recognition that private music teaching is often part of ‘formal’ education.

For now, however, we have been advised that private music teaching should take place online and not in homes or studios. Any change to this will be published here.

New legislation, which was brought before Parliament on 3 November and came into force on 5 November, states that ‘for the purposes of education and training’, exceptions can made to the new regulations that limit gatherings. Unfortunately, we cannot confidently advise that this permits private music teaching in homes and studios, for two reasons.

Firstly, the Government’s guidance is more specific than the legislation; and secondly, the legislation states that the exception must be ‘reasonably necessary’, and it can be argued that face-to-face teaching is not reasonably necessary if it can be delivered online. We will inform members if we are advised differently by Government.

One circumstance that does permit face-to-face lessons in homes can be found in the Government’s guidance for full opening: schools, which states that ‘if there is no viable alternative, music lessons in private homes can resume’.

We advise that this is only applicable if a lesson cannot be delivered online, or if it cannot be delivered in a school or college (either organised through them or in agreement with them). Because of the guidance against students leaving their households to attend lessons in teachers’ homes (see above), we advise that ‘private homes’ should be taken to mean students’ homes and not teachers’ homes for the time being, although we have asked for confirmation that teachers’ homes would be acceptable.

Any teaching in private homes is subject to all relevant Government guidance, including on working in homes and out-of-school provision. Members are advised to check here for updates.

Teaching that normally takes place in private music schools or other out-of-school settings should also move online, except in a limited set of circumstances, which are given in new Government guidance on education and childcare: new national restrictions for 5 November. These are:

  • If the primary purpose is registered childcare or other childcare activities, where this is reasonably necessary to enable parents to work, look for work or undertake training/education.
  • For the purposes of respite care, including for vulnerable children.
  • For use by home-educating parents as part of their arrangements for their child to receive a suitable full-time education.
  • For youth support services, including 1-1 youth work and support groups.


Children and young people have returned to school in England. Visiting music teachers can teach in and move between schools as long as Government guidance and school policies are followed.

If you teach in a school, request to see a copy of its Risk Assessment to make sure that this addresses the circumstances in which you work. If you teach in a school through a music education hub, music service or other organisation, this organisation should advise you on any applicable Risk Assessment.

Other settings

You should not currently teach in other educational settings (i.e. out-of-school settings) except for in a limited set of circumstances (see above).

If these circumstances apply to you and someone else is responsible for the space, that person should provide a Risk Assessment and an action plan to deal with all identifiable hazards. If you are responsible for the space, you are responsible for providing the Risk Assessment.

Ensembles and groups

Choirs, bands and orchestras are permitted in schools as long as government guidance is followed. Ensembles should play and/or sing outdoors if possible, or indoors with ventilation as described in the HSE air conditioning and ventilation guidance.

Pupils should be socially distanced and positioned back to back or side to side if possible, directing the air from wind and brass instruments away from other pupils.

Singing and wind/brass playing should not take place in large groups unless significant space and natural airflow is available for all present, including audiences. Performances should follow the Government’s performing arts guidance to minimise risk.

Teaching in Scotland (updated 20 November)

On 2 November, Scotland entered a five-tier plan of measures for dealing with Covid-19 across the country. The measures range from tiers 0 to 4 and are designed to apply to specific local authority areas, or nationwide as appropriate. Schools are to remain open at all levels, with increasingly enhanced mitigations and measures in place in line with the increasing risk.

Peripatetic teaching is allowed when there is no alternative

The Scottish Government’s guidance for schools states (point 94):

"Movement between schools (e.g. of temporary/supply/peripatetic staff etc) should be kept to a minimum. Those providing essential services key to the delivery of children’s care or educational plans, for example visiting teachers, psychologists, nurses, social workers, youthworkers and those providing therapeutic support, should be able to visit schools; however, appropriate mitigations to prevent transmission of the virus in and between settings should be undertaken. Mitigations should be determined via a risk assessment carried out by the school in co-operation with the service provider."

We interpret this to mean that peripatetic music teaching is allowed in schools where there is no alternative, but that alternatives (e.g. teaching online) are preferred.

Wind, brass and singing lessons are currently not permitted in schools

Guidance on PE, music and drama in schools states:

"Young people should not engage in drama, singing, or playing wind and brass instruments with other people, given these activities pose a potentially higher risk of transmission."

This means that wind, brass and singing are not currently permitted in schools, although we are pushing the Scottish government to move to a more workable position on this based on increasing scientific evidence regarding the actual risks of these activities.

We advise private teachers to work online where practically possible

The Scottish Government updated its guidance on organised activities for children on 12 November, including a statement that, “Private tuition would be able to take place in a person’s own home, or the service user’s home at Level [tier] 0 only.”

However, we have been advised by the Scottish government that this applies only to statutory learning organised through schools, and that private learning not organised through schools is still permitted in homes.

Due to the lack of clarity inherent in this advice, we advise private music teachers to work online where practically possible, especially if they are wind, brass or singing teachers.

If face-to-face lessons must take place in homes or in private studios, teachers should ensure that risk assessments and Covid-secure measures are in place, and that they have read the Scottish government’s general advice for workplaces, its small and micro business guidance, its guidance for the performing arts sector and is guidance on organised activities for children.

We continue to push for greater clarity in the advice being issued by the Scottish government.

We advise teachers who would usually travel between England and Scotland to move online

The new restrictions in England will affect private music lessons that involve travel across the England-Scotland border.

Throughout the period of the restrictions, we advise private teachers to move their lessons online if they are based in England but normally travel to Scotland to teach, and the same if they are based in Scotland but normally travel to England to teach.

Teaching in Wales

Based on Welsh Government guidance, our conversations with the Welsh Government and the fact that schools will fully reopen from Monday 9 November, we advise that music teaching in schools, and private teaching in teachers’ and pupils’ homes, can take place in Wales from Monday 9 November, subject to school policies/closures, the Welsh Government’s guidance on performing arts activity, and its advice on schools and settings for the autumn term. Teaching in schools is subject to appropriate Risk Assessments being in place (see below).

We recommend that members review the Welsh Government FAQs and performing arts guidance, as well as other guidance where relevant (such as working in people’s homes).

The new restrictions in England will affect private music lessons that involve travel across the England-Wales border. Throughout the period of the restrictions, we advise private teachers to move their lessons online if they are based in England but normally travel to Wales to teach, and the same if they are based in Wales but normally travel to England to teach. Read our advice above for teaching in England.

Teaching in Northern Ireland

A four-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown remains in force in Northern Ireland until at least 13 November. Schools and colleges are open to all pupils as of 2 November, and visiting music teachers can work in these settings subject to each setting’s approval and Risk Assessments being in place, in line with the EA Music Service’s Music Unlocked guidance.

Northern Ireland’s Government guidance, under the heading “Work and services carried out in private homes”, states that “Music lessons and private tutoring are permitted, as long as social distancing is maintained and there is no close contact.”

Risk Assessments

The following information applies to all parts of the UK.

Schools, colleges and other settings

If you teach in a school, college or other setting, you should be provided with a Risk Assessment. This should assess risk in relation to the following points and define an appropriate course of action for each:

  • Clear signage throughout the workplace to encourage at least one metre’s social distancing. Areas could be marked using tape to identify one-metre rules, with an internal pedestrian one-way system for any aisles less than one metre, with agreed flow.
  • Cleaning of all touch points at least once a day (more regularly where required) and daily cleaning of all other areas. Full facilities for personal cleaning with instructions (including visual aids) and waste disposal facilities.
  • Provision of handwashing facilities and sanitisers, particularly at entrances and exits.
  • Provision of adequate facilities (e.g. toilets, changing areas, rest areas).
  • Refreshment and rest-area chair numbers limited to maintain one-metre control at all times.
  • An individual risk assessment for any air extraction or air conditioning.
  • Where limited catering facilities are provided, food to be wrapped and disposable cutlery and cups provided.
  • Rooms labelled to identify the maximum number of people to respect social distancing requirements. Minimise the number of meeting rooms/spaces available where possible.
  • Provision of an isolation area where those showing symptoms or feeling unwell can wait until they are able to leave.
  • Staggered start and finish times to reduce contact at work and while travelling to and from work.
  • Controlled and limited access for people visiting or delivering to the place of work.
  • Management of deliveries to minimise contact with other people while loading and unloading. Access for visitors/deliverers to handwashing facilities.

If you are not satisfied with a school’s Risk Assessment, or if there is another reason why you cannot teach in the school, college or setting, you should raise this with the setting or your line manager and ask if there are other options such as online teaching.

Private teaching

Where private teaching is permitted face to face, you should complete a Risk Assessment to protect yourself, anyone else living in the household (if applicable) and your students from harm, and in particular to eliminate or minimise risks of Covid-19 transmission. You should complete your Risk Assessment in line with HSE guidance, identifying protective measures.

A Risk Assessment is still needed in other peoples’ homes, and an agreement needs to be reached as to what is acceptable for both parties considering all the issues listed below.

Your Risk Assessment needs to:

1. Identify what activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus.

2. Consider who might be at risk.

3. Decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed.

4. Act to remove the risky activity or situation, or if that is not possible, control or minimise the risk.

See an example of a part-completed Risk Assessment for teaching work.

See a further example of a Risk Assessment template for teaching work.

Your Risk Assessment should cover the following points:

  • Social distancing

The current default remains two metres. Aim to maximise the distance between yourself and your students in the teaching room. Consider the route into the room for yourself and your students and make access as safe as possible.

Aim to keep any groups as small as possible, taking into account the space available.

  • The teaching space

Aim to have adequate ventilation in place, using natural ventilation where possible. Position students side to side or back to back (rather than face to face) if possible, and consider the use of barriers or screens.

Avoid any physical contact with the student.

Gloves may be advisable in some circumstances and masks can be considered if practical.

  • Cleaning

It is absolutely vital to ensure the highest cleanliness standards. Surfaces must be fully cleaned before and after sessions along with door handles, switches, plugs, any instruments used etc.

Toilets and wash basins must be cleaned before and after sessions (when used) with hand cleanser and sanitisers or wipes available in the teaching area (wipes to be disposed of in a foot pedal swing bin). It is advisable to carry hand sanitiser or wipes with you.

  • Instruments

Usually the student will use only their own instrument. Do not share instruments, mouthpieces, reeds etc.

Where large instruments are used, such as pianos/keyboards/double bass etc., then strict cleanliness regimes are necessary.

  • Students

Consider the issues surrounding students who are in vulnerable groups, including those with underlying health conditions and those over 70.

Check with students about their health and their situation at home and how they travelled to their lesson (if you are not teaching in their home). Both you and your students should avoid public transport if possible.

Encourage students to pay for lessons using bank transfers to avoid cash transactions.

If the student is under 18, always make arrangements with the parents/guardian.

  • Managing arrival and departure times

Aim to schedule lessons so that there is time to clean the teaching room between students, as well as minimising the risk of contact of different students and any accompanying persons. Establish how students or you will enter and exit the premises.

  • Additional considerations

Aim to minimise the joint handling of sheet music and explore using personal phones, tablets etc.

The Government advises use of masks, face coverings and gloves in different situations (e.g. when using public transport). Gloves can protect against contact with surfaces in a work area. If masks are worn they need to be changed regularly and, if they are not disposable, fully cleaned between use periods.