Broadly speaking, schools approach music in a variety of different ways – (rarely) they teach it only to the obviously talented; all pupils are taught some music and maybe all Year 7 learn a musical instrument; regard it as (principally) a recreational activity open to all comers −  or a mix of all of these. A handful of schools have virtually no music; others have a massive commitment that involves some two-thirds of the pupils learning an instrument and daily musical activities eg in assemblies; and there are specialist music schools and choir schools. There are many scholarships and bursaries for music available across a very great range of schools.

Schools of all sorts have pupils in county orchestras, possibly in the National Youth Orchestra, National Concert Band or the National Youth Music Theatre group. Many compete in local festivals and in national competitions (eg Young Musician of the Year). And it is not just classical music. Lively schools often have pupils in local brass bands, success in jazz or rock competitions and flourishing music technology departments complete with recording studios. There is also a huge difference in the range of musical groups: some schools have just an orchestra, choir and recorder group; others have dozens of groups including eg different orchestras, choirs, chamber groups, jazz groups, rock bands, madrigals, flute choir, barber shop and R&B.

Specialist music schools cater specifically for the needs of musically-gifted children and the vast majority of them go on to conservatoires. Children at music schools tend to spend most of their free time in musical activities and may have a limit (often 2) on the number of A-levels they can take (although they often do extremely well in those they do take and many get good university places). An alternative for talented musicians is to combine a mainstream school with the junior department of one of the main conservatoires; pupils are selected by audition and classes are usually held on Saturday mornings.