Music education in the UK is on the verge of collapse if the government’s plan to encourage local authorities to withdraw funding for music services goes ahead at the end of this month.
Under the coalition’s schools reforms, there have been worrying signs that arts subjects have been sidelined. 15% of schools surveyed by Ipsos MORI in 2012 had withdrawn one or more arts subjects as a result of the EBacc. 21% of schools with a high proportion of free school meals (FSM) reported withdrawing arts subjects.
There was a degree of optimism a few years ago when Michael Gove launched the National Plan for Music, insisting that “music education must not become the preserves of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition”. Following a comprehensive report by Darren Henley
, the government pledged £171m via the Arts Council to fund music hubs across England over a three year period.
There was more reason to be optimistic when the Dfe announced in April this year that Art & Design, Dance, Drama and Music GCSEs would be part of the suite of qualifications to be reformed ready for teaching from 2016. A Levels in Dance, Drama and Music were also to be reformed alongside other subjects, also ready for teaching from September 2016.
So the removal of local authority music services (whose major partners are the same Music Hubs the government established to reach out to children from lower income families) suggests that there is a vast difference between what Michael Gove says he wants when it comes to enriching children from poorer backgrounds and what his policies will actually do.
This contradiction is not the worst of it. The last time the Tories were in government, Margaret Thatcher made the decision that local authorities need not allocate a proportion of their funds to music education. Free music lessons for hundreds of thousands of children whose families could not have afforded them went down the plughole at the same time as Mrs. Thatcher urged the world to shun communities, worship free market greed and pay scant attention to the spiritual nourishment that the arts can bring.
The Department for Education blithely suggests that music services should henceforth be funded through school budgets and music hubs (which can extend over two or more local authorities). There are two problems with this.
• Firstly, maintained school budgets are already stretched beyond endurance (little wonder there is so much outrage on the millions of pounds spent by the DfE on establishing free schools and in areas of little demand) and there is enough evidence that schools are cutting resources to arts subjects;
• Secondly, the DfE pre-supposes that hubs have become financially self sustaining. They have not. And it remains to be seen what levels of funding they are slated to receive after March 2015 – very little if the pattern of cuts to music services is an indication.
When the arts community gets vocal about funding, there is a tendency for their critics to ridicule what it is that artists actually do or contribute to local or global communities. It becomes even easier at a time of economic austerity. Subjects like music are dispatched into the periphery of the curriculum – a hobby rather than an essential component of learning. Swingeing cuts and the punitive focus on the “rigorous’’ and the “academic” prioritise what Michael Gove alone considers what is core learning. But this is to wrongly relegate music to the edge of the frivolous and irrelevant..
Significant numbers of research has shown that arts learning improves maths, literacy and cognitive skills. Introducing music at a young age increases IQ. Community music programmes pioneered by El Sistema Venezuela and Sistema Scotland raise aspiration, help children focus, inspire confidence and transform deprived communities.
The Incorporated Society of Musicians
has launched the Protect Music Campaign
opposing these truncations. They have published a poll which last month showed that 85% of adults agreed with Michael Gove that music education should not be the entitlement of the already advantaged.
Please sign it and urge others to sign so that we can hold Michael Gove and the DfE to account. He has continuously stated that he supports music and arts education – this is one immediate way of reminding him that the vast majority of public support it and his National Plan for Music pledged a commitment to it. Please help deliver the message that music enriches young people’s lives and that music services are essential to allowing children from less affluent backgrounds to unlock their potential.