Music education in England: about to be decimated? – The Guardian (blog)
This weekend, the Sounds Venezuala festival returns to the Southbank Centre. The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, the second most famous product of their acclaimed music education project will be in residence working with England’s El Sistema-inspired In Harmony projects. And yet, amidst the prospect of such an exciting and energising weekend for London’s young musicians, there is, alas, some potentially chilling news from Whitehall that could have a catastrophic effect on wider music education in the UK.
Consider the following: on the back of the Incorporated Society of Musician’s Protect Music Education campaign, the ISM published the result of a poll which reveals that 85% of a representative sample of adults agree with Michael Gove’s statement, taken from the government’s own National Plan for Music, that “Music education must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition”. (Which does rather beg the question: who on earth are the joyless 15% who don’t agree with this aspiration?!?…) So far, so obvious. You might think: but there’s a bigger issue right now, in what’s happening in the government’s implementation of the National Plan. The evidence from recent reports is that the Music Education Hubs are working only patchily (precisely the issue they were established to resolve), and there’s a question mark about what happens after April 2015, when the first round of money pledged needs to be replenished, at what everyone expects will be a lower level.
And yet that’s not the worst of it. There’s a still more worrying prospect out there. The government’s own advice – their own advice, note – in a Department of Education report is that local authorities should stop directly funding their music services, the dominant partners in the vast majority of the Hubs. This is a looming disaster: potentially, the government is turning back to the scorched earth policy for music education in the 1980s that resulted from Margaret Thatcher’s decision that local authorities didn’t have to ringfence the money they gave to their music services. That meant that the majority of Local Authorities simply didn’t bother spending money on music, and free music education for hundreds of thousands of pupils – one of the signature achievements of post-war British schools – disappeared almost overnight. And not to put too fine a point on it – in fact, to be completely blunt – what the Department of Education is suggesting is a complete contradiction of Michael Gove’s stated aim that music education “must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition”, if you excuse my repetition. The DoE’s idea instead is that “music services should now be funded through music education hubs (which can cover one or more local authority areas) and from school budgets, not from the ESG [Education Services Grant]“. That’s a fudge that assumes that the Hubs have all become self-sustaining models of public-private finance, and that they are all generating enough revenue not to need the money the music services formerly received from Local Authorities – and that simply isn’t the case.
So a twofold plea: to get behind the ISM’s Protect Music Education campaign, and to hold the Department of Education and Michael Gove to account. If he wants his vision of music education to happen, he needs to change his Department’s advice to Local Authorities, and do it right now. Otherwise, Gove will preside over another dark age for music education, instead of the bright new dawn the National Plan for Music seemed to promise. That must not be allowed to happen.