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Music Teaching

Volume 455: debated on Thursday 11 January 2007

All schools already have to teach music to five to 14-year-old pupils, in accordance with national curriculum requirements. The Government are investing an additional £30 million in 2006-08 to back up their pledge that over time every primary child who wants to will have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument. The distribution of that money gives more to areas of high deprivation.

I welcome the reiteration of that policy, but it was laid down by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) four Education Secretaries ago. What remains is a postcode lottery for schoolchildren wanting to learn to play a musical instrument—the chances are higher in Esher than in many working-class areas. I look to the Labour Government to remedy that wrong and to ensure that some of the poorest and most disadvantaged of our schoolchildren have the opportunity to enjoy and learn to play quality music, particularly—although rock and technology are important—classical and traditional music. That is what is required from the Labour Government. Can we get on with it?

I am glad to hear my hon. Friend talk about rock—he is known as the Robbie Williams of Thurrock in many parts of the House.

I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend. I agree entirely about the importance of music for all children, particularly for those in deprived areas, because on many occasions it is music and sport that get children engaged in education, which leads to other benefits. I want to make two points. The first is that we have provided a pot of money—£2 million, weighted for deprivation—to local authorities to buy and repair musical instruments. For some reason in my hon. Friend’s authority—the socialist republic of Thurrock—

Perhaps that is the explanation. For some reason, Thurrock’s £3,254 share of that money has yet to be picked up. It is available for the 2006-07 financial year.

My hon. Friend talked about disadvantaged children, and my second point is that I announced at the Barnardo’s conference in December that as part of our children in care Green Paper and the proposals arising from it, every child in care should have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument. The philosophy behind our Green Paper is that the state should be a better parent, and just as a parent would try to provide the opportunity for a child to learn a musical instrument, so, too, should the state. This month, we are talking to a range of music experts about how we can ensure that every child in care has that advantage.

I welcome what the Minister said about the importance of music in the school curriculum. Is he aware that in my borough of Bexley there is excellent music teaching and provision across the whole borough, irrespective of the social background of the area? Will he urge other local education authorities to look at the provision in my authority to see whether they can replicate it?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Bexley is excellent at music. Although we have made tremendous progress, I want to ensure that the same quality of provision that exists in Bexley and many other local authorities is applied across the country. One of the important developments is the music manifesto, where we put together independent voices in the music industry. There are 500 signatories and they have made a number of recommendations to us over the year to which I will respond in a speech on 16 January. One of the recommendations is about how we use singing in schools and about ensuring that there is singing in all schools as a precursor to greater music education. There are lots of excellent colleges in the state sector and the independent sector that, in partnership, we can use to achieve those objectives.

My local authority of Sandwell, which historically is in a low income area, has an outstanding schools orchestra, which has reflected great credit on the local authority. Central to that has been the funding stream for music standards in schools, which I believe is to be reviewed in 2008. I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that that central funding stream is maintained so that music provision in authorities such as Sandwell can continue to reflect credit on those involved.

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to that pool of money. It amounts to £64.5 million this year and will rise to £83 million in 2007-08. The pot for Thurrock is £400,000. He asked me a question that I cannot answer until the end of the comprehensive spending review, but it is quite evident that the focus that we have put on music learning throughout our time in government is going to continue.