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Instrumental Music Tuition

Volume 655: debated on Monday 25 February 2019

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Iain Stewart.)

When I informed constituents that I had this debate tonight, I said that it could start before 10 o’clock. I see that we have an extra 40 seconds for tonight’s Adjournment debate, which I will make sure that I use to their full effect.

It is a pleasure to lead tonight’s debate on the importance of instrumental music tuition for young people. I should say from the outset that I have no real link to this subject, having absolutely zero musical talent. At school, I went through various different instruments to try to find the one that I could adopt to play, but all to no avail. In the end, the only instrument that I was entrusted with was the triangle and, if I do say so, I think I am a pretty good triangle player, but that is another story.

Despite my own lack of ability, it is clear that, as MP for Moray, I represent an area rich in musical talent. In my time as a councillor, an MSP and now an MP, one of the most enjoyable invitations that I receive is to the concerts of the Moray Schools Youth Orchestra and Training Orchestra.

I warmly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on leading this debate on a very important issue. I am sure that he agrees that nobody should ever be priced out of music tuition, which is absolutely vital. Will he also join me in congratulating many brass bands, including Blaenavon band in my constituency, that also do so much to engage young people in music?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will come on to the issues about fees and potentially prohibiting people from enjoying music to its full effect. The brass band in his constituency and those in constituencies across the country do great work, engaging young people and people of all ages in music.

I was just saying that the most enjoyable invitations that I receive are to the concerts of the Moray Schools Youth Orchestra and Training Orchestra. It is clear that the hard work and dedication of all the pupils and the instructors always leaves the audiences calling for more. In particular, the summer concert is the culmination of a week of training and guidance by the instructors and Nigel Boddice MBE, with the concerts at the end of the week always proving extremely popular. It is clear how much the young people develop over that week, and how the skills they learn will stay with them for a lifetime.

I applied for this evening’s debate after the SNP-led Moray Council proposed increasing the cost of music tuition in Moray by a staggering 85%. As this is both a devolved issue in terms of council funding and a local council matter, I had opponents saying that I should not get involved. However, as a Member of Parliament, I think my first duty is as a representative, and when a huge number of parents, constituents and pupils contacted me to protest against these charges, I felt that I had to show my support in some way.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I congratulate him on bringing this matter forward. Does he not agree that funding cuts to schools have meant that many schools have had to cut their additional programmes, and that music very often is the first to go? More Government emphasis and dedicated funding to schools will ensure that people whose parents cannot afford to pay for private lessons have at least an avenue to see children introduced to the wonderful world of music. I know some people in my constituency who had an opportunity at school to learn music, and who are now talented people who can earn an extra income. Those are the possibilities that exist for those who have the opportunity.

I am very grateful for that intervention by the hon. Gentleman who is an assiduous participant in these Adjournment debates. He raises two or three issues that I am going to come on to in the remainder of my speech about ensuring that we do not price people out of music. I am talking about not just the musical talent that people develop as they go through music instruction, but the benefits to the wider community that are sometimes forgotten. I will expand further on those points later in my speech.

As bitter a blow as the announcement of the fee increases was, the knock-on effect was just as significant. Our valued, talented and hugely respected head of music instruction service, John Mustard, resigned from his position after 30 years of dedicated and loyal service. John specifically blamed the increase in charging for his decision. He said:

“The reason is simple, I cannot agree with the decision by the council to raise the cost of music lessons by 85% to what will be the highest level in Scotland. In a low wage economy such as Moray this will have the effect of depriving many young people of a valuable skill and pleasure for life. I regret this deeply but I cannot be part of a decision that will do so much damage to a service I have built up to national acclaim over the last 30 years.”

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Conservative group on Moray Council have put forward alternative proposals for the budget given that it abandoned the administration last year? If they had put forward alternative proposals, they might have avoided these rises.

The hon. Gentleman is perhaps not aware—only reading the SNP’s spin—that the reason that the Scottish Conservatives left the administration on Moray Council was because the SNP councillors, the independent councillors and all the other councillors would not countenance a proposal to reduce the senior management level at Moray Council in order to save hundreds of thousands of pounds to protect the services that we are speaking about today. He asked whether the Conservatives put forward an alternative proposal; yes, they did. They opposed the 85% increase in fees, but the SNP said, “No, it has to go ahead.” As I will mention in a moment, the SNP has now gone back on that decision. After ignoring the Scottish Conservative councillors at the budget meeting in January, the SNP councillors are now following some of the advice we gave them. I just hope that they go a bit further at the full budget meeting on Wednesday.

It should not have come to this. John and his team have nurtured so many talented individuals in Moray who have gone on to perform across the world.

Does my hon. Friend agree that John and many of the teachers and tutors who provide music education in schools across the United Kingdom go above and beyond, often giving up their spare time to put on the fantastic efforts that many of us go to see in our constituencies?

My hon. Friend is a passionate advocate for her area, and what she experiences in Angus is exactly what we have experienced in Moray. People like John go above and beyond their remit in the education department to do so much more.

I want to say a huge thank you to John for everything he has done for music in Moray. Without him, I am sure that the service would not have reached the popularity it has or gained the respect that it rightly receives. I asked Nigel Boddice for his thoughts on John’s resignation, and he summed it up perfectly by saying:

“The loss of John Mustard due to the increase of fees feels like a bereavement to me personally and I’m sure to the community at large. 30 years of talent, skill, musicianship of the highest possible order has been invested in your youth. Moray will now become a cultural desert I fear. With John’s departure music has lost out, but worse, so has the youth of tomorrow and the community.”

To follow on from the intervention of the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), I can confirm that the SNP-led administration have now scaled back their proposed fee increase to 20%, but this will still have a damaging effect. When fees were increased by 20% a couple of years ago, the service saw a 15% drop-out rate. For a service that reaches more than 800 young people in Moray, that is a concerning statistic. I also know that about a dozen pupils withdrew from the service all together in the weeks since the 85% increase was announced—their joy and passion for music cut short because of a short-sighted cut.

In the time remaining, I will discuss why the service is so important in Moray, Scotland and across the UK.

It may not come as a surprise that the SNP-led South Ayrshire Council has also increased the cost of music tuition, which has excluded some people. Although it has made provision for the less well-off, it has still put people out of pocket. At a time when creative subjects such as music have never been more important to individuals or to the economy, is the question not simply: why do we charge at all for musical instrument tuition lessons throughout schools in the UK? Should we not bring an end to charges throughout the United Kingdom? It is not necessary and we could give these people a great opportunity in music.

My hon. Friend leads me on to a recent report of the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, which looked at that point and several others. Importantly, the report examined the benefits of music education. Students contributing to the report pointed out the transferable skills that learning to play an instrument can build, such as dexterity, creative problem-solving and focus.

In the report Alastair Orr, an instrumental music teacher, mentioned the UCL Institute of Research and a 2015 report which highlighted that children receiving music tuition show heightened literacy, numeracy and social skills. He said:

“Any investment in instrumental and vocal education by local and national governments is more than returned by the contribution of young people to the cultural, educational and social fabric of our country.”

My hon. Friend mentions my constituent Alastair Orr. I hope that he will join me in paying tribute to Alastair Orr and many others throughout Scotland who have led an amazing campaign in support of music tuition. Does my hon. Friend agree with Alastair Orr that the current situation in Scotland is a shambolic lottery? In Inverclyde, it costs £117 a year for music instrument tuition, whereas it costs £524 in Clackmannanshire and £268 in Stirling. It is a shambolic lottery, is it not?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to Alastair Orr. Like many people, Alastair contacted me ahead of this debate keen to input his undoubted wisdom on this subject. The postcode lottery element is significant. I find it strange and disappointing that SNP Ministers in the Scottish Parliament will criticise local councils such as Midlothian for their plans because they are Labour-led but will not criticise SNP-led Moray Council for similar plans. We have to ensure that there is not a postcode lottery and that there are opportunities for our young people across Scotland and across the UK to access music tuition.

Perhaps it might help the debate if we keep it to the benefits of music tuition itself. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the cultural benefits. For communities such as mine in Orkney and Shetland, the availability of tuition in schools has been enormously important in the maintenance and growing of traditional music that is indigenous to our island communities. Should that not be given greater value, be it by councils or government at any level?

I respect what the right hon. Gentleman has said. In my previous role as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I represented those islands as part of the wider highlands and islands region. There is undoubted talent within the islands, and that has spread further now. Musicians from Orkney and from Shetland are going on to receive national acclaim, and that shows how important such traditional music is.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again—he is most gracious. He referred to culture earlier. In Northern Ireland we have a tremendous band culture that probably comes off the back of the Royal Black preceptory and the apprentice boys. Many of these young people started their musical expertise and talent in schools through the education system. With regard to retaining the culture, that is where it starts and then the community brings it together. I support what he says. For us in Northern Ireland, culture is very important, as it is for him as well.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very compelling point. We have to remember that what young people learn at school and through extra-curricular activities outside school at a young age will stay with them throughout their life. They will improve in their music playing and other things during their life, but getting that early introduction is vitally important.

My hon. Friend has mentioned the benefits of a child learning a skill and that skill staying with them through adulthood and beyond. Does he agree that there are also social benefits to being part of a school band? I have friends who will be friends for life because they came together with the school band.

I do agree. I am not sure if my hon. Friend is speaking only about social partnerships and connections that happen in bands at school, because I know that he sometimes plays alongside the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) in MP4, and I am not sure if that bond of friendship continues within MP4.

My hon. Friend is speaking very passionately about this important subject. Indeed, this debate has struck a chord with many of my constituents. A number of parents have been in touch. Kirstin Murray from Birgham, Clare Moore from Galashiels, Harriet Campbell from Kelso, Arthur Parsons from Duns and Lyn More from Galashiels all have children who have had the benefits of learning a musical instrument at school. They have spoken not only about the benefits from a social perspective—many have spoken about the opportunities it has created for employment once children leave school through having that skill developed by music tuition.

My hon. Friend, despite the terrible pun at the beginning of his intervention, makes an extremely important point. We have just got six or seven copies of Hansard heading up to his constituency tomorrow because of that.

I want to look briefly at two other points that were raised by the Scottish Parliament’s Committee about the wider benefits to the economy of a musically enabled society. This evidence came from Kirk Richardson of the Educational Institute of Scotland, who pointed out that Scotland accounts for 11% of the UK’s live music revenue and that music tourism brings about £280 million a year to Scotland and secures more than 2,000 full-time jobs. In 2015 alone, 720,000 foreign and domestic visitors came to the country for festivals and major music concerts. He said:

“If music tuition is allowed to die, there will be a huge commercial loss to the country. We need to wake up to that.”

Much of Celtic Connections is based in my constituency, so we really see the benefit of music tourism. Does the hon. Gentleman agree about the benefits for young people within communities? I am lucky to have the Sistema Big Noise orchestra based in Govanhill, and it brings young people from various schools together to bring the whole community together. Does he see the value in having such organisations providing things that go right across different schools?

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. The Moray Youth Orchestra meets every Saturday, and transport is provided to take in kids from all schools from all over—they come from Aberlour and Milne’s to Elgin. They meet once a week to get excellent tuition, but they also bond with other pupils from schools across Moray.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the financial dividend, but does he agree there is a social dividend, too, in allowing individuals to build their confidence? All too often, we see young people who seem to struggle with their confidence at an age when they have to deal with Instagram, exam pressure and all that sort of thing, and this is a great opportunity to allow them to blossom, to grow in themselves and to gain confidence.

My hon. Friend gives me a great opportunity to introduce the last piece of evidence I want to highlight. Alice Ferguson, a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said that, as a result of learning to play a musical instrument, she felt she became more resilient, confident and open-minded in everything she does. Importantly, she also said that she benefited from the creativity and from the feeling that she was part of a community, part of a band, and that it was really good for her mental health.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his speech, and I am sorry to learn of the circumstances in his constituency. Does he agree that music and song can transform the lives of people with learning difficulties? Will he join me in welcoming the fact that, following their success at the London Palladium, David Stanley and the Music Man Project will be taking more than 200 youngsters to perform at the Albert Hall on Monday 15 April? After that, they hope to go to Broadway.

I wholeheartedly congratulate David Stanley and the Music Man Project on taking so many young people to perform in those prestigious venues. Maybe that is yet another reason why Southend-on-Sea should be considered to be made a city. These things add up.

Policy makers and budget leaders need to wake up to the crisis we are facing. Our young people need their representatives to stand up for musical instruction, and not to see it cut time and again. We cannot let it become available only for those who get tuition for free or those from rich enough families, for whom staggering increases matter less. If we did, a huge spectrum of talent and potential could miss out. They would suffer because of that, and so would we.

In responding to this debate, I hope the Minister will acknowledge the positive impact that music instruction has across the country and will outline what we can do to protect and enhance this service, because the benefits are clear for all to see.

In closing, I return to Moray and the legacy of John Mustard. I was disappointed that a recent meeting of Moray Council’s children and young people’s committee missed the opportunity to thank John for his work, so let me try to convey the thanks of pupils, past and present, who have benefited from John’s passion and enthusiasm. I will quote people who left messages on social media after his decision was announced. Brian said:

“I doubt John Mustard shall remember me as a child, but I clearly remember him, as I do all of the other music teachers at my school. It saddens me that someone such as John, who spent a lot of his own time involved in many of the school…projects, has been painted into a corner in such a way. I do not believe Moray Council can have any understanding of the social and cultural legacy John and his colleagues leave behind in the decades of service they have given.”

Sarah added:

“I loved going to music centre on Saturdays throughout my school years and particularly enjoyed Moray Schools Youth Orchestra in the summer holidays. Without the music education I received I wouldn’t be studying music now.”

Just two of the many comments that show how valued the service in Moray is and the lasting impact that instructors like John and so many others can have on our young people.

The skills young people gain while learning to play an instrument are not restricted to music alone. They continue to benefit throughout their life. If the cycle of fee increases for music tuition continues, we will lose pupils and instructors. I worry that, by the time we all come round to realising the detrimental effect that this has had, it will be too late. JFK famously said:

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”

We must ensure that young people in Moray, in Scotland and across the UK have the musical resources to give them the brightest possible future.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) on securing this debate. He is right that music can transform lives and introduce young people to a huge range of opportunities and skills, but we have heard today how Moray Council is increasing the cost of instrumental music tuition by 85%, which risks depriving many pupils of the pleasure of learning to play a musical instrument—something that we must strive to avoid. I look forward to one day hearing my hon. Friend playing a triangle, or perhaps we could listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris), who is sitting behind me and who played sessions for Whitesnake and Duran Duran in the 1980s.

In November 2011, we published the national plan for music education, which sets out our vision for music education. The vision is to enable children from all backgrounds and every part of England to have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, to make music with others, to learn to sing, and to have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence. The national plan runs until 2020, and we confirmed last month that we would refresh it.

The Government are committed to ensuring that every child receives a high-quality music education. That is why music is an important part of a broad and balanced curriculum and is statutory for all pupils aged five to 14 in state maintained schools. Instrumental tuition is a key part of a music education, and that is reflected in the national curriculum. For example, at key stage 1, pupils should be taught to play tuned and untuned instruments musically and, at key stage 2, they should be taught to play and perform in solo and ensemble contexts, using their voices and playing musical instruments with increasing accuracy, fluency, control and expression.

Schools are responsible for delivering the music curriculum, in exactly the same way that they are responsible for delivering the curriculum in other subjects, but we recognise that they cannot do that alone. Our network of music education hubs can support schools to provide high-quality music tuition. Between 2016 and 2020, we are providing over £300 million of ring-fenced funding for music education hubs in addition to the funding that goes to schools to deliver the curriculum.

England has 120 music education hubs that were set up in 2012 to drive up the quality and consistency of music education across the country. We have given the hubs four core roles, with instrumental tuition at their heart. The four roles are to ensure that every child aged five to 18 has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument through whole-class ensemble teaching, to provide opportunities for pupils to play in ensembles and to perform from an early stage, to ensure that clear progression routes are available and affordable to all young people, and to develop a singing strategy to ensure that every pupil sings regularly and that choirs and other vocal ensembles are available in the area.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) on securing this debate. Do the hubs also cover paths to composition? I was struck this morning upon hearing the brilliant composer Sir James MacMillan, who I believe is 60 this year, talk on the radio about how important his musical education at a state school had been to the development of his career.

My hon. Friend is right that composition is included in the national curriculum, and it is of course important that children learn how to read and write music so that they can actually compose music of their own.

A report by Birmingham City University published last year showed that in 2016-17, hubs worked with 89% of schools on at least one core role and helped more than 700,000 pupils learn to play a musical instrument in whole-class ensemble teaching. In 2013-14—the first year for which like-for-like figures are available—the number was just under 600,000, so that is an increase of 19%. In addition to their work with whole classes, hubs taught hundreds of thousands more children to play instruments or sing. They provided individual lessons for more than 157,000 children, lessons in small groups for more than 238,000 children and lessons in larger groups for more than 145,000 children. We have recently increased their funding by £1.3 million.

Between 2016 and 2020, we are providing almost £120 million to the music and dance scheme, to support exceptionally talented young musicians, dancers and choristers to attend specialist schools such as the Yehudi Menuhin School, Chetham’s School in Manchester and the Purcell School.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituent Jamie King, who is 15 and won a place on the National Youth Orchestra playing the bassoon and was awarded a place at Chetham’s, having learned to play at a primary school in Netherlee? Does that not demonstrate that getting young children into music early in their local primary schools can lead them on to a national stage at such a young age?

Yes, I offer Jamie King my warm congratulations on achieving membership of the National Youth Orchestra and on attending Chetham’s, which is not an easy school to secure a place in? We help to fund those places through the music and dance scheme. We are also providing £2 million for national youth music organisations such as the National Youth Orchestra and £2 million for In Harmony.[Official Report, 28 February 2019, Vol. 655, c. 4MC.]

While instrumental tuition is important, it is not the only aspect of the curriculum. Earlier this year, I announced that in order to help schools deliver high-quality music education, we were developing a non-statutory model music curriculum for teachers to use in key stages 1 to 3. That will expand on the statutory programmes of study and act as a benchmark for all schools. As well as ensuring that pupils can benefit from knowledge-rich and diverse lessons, the curriculum will make it easier for teachers to plan lessons and help to reduce workload. We have appointed an expert advisory group, chaired by Veronica Wadley, which will oversee the drafting of the curriculum. She is a former chair of Arts Council London and is a governor of the Yehudi Menuhin School.

On that point, will my right hon. Friend reiterate the thanks I gave in my speech to teachers such as John Mustard and everyone involved in music instruction in Moray? The talent they pass on stays with young people for life, and the effort they put in is unquestionable. It would be extremely nice if a Minister at the Dispatch Box of the House of Commons could say that to John and everyone involved in music tuition.

My hon. Friend beats me to my point. I was going to mention John Mustard and thank him on behalf of the rest of the House of Commons for all the work he has put in and his dedication to teaching, helping hundreds or thousands of young people to acquire a real love of music. I thank John Mustard, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising that.

One of the aims of the national curriculum is for children to perform, listen to, review and evaluate music across a whole range of historical genres, periods, styles and traditions, including the works of the great composers and musicians. I was introduced to classical music at primary school, and I want other children to have the same opportunity, so I was delighted to support and help develop the Classical 100, a free online resource for primary schools, to help teachers introduce their pupils to classical music. It was developed by experts in music education at the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, Classic FM and Decca. More than 5,500 schools in England, 7,500 teachers and an estimated 180,000 pupils have engaged with it since it launched in 2015. The 100 pieces were selected to encourage pupils to explore composers such as J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. The most frequently played pieces are “Dido’s Lament”, “Nimrod”, “Londonderry Air”, the “Moonlight” sonata and “Air on the G String”. The online site offers schools a range of flexible resources to support teachers, and I hope more schools will sign up to it. Last October, I was delighted to visit Park Lane Primary School in Wembley and present it with a Yamaha Clavinova digital piano for coming first in the Classical 100 challenge.

I think we can all agree that having the opportunity to study and explore music and to learn to play an instrument is not a privilege; it is part of a broad and balanced curriculum, and it is something we must all continue to champion. A strong and rigorous music education is as important a part of a child’s education as science, history and literature. I hope our commitment to music education is clear. The new model curriculum, the new money for our successful music hubs and a refreshed national plan for music education will ensure that the next generation of Adeles, Nigel Kennedys and Alex Turners have all the support they need in and out of school.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.