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Schools: Music

Volume 708: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will continue to support and extend the provision of music education in schools.

My Lords, music is not only an enjoyable and beneficial activity in its own right, it offers enormous benefits right across a child’s education. We believe that all children should have the opportunity to learn to play an instrument while at primary school, and in November 2007 we announced £332 million investment in music education, to include singing, new instruments, performance and access to free music tuition for primary pupils to 2011.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that extremely encouraging reply, but she will be aware that a recent Ofsted report, Making More of Music, indicates that the Government’s very commendable investment is not yet paying off as consistently as it should. Will she ensure that an even stronger message goes out from her department to all schools, emphasising the benefits of music education not only to individual students but to the whole school community? Will she perhaps place particular stress on singing, which, as she and I both know, is very enjoyable and relatively cheap to deliver?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her question and for giving me the opportunity to send a strong message to all those concerned about music education. We are extremely committed to making music education a reality for all children, particularly in primary schools, where we are investing significantly in the “Sing Up” campaign. We hope that, by 2011, all schools will be singing schools.

My Lords, will the Minister get the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to produce clear guidelines about musical progression? Non-specialist teachers, in particular, find it difficult to plan and assess musical progression. Secondly, will the Minister show leadership for the “Sing Up” campaign by returning to the Parliament Choir for its performance of “Messiah” in York Minster in November?

My Lords, the temptation to sing a song for this great House is almost getting the better of me. I love the Parliament Choir. When I came into the House, one of the most welcoming experiences was to be a member of the choir. I take the noble Baroness’s point about progression in music very seriously. We are not expecting all primary school teachers, for example, to become music specialists, but we are putting in place the professional development that teachers need to be confident leaders of singing. We are also training young people. I will take the noble Baroness’s concerns back to the department.

My Lords, can the Minister say how much of the £349 million Music Standards Fund allocated to local authorities for key stage 2 pupils has been spent and how the Government have monitored local authority outcomes?

My Lords, I can say, for example, that we made a commitment to invest £10 million capital in the musical instrument fund. Those resources have been used to secure 94,000 new instruments, which come to £8.25 million for 2008-09. I think that is what the noble Baroness is driving at. If I have not picked up the right numbers, I shall write to her as quickly as I can.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the inspiring example of the national youth orchestra of Venezuela. What can the Government do to promote in this country the Venezuelan initiative known as “El sistema”, which has given rise to the national youth orchestra and has, in the past 30 years, taken 250,000 people off the streets, off drugs and out of prison, put a musical instrument in their hands and given an opportunity for the transformative power of music to point the way for the dispossessed in society to have a better life?

My Lords, we have recently launched the “In Harmony” pilots, which are doing what the noble Lord suggests. They are taking place in particularly deprived communities in this country. There are three pilots, and we are investing £300,000 a year in developing the concept of using the orchestra environment as a way of working with children, particularly young children. As the noble Lord said, putting an instrument in the hands of four year-olds in—I am sorry; I will write to the noble Lord with the location of the pilots—and working with the whole community through the unifying force of music makes an impact on the lives of deprived children.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that musical education can be particularly beneficial for young people, often boys, who have not otherwise been motivated or successful at school, by giving them a different chance to succeed, developing concentration, confidence, empathy and social skills for the benefit not only of the individual but of the whole school?

My Lords, I agree. That is why we are focusing on primary schools and why we have made a commitment to give all children at key stage 2 one year of free instrument tuition. Our aspiration is that at least half those children will carry on with that tuition, and that by 2011 we will see 2 million learners taking instrumental lessons.

My Lords, for a child to progress as a musician, they need a specialist teacher. How many local authorities do not have peripatetic music teachers?

My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord that, but I will check. The Institute of Education recently undertook a survey of local authority music services, and we now know that about 50 per cent of children at key stage 3 are accessing music services. We expect that that will rise to 80 per cent by 2011. That is up from 13 per cent in 2005, so we are going in the right direction. I will check the figure that the noble Lord has asked for and will write to him.

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s lack of bias, as ever.

Does the Minister agree that it is essential that the good progress that has been made in getting primary school children to learn to sing in schools and the work of the cathedral music outreach programme, which is supported by the Government, must be strongly supported into future years?

My Lords, this gives me the opportunity to stress that we want to ensure that all young people have the opportunity to enjoy a lifetime of singing, but we also want to promote and support the most talented musicians in our schools. We must have a strategy that will support children who want to attend a cathedral school and to have a career in music as well as all of us who want to enjoy it in our everyday life.