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National Music Plan

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 28 April 2011


Asked By

My Lords, the review of music education, carried out by Darren Henley, has given us a blueprint for ensuring that every child has the chance to benefit from the positive effects that good music education can have. The Government welcomed Mr Henley’s review in their response of 7 February 2011. The national plan for music education will set out a more detailed response to the review’s recommendations and will be published later this year.

Will the Government provide sufficient extra funding for the national portfolio organisations to fulfil the ambitions of the plans, especially at a time of local authority cuts? With respect to extracurricular music education, including for gifted and talented children, will the Minister deal with the national patchwork which is so disruptive for funding? Finally, will he address the huge variation in the quantity and quality of musical education in schools which is a consequence of head teachers having such command over curriculum decisions? That variation disturbs the ambitions of the national music plan to provide a comprehensive service.

I very much agree with the noble Lord on the importance of trying to get to the point where there is a comprehensive service. His points about disparities in funding were well made. As a subset of broader problems with funding which exist across schools, there are great inequalities which it would be good to try to address, as we have started to do. We are looking at the funding system both in terms of how funding is delivered and the sums of money involved. We have announced the funding for this year, which, in difficult circumstances, matches overall the sums provided last year. We will need to look at that in the broader context of how we respond to the rest of Henley’s recommendations and set out a plan. So far as talented children are concerned, we have managed to find the money to support the music and dance scheme. I am pleased about that and I am sure that the noble Lord will be, too.

Will my noble friend recognise that music is of particular importance in educating children who suffer from learning difficulties and that, very often, you can break through to a child’s mind and responsiveness with music education? I hope that the Government will bear that in mind.

I very much take that point. The role that music can play for all children is hugely important. The previous Government recognised that and made a lot of progress in increasing and improving provision generally for all children. We are keen to build on that, but I recognise that the role music can play in helping children with special educational needs is important.

My Lords, may I invite the Minister to confirm the Government’s belief, which I think they hold, that the specialist music conservatoires in this country play a very important role in music education, not only in providing specialist education for performers but also in educating educators? Will he therefore pass on to his colleagues who deal with higher education the observation that continuing uncertainty about the availability of exceptional funding for this specialist education is not in the best interests of music education, either for students or the people whom they may subsequently teach?

Yes and yes, my Lords. I will certainly do that. I agree entirely agree with the point made by the noble Baroness about the important role that the conservatoires play. I hope that we will be able to build on Teach First, which is another excellent scheme introduced by the previous Government, and to look in particular at whether we can encourage more graduates of that scheme who have been through the conservatoire system to learn to teach and to spread what they have learnt. I will certainly relay the noble Baroness’s second point to BIS.

My Lords, what progress has been made in moving teaching towards being a masters degree profession and will such a degree provide an opportunity to develop some of the specialisms identified in the Henley review as being needed? Perhaps the Minister might visit Burdett-Coutts primary school, around the corner from here, which does a marvellous job in encouraging a great range of pupils to use musical instruments.

The noble Earl is very kind in trying to induce me to go around the corner with him; I would be keen. I was lucky enough last year to go to the Schools Prom at the Royal Albert Hall. If any Members of this House have been there in their roles, they will know what a fantastic, wonderful evening it is. It was one of the most life-enhancing evenings that I have had for a very long time—which may say something about my life as well. It made one realise how much is going on in schools, what music teachers and music services are delivering, and how music can bring so much to children in a range of ways. As the noble Earl knows, there are a number of ways in which we need to look at the quality and range of teacher training, developing the idea of school-to-school support and learning the best that schools have already developed. That should have an important part to play in the development of specialist music teachers as well.

If the Government intend to implement recommendation 11 of the Darren Henley report, that Ofsted’s remit should be extended to review the standards and quality of music education, will the Minister find a way of instructing Ofsted to take account of those many music teachers who bring enormous joy and fun to their pupils through music? It may not be easy to measure fun, but it is terribly important.

On recommendation 11, we will talk to Ofsted. I do not know how one develops a measurement for fun. Perhaps we should talk to the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who I am sure has developed an index for measuring happiness. However, I shall bear those points in mind.