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Education: Music

Volume 733: debated on Wednesday 30 November 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they will give to music education under the National Plan for Music Education published on 25 November.

My Lords, the National Plan for Music Education will ensure that all pupils in English schools have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument, to make music with others, to learn to sing and to progress to the next level of excellence. We will also continue to fund national youth music organisations, to continue our support for In Harmony and for the internationally recognised Music and Dance Scheme.

My Lords, there are big questions about this plan, despite the broad welcome that it has received within the music world. What is the thinking behind the disappointingly massive cuts, of over 30 per cent, to music education as a whole up to 2014? If costs are going to be parked with parents, charities and the private companies who could become music education hub leaders, then this plan will surely not deliver a comprehensive service. Would the Minister agree that if music is dropped from the national curriculum as a guaranteed subject for five to 14 year-olds, then all the fine words in this plan will come to mean very little?

My Lords, as to the second question on whether music will continue to remain a part of the National Curriculum, the noble Earl will know that that is part of what we are looking at in the review of the National Curriculum, and we will make further announcements on that in the next year. I am not able to go further than that.

On his more general point, clearly we are having to work in an environment in which there is less money than we would like. Given that context, the funding that we have managed to retain for these new education hubs is £82.5 million this year, the same as last year, and, I think, £79 million next year. There are further reductions to come; the noble Lord is absolutely right about that. Clearly, our hope is that, through the education hubs that are going to bid for the money and bring together a range of other organisations, they will be able to make sure that there is funding. Other sources of funding—for example, through the pupil premium—could also play a part, but we need to look at that.

Does my noble friend the Minister agree that to implement the national music plan at the speed at which the Government propose requires a large cadre of very hard-working music teachers? In the light of that, will he try to persuade his right honourable friend the Minister for Schools that the EBacc requires a sixth pillar that includes cultural and vocational subjects, including music? As things stand at the moment, we are losing a lot of music teachers across the country.

My Lords, I think one of the reasons why we are losing a number of teachers at secondary school and, in particular, the number of music teachers is dropping is that the number of pupils at secondary schools is dropping. I agree with my noble friend entirely about the importance of making sure that we have really good teachers able to teach music particularly at primary level, and we have plans to improve initial training for music teachers. As far as the EBacc is concerned, my noble friend knows well the Government’s position, which is to concentrate on a small number of subjects that give children the greatest chance of going to strong universities. The Russell Group supports the choice of subjects. However, I know how strongly she feels and that there are pressures from all sides of the House for us to extend the number of subjects in the EBacc.

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord’s department no longer has responsibility for higher education, but, following on from the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, would the Minister agree that music teachers have to be trained, that the places where they are mostly trained is in small specialist institutions, such as music conservatoires, and that those conservatoires are currently very anxious about the effect on them of the changes to higher education funding? Will the Minister ask his colleagues in the relevant department to give us an assurance that those institutions will be protected, thus guaranteeing a supply of high-quality music teaching in the future?

I will take up that point, as the noble Baroness asks. As far as my department is concerned, she will know, through the Music and Dance Scheme, that we will continue to make funding available in order to get talented young children going into those conservatoires, which is part of the solution. I will take up her point.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the very considerable body of evidence that attests to the value of music and indeed dance to the personal development of those with special needs, whether it be physical, learning or emotional? Can he give assurances about the continued levels of support and resourcing for music in the special needs sector of our national education system?

Yes, my Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate about the important role that music and dance can play. In our national plan there is quite a lot about the role that music technology can play, particularly for those who might have special educational needs. In terms of monitoring how the plan works, we would obviously want to look at and hold to account providers for the way in which they provide services for children of all abilities.

Does the Minister agree that one of the cheapest and most effective forms of music education is choral singing? I know that is mentioned in the pronouncements that he has referred to. Can the Minister confirm whether it might be worth considering having people who are not qualified teachers coming in to schools to set up choirs and get choral singing off the ground? We all know that there are very talented choir masters who have not necessarily qualified as teachers.

I agree very strongly with the noble Baroness about the important role that choral singing and being part of a choir can play. I hope that one of the ways that these new hubs will work is to draw in a much wider range of providers. They will be covering a broader area so that one can get that kind of specialism that one could then extend to a range of schools in an area.

My Lords, there is a great deal to welcome in the national music plan. We particularly welcome the fact that funding—although it involves significant cuts—will be ring-fenced for music education. Does this mean that the Government have now been converted back to the idea of ring-fencing? What does that mean for other children’s services such as Sure Start?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her welcome overall for the shape of the plan and what we are trying to do with it. We are distributing the funding in the way that we are—which relates to the point that I was just making to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock—because the kind of services that we will provide go across areas where an individual school could not be expected to have that degree of specialism or that range of services or instruments. We think it makes more sense to deliver that through a bigger area.