Question for Short Debate
My Lords, as the noble Lord’s Question for Short Debate is now being taken as last business, the time limit for the debate becomes 90 minutes rather than 60 minutes. Speeches should therefore be limited to seven minutes, except for the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the Minister, which remain limited to 10 and 12 minutes respectively.
My Lords, I am delighted to introduce this short debate on the national plan for music education, even if it is somewhat later than might have been anticipated. I put down my Question last June, before the Government’s announcement of extra funding for the plan, but I believe there are still issues about its funding and delivery that are worthy of debate. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have put down their names to speak and look forward to hearing what they have to say from their often much more knowledgeable standpoints than I can claim as a mere music consumer, albeit a passionate one, and now also a singer in the Parliament choir.
The second paragraph of the national plan, published by the Departments for Education and for Culture, Media and Sport in November 2011, says:
“Our 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”.
That is indeed a visionary commitment, and one in which the Government should take pride. The challenge now is to ensure that those ambitious aims are delivered.
The plan’s central element is the creation of a network of local or regional music educational hubs across England. The devolved regions are, of course, not covered. These hubs, 123 of them, are responsible for co-ordinating the delivery of music education in their areas, working in partnership with schools, local authorities, music teachers and others. Their central government funding comes from the DfE but is administered by Arts Council England, which oversees them. In addition to the four core roles spelt out in the vision, the hubs were given three extension roles—to provide training and CPD for schools staff, develop instrument loan schemes and offer access to large-scale or high-quality music experiences for students.
I do not plan to rehash the case for the value of music in schools, which is rightly taken pretty much as a given in the plan, but one message coming through strongly to your Lordships’ Digital Skills Committee, on which I sit, is the central importance of creativity to the UK’s future skills base and competitiveness. There is nothing like music for learning creativity, as well as other key skills such as team work, communication and discipline. The main question for us today is whether the plan is on track to achieve its aims and what government and others can do to increase its success.
I shall raise some issues relating to the hubs and their performance to date. Perhaps inevitably, these start with finance. Up to July, central government funding for local music education services, going back before the plan was launched, had been declining year by year, from a total of over £82 million in 2010-11 to £58 million in 2014-15, and no announcement had yet been made on funding beyond that. Furthermore, DfE published a consultation document suggesting that local authorities should not use any of the education support grant that they received from the department to support music education activities in schools. So the announcement later that month that funding for the year to March 2016 would be increased by £18 million, with £17 million of that going to hubs, was excellent news, especially as the ESG proposal was dropped at the same time. The Government deserve warm congratulations on this, at least as far as it goes.
However, there remain some important questions. How and when will the £75 million for 2015-16 be allocated to individual hubs? Will the extra money be dedicated wholly to fulfilling their existing roles? What will happen after March 2016? For hubs to be able to plan ahead properly, they need assurance that they will continue to be funded, preferably at the 2015-16 level, up to the end of the plan period in March 2020. A commitment of that kind was given by the Prime Minister for youth sport in February, so why not for music?
Central government funding represents only one-third of total funding for hubs across the board, although it ranges from 13% to 100% for individual hubs. Schools provide another 31%, with the remainder coming from parents at 17%, local authorities at 8% and other sources at 10%. With local authority funding declining from £25 million in 2010-11 to £14 million in 2012-13, and likely to continue to do so, and with parents seen as unable to contribute much more than they already do, confidence in the level and continuation of the central government funding commitment becomes all the more crucial.
There are other concerns. The performance of hubs is patchy, with some doing much better than others in building partnerships, raising funds and engaging schools, students and parents in stimulating worthwhile and effective activities within the four core roles. I am not aware of much evidence of initiatives to share good practice and encourage weaker hubs to learn from and emulate those that do better, so I was encouraged to receive a briefing from the Mayor of London’s office that outlined the excellent work that hubs in London are doing, with support from the mayor and his music fund, and which expressed the willingness of the GLA to work with DfE, the Arts Council and local authorities to develop a high-quality training programme for music hub leaders. The mayor and his music education task force will launch a London music pledge next month, which includes CPD and new resources for teachers. Another exemplar is the Greater Manchester music hub, working effectively with nine music services in partnership with three local orchestras and the Royal Northern College of Music. London and Manchester may be special cases, but that seems to be just the sort of good practice sharing that is needed. What will the Government do to promote it?
There is worrying evidence, too, that students from poorer socio-economic groups and areas, and children with special educational needs, are not benefiting as much from the music education services on offer. Disadvantaged children are under-represented in ensembles and choirs. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, led a debate in July focusing on the fact that young people with disabilities are considerably less likely to be involved in musical activities than other students.
Access to instruments is another problem. Some of your Lordships may have seen the recent Channel 4 programme, “Don’t Stop the Music”, in which the pianist James Rhodes encouraged people with spare or unused instruments to loan or donate them to schools. Few hubs offer instrument loans at present, but perhaps they could be encouraged to link in to schemes like this.
Another concern is a growing shortage of music teachers. The Henley review recommended the creation of a primary teaching module, but since this has no funding attached to it, few potential teachers are taking it. Finally, the absence of music from Ofsted’s inspection framework means inevitably that schools give less priority to their music education activities than they might otherwise do, particularly as current league tables do not measure arts subjects.
Although it is outside the ambit of this debate, I am especially sorry to learn that the land of my fathers, albeit a few generations back, Wales, the so-called land of song, has no central funding for music services at all and that children there are 10% less likely to learn an instrument than those in England. What a disastrous failure to capitalise on what should be such an asset for Wales.
The national plan for music education is a visionary plan, with enormous potential educational, musical, cultural, creative and economic benefits. Of course I do not expect the Government, let alone the Minister today, to fix all the issues I have highlighted at a stroke. But should they not be blowing their trumpet rather more fortissimo to promote the success of the plan and to find ways of fixing these concerns? It would be interesting to hear something about the views of the plan’s monitoring board on the progress being made. This has now been transformed into a cultural education board. I hope that the Minister will confirm that this is not a step towards converting music education hubs into cultural education hubs.
The national plan for music education should be actively driven forward as a developing success story, which will help to cement and enhance the UK’s leading world position in music and creativity. I urge the Government, Arts Council England and the Minister today to be even more positive and energetic in supporting and advancing it. It would be sad indeed if the plan were allowed to fall short of its vision because of a lack of energy or commitment, when its success is so important to us all.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, on securing this debate. We are all extremely grateful to him for doing so. I declare my interest as a member of the council of the Royal College of Music.
I was lucky enough to have an amazing music education at school, starting with learning the trumpet at the age of nine, and then taking on three other instruments—some of them, it has to be said, to avoid sports lessons, but that is another story—playing in orchestras and ensembles, singing in the choir, and learning the theory and history of music. I could not have wanted for more, and it has become my lifelong passion as a result. But what I—and, I suspect, all noble Lords—want is for every child to have the opportunity to have their life enriched by music in this way. The establishment of the hub programme, on the back of the national plan for music education, goes a long way to achieving that, and the Government are to be congratulated on their support for it.
The Royal College of Music is part of the Tri-borough Music Hub, which covers Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster. Those are three boroughs with wide socio-economic disparities. In maintained schools in those areas, more than half the pupils speak English as an additional language, compared with 15% nationally, and more than 35% of children qualify for free school meals—more than double the national average. That is just the sort of area where the provision of music education for the disadvantaged is most needed. The college, working with the Royal Albert Hall and Aurora Orchestra, along with 30 delivery organisations, provides a hub which was formed in August 2012 and now serves 154 schools and is responsible for the music education of all children aged five to 19 across the three boroughs. It works strategically with all the schools and music teachers to ensure that music in the curriculum is delivered to the highest quality, providing instrumental tuition, Saturday music centres, orchestras, flagship choirs and massed performances.
This hub has been highly successful in delivering the laudable aims set out in the national plan for music education, about which the noble Lord spoke, with a very high proportion of the schools in the area actively engaging with it. However, like all other hubs, it faces challenges. The biggest—I suspect this is likely to be a recurring theme this evening—is certainty of funding, which is much needed. However, that is also impacting across the whole music education sector for the post-2016 period. When looking at future budgets, one thing we need to take much greater account of are the very high costs involved in hiring suitable venues for large-scale rehearsals and concerts, yet these events, which allow children to take part in very big orchestral or choral events, are crucial to a balanced music education.
We also need to ensure that the work that is done is reaching children from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is something of a postcode lottery about the provision of music education—the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, rightly described it as patchy—and the playing field is still uneven across the UK. Music is a subject where independent school facilities still far outstrip those of state schools. That is a shame, because we should never forget the key that role music education can play in helping shape and improve the lives of those who have not had the best start in life. It is they who need music the most. At the front of the national plan is a quote from Aristotle:
“Music has a power of forming the character and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young”.
It is that spirit which enthused the authors of the report, and it is one that we should be mindful of.
Finally, we have to recognise that the hubs are the start of a journey throughout life for talented young musicians. Some will go on to further study or will make music their careers. They will need continuing support, based on that most expensive educational premise: one-to-one tuition. Here, as your Lordships have discussed before—I am sure this issue arose in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey—the role of the conservatoires is absolutely essential. I would be grateful if the Minister, in her closing remarks, would restate the Government’s strong commitment in this area—a commitment which is essential to the delivery of a first-class music education for all our children.
Perhaps some noble Lords think that music education is a bit of an airy-fairy subject—a “nice-to-have” but not a “must-have”. If there is one canard which the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, enables us to quash, it is this. Music is not just a “nice-to-have”, it is central to good education, as central as maths and English.
Research evidence is conclusive that music improves educational performance. Perhaps I might be permitted to cite one supporting fact. Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, which I have the privilege of chairing, is the second-ranked higher education institution in the country for employment—eat your hearts out Oxford and Cambridge—and 98.9% of our students are in work or further education six months after graduating. Of course, many of them are employed in music.
However, it turns out that a music education is also very attractive to employers because musicians have been taught to work hard, concentrate and set themselves goals, which are just the kind of qualities that make somebody a good employee. That is as true in schools as it is in conservatoires and universities. Music education is not just a cultural asset, although it is that. It is an economic asset too.
The Motion and speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, draw attention to the long-term funding of the new music hubs, set up following the excellent report by Darren Henley in 2011. Of course, all our hearts leapt at the £18 million that the Government found in July for music education. First—sorry to look a gift horse in the mouth—that is only for a single year. We have no idea what will happen beyond that year. It has to be put in the context of the slashing of the budgets that went on before—from £82.5 million to £58 million next year, according to the campaign group Protect Music Education. It is not surprising that local authorities are cutting, because they are being cut themselves. We are not spending nearly enough.
It is interesting that both speakers so far have used the word that I was about to use about the performance of the hubs: “patchy”. Patchy is it. Some are performing miracles. Others are not. It is certain that the Government’s pledge:
“Music education hubs will ensure that every child aged 5-18 has the opportunity to sing and learn a musical instrument, as well as perform as part of an ensemble or choir”,
is not being met.
Besides money, two other things would be helpful. The first is investment in leadership development for those people running the hubs. The second—this is particularly important, as the James Rhodes programmes show; I will come back to this—is that you need to educate head teachers and teachers in the value of music. They are under tremendous pressure from Ofsted, the Government and the Michael Goves of this world to show their results in maths and English. That can take their attention away from music, but that music is as central to education as those things. Head teachers need to be taught that.
You cannot get away from it. The heart of the failure is the shortage of funds. I am not sure how many noble Lords saw the Rhodes programme—a wonderful programme introduced by James Rhodes, the concert pianist, whose music, he said, led him away from drug addiction at an early age. He traced many of the problems that are being faced to the lack of instruments. Kids are improvising with toilet rolls and tin cans—Mickey Mouse music. James launched a campaign to get families to root out the instruments from their lofts and cellars. To see on that programme the kids' faces when they received these instruments was a very great joy to behold.
There are so many good people and so many good organisations working in this field. Just to take some that have walked through my door recently in my role as chair of the All-Party Classical Music Group: Future Talent, helping children from particularly deprived backgrounds; Voces Cantabiles Music—excuse my Latin—from the Gresham Centre, working with 20,000 students a year in the UK and internationally; and the One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust on which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, was kind enough to point out that we had a debate earlier this year. These are people devoted night and day to music. The passionate devotion of many of the hub leaders—not all, but many—is great, but the mountain that has to be climbed remains very steep. At the end of the day, only the Government can resource the base camps which make the ascent possible. That is why we look forward to the forthcoming ministerial response this evening.
My Lords, I fear that I am going to agree with all the noble Lords who have spoken—I hope it is not boring, but at least it will be short. I speak as one who cannot remember how to do quadratic equations but whose whole life has been enriched by music and the other arts. My love of these things took root when I was a child and is thanks both to my parents and to the inspiring teachers at my schools who gave me the opportunity and skills to enable me to sing and act. What I did not realise at the time was that taking part in these things was actually benefiting my academic achievement in other areas. Music is worth studying in its own right and for its wider educational value. It teaches young people how to memorise patterns and musical and verbal phrases, how to work as a team and how practising hard enables them to become really skilled at something. Music also builds up self-confidence and self-control. These skills are hugely beneficial for learning other subjects and in the workplace.
In the second review from Darren Henley—the one on cultural education in England, in 2012—he talked about the idea that the study of cultural education subjects in schools in itself creates a culture. This is clearly true. The very best schools, with really strong grades in English, maths and science, offer brilliant music, drama and dance, and stunning displays of art and design. I am sure that there is no coincidence in that. However, we need information for head teachers and chairs of governors to ensure that they recognise the value of musical and cultural activities in their schools. The decisions on budgets and funding are usually made at a school level, so those who do not value music are less likely to ensure that it is a vibrant part of school life. The amount of money available to spend on music in primary and secondary school budgets is far, far larger than the money given to music education hubs, so this local spend really matters. I am one of those who, right from the start, has very much regretted that there is no cultural subjects pillar in the English baccalaureate; there really should be. Perhaps it is good that it is falling into disrepute and disuse.
The first Henley report resulted in the music education hubs, as we have heard, and I think that, on the whole, they have been very successful. They have certainly demonstrated success that can be spread around. However, in order for them to continue they need skilled leadership. We need some of the additional money that has been announced to be invested in leadership for the people running those hubs. It is important that we grow a generation of skilled leaders to run the hubs to their full capability. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that this will be done?
I also join others in making the point about equality of opportunity. There are concerns about progression in music for talented youngsters from financially disadvantaged backgrounds. New research from ABRSM, the exam board of the royal schools of music, shows that children from poorer backgrounds are far less likely to progress through the instrument exam grades than those from better-off homes. This means that we are failing to unlock the talent and potential of these young people, which is a real tragedy. Again, can the Minister tell us whether the Government plan to do anything about this?
Finally, as a resident of Wales, I join the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in regretting that the Welsh Government are not providing money for instrument tuition for children. I use the words of Dylan Thomas:
“Praise the Lord! We are a musical nation”.
My husband and I very much enjoy watching the youth Eisteddfodau on the television. The joy on the faces of Welsh children when they sing is quite palpable. Clearly, Welsh children love to sing. What a pity it is that that innate musicality is not supported to develop their talents in instrumental working as well as singing. Unfortunately—well, no; I do not mean “unfortunately” —what I mean is that education in Wales is of course a devolved matter, and so all we can do in your Lordships’ House is call on the Welsh Government to do something about what has just been identified.
My Lords, when I made my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House I mentioned that one of the most moving experiences I had had recently was to receive a letter from an inmate of Wormwood Scrubs. I had been working with the Koestler Trust to put instruments into prisons. This man wrote to say that he was incredibly grateful to have been able to use a guitar and that had he had this instrument 15 years earlier he probably would not be serving life for murder. In other words, the means of expression that this instrument gave this prisoner was a release of those turbulent feelings that he had. As we have already heard from many noble Lords, research has discovered that even with children who are quite damaged music can often get through where nothing else can.
I too would like to praise the Government for having had the wisdom to find more funds recently and for recognising that the creative industries are a very important part of the economic and social make-up of this country. It is also important to realise for the future that children who are going to be the top players, if you like the top earners, of tomorrow need to start early. They need to get their fingers and muscles adjusted to the strings, for example, of a violin. They need to be playing instruments at the age of five to have any chance of reaching the top echelons. But it is not just the tops echelons in which we are interested, as we have heard. It is the social cohesion that music brings that is so important.
Before I talk a bit more about what has been achieved and what could be achieved, I would like to mention other areas of music. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate who follows me will endorse my plea to help cathedral choirs retain their music. This is such an important part of this country’s tradition, whether it be Byrd or Tallis or Blow. These are the great masterworks which are part of our heritage. Hopefully it will continue, with my colleagues creating music for churches in the future.
When the Government produced the Department for Education document about more music for the Arts Council to distribute, as my noble friend Lord Aberdare said, it said something important. I am going to repeat it because it is so important as a mantra. If the Government can keep to this, we will be on the right footing:
“We expect every child to have the opportunity to sing, play instruments, solo and in groups and to be able to take these skills further if”,
through talent or inspiration they so wish.
That is a wonderful starting point, but against it we must look at the conclusions of Making Music, by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. This paid tribute to what has been achieved but also said:
“Although the trajectory over the last 15 years is generally positive, there are”—
your Lordships have heard this before—
“areas of concern: many children and young people have not had access to instrumental lessons, while others have no engagement with formal music tuition after primary school”.
What it goes on to say is so important. It says that children from lower socioeconomic groups, just those ones who might turn to violence,
“continue to be significantly disadvantaged compared with their peers from more affluent backgrounds. Sustained, progressive music education tends to be the preserve of children born to wealthier parents”.
As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Black:
“This report shows that adults who had private lessons as children and sat a music exam were much more likely to still play an instrument—and the higher the grade achieved, the more likely they were to continue learning.
The cost of learning to play and of taking lessons is a major barrier and children without access to tuition are significantly less likely to carry on playing. Regional provision is variable and the diverse ways in which learners progress are not necessarily well supported by the sector”.
There is good news and bad news. How about looking at one idea that would cost nothing? This would be to say not only to schools but also to Ofsted that we want you to up the importance of music.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, on introducing this important and timely short debate. I welcome the national plan for music education, which emphasises the importance of music and the creation of music education hubs in this country, I also welcome the fact that the report has taken note of the recommendations made in the Henley review, perhaps the most comprehensive and thorough review of the state of music education in England for many years. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, for his support of church music as well.
There are many benefits in the national music plan, some of which we have already heard about. In particular, it gives an overview of funding aimed at providing a more efficient and equitable system than the one which has traditionally been used. Funding is now weighted for deprivation and allocated on a per-pupil basis rather than the traditional postcode lottery operated through local education authorities. These hubs provide an innovative and interesting method of co-ordinating music education and development between pupils, schools and communities. It fosters the kind of networks that are necessary to develop a thriving local music scene, and there are clear targets which everyone can understand. These are all good things; in theory they are extremely encouraging, and indeed I am encouraged. I welcome them wholeheartedly.
However, I agree with noble Lords who have used the word “patchy”. In my own diocese of Lichfield, the issue about the hubs is that they are often spread too thinly over very large areas, making it difficult for them to be effective. The Lichfield hub reaches right across Staffordshire and teams up with surrounding hubs in Shropshire and the Black Country. While the hubs themselves are a good thing, and the targets they are to be held accountable to are clear, they do not cope well with the sheer number of children they have to deal with on a regular basis. Although the national music plan ring-fences spending on music education, all noble Lords who spoke before me in the debate cited figures that reveal a recent massive decrease, which somewhat undermines any attempt at planning for the future. More reliable help is needed in this department.
We have heard that numerous studies have been conducted over recent years which show the benefits of singing, playing and listening to music not only to general health and well-being, but also to an individual’s mental health. Given the Government’s interest in improving the well-being of the public, perhaps I may suggest that increasing access to music and encouraging participation in performance would be one of the simplest and most effective ways of improving the physical and mental health and well-being of the whole population.
Programmes run by the cathedral, such as the choristers’ arts programme and the MusicShare concerts, along with the curriculum singing days over the year, make improvements in behaviour, cognitive ability and language plain to see. I offer a big thanks to people such as my director of music at the cathedral, Cathy Lamb, who is for so many people the Gareth Malone of the area, opening up possibilities that they hardly dreamt of.
Music is not just a cultural tradition. Having the opportunity to participate in regular music events enables children to grow in self-confidence. That is the trouble with cutting funds. Over the past year it has been noticeable in Staffordshire that the reduction in availability of the Sing Up campaign has generated a marked deterioration in the general ability of children and young people to engage with and understand music. As cuts are made, the success of instrumental learning and one-to-one music lessons is diminished, which significantly affects the opportunities for students to progress. Recognition of the importance of music in education and for general well-being is essential if it is not to return to being seen as elitist, where only those with surplus money can afford lessons.
The benefits of a high-quality music education for children are numerous and significant, and of particular use for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. If we intend to make any alterations to the national music plan, they should be in the form of an increase in the number of hubs as well as an increase in the regular means of funding for them. This would help to resolve the problems experienced by our local hub in Lichfield. The national plan for music education in schools is not just viable and financially sustainable in the long term, it is, as other noble Lords have said, absolutely necessary for healthy and happy education. It should be extended and improved to help build a happy and prosperous society, where children of all backgrounds can appreciate the benefits of a high-quality music education.
Given the interest in the long-term viability of the national music plan which this debate demonstrates, perhaps I might suggest that there be a review of the effectiveness of the national music plan so that its practical implementation can be better understood and improved. Without music, particularly without music in worship, we are only half human. Our children deserve their schools to open the treasure chest for them afresh in each generation.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for initiating this very interesting debate. I have thoroughly enjoyed the contributions from other noble Lords. I am not a musician, but I can truly say that some of the most enjoyable and fulfilling occasions in my life have involved music: the absolute joy of singing in the Christmas Oratorio, the delight of singing madrigals in an English garden on a summer’s day, the pleasure and discipline of playing a violin with an orchestra.
Without my musical education in school, which started at a very early age, I doubt that I would have enjoyed such pleasures. I did not go to an expensive school; I was state educated. At the age of four, we had a percussion band and learnt French time names, and that I found very useful in all the aspects of music in which I have been involved. We learnt the violin in a group session. We were singing in a choir which was selected and trained to sing well for Speech Day. We were given free tickets by the local authority for the Hallé Orchestra concerts. In those days, the director of music of the local authority was very happy to give up his Saturday mornings to take a group of young musicians and train them into an orchestra.
We must not regard the activities that I have just described as being part of life in a bygone era. I share the desire expressed by all noble Lords here today that we wish to see all children enjoying a good music education, because we have heard the benefits that this brings. Learning an instrument, singing in a choir, learning to enjoy listening all have a very important role in children’s academic, creative and social development. Others have expressed that very well already in this debate.
It is a grave disservice to our children if music is badly taught and poor-quality performance is accepted. I was at an event recently where a junior-school choir sang to a poor-quality CD of backing music, with no attempt at clear diction or anything tuneful. The fact that the children appeared to enjoy themselves and, as the audience said, looked very sweet, seemed to be regarded as a good result. If we wish to see children enjoying singing and doing it to a high standard, we need go no further than our cathedral choirs, which we have already heard a lot about today. There, the children enjoy it, they have the discipline and the quality and standard are excellent. There is no reason why other children in school should not also achieve excellence.
Many children benefit from excellent music teaching from excellent teachers, but, sadly, this is not the case everywhere. Developing more competent music teachers is essential if our desire to see improved quality and experiences for our children is to happen.
The national plan for music education in England was an ambitious statement of intent and I congratulate the Government on it. I, too, am pleased to hear of the extra resources that have been put into music education. As we have heard, music education hubs were set up to augment music teaching in schools and colleges. Will my noble friend tell the House what monitoring of the performance and progress of the hubs takes place? If there is any underachievement, what actions are taken to improve those hubs? What progress is being made towards the aim of having a qualified music teacher in each school?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for allowing me to take part in this interesting debate. It was a rare pleasure to encounter ancient philosophy in the preface to the audacious national plan for music education. The Government’s strategy from 2011 cites Plato’s words:
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, and life to everything”.
I believe those words. Dare I hope that music was a calming influence on even Michael Gove’s period of office in the Department for Education?
Unsurprisingly, there have been numerous studies about how the study of music and instruments benefits the brain. In 2003, Harvard neurologist Gottfried Schlaug identified notable differences in the brains of adult musicians versus non-musicians. More recently, studies at Northwestern University’s neuroscience labs in Illinois and Emory University in Atlanta have also pointed to the beneficial effect of childhood exposure to musical instruments, and suggest that playing music as a child can help compensate for cognitive declines in later life.
However, despite the weight of academic evidence about the benefits of music and the former Education Secretary’s pronouncement about Plato’s view that “Without music, life would be an error”, the Government are now countenancing consigning some children to such “erroneous” lives without music. Only three years ago, the Secretary of State for Education gave the assurance that the national plan for music education would achieve the Henley review’s guiding principle that:
“Children from all backgrounds and every part of England should have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument”,
“to learn to sing”.
It is reported that provision remains patchy, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, and access for all has not been achieved. Ofsted concluded that in the first year of operation, music provision remains weak and poorly led, and it found few examples of good practice in music hubs—brought into existence to improve the quality and consistency of music education—notwithstanding what the mayor has said about what is happening in London, and of course what is happening in Manchester.
Given all the work that remains to be done to realise the promised achievements of the national plan for music education, how can the Department for Education consult on removing the onus from local authorities to support music services? I hope that the Minister will pick up this point. The department’s consultation document points to music hubs to pick up the slack but with downwards budgetary pressure and patchiness of provision, surely this would jeopardise the principle of access for all children and undermine the Government’s strategy. Do the Government continue to support the principle that every child should have the chance to learn an instrument?
My work with people with an autism spectrum disorder, and my own family experience, have shown time and again how music can bring joy and peace and improve the quality of life of people for whom speech or social interaction are cumbersome. Autism takes many different forms but is a lifelong condition, believed to affect more than one in 100 people. It often affects verbal communication and social interaction. Some academic studies and a wealth of anecdotal evidence suggest that children with autism often respond very well to music.
As well as benefiting the brain, the study of instruments can calm people and help them to focus. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, that the principle of learning an instrument can improve performance in other areas. Even simply listening can be edifying. Last month, I visited the Tower Project, a day centre for young autistic men and women in Tower Hamlets, where I met a young lady who could not speak but could sing. Music brought her the most happiness during her days at the centre. In these circumstances, music is not a luxury but is essential education.
Only yesterday, the Mayor of Newham told Members of Parliament how he has provided free instruments and tuition in music for all Newham children who wished to access this. I suggest that we should go further at looking at the potential of music education, particularly for people with autism and other developmental conditions. Local authorities, working in tandem with music hubs, are essential agents, given their links to schools and day centres. The onus on them to promote music education must be retained.
The national plan for music education identified that, unlike in art and drama, children with special educational needs are under-represented in music GCSE. What progress has been made in addressing this since the plan was published? How do the Government propose to increase the participation of children with autism and special educational needs in music classes?
I have never belonged to any of the elite music institutions that have thus far been mentioned, but music has been embedded in, and has enlightened, my life. I recall the role that music played in many freedom struggles across the globe, from the protest ballads of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez during the Vietnam War—inspiring a generation of young peace-seekers in the sixties—to the role of Shadhin Bangla Betar Radio belting out to the freedom-seeking citizens, “Amar sonar Bangla ami tomay bhalobasi”, the national anthem of Bangladesh, during the Bangladesh liberation war. It was secretly played by my mother, who took a great risk with her otherwise hidden radio, and inspired my generation. I can say with conviction that music can and does have a profound and lasting effect on a national psyche.
To deprive any child of a musical education is, in the spirit of a former Secretary of State for Education and the words of Plato before him, an error. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the right reverend Prelate that music education must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition. Indeed, we should do more to harness its potential to improve the quality of life for the many disadvantaged in society. I hope the Minister will give some consideration and attention to this issue, particularly as to how we can safeguard music teaching and ensure that appropriately trained teachers are available to meet the needs of people with disabilities during these times of funding constraints.
My Lords, the key question to ask about music education in schools is this: is the total number of school children from lower income groups leaving primary school who achieve a certain proficiency in the playing of recognised instruments increasing or decreasing? That is the fundamental measure which should tell us whether greater opportunities are being given to children in music education.
It is heart-warming to see all children playing in the school orchestra, but as James Rhodes has noted,
“banging an African drum for 30 minutes once a week for 10 weeks is not a music education”.
I would be wary, then, of arguments or statistics that revolve purely around participation.
A parent whose children are accomplished performers suggested to me that there are valid comparisons to be made between playing a musical instrument and participating in sport. Both require students to put in much time and effort in order to be at all good: there are basic skills to be learnt in playing the violin or piano, as in football or netball. These skills need to be taught by teachers who know what they are doing. Children need to be given the opportunity to begin in the early years to have a chance to develop their interest.
In this era of hubs and partnerships, I nevertheless believe that the emphasis still needs to be on the schools themselves and what the Government are doing for schools. That is where policy should be directed. I have, then, concerns about expert charities coming into schools in deprived areas. That is great in the short term for the schools concerned and may indeed help to change a culture, but there are questions. What about the schools that do not have the luxury of being serviced by such a charity? What happens if a charity disappears from the scene? The problem of music hubs being the major policy initiative is that it is too piecemeal and indirect a strategy to deal across the whole country with the underlying problem, which is, quite simply, lack of resources—hence Ofsted’s report last year that said there has been “little discernible difference” made to music in more than two-thirds of the schools investigated despite the current large spend on music hubs.
Ultimately, a culture of music education and music making must emanate from the schools themselves. But for this to happen, the Government must provide in all schools money dedicated to instrument buying, money for the specialist staff required—crucially in primary schools—and time for proper tuition, both in performing and listening to music. A school with an inherent culture of music-making and music education—or one encouraged to develop such a culture through the provision of resources—is likely to draw in every child with a potential interest in music. If the schools infrastructure is not addressed then the danger is, as for all arts education, that music will become the preserve of the middle classes, since it is expense—the same thing as lack of resources—that will exclude children from poorer backgrounds.
My Lords, first, I very much thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for tabling this debate this evening. I thank all noble Lords for their excellent contributions. It is clear that across the House we have an understanding of the transformative power of music as well as an impressive unanimity on the challenges to this sector, which I am sure the noble Baroness will address.
Like many noble Lords, we welcomed the Henley report and the subsequent national plan for music. It led many to think that the Government finally understood the real significance of music in our schools and in our culture. Sadly, despite the excellent examples of good practice around the country which we have heard this evening, the overall reality is that the delivery of the national plan remains a source of frustration and disappointment to many. Why is this? We contend that the heart of the problem is inconsistency at government level. At the same time as Michael Gove was signing off the music national plan, he was devising a curriculum review which excluded music from the EBacc at GCSE level. Despite subsequent concessions in 2013, music now has to fight for space in the curriculum in a way it did not in the past. The result is that the numbers taking GCSE music have been dropping, down 9% since the last election.
As we have heard, this inconsistency is further illustrated by the rather precarious nature of the funding of music hubs. Again as we heard, in the three-year period from 2011 to 2014, national funding dropped from £82 million to £58 million. This was compounded by the DfE advising local authorities that they should no longer contribute to music education. While the announcement in July of an extra £18 million for music hubs was welcome, it does not balance the shortfall. As we have heard, this is creating a long-term funding crisis where the hubs feel unable to invest, employ staff or really develop the plans that they are expected to deliver.
Another consequence of this funding dilemma is the increasing evidence that music education is being casualised, with fewer full-time time music teachers working in schools and more working for hubs on zero-hour contracts, trying to supplement their incomes with private tuition and maybe even other less relevant work. The result of this is that the profession is being deskilled, with a lack of investment in music teachers and their continuing professional development as well as a lack of promotion possibilities for music teachers, which cannot be good for the quality of teaching going forward.
Finally, as the reports from Ofsted and the Arts Council have confirmed, the postcode lottery remains. Some music hubs are doing excellent work and others are struggling to make their mark. Some seem to have defined their role as data collectors and others seem to be paying themselves inflated salaries at the expense of improving local provision. At the same time, children from disadvantaged families continue to have less access to quality music education, so we are failing on the central mission of the national plan to extend a good musical education to all children.
We have to ask whether we are confident that the Arts Council has sufficient levers to raise the game of the mediocre music hubs and schools to that of the best. Where will the real drive and authority to meet the original aspirations come from? Will the new cultural education board bring sufficient additional clout to really make a difference? Surely what we need is a guarantee that every child will have a good musical grounding as well as access to watching the best live performers. Surely Ofsted could play a greater part by insisting that no school will be rated outstanding unless it delivers a broad and balanced curriculum, including a central role for the arts and more specifically, music.
I know that we have rehearsed these arguments and that there is a great deal of unanimity this evening. I hope that we have given the Minister sufficient challenges on which to come back and address those many issues. I look forward to her response.
My Lords, this has been a really delightful debate and I have a huge personal interest in this. The best lesson that I learnt at school was to read music and sing, and it has given me a portable instrument which I have been able to take all around the world with small choirs. I feel that all children should have the same opportunity.
All noble Lords asked about disadvantaged children and music. It is a core role of music education hubs to ensure that every child, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument through whole class ensemble teaching, and to help ensure that children from lower income backgrounds have access to instruments and tuition, hubs of discounted instrument hire and lessons for children who are in receipt of free school meals.
I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for enabling us to discuss with such expertise—and, it must be said, passion—the national plan for music education and the long-term financial sustainability of the hubs. As I know other noble Lords are aware, there is already much excellent work that we can celebrate following the publication of the plan in November 2011. The 123 hubs which were set up in August 2012, managed by Arts Council England, are working hard to improve the quality and consistency of music education throughout the country. Data from their first academic year of operation showed that, in that first year, hubs gave nearly 500,000 children the opportunity to learn an instrument for the first time as well as working with almost 15,000 school choirs, orchestras or bands.
In order to monitor progress against the plan we have set up a cultural education board chaired by Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Reform, Ed Vaizey, Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Darren Henley, the managing director of Classic FM whose report led to the national plan for music education being adopted.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley and the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Lipsey, spoke about music hubs giving a patchy service and asked whether DfE will support hub leadership to improve. Arts Council England is putting in place a system of peer-to-peer support for hub leaders, and DfE is currently considering spending allocations to hubs for 2015-16 and will consider whether some of the money should support training for hub managers. Arts Council England is working with all hubs and directly challenging underperformance as well as supporting hubs to improve.
Noble Lords are aware that the plan provides a vision which extends to 2020 and confirmed three years’ funding. Long-term government funding cannot be decided ahead of next year’s general election, but we were very pleased to announce in July—several noble Lords referred to this—an extra £18 million for music education in 2015, which takes the total investment to at least £75 million for the next year. In total, £246 million has been provided for the first three and a half years. I have no access to the Prime Minister but, on his pledge to support sport until 2020, I am quite happy to pass the view of the House to the Deputy Prime Minister.
The national plan recognised that central government funding would provide a contribution to the work of music education hubs, rather than being expected to meet the full costs. A key feature of the hubs’ role is an increased emphasis on partnership working, and they are expected to attract additional investment from other sources. The pattern is very different across hubs. In one hub, government funding accounted for only 13% of the total. In others, government funding was the sole source. This needs to improve. Arts Council England is supporting hubs to improve their business and brokerage skills so that they can widen their income sources and expand their core services to schools and young people.
Arts Council England is looking at encouraging the spreading of good practice. In response to the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord Aberdare, who both used the word “patchy”, hubs are expected to draw in funding from a wide range of sources, such as local authorities, schools, parents and third-sector grants. There are many examples from across the country of hubs securing funding. Noble Lords asked for an example of children in deprived areas. In Hull, the hub has received £10,000 from one council ward to provide bursary funding for local pupils who cannot afford instrumental lessons. East Riding hub is receiving donations of up to £10,000 per year through its engagement with the parent-led Friends of the East Riding Youth Orchestras. In Kirklees, the hub has secured £10,000 from the John Paul Getty foundation to support its orchestral week initiatives.
The noble Lord, Lord Black, talked about the Tri-borough Music Hub north of the Thames. Perhaps it might like to work in partnership with the South London Riverside Partnership, which consists of the hubs of Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark working together. Those hubs south of the river united their resources and applied for a £99,000 grants for the arts award for a strategic project in partnership with the London Philharmonic Orchestra education team. The BrightSparks education concerts are designed to extend the work of music hubs by providing opportunities for more than 32,000 school children to engage with a symphony orchestra of world-class musicians. The sharing of knowledge, skills and resources between the music hubs and the orchestra has been key to the success of the project so far, helping to raise the profile of the hubs and enabling them to extend and sustain their offer to schools.
It is easy to focus on music education hubs and forget the other elements included in the national plan for music. It is important to be aware that we are continuing to fund the vibrant In Harmony programme, based on the famous El Sistema programme in Venezuela. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. Nothing is new. She was talking about learning the violin in groups, and I can remember my brother doing exactly the same 50 years ago. In Harmony aims to transform the lives of children in six deprived areas: Liverpool, Lambeth, Telford and Wrekin, Newcastle, Nottingham and Leeds.
We are continuing to fund Music for Youth, which provides opportunities for young musicians to perform in some of the UK’s most prestigious venues and gives thousands of young people the opportunity to experience a range of high-quality live music. Thousands of London school children had the opportunity to attend the Primary Proms in the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year, and thousands more children from across the UK will have the opportunity to perform in, or to attend, the School Proms which take place next month, again in the Royal Albert Hall.
My noble friend Lord Black asked me, on behalf of the Government, to reaffirm the commitment to conservatoires. The music and dance scheme receives £28 million a year from the DfE and shares the commitment to allowing all pupils the opportunity to fulfil their talents, regardless of income. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, might be interested to know that one of the recipients of that money is Wells Cathedral School. That sort of tradition is being carried on.
We are continuing to support national youth music organisations such as the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. These provide opportunities for talented pupils to perform at the highest level, whatever their family income. As well as funding specific opportunities for pupils, the national plan was designed to improve the infrastructure and there has been progress here too. For example, the level 4 Certificate for Music Educators qualification has been developed by the music education sector to professionalise and acknowledge their role in and out of school. Students can train for the qualification with the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music or with Trinity College London. New resources aimed at supporting primary teachers to teach music have been developed and published.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, asked what the Government are doing to support the sharing of good practice; I think that I have covered that reasonably well. My noble friend Lady Walmsley asked about the EBacc; it is one of those chestnuts that keep coming around. Music GCSE continues to be the headline measure of school performance—the five As to Cs including English and maths measure. Reformed accountability measures from 2016 will include eight subjects, including music.
I still have many questions to answer, so I intend to respond by letter to noble Lords whose questions I have not had time to answer. However, we have heard the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, talk about music therapy. This was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, who spoke about autism; of course, she is an expert in that area. There is a need to start early, to train the muscles and get the muscle memory going. There is the mantra of singing with instruments, solos and in groups. We must work at it. There are large events that children gain so much from going to see and take part in; we have spoken about the proms.
The Government cannot act alone. We are working with schools, hubs, local authorities, the music education sector, music charities, commercial organisations and others to support the vision of a high-quality music education for all young people across England. By drawing the organisations together, we are now witnessing the start of a new era of partnership working in the music sector for the long term. I hope that noble Lords will be reassured by the debate—and, I hope, my letter—that the national plan for music education is alive and well and that music hubs will continue to play an increasingly pivotal role in promoting and delivering its aspirations for many years to come.
House adjourned at 9.49 pm.