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Schools: Music

Volume 789: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will take steps to improve opportunities for the study of music in schools.

My Lords, the Government believe that all pupils should have access to an excellent, well-rounded education. Music is an integral part of a pupil’s education and a compulsory subject in the national curriculum at key stages 1 to 3. Between 2016 and 2020, we will provide £300 million of funding for music education hubs to ensure that all pupils have the opportunity to learn an instrument, sing and perform regularly and have access to clear routes of progression.

My Lords, the Minister will know that, in the last year alone, take-up of GCSE music in England fell by 8%. Is he aware that the University of Sussex survey of 6,500 schools found that teachers, who should certainly know, held the EBacc primarily responsible for this decline—a view supported by a recent Education Policy Institute report? Will the Minister agree to meet to discuss these concerns with myself, other interested Peers and Bacc for the Future, whose members include many organisations who are worried about the increasing marginalisation of music in our schools?

To reassure the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, I will be happy to meet with him and colleagues from this Chamber to discuss the matter further. However, there is no evidence that arts subjects have declined as a result of the introduction of the EBacc. Indeed, the proportion of time spent studying music has remained broadly stable since 2010. Since the EBacc was announced, the proportion of pupils in state-funded schools taking at least one arts subject has also remained stable. I have a very strong personal commitment to music. My own father was cured of a debilitating stammer through learning to sing and so breathe properly. I am doing everything I can to encourage music in the system.

My Lords, I am very interested in what the Minister just said about his own family experience. While I fully accept that there is an issue about the academic study of music in schools, music also makes an important contribution to the health of schools as communities. As there is so much concern at the moment about child and adolescent mental health, would he accept that it is important that there are opportunities in schools for children to participate in music for the therapeutic and social benefits it conveys, and that that is particularly true of performing music in groups?

I agree with the noble Baroness entirely. Some case studies that I pulled in ahead of this Question bear out what she said. In my own academy trust, the Inspiration Trust, I appointed a director of music just before I took on this role, and I asked him to give me his early feedback—he started only in September. He said: “On listening and music appreciation, the pupils find listening easier and can listen for longer; pupils more readily try new things. Improved multitasking skills: pupils react, listen, move, hum along to music while focused on their main task”. With regard to extracurricular ensemble, he talks about pupils being better able to understand commitment, time management, perseverance and co-operation. So I completely agree with the noble Baroness.

Has my noble friend noted that nearly 650 independent and state schools are now collaborating in the teaching and performing of music, and would he agree that further scope exists to increase these joint ventures as independent schools seek to play a larger part in the education system as a whole, in accordance with the Government’s wishes?

I agree with my noble friend. Indeed, apart from the 641 independent schools in music partnerships, 492 independent schools invite pupils to attend lessons or performances, and 51 second music teaching staff to state schools. Since I took on this post, I have met once the chairman of the Independent Schools Council, and I am meeting him again soon to review collaboration between the two sectors.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of a musical education charity, the VCM Foundation. Can the Minister give us figures on the numbers of music teachers in schools? We as a foundation have discovered that large numbers of primary schools, in particular, now have no teachers with any musical experience. We and some others are now helping to train teachers without musical experience to ensure that all schools have the opportunity to sing together and to learn to work together in the way that one can do through music.

My Lords, the most recent figures I have for 2016 show that there is only a 0.5% vacancy rate for teachers of music in state schools.

My Lords, what steps are being taken to ensure that the £5-a-week charge for students taking GCSE music, as at Bingley, for example, will not become more widespread?

My Lords, I believe that when that was raised in the media recently, the school in question removed the charge, and I am not aware of any other examples of that happening. Certainly, if the noble Lord is aware, I would be pleased to hear from him and I will investigate it.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Kennedy once played the bassoon in the London schools orchestra. The chances of a young person from his school in Peckham doing so this year are considerably less because of the cuts to funding in many state schools for arts and creative subjects. Despite what the Minister said, I concur with the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty—in 2017 the number of pupils taking GCSE music is down to an all-time low of 5.5%, which is a very serious situation.

I have told the Minister before that Labour will introduce an arts pupil premium to ensure that every child in a primary school in England has the chance to learn a musical instrument, go to the theatre, or take part in dance and drama. The funding necessary for this cannot be escaped by the Government. Will the Minister say why the facilities in state schools are still so much worse than they are in many private schools—a situation which would be reversed by Labour’s arts pupil premium—or are the Conservative Government quite content for the study of music to be the preserve of the wealthy?

My Lords, spending on music and cultural education programmes has been stable for the last four years—it declined in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but we increased it. The noble Lord asked me a Question about EBacc in November, and I gave the response then that we probably have different priorities. I believe EBacc has been an enormous tool for improving social mobility in children from less advantaged backgrounds. We are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of children who are studying EBacc subjects such as science, geography, history and modern foreign languages. The reason we were so keen on this is that it provides an opportunity for these children to have a shot at a good university. We know good universities have facilitating subjects, which tend to be the EBacc subjects. Overall, the commitment to music remains and 120 music hubs are supporting some 14,000 ensembles across the country.