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Free Music Education

Volume 830: debated on Monday 12 June 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to provide free music education for all children aged five to 14.

My Lords, this Government recognise the importance of all pupils receiving a broad and ambitious music curriculum. As set out in the national plan for music education, we expect schools to teach at least one hour of music a week. We have committed £70 million per annum for music hubs until 2025, alongside £25 million for musical instruments. We will consider future funding for the next spending review in due course.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer and declare my interests as registered, including as former chair of the national plan for music education. The national plan for music education is ambitious, but does it not need to be well funded to succeed? The Department for Education currently provides £76 million a year for music education, but there are nearly 7 million children aged between five and 14 in our schools, all of whom should be learning to play an instrument, sing and many other things besides. We can all do the maths: children from disadvantaged families are missing out. They simply cannot afford to learn to play a musical instrument.

What is the logic of going for growth in the creative sector, which includes music, if there is so little support for the pipeline of talent? When do the Government plan to provide sufficient funds to ensure that children from low-income families can fulfil their potential as musicians and become part of the pipeline of talent for our brilliant conservatoires and orchestras?

I thank my noble friend for her part in chairing the national plan for music education. She will understand much better than I that money is important but not the only thing that allows children from less advantaged backgrounds to participate in music. Every child is offered the opportunity for a range of musical experiences at schools. We have funding for the Music and Dance Scheme, for particularly talented young people who have been identified, of more than £30 million this year. We will also publish more about our funding of the music progression fund shortly.

Did the Minister take note of the report some years ago by Darren Henley, which gave evidence that music education opens a door to all other kinds of learning? Should not all children have this benefit?

I completely agree, which is why all children do have this benefit and why music education is part of the national curriculum from key stages 1 to 3.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the former chair of the VOCES8 Foundation, which is a music education charity. We have found from going into primary schools that a large number of them have no teachers with any musical expertise. If that is the situation, it is difficult to do things such as getting the whole school to sing together, which clearly improves the entire atmosphere, let alone encouraging the more talented people. Are the Government willing to commit to ensure that every primary school has at least one teacher with basic musical training?

I understand the point that the noble Lord makes, but the data for 2021-22 shows that more than 86,000 hours were spent teaching music in secondary schools—I know the noble Lord referred to primary schools—which is more than at any time since 2014-15. The number of teachers has also increased since that date and now stands at more than 7,000, of whom 83% have a relevant post-A-level qualification.

My Lords, the aspirations of the plan are admirable, but surely we need to see less reliance on hubs and more reliance on actual music in schools. The best way to do that is to get music back on the EBacc, of course. I realise that is perhaps a forlorn hope at the moment, but will the Minister tell me how the Government are going to find the right number of teachers, especially those trained to deliver music in schools?

The noble Lord is right that teacher recruitment, along with recruitment in many sectors, is a real challenge at the moment. But we are supporting schools, and I suggest to the noble Lord that maybe it is a both/and: music hubs have an important part to play, as does direct delivery in schools, which the hubs support. The model music curriculum introduced in March 2021 helps support schools in that delivery.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Fleet on her excellent work on the national plan for music education. When we first worked on the first national plan back in 2012, one of the things we did was to incorporate the In Harmony programme conceived by Julian Lloyd Webber, started by the last Labour Government with great foresight and carried on by the Conservative Government. I simply bring to my noble friend’s attention how absolutely outstanding this programme is, particularly in giving children not just a music education but extraordinary life chances in some of the most deprived areas of the country. I urge her to continue to support it as the music education plan develops.

My noble friend is absolutely right and I thank him very much for drawing this to the attention of the House.

My Lords, in Wales the National Music Service is carrying out a review of the terms and conditions for local authority-hosted music service teachers, commencing this autumn. It will look at whether the lack of teacher retention and pay is a factor in delivering good music education throughout all key stages. Have the UK Government thought of doing something similar in England?

We have just published a national plan for music education, Arts Council England has just carried out a consultation review of our music hub approach and we have published a new model music curriculum, so it is fair to say that this area has received a lot of attention.

My Lords, in an earlier reply, the Minister said that every child has access to a range of musical experiences. Can she confirm that that extends to a right of every child to learn a musical instrument for free?

I think the noble Lord knows the answer to his question. Music lessons are an area in which schools are allowed, with certain restrictions—for example, children who are in care have an absolute right to free musical instrument lessons—to charge if the lesson is at the request of the pupil’s parents.

My Lords, the Minister repeatedly tells us that the EBacc has had no effect on the arts, including music, in schools. How, then, will she account for the fall in GCSE music entries of 27% between 2010 and 2022, and the further expected fall of 12% in the last year?

I encourage the noble Earl to look at both the GCSE and the technical award figures, which have stayed relatively stable at about 8% of the pupil population over the last four years. I also point to our absolutely extraordinary and thriving creative industries which, despite the House’s concerns, appear to be able to recruit just the people they need.

My Lords, dance should be as valued as music in education yet, according to recent research by One Dance UK, over the last decade dance has been marginalised as an educational subject. World-class organisations such as Rambert have produced fantastic resources, such as Rambert CREATE. Will the Minister commit to ensuring the place of dance within the creative arts and the curriculum, perhaps through working with organisations such as Rambert?

I thank my noble friend for her suggestion. The department is very open to working with organisations such as Rambert and is very grateful to them for the work they do. Dance is included within the physical education curriculum and it includes specific requirements at key stages 1 through 3. Schools have flexibility about how they deliver this curriculum, but I would be happy to meet my noble friend and follow up her suggestion.

My Lords, in her last but one answer, the Minister observed that the creative industries do not have any trouble in recruiting. I point out to her that they do. There is a significant skills shortage across the creative industries, which causes considerable concern. She might not necessarily agree, but many people believe that a lot of that is to do with the fact that the arts, and in particular music, are not given the privileged status within our schools that she imagines they should have and tells the House they have.

I apologise if I gave the impression that there are no skills pressures in the creative industries. I just pointed out that our creative industries are world beating and are able to recruit talent in a way that allows them to be so.