Is the future bright for music education?

Different stories tell different tales of the state of music education in England – we explore the facts

Back in October 2019 we published an opinion piece on the state of music tuition in schools – and the verdict was grim. Simon Dutton, founder and CEO of Paritor, said that the uptake of GCSE music had dropped by over 23% over the past eight years, and that a fifth of schools had stopped offering it at this stage altogether.

He concluded that this shift has not been the result of conscious decisions by pupils. “There is a combination of factors to blame for music’s disappearing act, from the focus on traditional, academic subjects in schools to the social inequality of music provision across the UK. This narrowed focus has a detrimental effect on students’ appetite for studying music,” Simon said. “Furthermore, students are denied the opportunity to pursue music studies even if they want to.

“One telling study from the British Phonographic Industry revealed a 21% decrease in music lesson availability in state schools over the past five years and showed that one-in-five primary school teachers report having no regular music lesson for their class. Underlying these factors, there remains a stigma around creative subjects in the syllabus. While music is included in the national curriculum for ages 5-14, the emphasis on the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), and the pressure for schools to achieve exam results, has made music seem a less worthwhile pursuit compared with English, maths and science subjects. Increasingly, the pressure is heavy on primary schools, with the delivery of test results coming at the expense of music and other creative arts.”

Interestingly, however, this may be set to change. The government recently announced that continued funding for school music hubs is secure for 2020-2021. These hubs are groups which work across local authority areas and get involved with schools and community groups to support music education. This programme was introduced in 2012 and there are now 121 hubs. The gap in music education within schools could be immeasurably improved thanks to these hubs, but the government had delayed funding news to the point of absolute panic for those involved.

According to a Tes news story Bridget Whyte, chief executive officer of music association Music Mark, said some music hubs had been preparing to consult on redundancy processes due to continued uncertainty. “The delay in getting news of continued funding has been extremely stressful for the organisations which lead, and are part of, music education hubs across the country. There have been some who were in the process of preparing redundancy consultation processes.”

The funding announcement confirmed an ‘in-year uplift’ of £265,000 for 2019-20, and an allocation of just under £79m for 2020-21.

So, is the outlook for music education as bleak as once thought? Perhaps not, but there is still a divide between what schools can provide and how effective 121 music hubs can be across the entire country.

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