We must ensure that every young person can access a high quality music education

“Too often schools charge young people for teaching and hiring instruments which in many cases are necessary for the National Curriculum or required to pass GCSEs and A-level music.”

Ben Cooper (@BenCooper1995) is a senior researcher at the Fabian Society

Every day, millions of young people sing, make music with others and learn to play a musical instrument. They see music education as vital to their life and identity. The wider benefits are also important: music education supports other educational outcomes and social mobility, improves health and well-being, and creates opportunities to participate in the creative industries – a rapidly growing sector of music. ‘economy.

But many young people in England are denied the opportunity to participate in good quality and affordable music education in schools and the wider community. Over a decade ago, the National Plan for Music Education in England set out how public funding would ensure that every child has the opportunity to sing, make music or learn an instrument. Instead, young people are increasingly turning to YouTube and DIY learning, which can be helpful but cannot adequately replace formal music education lessons.

Within schools, music has often been pushed aside due to budget cuts in real terms, an uneven focus on so-called ‘core’ subjects – to the detriment of the wider curriculum – and difficulties in recruiting enough people. qualified teachers. In secondary schools, the introduction of the EBacc has discouraged schools from offering creative and artistic subjects, including music. For many young people, music education is now only experienced for a few weeks a year – and not as a basic learning right.

Outside of schools, the government’s “Music Education Centres” are supposed to provide additional classroom instruction, instrumental and vocal lessons, ensemble playing opportunities and the chance to learn from professional musicians . But these struggle to expand access to high-quality music education consistently across the country. There is a postcode lottery: some hubs are working hard to improve their offer for children and young people, while others are failing. And all hubs are being asked to deliver with dramatically reduced funding and little medium- or long-term certainty on budgets. This has led to a reduction in the working conditions of music teachers, with an increase in precarious contracts and widespread low salaries which exacerbate problems in recruiting and retaining qualified professionals.

Although access to high-quality music education is difficult for many, the barriers are particularly high for young people from low-income families. Too often schools charge young people for teaching and hiring instruments which in many cases are necessary for the National Curriculum or required to pass GCSEs and A level music. Black and ethnic minority youth , young people with disabilities and those living in rural areas are also more likely to struggle to access music education. Many of these young people would benefit the most from a music education, but are less likely to have access to it.

Clearly, after more than a decade, government promises on music education have not materialized for most young people in England. The government must change the way music education is delivered, so that every young person has the chance to sing, make music and learn an instrument. The government has an opportunity to do so: it is currently reviewing the national plan for music education in England and may possibly set a new direction.

In doing so, Westminster should turn to Wales. Last month, the Welsh Labor Government set out its plans to deliver universal access to high-quality music education, with a new National Music Service at its heart. Achievement of this goal is supported by significantly increased funding, appropriate recognition of music teachers, and a new national library of instruments and equipment. The plan also explicitly focuses on inclusion – particularly for young people with disabilities, those from low-income families and those from underrepresented backgrounds.

The Welsh Government’s plan for music education is ambitious – and in its infancy. Its success will need to be monitored. But the ambition should be emulated in England – and backed by the resources to ensure that every young person has access to a high quality music education.

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