FEWER primary pupils now have the chance to learn instruments because the number of schools offering free tuition has halved in just two years.
A TES survey of 400 primary schools found the number of schools offering free instrument lessons has fallen to 13 per cent. In 1998 another TES survey found that just under a quarter of schools were able to give youngsters instrument lessons without charging.
At the time, Education Secretary David Blunkett had promised: "All schools should have the resources to teach music. Every child should have the opportunity to learn an instrument."
Many schools now say they do not have the resources to provide such lessons free. One primary music co-ordinator from North Tyneside said: "It is an elitist system, largely providing opportunities for those who can afford it.
"The system was much fairer when there was central funding for a peripatetic music service."
The Government announced in 1998 that councils would be forced to delegate funds for peripatetic music tuition as part of a wider funding shake-up.
With 67 per cent of schools charging fees -of up to pound;40 an hour - fewer than one in five pupils was willing or able to pay.
A music teacher from Devon said: "If every child, or even a significant proportion of children, wanted to learn an instrument, the school's budget would come nowhere near covering it."
The new TES survey showed that more than half of primary schools spend at least three-quarters of an hour a week on music within the curriculum. An overwhelming 90 per cent felt that Mr Blunkett had failed to give schools sufficient resources.
Nevertheless almost a quarter of them said the amount of time children spent on music within the curriculum had actually increased.
Only 21 per cent reported a drop in the amount of time devoted to the subject, while 54 per cent said it had remained the same. Some reported difficulties in finding the expert staff to co-ordinate the subject, with one north London school failing to receive a single application for its job vacancy, despite advertising twice.
Another headteacher from Kent said his school was forced to rely on classroom teachers, adding: "There is a presumption that all primary teachers are musically-orientated and can easily teach the recorder. This is wrong, wrong, wrong."