Music for Youth delegates boo Minister

Diane Spencer

Eric Forth, Minister of State for Education, was booed and hissed by some 500 delegates at the Music for Youth conference held in London's South Bank this week.

When the Minster declared that Britain's instrumental music teaching was internationally renowned "a fact which the Government celebrates and appreciates", his audience of music teachers, advisers and academics jeered in disbelief.

Mr Forth was clearly rattled. He said:"That will do you no good," which prompted more boos and hisses. "Have you finished now?" he snapped back.

The minister went on to say that local management had caused some concerns although a significant number of education authorities held funds for music services centrally. He thought that delegated funding had, in most cases, led to an enrichment of music education.

Mr Forth warned that there was no point in thinking that a change of government would mean vast improvements in the service. The essentials of what are in place, such as local management, the national curriculum and assessment, had been accepted by the Opposition, he said.

The conference format did not allow time for questions, but later many delegates said they were astonished by Mr Forth's "arrogance and ignorance" of the effects of education reforms on the service.

Delegates at the second conference organised by MFY and sponsored by The TES as part of the National Festival of Music for Youth were discussing the way forward for the music service. As last week's TES survey showed, it is in dire straits in some authorities with wide disparities between shires and metropolitan authorities and north and south.

Stephen Richards, who chairs the education committee of the Music Industries Association, was among speakers who expressed concern about control of quality given that at least 40 per cent of authorities no longer had music advisers.

All were worried about socially disadvantaged children being excluded from learning an instrument because their parents could not pay. A teacher from Derbyshire, which abolished its service four years ago, said her school had no funds to give fee remission to poor families. She said: "We live hand to mouth. There is no way we can help anyone who can't afford to pay."

Howard Dove, head of Hampshire's music service, volunteered three options: a McDonald's-style franchise operation with each local authority contributing to a new, central, non-profit-making holding company which would set and monitor standards, levels of pay and organise marketing; partnership services between neighbouring authorities, which would operate on a similar basis to the first option; private companies which could be strictly commercial; or registered charities.

The first two would involve the whole community and the music industry and bring enormous benefits to pupils and teachers, he said.

Mr Dove urged the conference participants not to see themselves as "mere functionaries, but begin to set an agenda for the 21st century".

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