National service for youth music

THE Government is being urged to set up a national music service to bolster instrumental and choral teaching which is currently in a precarious state in schools.

Local authorities have cautiously welcomed the radical plan for a centralised service to protect music which has suffered from a decade of budget cuts.

Howard Dove, education consultant for Music for Youth, and Larry Westland, its director, are calling for a service which would be self-funding after five years.

Mr Dove said music teaching was in "an appalling mess". Since 1988 music services had declined or developed piecemeal because of local management of schools and drastic budget cuts. Consequently, what music education children got depended on where they lived.

He added: "A totally new approach is needed. You can't go to the Government and say we need more money and we'll do it. Instead we are saying 'Here's a plan, we need start-up funds, then it will be self-financing' - it's a message they will understand."

Music for Youth wants to see a national holding company or charity to set national standards, produce study programmes, define targets, fix salaries and conditions of employment. Ten regional offices covering England would co-ordinate regional work and appoint staff. Local libraries' computer networks and e-mail would co-ordinate information, help and advice.

The national board of trustees would include representatives of the local authorities, the Arts Council, education departments and the music industry.

Lessons and instrument costs would be means-tested, and conditional on agreeing any grant would be an obligation to attend lessons for at least two years. The plan also sets out standards of initial teacher training, in-service, monitoring and inspection.

Mr Westland said the plan had been sent to Culture Secretary Chris Smith.

Graham Lane, chair of the Local Government Association's education committee, said there was no simple solution, but the service should not be delegated.

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