Royal college director attacks 'steady decline' of music in state schools

Comments come after Lord Agnew was forced to defend the government's record on music education in Parliament

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The director of the Royal College of Music (RCM) has criticised the "steady decline" of music provision in state schools.

Speaking at the RCM's annual award ceremony in London, Professor Colin Lawson said there had been a 20 per cent drop in the number of arts candidates at GCSE since 2010.

In his speech, Professor Lawson mentioned the work researchers have been doing on the impact of arts and culture on public health.

He went on to say: "This works seems especially important in view of the steady decline in music provision in state schools within the UK, reflected in ever smaller numbers of arts candidates at GCSE, down 20 per cent since 2010."

Music out of hours

The professor said a combination of cuts to school budgets and the consequential loss of specialist teachers, had created a skills loss.

He added: "We were, of course, appalled to note the widely flagged situation of one grammar school in the north of England, which resorted to charging pupils £5 a week to take GCSE music out of hours.

"In a climate where the RCM is required to hit ever more challenging diversity targets this is dispiriting news indeed."

The Department for Education wants 75 per cent of pupils to be studying for GCSEs in five EBacc subjects – English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language – by 2022.

But there are concerns that the focus on these core subjects is squeezing out others such as music, art and drama.

'No evidence'

Last week, minister Lord Agnew was forced to defend the government's record on music education during a House of Lords debate.

He agreed to meet with concerned parties to discuss the issue, but added: "However, there is no evidence that arts subjects have declined as a result of the introduction of the EBacc. Indeed, the proportion of time spent studying music has remained broadly stable since 2010.

"Since the EBacc was announced, the proportion of pupils in state-funded schools taking at least one arts subject has also remained stable."

He continued: "I have a very strong personal commitment to music. My own father was cured of a debilitating stammer through learning to sing and so breathe properly. I am doing everything I can to encourage music in the system."

Schools in collaboration

Another Tory peer,  Lord Lexden, noted that "nearly 650 independent and state schools are now collaborating in the teaching and performing of music" and asked Lord Agnew whether there was further scope exists to increase that number, "as independent schools seek to play a larger part in the education system as a whole, in accordance with the government’s wishes".

Lord Agnew responded that he planned to meet the chairman of the Independent Schools Council soon, "to review collaboration between the two sectors".

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Arts subjects are an important part of our broad and balanced curriculum and music is compulsory in all maintained primary and secondary schools up to the age of 14.

“We are investing £400 million in music and arts education programmes, including in the 120 music education hubs across the country which give every child the opportunity to play an instrument.”

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