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Strings head the staffing shortage

Every child should be able to learn an instrument said David Blunkett. But will he be able to fulfill his promise? Dorothy Lepkowska on the results of a TES survey of local authorities.

EXPERIENCED, specialist instrument teachers are becoming harder to find, and nearly two in three English education authorities have admitted to recruitment problems, the TES survey revealed.

The number of part-time tutors has increased but there are fewer full-timers being employed by the music services. Strings were by far the worst affected by staff shortages, followed by wind instruments, brass and keyboards.

Bob Kelley, from the Music Industries Association, said that during the recession of the early 1990s fewer stringed instruments were bought, resulting in a decline in the need for teachers.

"Those teachers went off to do something else when the pupil numbers went down," he said. "Now there is a renewed interest we are experiencing a staff shortage."

Mr Kelley said a bottom-of-the-range student violin cost about Pounds 70, but youngsters preferred this to a recorder which cost about Pounds 12, because it felt more like a "real instrument". Brass and wind instrument cost hundreds of pounds.

Brass was being taught mainly in community bands, rather than in schools. These bands had been organised about getting Lottery funding, he added. Youth bands benefited from hand-downs from adult orchestras.

Neither Wales nor Scotland showed any significant changes in specialist teacher retention or recruitment, according to the study, with staff numbers remaining largely the same.

Chris Naughton, head of intercultural music education at Exeter University, said schools in large urban conurbations in England were having to address cultural changes in musical interest, which did not necessarily affect the more traditional styles still prevalent in other parts of Britain.

He said: "The use of multi-functional keyboards and the interest in multi-cultural music means there has been a change in emphasis in music teaching.

"The distinct cultures of Scotland and Wales has resulted in less demand for change as traditional pursuits such as singing or learning the pipes still have appeal."

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