Charges for music hit the right notes

3rd November 2006 at 00:00
EDUCATION BILL Pupils pay for extra music lessons

* Schools now have duty to promote both the well-being of all pupils and cohesion in their communities

Schools will be able to charge for special singing lessons for the first time, under an amendment to the Education Bill agreed this week.

There was cross-party support in the House of Lords for the change to the law, which will also remove a ban on charging for musical instrument lessons for groups of more than four pupils during the school day.

The charges will apply to specialist tuition, not the music national curriculum. Disadvantaged pupils would receive help with the fees.

Music campaigners had said charging laws were a barrier to the Government's aim of giving every primary pupil the opportunity to learn an instrument.

The charges should also help to tackle a shortage of specialist music teaching and cater for the demand for specialist singing lessons. Larger groups would mean a fall in the cost per pupil.

"Restricting instrumental group sizes to four means that, with the specialist teaching staff who are available or who are likely to be available in the foreseeable future, there is simply not enough capacity to provide specialist tuition for all the children who might want to learn,"

said Lord Adonis, the schools minister, as he introduced the amendment.

The Bill was also amended to give schools a clear duty to promote the well-being of pupils as set out in the Children Act and, for those in England, to promote community cohesion.

However, John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, feared it would give Ofsted two more sticks to beat schools and give "local authorities, under the guise of Every Child Matters, an open door to return to the old days of trying to control schools".

A Conservative amendment that would have guaranteed anonymity to teachers facing criminal allegations related to their pupils until charged, was defeated.

But the week's drama concerned faith schools and what was called the "fastest U-turn in British political history", which possibly scuppered Education Secretary Alan Johnson's leadership hopes and ended with him being severely mitred by bishops.

On October 15, the Government announced, via a letter leaked to a newspaper, its plan that faith schools could be required to take a quarter of pupils outside their religion. Last week, less than a fortnight later, it was suddenly dropped, without any real explanation.

As expected, on Monday the House of Lords rejected - by 119 votes to 37 - a last ditch attempt by Lord Baker, the former Conservative Education Secretary, to amend the Education Bill and introduce the Government's 25 per cent quota plan. Instead ministers had to be content with an amendment giving Ofsted the right to monitor the links faith schools build with other local schools.

Mr Johnson described it as a compromise with the churches, but it looked like he had done all of the compromising after the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham and head of the Catholic Education Service, called on all 2,248 of its schools to lobby their MPs against the plan.

Priests were urged to use the pulpit to gather support; The Catholic Herald told readers they had "Three days to save our Catholic Schools" and there were warnings of the damage that up to two million Catholic voters could inflict at the ballot box.

Catholic schools have said they will admit pupils of other or no faith, once Catholic demand had been met. New Church of England schools will open a quarter of their places to such pupils, but that decision had been made before the Government entered the debate. There is no deal on new non-Christian faith schools, where ministers' fears over increased social and racial division are most pertinent.

Mr Johnson should have heeded the words of former prime minister Harold Macmillan who said the three groups he knew not to provoke were the Treasury, the Vatican and the National Union of Miners.

Full voice of children, 22

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