Councils sing the blues

24th July 1998 at 01:00
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.

David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, faces an uphill struggle to convince schools and local education authorities that changing funding arrangements for music teaching will safeguard services.

The latest TES survey on the state of music teaching in Britain, shows that one in three English local authorities do not believe that this would increase the uptake of instrument or vocal tuition.

Mr Blunkett has said that every child should have the chance of learn an instrument - a central aim of the Music for the Millennium campaign, launched by the TES in April. This would be achieved by transferring responsibility for funding to the Department for Education and Employment's Standards Fund.

Announcing the changes to the funding mechanism in May, exclusively in the TES, Mr Blunkett said he planned to guarantee music services by "ring-fencing" funds. He added: "Every child should be able to enjoy the full range of music experiences. The present situation is a lottery."

However, many local authorities responding to the survey thought it unlikely that sufficient government money would be made available. Fewer than half (44 per cent) believe the measure would raise participation.

This sceptical view was summed up by the City of Sunderland which responded: "The draining of funds away from music under the previous Government cannot be stemmed by the application of Elastoplasts. The haemorrhaging is much greater than the Government possibly realises."

According to the study, local authorities estimate an outlay of between Pounds 250,000 and Pounds 2m - depending on size - is needed to revitalise the service. These would include buying instruments and recruiting specialist teachers.

Lancashire Music Service said additional funds would be required for a minimum length of time to enable provision to be established. "The idea of giving every child the opportunity to play an instrument is admirable but would be very costly in the long term. Some way of sharing costs between Government, schools and parents would be necessary.

"To provide a minimum level of tuition for all schools within Lancashire would cost around Pounds 2m."

Bob Kelley, general secretary of the Music Industries Association and secretary to the Campaign for Music in the Curriculum, said he believed ministers had so far failed to embrace the scale of the decline in music teaching.

He said a MORI poll carried out three years ago revealed that more than Pounds 125m was needed to buy 700,000 instruments.

"I do not think that David Blunkett realises the extent of what is happening on the ground. The 1988 Act, which gave heads and governors responsibility for music under delegated budgets, carried no safeguards to ensure that the money was not spent elsewhere.

"Frankly, faced with buying two brass instruments which only a handful of children might use and a new computer, it is not surprising that schools chose the latter."

The findings show that more than half of English local authorities completely or partially delegate money for music to schools.

Parents with children in English schools were charged almost double for lessons than elsewhere in the UK, with an average cost of Pounds 54.70 per term, compared with Pounds 23 in Wales and Pounds 38.30 in Scotland.

About nine out of 10 English schools provided some form music teaching compared with almost 100 per cent in Wales and Scotland. This is probably because delegation occurred later and both regions have strong cultural ties which schools have been encouraged to maintain.

Overall fewer than one in 10 pupils in England has weekly music tuition - almost half as many as in Wales and Scotland - although this has increased over the past three years in more than 50 per cent of local authorities.

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