Decline arrested - but not enough

17th November 2000 at 00:00
Despite Blunkett's pledges school music is still struggling, reports Jon Slater

WHEN The TES launched its Music in the Millennium

campaign two and a half years ago, school music was in a

dire state.

One in five primaries were cutting music, due to cash shortages and the Government's literacy and numeracy strategies squeezing the subject off the timetable. Education Secretary David Blunkett responded by promising more money for primary school music, decreeing that every child should have the chance to learn an instrument.

Two and a half years on, as a new TES survey shows, there are encouraging signs. As the chart (right) shows, schools are now more likely to report an increase in lesson time for music than say that the subject is facing cuts. However, responses to this year's TES survey of more than 400 primaries show many are still struggling.

Instrumental tuition, in particular has been vulnerable to cuts. A quarter of schools said that the number of children taking up instrumental lessons has fallen in the past year. Only one in six said that the number had increased.

As in 1998, two-thirds of schools charge for instrument

tuition. And many are worried that only better-off children get the chance to learn to play an


"Many of our children are from families on low incomes but not low enough to qualify for benefits. The instrument hire charges are too much for some, especially those with more than one child," said Jean Smith, headteacher at Clearwell

primary in Gloucestershire.

Mrs Maggie Simpson, a music co-ordinator at St Edmond community school in King's Lynn, Norfolk agreed. "Many more children would love to play an instrument. This is not an area where parents could afford or would be willing to pay for


But funding is not the only issue. As a Warwickshire head said, many primaries find it difficult to attract qualified staff. "The financial resources to teach music would be nice, but wher will the expertise come from? We haven't had a music co-ordinator for two years."

The constant battle has led some specialists to quit. A Northamptonshire music co-ordinator said: "I have fought for years to keep music a high-profile area in my school, but I think now I have run out of energy."

In almost three-quarters of the schools surveyed, lessons were taken by classroom teachers

without qualifications to teach music - although in most cases some lessons were taken by a specialist.

Music lessons are also suffering because of the continuing

concentration on the core

curriculum - particularly literacy and numeracy. This situation is frustrating for music teachers. However, some schools noted the policy was supported by parents.

"The emphasis on core

curriculum makes timetabling

music lessons a nightmare.

Parents are unhappy if children miss core curriculum in Year Six. Some withdraw their

children from lessons to concentrate on the core curriculum," said Mr David Naylor, head of Stourfield junior in Bournemouth.

However, other schools reported that music provision had improved since Mr Blunkett made his pledge.

"It is wonderful that instrumental tuition has re-started. We have lost a generation of musicians during the eighties and early nineties - this is now being put right," said David Warbrick, headteacher of Harrington junior in Cumbria.

But even where things have improved, the Education Secretary does not always get the credit. Barry Audrey, headteacher of St Joseph's

primary in Wiltshire, summed up the mood. "Stop talking and give schools money to enable us to give a world-class education," he said. "We deliver a music

curriculum despite the Government not because of it!"

Additional research by Tracey Thomas and Sarah Myers

The TES survey was based on a questionaire sent to a respresentative sample of primaries throughout the UK in September. A total of 410 schools responded

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