Facing the music;Music for the Millennium;Platform;Opinion

22nd May 1998 at 01:00
Every child should be able to enjoy the full range of musical experiences, says David Blunkett. In place of discord, he promises to bring harmony - and to back it up with cash

Music has played a big part in my life and I want youngsters to have access to the enormous benefits it can bring. Learning an instrument, singing, or simply enjoying the music of others, can help develop an awareness of the spiritual dimension of life.

Music lessons can also have an important role in helping to motivate pupils who are not stimulated by other lessons. When I was at school it took me some time to fully appreciate the glory of music and the pleasures it could bring. So I want all children to have the opportunity to be enthused by the range of musical experiences which should be available to us all. This should enable all children to experience playing a musical instrument and the chance to display their talent.

The fact is, however, that the present situation is a lottery. Some areas have good local music services. Others do not. Some children have access to a wide range of musical instruments, others do not.

I want to put an end to this lottery - not forgetting the potential of the real National Lottery to help. The TES has highlighted the lack of equity through its Music for the Millennium campaign. All schools should have the resources to teach music. Every child should get the opportunity to learn an instrument. And no one should have any fear that school music is under threat. It is and will remain a compulsory subject in the national curriculum. The changes we have introduced to the primary curriculum do not mean, as some suggest, that music is "being dropped". It certainly is not.

However, we have a crisis in standards in the 3Rs and have therefore given teachers the chance to exercise more professional judgment about how, not whether, to teach music in primary schools.

The biggest problem for schools is not that we have given greater flexibility to teachers. It is the wide disparity which exists in musical provision between schools. While some schools give pupils a full experience of music - both during the school day and after it - others do not. Provision varies enormously from one local education authority to the next.

The Government is determined to protect music's place in our education service. We will shortly be publishing a consultation paper on reform of local management of schools. As part of that reform we are considering ways to ringfence money for local music services through the standards fund. We will support existing services and introduce greater equity of provision across the country. If this measure is introduced, it will make sure that money intended for music lessons is spent on them. It will remove the temptation for the money to be spent on other services.

The Department for Education and Employment will top up the fund to create a dedicated pot of money, as resources become available. Applications from local authorities without music services will be encouraged as well as partnerships between them to maximise the provision available to schools.

I believe these changes will move the position of music in schools and authorities from one of decline since the 1980s to a position where it flourishes in the future.

We have already announced other measures to help school music. A pound;1.5 million package of sponsorship was unveiled last week which will help establish 40 more specialist schools.

The project is being set up with the backing of the Music Sound Foundation, a charity founded by international recording giants EMI. It aims to provide facilities for arts colleges offering courses for young musicians, actors, dance and drama students, designers, photographers and film students.

We have also appointed conductor Sir Simon Rattle to the DFEE's task force on creativity. This will make recommendations on the creative and cultural development of young people. Out-of-school study centres will also offer youngsters more opportunities to learn a musical instrument.

With this improved support, schools will have to ensure they make time for music teaching. They should give music the priority it deserves as a central subject. I have stressed that teachers need to provide a broad and balanced curriculum and to promote pupils' all round development.

Music can underline our campaign to raise standards and provide other valuable aspects of a child's education. It can be part of a cross-curricular approach, helping with numeracy, developing the talents of those with special needs as well as the gifted. It can also draw on the tremendous history of folk music and ballad writing to reinforce understanding of the history of our culture.

We are committed to supporting music in our schools. The new arrangement for funding music and the other measures I have outlined will help us make a difference and give children a better start in life.

David Blunkett is Secretary of State for Education and Employment

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