Interference may drown out music

27th March 1998 at 00:00
The foundations of music education are under grave threat from political interference, a London conference heard last week.

Edward Gregson, principal of the Royal Northern College of Music and Leonora Davies, who chairs the National Association of Music Educators, fear the consequences of the Government's decision to make music in primary schools optional.

Professor Gregson warned that Britain's musical heritage could be damaged - anything from playing recorders in primary school to youth orchestras, conservatoires and teacher training.

Ms Davies said that the general election result had filled many in education with hope. But now, she said: "We are reeling from the negative effect of government action which gives clear signals of not valuing music in the curriculum and the continued game of passing the music education ball between the education and culture departments. This is a really difficult issue because ministers deny it in public."

In a speech to delegates on the future of instrumental teaching in schools for the National School Band Association, she warned that the further devolvement of cash to schools planned in the latest education Bill could lead to the death of more music services organised by local education authorities.

Ms Davies is music adviser in Haringey, London. Of the 2,000 pupils in the borough who were taught to play an instrument one-third had parents on income support. A pupil from a single-parent family whom the council had supported since she was seven had just won a scholarship to Trinity College of Music. But she could be the last as it soon became a case of "Can't pay, can't play".

She added there was irrefutable evidence that music helped pupils with other subjects so its devaluation in the national curriculum was particularly regrettable.

Janet Mills, a music adviser at the Office for Standards in Education, said inspection findings for instrumental teaching were encouraging, but there should be no complacency. Some tutors failed to build on pupils' work in class and had too low expectations of them. Unfortunately, she said, OFSTED had no data on the decline of instrument teaching as its inspectors concentrated on quality.

Delegates heard of the parlous state of the NSBA which was founded in 1952 as the National School Brass Band Association. Its vice-chairman, Alan Winwood, pointed to a drop in membership caused by budget cuts, local management, the climate of competition between schools and the closure of LEA music services.

The conference called for data on music tuition to be collected on a statutory basis by the Department for Education and Employment or OFSTED.

* Jazz has become academically respectable with the publication of a new syllabus for piano and ensembles by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

Diminuendo

* a 1995 TES survey showed that more than 40 per cent of local education authorities no longer had a music inspector or adviser * the Associated Boards of the Royal Schools of Music's survey last year found 4 per cent drop in children playing instruments. There was an 8 per cent drop in children taking music lessons in school but a 2 per cent increase in those taking private lessons * children are unlikely to take up an instrument after the age of 11 * fewer instruments are being played by children especially minority orchestral ones such as the oboe, horn and cello

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