Loss of free music increased access

14th November 1997 at 00:00
With reference to your front-page report (TES, October 31) I would like to take issue with some of the assumptions and statements regarding musical tuition in state primary schools.

Ten years ago, I, like most headteachers was horrified at the prospect of having our "free" music lessons devolved. I foresaw the demise of individual and group music lessons and a contraction in the number of valued peripatetic teachers.

In my last primary headship in Warwickshire, I took the decision to charge Pounds 2 a lesson with no charge to children from families on free school meals. Devolved monies were used as a "buffer" for the above and enabled further instruments to be purchased.

A year on the results were staggering - a 200 per cent increase in take-up and a 50-strong orchestra in a school with a roll of 175. This school was incidentally in the middle of a council estate.

Three years ago the experiences in my second headship in a large junior school were even more spectacular. We charge Pounds 2.35 a lesson and now have 175 children learning brass, woodwind, keyboard, percussion, guitar, violin, and a wind band which numbered 40 pupils until Year 6 left at the end of July.

I would therefore maintain that the withdrawal of "free" lessons has in fact enabled more children to have access to music lessons. This apparent paradox is due in part to the shortage of "free" lessons under the old regime. Children were selected on apparent musical ability. Now, regardless of ability the child is able to try any instrument which the school can offer.

In conclusion I would add that without the support of the local authority-run (not financed) music service offering quality teaching, none of the above would have been possible. The children and I are fortunate that in both authorities mentioned above this was, and still is, the case.

DAVID WATSON Headteacher Nevill Road Junior School Bramhall, Stockport

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