The Culture Secretary wants to get the private and public sectors playing the same tune. Nigel Williamson reports
National lottery funds are to be used to assist children from poor families to learn to play a musical instrument in an attempt to arrest the alarming decline of tuition in both primary and secondary schools.
Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, will make the announcement later this month in response to the recent report from the Associated Boards of the Royal College of Music which painted a devastating picture of music disappearing from schools.
The report found that in some parts of the country instrumental tuition was in danger of becoming extinct.
Mr Smith said: "I am greatly troubled about kids not having a chance to learn an instrument. It is bad for them because they are deprived of the fulfilment to be had in developing instrumental skills and it is bad for the rest of us because we are deprived of the orchestras and instrumentalists of the future.
"As the report showed, instrument tuition has been in sharp decline over the past 10 years. Provision now tends to be divided along class and income lines. If you live in a relatively well-heeled neighbourhood the chances are you will have access to musical instrument tuition much more readily than if you do not."
Mr Smith plans to announce a programme that encompasses both the public and private sectors. He said: "Together with the Arts Council I've been looking at how we can put together a patchwork of funding in order to try and build up instrumental teaching again. It may be that there are other players we can add into the picture so we can enhance whatever money comes from the lottery."
The Bill that would allow lottery spending to be extended to education is currently going through Parliament. At present lottery money can only be used to buy instruments but not to pay for peripatetic music teachers. Tax breaks may also be offered in the Budget next week for companies prepared to support music in schools.
Mr Smith has also discussed the plan with the Music Industry Forum, the advisory panel drawn from the pop world which had its first meeting on February 23. Members include Mick Hucknall of Simply Red, Sir George Martin and Alan McGee of Creation, Oasis's record label.
Sir Simon Rattle, musical director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, has also been asked to advise on the scheme. Rattle has been highly critical of what he sees as the downgrading of music in primary schools following the recent announcement of changes in the curriculum by David Blunkett.
However Mr Smith said that there had been a "misconception" about his Cabinet colleague's intentions. "David Blunkett was not saying that music in primary schools is being ditched. He was saying that the way in which music is being delivered and its place in the school week are open to flexible arrangement by the school or teacher. Music still has to be part of the curriculum."