But subsidised instrumental lessons for all primary pupils do not go far enough, say leading musicians. Adi Bloom reports
All primary schoolchildren in England are to be offered subsidised music lessons, the Government has pledged in its new music manifesto.
Following a successful trial in 12 local authorities, the Department for Education and Skills has confirmed that it will step up its plans to provide every primary child with free or discounted instrumental lessons, as recommended by the Office for Standards in Education in March.
The DfES has also agreed to provide a new national scholarship award for the "exceptionally talented" in music. From September, 120 scholarships worth between pound;600 and pound;3,000 will be available for pupils aged eight to 16. Funding for these programmes is to come from the Music Standards Fund, established in 1999 following The TES's Music for the Millennium campaign. This provides a ringfenced sum of nearly pound;60 million a year for music in schools.
Most local authorities currently charge schools between pound;8 and pound;28 for a one-hour music lesson. They will now be able to tap into the Music Standards Fund to subsidise this cost.
Launching the manifesto this week, school standards minister David Miliband guaranteed that this funding would continue until 2008. He said: "Music can be magic. That magic needs to be felt in every school in the country. That is our aim."
Mr Miliband was speaking at a launch ceremony for the manifesto, held at the Abbey Road recording studios, made famous by the Beatles, in north London. The manifesto, drawn up by the DfES and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, was backed by almost 70 signatories from the music industry, education and the voluntary sector.
It was also supported by chart-topping singer Jamelia, who entertained 300 delegates at the launch with her forthcoming single, See It In A Boy's Eyes.
Jamelia's performance was sandwiched by contributions from school ensembles. And the event was punctuated by appearances from notable ghosts of pop past. Feargal Sharkey, punk-pop star of the 1980s, compered the proceedings. And George Martin, veteran producer of the Beatles, spoke of his first experience of a symphony orchestra, at the age of 14. He said:
"Music has a stabilising, calming effect. It stimulates the intellect and affects the emotions. Even if the manifesto doesn't immediately achieve all that we are looking for, I welcome the fresh approach."
In fact, a number of leading musicians have claimed that the manifesto is unlikely to achieve much, stating that it offers nothing more than a series of hollow promises. Cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber has called on the Government to provide 10 to 20 minutes of music in primaries every day.
And percussionist Evelyn Glennie said: "The Government has pulled away from giving solid commitment to the alteration of the curriculum, or providing real funds, so that every child can play an instrument without paying for it. It has spent 18 months saying that it will improve things, but delivering very little."
Shadow arts minister Boris Johnson also dismissed the manifesto. He said:
"This is a document of Wagnerian length, with more hot air than the wind section of the London Philharmonic."