Minister denies silencing music

27th February 1998 at 00:00
Music and the arts will still play a strong role in the slimmed-down primary curriculum, headteachers and music specialists were told this week.

Ministers and advisers reassured schools that the Government's move to suspend programmes of study in art, music, PE, history and geography to focus on the 3Rs did not mean a lack of commitment to music.

Baroness Blackstone, education minister in the Lords, said that the Government would be "horrified" if schools were to drop music.

Speaking at the London launch of a report from The Campaign for Music in the Curriculum, she said that the flexibility created by the proposals should not be interpreted as a lack of commitment to music.

The campaign's report - called The Fourth R (for rhythm) - wants at least an hour a week to be devoted to music teaching in primary schools.

Michael Barber, head of the Government's standards and effectiveness unit, agreed with the Baroness. "There's no question of anyone in the Government wanting to minimise music in the curriculum, " he said. He believed that there would be more musical opportunities than ever in three or four years' time with the huge investment in out-of-school clubs and education action zones.

But Jenny Edwards, director of the National Campaign for the Arts, said the message sent to parents and governors was that these subjects were less important than science and technology. Another speaker feared that the whole of music education would be confined to after-school clubs and funded through the lottery - a suggestion hotly denied by Professor Barber.

Speaking at a later conference organised by the National Association of Head Teachers on the place of the arts in the curriculum, he said that it was a false dichotomy to argue that literacy and numeracy would be taught at the expense of the arts.

Professor Barber told the conference, held at the British Museum, that the subjects were interdependent. He said that the decision to allow a temporary relaxation in the programmes of study was in response to teachers saying there was too much prescription. Headteachers would now have greater discretion to include more or less arts and music.

Chris Smith, the culture secretary, gave some cheer with hopes of a revival in instrumental music teaching with the help of lottery funds for a schools music trust.

However, David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, conjured up a gloomy picture of a "nation of philistine graduates and school- leavers" seeking to top league tables and achieve targets. He feared the arts could be given such a low priority that a broad-and-balanced curriculum was in jeopardy.

Speakers at both events looked forward to the findings of a new committee on creativity, chaired by Ken Robinson, professor of arts and education at Warwick University, which is investigating how creativity can contribute to all areas of the curriculum. The committee, which includes Sir Simon Rattle, the conductor, was due to hold its first meeting today.

The Fourth R, The Campaign for Music in the Curriculum, Wix Hill House, Epsom Road, West Horsley, Surrey.

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