Primary music in decline

24th April 1998 at 01:00
Dorothy Lepkowska reports on the 'horrifying' findings of a TES survey

One in five primary schools in England and Wales is cutting down on music teaching as a direct result of Government policy. Some are dropping the subject altogether.

The findings are revealed today in a survey of almost 700 schools in the UK. They are the consequence of the Government's decision to emphasise the 3Rs at the expense of other subjects.

The study suggests that thousands of pupils will miss out on music even though teachers said that it was vital to the all-round academic development of youngsters and to the life of a school.

The decline in music also runs contrary to ministerial pronouncements that schools should continue to provide a balanced education despite the relaxation of the national curriculum until 2000.

Ministers have told schools they can be flexible in their teaching for the sake of the 3Rs. However, some lesson time must still be given over to subjects such as music, art and history.

David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, has said that the Government was "absolutely committed" to music in the curriculum. However, only in Scotland, where the balance of the curriculum has not been altered, are there no significant changes planned to the levels of music teaching.

The survey shows Welsh schools spend the most lesson time on music - at least 60 per cent devoting an hour or more a week to it - and are more likely to offer free instrument tuition. In England and Scotland, just over half of schools spend an hour or more on music, while in Northern Ireland the figure is 45 per cent.

English schools offer the least free instrument teaching and consider music to be of lesser importance to school life than primaries elsewhere. Almost 18 per cent of primaries in Northern Ireland do not teach children how to play an instrument.

Specialists are alarmed at the findings because they show that music is suffering even before the streamlining of the national curriculum has fully taken effect.

Bernard West, of the Campaign for Music in the Curriculum, said; "Too many schools are planning to reduce their commitment to music, despite the Government's desire for maintenance of breadth and balance. This is exactly the type of response of which the campaign was afraid, and shows the need for the Government's strong support of music."

Larry Westland, the founder and executive director of Music for Youth, said: "I find these figures utterly horrifying. When one looks at what can be achieved by young people it makes you wonder how any civilised society can put the arts at risk in this way."

Survey and TES campaign, pages 6-7

Leader, page 14

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