From riches to ragtime for school music services

14th January 2011 at 00:00
Pre-emptive cuts ahead of Government review could do 'irreparable' damage

School music services across England and Wales are "holding their breath" for the outcome of a major review into their funding that could result in essential services being axed.

Campaigners have warned that if funding is cut, parents and schools will have to stump up more money for tuition, instrument hire and support services, which will shut out children from poorer families and decimate bands and orchestras.

The Federation of Music Services (FMS) says that pre-emptive cuts, already being publicly proposed by a handful of local authorities as part of wider cost savings, could "irreparably undermine" services even before the findings of the Government-commissioned Henley review are announced at the end of the month.

Councils in central Bedfordshire, North Yorkshire and Warwickshire have all proposed to end their significant contributions to school music over the next three years, while jobs hang in the balance in Haringey, north London.

North Yorkshire, which has proposed cutting #163;490,000 over three years, has already axed free transport for pupils attending its Saturday morning music services.

Initial findings from an FMS survey recently revealed that more than 18 per cent of music services receiving local authority assistance are likely to have their funding completely stopped in the future.

A further 47 per cent are facing cuts of between 10 and 50 per cent.

The Government has offered assurances that it will continue to fund school music despite its ring-fenced #163;82 million annual grant coming to an end in March.

However, the total amount and the way the grant will be administered are not yet known.

A spokesman for the FMS said: "We are holding our breath over the outcome of the Henley review. The grant could go directly into schools, but we would want to see it ring-fenced to avoid the situation we had under John Major in the early 1990s, where there was a steep decline in school music. We are concerned the money doesn't just go into schools and dissipate."

He said the federation recognised there was "going to be pain" and there would be a need to "work more smartly and more efficiently".

In the London borough of Redbridge, the council will make a decision on whether to cut its funding to music services later this month.

Around one-third of music services funding comes from the council in the borough, prompting campaigners to gather 1,500 signatures opposing proposed cuts.

Ben Emmett, 22, who took violin tuition with the service from the age of eight to 18, said the cuts would mean the end of a service that had provided "a generation of people with the opportunity to learn essential life skills".

He said it was not just a matter of music lessons becoming available only to better-off children. "You don't have to lose many people from an orchestra to destroy it: you lose 20 per cent of the people and it's gone," he said.


Education secretary Michael Gove has said that physical contact between music teachers and pupils is "totally appropriate, indeed positively right".

In a letter to the Musicians' Union, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, the NSPCC and Youth Music, he admonishes them for their video, Keeping Children Safe in Music, in which music teachers are told that they should avoid any physical contact with children.

He writes: "It is particularly important that those teaching music feel confident that they can demonstrate how to master and improve technique by interacting physically with children whether it's adjusting the position of a violin or demonstrating how to handle drumsticks."

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