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Government’s “multi-million-pound culture boost for schools” really means business as usual for music education

By | Published on Tuesday 7 January 2020

Book stack with headphones

The UK government’s Department For Education announced a “multi-million-pound culture boost for children in schools” on Friday, with much of the promised spend focused on music.

That might seem like a dramatic turnaround regarding music education funding, perhaps a speedy response from the country’s all-new government to long-term claims that music education in the UK is both under-valued and under-funded. Except that it was really just the official announcement of a previous pre-election commitment to continue funding England’s music education hubs at pretty much current levels.

Nevertheless, School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “Music, arts and culture play an essential role in enriching pupils’ education, and we want to give as many young people as possible the opportunity to learn an instrument or perform in a choir or a band. Our continued investment will play an important role in helping young people widen their horizons and access all the opportunities that learning a musical instrument can provide – whether that be playing for pleasure or performing”.

Music educators and the music industry have been increasingly vocal in recent years about issues around music education in English schools. Funding cuts and curriculum priorities that ignore the creative arts have, critics say, reduced access to music education in and via the country’s schools. Which means getting a good music education is increasingly dependent on where a child lives and whether or not their parents can afford private tuition.

Although last week’s DfE announcement did include £5 million for various youth music organisations and other initiatives that provide educational opportunities in music, dance, design and film, most of the money – around £80 million – was for the English music education hubs and the lead organisations that run them.

The hubs were created in 2012 following a National Plan For Music Education published by the government a year earlier. They receive their core funding from the DfE via the Arts Council and provide subsidised instrument tuition and other music-making schemes, working with schools and other music organisations in their local area.

The future of funding for the hubs wasn’t clear until late last year, creating much uncertainty for those working in that space. But as the political community got into election mode in November, further funding at more or less current levels was confirmed through to 2021. Last week’s DfE announcement was mainly further confirmation of that commitment.

However, said new commitment – while providing some short-term clarity – doesn’t really deal with any of the issues raised by music educators and the music industry. Critics point out that funding for the hubs is still below what was provided to the old ‘music services’ that they replaced. And it’s still not entirely clear what will happen beyond 2021, though future funding will likely be informed by a refresh of the aforementioned national plan.

Bridget Whyte, CEO of Music Mark – a membership organisation for people and organisations working in music education, including the music hubs – tells CMU: “Whilst it is good to now have official confirmation of the ongoing funding for English music education hubs and government-funded national youth music organisations for the next financial year, as we said in November, Music Mark is concerned that the amount allocated continues to be well below the figure given to English music services a decade ago”.

“It is becoming harder for the sector to maintain equity of access for all children and young people to a range of high quality musical learning experiences beyond the statutory national curriculum for the subject”, she added.

“We therefore hope that as part of the ‘refresh’ of the national plan for music education – which it is assumed will be linked to funding from 2021/22 onwards – consultation will take place to identify the appropriate level of financial support needed for music education hubs and other music education providers to meet the DfE’s updated aspirations”.