Music education has been undervalued, under-resourced and under threat. The National Plan can change all that.
On 9th November, the House of Lords debated the new National Plan for Music Education.
During the debate, Guy - who is Chairman of the Royal College of Music - said that the Plan was a chance to reverse the decline in music education. He called for it to be made statutory, and for funding for music hubs to be index linked.
He added that the Trade and Co-Operation Agreement with the EU needed to be amended to ensure free movement for musicians - something to which the Government had previously committed.
The text of his speech is below, and the full debate can be accessed here.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I have an old trumpet and an old clarinet somewhere which I would
be very happy to put into his fund if he gets it going. I declare an interest as chairman of the Royal College of Music and a governor of Brentwood School. It is a privilege to have as colleagues on the council of the Royal College of Music two distinguished individuals who have been integral in putting together the national plan for music education, my noble friend Lady Fleet, who has chaired and led the expert panel with such vision, determination and energy, and Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, who is a remarkable campaigner for music and musicians. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend for securing this debate today and for her superb speech. This debate allows us to spend some time looking at an issue which is crucial not just to the future of the creative economy but to our quality of life. I also take this opportunity to join the chorus welcoming the Minister back to his place. As my noble friend Lady Fleet said, he is a great champion of music and the wider arts and I am delighted he has returned to his rightful place.
I agree with the conclusion of the Independent Society of Musicians, of which I am an honorary member, that this is an “ambitious” and “detailed” document that, if it succeeds, will ensure that “all children will be the beneficiaries of a high-quality music education.”
A huge amount in this plan, which is incredibly impressive in its breadth and vision, is to be commended, not least its unequivocal commitment that music “must not be the preserve of the privileged few” but be available to all children. Music enhances all young lives, not just those whose parents can afford it.
I welcome the emphasis the plan places on the “pipeline of talent” and the vital importance of progression. As my noble friend the Minister so rightly says in his elegant introduction to the document: “It is vital that each part of the music pipeline – schools, community music, further and higher education, and employers in the music and wider creative sector – collaborates to create joined-up talent pathways.”
That has been missing in recent years, and the plan establishes a fresh opportunity to put that right. Crucially, the plan recognises that, for progression to work: “Early years providers and schools should build a musical culture, identify potential … and enrich children’s experience with music beyond the classroom.”
My own interest in music as a seven year-old certainly came from such a culture, powered by music specialists—something sadly lacking in too many primary schools.
I have a number of observations about the plan. They are not criticisms or intended to detract in any way from its importance or value but seek to strengthen it even further. One is that this plan, like its predecessor, is non-statutory. As noble Lords will know, I am not generally one to argue for the imposition of statute in the creative world, but it seems to me that this is one of those areas in which some modest form of statutory intervention may be required. To produce the step change in music education we all want to see, not least because of its importance to the creative economy of the UK at a time of great uncertainty in the wider economy, there will have to be strong political leadership. I recognise that my noble friend the Minister is hugely committed to this area, but this is too vital to leave to individual personalities. Departments and Ministers need to be under a continuing statutory obligation to see this through, whatever the changes that take place in Whitehall and Westminster.
The plan makes provision for the monitoring of progress over the next eight years, with the first report due in 2025 to set out improvements and look at how the music sector is developing. The establishment of a monitoring board is very welcome, but it is Ministers at the DfE and DCMS who, over the lifetime of the plan, need to be accountable, not least to Parliament, for its implementation.
We are all aware of the need to do everything we can to drive sustainable economic growth in the UK, and the music industry is one of the most reliable ways to do that, providing £5.8 billion in GVA before the pandemic and employing 200,000 people—more than the steel and fisheries industries combined, according to UK Music. Its future simply cannot be left to chance, and I ask my noble friend whether the Government will consider some form of statutory underpinning for the plan to ensure its delivery, not least in ensuring that there is no tension—which there often has been—between music hubs, which are tasked with implementation, and schools, which are not.
It is not just political leadership that is important but leadership within schools. As the plan says: “Enabling pupils to progress in music requires flexibility from leadership and wider school staff”.
But school leadership is patchy where it comes to music education. I have seen some schools where the head and their senior team fully understand how music can enhance a school’s identity and culture and contribute to the development and well-being of children. Not coincidentally, those schools tend to be the better-performing ones. But there are other schools where the leadership, and that includes governors, are uninterested in the effective delivery of music, to the detriment of their pupils.
That leads me on to another crucial point, which is the quality and calibre of the music staff who will be on the front line of delivering this plan. Music teaching has been under real strain in recent years, not least because of the vicious cycle that has arisen of the decline in music education leading to fewer professional teachers—who are in turn needed to reverse that decay—entering it. Many music specialist undergraduate primary courses and postgraduate secondary programmes have closed, seriously limiting the opportunities for talented musicians to pursue a career in teaching. A forecast by the National Foundation for Educational Research shows that the DfE is likely to recruit only 57% of its target for music trainee teachers this academic year, compared to 166% for PE. We have got our priorities absolutely wrong.
Music teaching needs to be valued in all schools, including ensuring that it is represented in every school’s leadership structure, with a designated music lead and head of department who are given time for training and to organise the curriculum and study. As the Birmingham Music Education Research Group at Birmingham City University has pointed out, the next generation of music educators must have access to high-quality training and development opportunities. Governors have an important role in this area too and should be under a legal responsibility to interrogate the quality of music provision, including details of accessibility and inclusion.
I have two other points. The first concerns funding which, as my noble friend said, is obviously a very tricky issue in the current economic circumstances. The plan has, in a very welcome way, confirmed funding for music hubs of £79 million per annum until 2025, but it is not clear whether these figures—and also the £25 million of funding for instruments—will be adjusted for inflation which, at over 10%, could rapidly eat through these impressive and welcome figures. Could my noble friend tell us whether these figures will be index-linked? If not, there is little chance of delivering the broad ambitions of the plan.
My final point concerns the wider issue surrounding the music industry and the professionals who power it, arising from our fractured relationship with the EU. It is very relevant to this debate because, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, said, it touches on the issues of aspiration. If we want the creative economy to flourish, for talented individuals to enter the profession as teachers and to present exciting opportunities for young musicians who leave school, then we have to fix the problems arising from the failure of the trade and co-operation agreement.
I do not want to go over old ground, but Ministers promised that free movement for musicians—which is vital to their livelihood and well-being—would be protected. Their failure to deliver has been devastating, with musicians and those who support them on tour having to navigate a complex, confusing and costly system which limits how long they can stay in their main touring market, which is the EU. It is now time—as a compelling report from the APPG on Music said—to put old divisions aside and “focus on what’s right for UK musicians and the UK music industry.”
Otherwise, why on earth would the next generation of young people, at whom this plan is targeted, want to pursue their learning and careers?
For many years, many of us have felt that music education in the UK has been undervalued, under- resourced and under threat. This excellent report gives us a chance to change all that. Let us take its lead and give it teeth, generous funding, political leadership and a proper position within schools. Then we can secure the future of music.