As we approach the final hours of the election, I’m sure most of us are thinking about Brexit. We can all agree that this is an important decision, one that will shape the future of our country forever.
But Brexit isn’t the only thing that could change our quality of life in the near future – at Bravura we wanted to find out what each party was planning to do in the coming years with regards to music and the arts. With our focus on music and music education, we wanted to look into the proposals coming from the major parties in this arena.
While it is obvious that other issues are at the forefront of the election, we must take the time to consider the opportunities that are given to our children. After all, they are the future of our country, our planet and our race and ultimately, they will carry the torch.
Music in the manifestos
With a focus for all major parties on big issues such as Brexit or the NHS, it’s no surprise that music and funding for music education forms little more than a footnote in their manifestos. The Labour party seem to be exclusive in their focus towards music and the arts, and even that is probably not enough to drive meaningful change.
Not only that, but the language used is generally purposely vague – especially in the Conservative and Lib Dem manifestos – discussing things such as ‘funding for the arts’ which doesn’t provide a distinction between music funding and the equally important areas of traditional art, sculpture, drama and even creative writing (although that latter becomes engulfed in a broader category of ‘English’). Music has long been little more than a side thought for politicians, even those in the position of being education secretary, and sadly it has started to show as numbers of musicians leaving education with relevant qualifications drop year after year.
In this article I want to firstly look at the three main parties’ pledges for music and the arts. Then I’ll explore the relationship between music and education, and some of the consequences of the decline in funding and focus on these areas over the last decade, so read on!
The Conservative Party
Of the three main parties, it is the Conservative Party who struggle most with any sort of relevant pledge. With little more than an undefined promise for an ‘arts premium for secondary schools’, the Tories don’t seem to be on the side of creative individuals. There are other points in their politics that will help some musicians almost as a side effect, such as business rate relief to music venues, but indirect aid like this does little to prevent the overall decline of music education in our country and puts no focus on actually getting instruments into the hands of children.
Not only that, but the conservatives seem to blithely seek headline-grabbing ideas such as doing away with the BBC licence fee; a move that while supported among many struggling to pay this tax for a service they might consider irrelevant to their lives, will have a major effect on the patronage of music in the UK, closing down many avenues of opportunity for new composers and musicians alike.
The Labour Party
Labour have put considerably more effort into their promises to aspiring musicians, with a ‘charter for the arts’. Ostensibly, this twelve page document spends more words praising itself with a wordy introduction than it does detailing the real world effect it aims to achieve. Thankfully, there’s a far more comprehensive white paper that leads to the charter, in which there’s a definite understanding on behalf of the labour party that there exists a problem with music education in this country.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has spoken publicly about the impact that learning music has on the lives of young people, and how learning an instrument has been proven to improve grades across the board. Check out our post on Music and Education if you haven’t already.
Assuming that the party holds true to the promises and ideals it espouses, perhaps there is a chance that the creative future may be brighter under a Labour government.
The Liberal Democrats
The Lib Dem manifesto mentions music and the arts as little as the Tories’ manifesto, although their policies towards education generally are likely to have a beneficial impact to music education.
Ultimately, funding and an understanding that arts (including music) require consideration on an equal level to ‘core’ subjects such as english and maths, are both positive steps for which the Liberal Democrats agenda has room, although the focus is definitely not there.
A decade of mixed signals and overall decline
There’s no doubt that music education in the country is suffering greatly. To be fair to the government of the past decade, often this is despite some semi-reasonable attempts to improve the situation. While failure is still failure, at least it isn’t always failure without some sort of positive intent. Michael Gove, while Secretary of State for Education, said that ‘the Government priorities recognised music as an enriching and valuable subject…’ and committed that ‘public funding should be used primarily to meet the Government priorities of every child having the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and to sing.’
This was following a 2011 report on ‘Musical Education in England’ (the Henley Report). At the time, the Government also recognised the ‘secondary benefits of a quality music education are those of increased self-esteem and aspirations; improved behaviour and social skills; and improved academic attainment in areas such as numeracy, literacy and language.’
All good, yet ultimately it came to nothing. Tens of initiatives were launched throughout the decade all with the intention of promoting music for children in all forms of education and yet still numbers fell. There was chaos grown from too many schemes and not nearly enough national consistency.
Despite all good intention, GCSE music entries across the UK fell by 16.66% between 2014 and 2018 (taking into account cohort size).*
* Data taken from Music Education: State of the Nation, report by the All-Party Paliamentary Group for Music Education, the Incorporated Society of Musicans and the University of Sussex / www.ism.org
The postcode lottery for musical education
A rise in academies that do not need to follow the national curriculum, and individual schemes to help promote music education outside of the traditional school space mean that location can mean everything for a child wanting to grow in their musical identity in the UK.
In some regions, support for musical activity from the very early years all the way through to university level is rife – it cannot be said that every area in the country is struggling to promote music, however a lack of consistency can make it hit or miss.
It is common for parents to consider their home location with their children’s education in mind, but this is typically an overall feel; ‘are there good schools in the area?’, ‘is crime low?’, for example. Very few parents of young children are looking at the facility for their child to join a choir or orchestra from aged 8 or 9, neither do they look at the opportunity for individual musical education or the sheer weight placed upon school music teachers in their area. It is too easy to look at a school’s curriculum and Ofsted report and rely on this information alone, and far harder to research the future opportunity for music excellence.
Not only that, but far less likely that such a consideration is ever thought of.
Any future government serious about improving musical education in the country has to look at the varying levels of support in different regions and strike a balance – one that rises the activities in the struggling locations, not one that strips from those achieving good results!
The problem of low importance
The third significant factor affecting music education in the UK is that of importance. Simply put, music doesn’t really rank in many people’s minds as a subject that requires priority. In a school system where funding is always tight and teachers are low on the ground, a subject that requires specialist educators and reasonable additional funding for instruments and other equipment is a burden for administrators. Add the intangible benefits of an education in the arts, often derided as non-academic by many in the general public, and it’s easy to see why music is left behind.
Many schools complain that they simply do not have the budget for a full time music teacher and struggle on meeting minimum levels of achievement through part-time support or obtaining cover from other areas and teachers for whom music is not a primary focus.
Until parents and government alike choose to make music as important for their children’s education as traditionally respected subjects such as maths, english, history and geography, it is sadly unlikely that it will ever receive the funding and attention it fully deserves.
Finding a solution for your children
At Bravura we are dedicated to bringing music and all its benefits to all of our students, both children and adult alike. For us, music is a passion that not only forms part of an academic education leading to a wide range of respected careers, but is also a core need for humans as a whole. It is how we express ourselves, from singing alone in private, to finding that sense of belonging in a band, choir or orchestra. We believe that music is as substantially important as other forms of education and continue to provide top-quality teaching for all.
Contact us via our contact form to find out more, or give us a call today!
By Shane Chauhan