New data released on 6 November 2018 reveals low-income British families are at risk of under-representation in the music industry as access to music lessons is dying out for poorer families.
The research from the Musicians’ Union shows families from lower-socio-economic backgrounds, earning under £28k, are half as likely to have a child learning an instrument (19%) as more affluent peers (40%) with a family income of £48k or more.
This stern disparity exists despite similar levels of interest from both groups of children, and the Musicians’ Union is calling on government to urgently review its offering of instrumental music tuition in schools. The MU represents over 30,000 musicians working in all sectors and genres of music.
‘Children from low- and mid-income families more likely to teach themselves’
Cost is currently the greatest barrier to learning, with over two-fifths (41%) of those from lower income families saying lessons are beyond their household budgets. Cost also impacts how children are learning. Those from low- and mid-income families are more likely to teach themselves, missing out on the benefits of a specialised tutor, exposing a clear need for music provision in schools.
The educational attainment of parents also plays a factor in whether children will pick up an instrument. Nearly half (48%) of children who have parents who are educated to university level will learn an instrument, compared with one-fifth (21%) at secondary school level.
Horace Trubridge, general secretary at the Musicians’ Union, said:
‘With certain children priced out of learning musical instruments, we may well only be hearing the songs and sounds of the affluent in years to come. Those from poorer backgrounds will, unfairly, be increasingly under-represented within the industry.
‘The data released today shows the extent of the problem – and we would like to work with government to address this issue.’
The report also details the extent to which learning a musical instrument can positively influence young people’s formative wellbeing. Almost half of parents report more confidence (47%) and better concentration (42%) in their child, and over one-third (35%) say they are happier overall if they attend music lessons. Almost one-third note higher levels of self-discipline (30%) and patience (30%), suggesting access to music lessons could foster higher achievement levels across all education subjects.
Government and schools should nurture children’s exploration of music
Hannah Abrahams, educational psychologist, commented:
‘The power of music to young people is palpable, as access from a young age can not only positively impact a child’s cognitive abilities, but their social and emotional development too. Parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds often have so many additional stressors that accessing music may be low down on the priority list for their child. It is the role of government and schools to nurture and encourage children’s exploration of music as a powerful learning and social tool.’
Musicians’ Union’s recommendations for the 2020-30 National Music Plan for Music Education (England)
Tackle the postcode lottery
- The Musicians’ Union (MU) has found that in schools with head teachers who understand the benefits of music education, the opportunities to learn instruments tend to be far better subsidised. In other schools, the offer is limited or even non-existent.
- The music industry is a billion-pound industry, which is vital to the UK. And yet by denying many young people music education we are threatening the industry’s ‘talent pipeline’. There is talent everywhere so there should be opportunity everywhere.
- Private and fee paying schools tend to have excellent music, drama and arts provision because there are so many positive outcomes for young people who have access to these opportunities. Children in the state school sector should have the chance to learn an instrument, just as their better off peers already do.
Schools should not be ‘outstanding’ without decent music provision
- The removal of arts subjects from the Ebacc, together with increased Ofsted focus on STEM subjects, has led to a real reduction in the number of young people taking music and drama GCSEs and A Levels. In Haringey, for example, only one sixth form currently offers music A Level.
- The fact that music has been ‘downgraded’ as a subject has led to a reduced respect for music from some local authorities and schools and therefore a disincentive to provide decent music opportunities.
- Schools are under pressure to focus on the subjects that Ofsted prioritises, which again can lead to a sidelining of arts subjects.
- Ofsted should require a decent provision of music education before awarding a school ‘outstanding’ status. It is not right that if a school runs a non-existent or average arts department, it can still be outstanding.
Include Early Years provision
- The current National Music Plan does not include Early Years provision, and as a result many hubs do not engage with Early Years providers. With the increasing evidence about the importance of early years’ experiences, this seems remiss.
- Music should be woven into the education system from the first day of nursery, and music hubs should be made responsible for provision from early years.
Include Digital Music and Music Technology
- Digital music was only included in the annex of the current National Music Plan, and yet it is the area of music that is experiencing the biggest growth.
- Most musicians today use music technology skills in their career.
- Most schools already have IT suites and so have the capacity to teach music technology, which should be classed as a STEM subject (as it includes physics and acoustics, IT software and maths).
- Some excellent partnerships have developed under the current National Music Plan, but they are far from universal. It would be useful for the Government to highlight best practice and encourage initiatives such as schools visiting arts organizations and professional musicians visiting schools.
- Many state schools cannot afford to buy musical instruments, and there is the opportunity for the Government to partner with the music industry and/or charities to help provide these.
Address teacher terms and conditions
- Template contracts that are fit for purpose should be developed and agreed by the sector and promoted by the hubs.
- Reasonable minimums should apply to teachers’ pay and conditions.
- Room rental fees for music teachers are unfair and, where used, indicate that schools may have become agencies for private music tuition rather than providers of music education for all. They should be abolished.
Improve the transparency of music hubs in England
- Because they are funded by public money, hub/music service pay structures should be fair and transparent. ACE, which allocates the funding for hubs, could improve transparency by publishing information on pay and terms of engagement for both managers and teachers in hubs.
- Hubs should be encouraged to work and support their local Music Teacher Co-operatives or other teacher led organisations, and there should be teacher representation on Hub boards.
Header photo: Young vocalists © Tileyard Education