Viewpoint: The art of education

Viewpoint: The art of education

Richard Morris, a member of the Mayor’s Music Education Group and co-founder of charity the Mayor’s Music Fund, gives his view on the disparity between musical opportunities in the private and public sectors

Which kids get sustained tuition in playing a musical instrument, and why?

The answer is about 50% of those at independent schools and about 15% of those at state schools. The former are taught very largely one-to-one and the latter mainly in groups; inevitably this impacts on their respective rates of progress - 73% of those taught at state schools are at a level below Grade 1.

This huge disparity in opportunity is perhaps the greatest single distinction in any aspect of independent/state educational provision.

Why is this so, especially when successive Governments have declared their intentions to give every child the opportunity to learn a musical instrument?

They even create elaborate structures with names such as ‘The Music Manifesto’ and ‘The National Plan for Music Education’ as evidence of these intentions, but the disparity remains. The truth is that these plans mainly provide unsustained first access to instrumental learning for up to one year, usually in a whole classroom context. After that time there is no longer universal uptake, per capita costs (of tuition, instruments, music and ensembles) escalate sharply and political will fades.

Despite ring-fenced funding, the quantum has remained relatively static since the early 1990s and is nowhere near enough to enable state-educated pupils to have opportunities equivalent to their peers in independent schools. Motivation in state schools is further undermined by the implicit downgrading of music in the current EBacc proposals.

Why do independent schools devote so much time and money to instrumental tuition, and why do so many intelligent, cost-conscious parents of pupils at these schools want to pay for this, when only a tiny fraction of those pupils will continue their musical studies at HE level and then earn their living as musicians?

The answer is that these schools and parents regard instrumental learning as an invaluable element in the general upbringing of young people, whether for musical, educational, social or personal developmental reasons, or most likely for all four.

The Mayor’s Music Fund (MMF) which I co-founded with Veronica Wadley, chair of Arts Council London, in 2011 aims to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds these equivalent opportunities for sustained instrumental tuition. Our core activity is the scholarships programme. In collaboration with all 31 London Boroughs, we seek to identify such children, normally aged 9 or 10, who have received first access experiences and have demonstrated musical potential and commitment.

We then guarantee them four years of sustained tuition, enough to carry them over the crucial primary/secondary divide and to attain musical competence (say at Grade 5 level) or, in some cases, considerably more. We are thus “filling the tuition gap”, enabling our scholars to reach a level where a range of further progression opportunities open up, e.g. study at junior conservatoires, youth orchestras, other groups, and scholarships at specialist and Independent schools.

Over the past five years, MMF has awarded over 330 scholarships throughout London to disadvantaged young people from all ethnic backgrounds providing sustained tuition for their chosen instruments. We operate detailed systems for monitoring and evaluating progress, including regular reports from scholars, their parents, music teachers, headteachers and the Borough music services/hubs.

From these, it is evident that the programme instils not only a deep love of music and performance, but also pride and self-confidence, which is life-changing for the young people, and often for their families too.

Sadiq Khan has already expressed his profound belief in the importance of cultural and arts education. We are greatly looking forward to working with him and his team at City Hall to further secure and develop the work of MMF. Our longer-term ambition is that this programme should be replicated across the country.

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