Inequalities in music education must end

Leading voices from across the music and education spectrum have joined forces in an open letter, calling on the Government to fulfil the commitments of the National Plan for Music. Published in the Sunday Telegraph (in shortened form), the letter was co-signed by 27 organisations and individuals who, like me, want to see an end to the inequalities in music education.

Open letter to the Government.

Dear Sir,

Three years ago the Department for Education announced an inspiring and ambitious initiative – a National Plan to tackle the existing lottery of music education for children across the country. I applaud the Plan's commitment to ensuring “children from all backgrounds and every part of England should have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument; to make music with others; to learn to sing; and to have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence if they wish to.”

But while these aspirations are well met in some schools, for too many children this remains far from the reality.

Recent studies have demonstrated cause for serious concern. A sector-wide report from the exam board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) this autumn revealed that 40% of UK children from more disadvantaged backgrounds who have never played an instrument said they had no opportunity to learn at school. And a review by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation this summer found that in primary schools, only half of music teachers surveyed said they had the resources needed for music education. My own research for the Don't Stop the Music television series this September chimed with these reports, as well as the significant problems with teacher training, funding and progression opportunities, which the sector has been raising for some time.

Currently music education can all too easily be undervalued in the competing demands of a crowded school curriculum – a situation worsened by the lack of attention paid to music in Ofsted’s regular inspection regime. Yet music has enormous proven benefits for children – knock-on improvements in literacy and numeracy, as well as a vital boost in self-esteem, confidence, teamwork and discipline.

We cannot ignore the inequality of opportunity - that while some children are reaping these rewards, thousands are going without the advantages music brings. I call on the Government to fulfil the commitments of its own National Plan for Music Education, and “ensure that we consistently give young people a music education that is of the highest quality.”

Yours faithfully,

James Rhodes, Concert Pianist and Champion for the Don't Stop The Music Campaign

Supporting co-signatories:

Richard Hallam MBE, Chair, The Music Education Council

Professor Colin Lawson, Director, Royal College of Music

Anthony Bowne, Principal, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

Jeremy Newton, CEO, Prince's Foundation for Children and the Arts

Professor David Saint, Principal, Birmingham Conservatoire

Katherine Zeserson, Director of Learning and Participation, Sage Gateshead

Professor Joe Wilson, Director of Curriculum, Leeds College of Music

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive, Incorporated Society of Musicians

Jem Shuttleworth, General Manager, The UK Association for Music Education - Music Mark

Sarah Alexander, Chief Executive and Artistic Director, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Ian Maclay, Managing Director, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Christopher Warren-Green, Music Director and Principal Conductor, London Chamber Orchestra

Marianna Hay, Artistic Director and Founder, National Orchestra for All

Janie Orr MBE, Chief Executive, EMI Music Sound Foundation

Russell Hobby, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers

Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers


Julian Lloyd Webber, Musician and Founder of In Harmony

Alison Balsom

Kathryn Tickell

Maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy, Conductor and Pianist

Bob and Roberta Smith, Artist

Professor Graham F Welch, Chair of Music Education, Institute of Education, London

Kevin Brennan MP, Shadow Minister for Schools

Lord Lipsey, Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Classical Music

Lord Aberdare, Member, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music Education

Sincerely, James.

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