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Musicians' Union report finds music is being squeezed out of the curriculum

Teachers deliver a damning verdict on music education amid warnings poor kids still being priced out of tuition

School music lessons are in a “perilous state” thanks to “chaotic education policies”, according to a the Musicians’ Union.

Research by the organisation found that classroom teachers see music as “squeezed within their schools”, and “suffering from a ‘league table’ approach to subjects”. Over the past eight years, the number of post-graduate teaching students training as music teachers has fallen from over 850 to just 250 a year.

As part of the report, a survey of 825 instrumental teachers found that 64.8 per cent were “completely lacking in confidence in the government’s handling of music education. Just 0.1 per cent were “completely confident”.

In February, the Big Issue reported that more than 100,000 pupils across Scotland were being shut out of music tuition because of fees and staff shortages. The crisis was brought into view after Midlothian council announced plans to axe free music tuition – which it later reversed after a public outcry.

The report’s authors, Middlesex University reader Jonathan Savage and Musicians’ Union official David Barnard, also highlighted the precarious employment of many music teachers – including through “bogus self-employment” and zero-hours contracts.

They criticised the impact of the English Baccalaureate, a league table metric based on several core subjects, saying this had caused schools to prioritise other subjects over music. “The detrimental effects of the EBacc and accountability measures must be acknowledged and reversed by policy makers,” they wrote. Only 4.7 per cent of instrumental teachers said they thought the EBacc had had any positive effect.

One teacher commented: “The message being sent out to pupils and parents is that maths, English and science are the most important subjects, and that music is something you can do in your spare time.”

In reality many young people from poorer backgrounds are still not getting this opportunity.

In 2011 the government published its National Plan for Music Education, which saw new “music hubs” rolled out across England partnering schools with local arts organisations. These were intended to tackle “patchy” local authority-organised instrumental lessons and improve access to tuition.

But Musicians’ Union leader Horace Trubridge said the new strategy had failed to achieve this. “The headline figures show that children from families with an income of under £28k are half as likely to learn an instrument compared to those from families with an income of more than £48k,” he said.

“So, while the NPME intended that children from all backgrounds and all areas of the country should have the chance to learn an instrument, in reality many young people from poorer backgrounds are still not getting this opportunity.”

The report calls for guaranteed funding for music hubs, and recommends that Ofsted inspectors refuse to rate schools as outstanding unless they offer a full complement of music and arts provision.

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