fri 19/07/2024

Opinion: Cuts to music education are a positive step | reviews, news & interviews

Opinion: Cuts to music education are a positive step

Opinion: Cuts to music education are a positive step

The founder of a choral academy argues that music education is due for an overhaul

Christopher Monks conducts 1,500 young choristers at the Albert Hall

“Without music, life would be a mistake”: Nietzsche. Sadly for many – indeed tragically, Nietzsche would say – music education in the UK has become so inconsistent that now, music barely features in some children’s lives at all. For years, county music services have been tied in to long contracts with services and teachers, some of whom have consistently delivered outstanding musical education, while others are tired and disconnected from the needs of the pupils they are teaching.

It is detrimental enough not to have a musical education, but potentially even more damaging to a child to receive a bad music education, delivered by unmotivated and disenchanted teachers.

The government has received a public bashing for the recent cuts to music education and county music services, but I believe that these changes are the most positive thing to happen to music education in years. The conditions of new funding mean that county music services must work with regional professional partners, forcing new collaborations which are benefiting both the UK’s schoolchildren and the arts organisations who are now dedicating their time to providing first-rate music education.

Cuts are a good excuse to evaluate and improve, and for the first time schools and local authority music services are being given more control over their own budgets. In the past, music services received their funding direct from the Department of Education, but now must apply to a Hub organisation, potentially in competition with other providers, which in turn forces a higher quality of musicianship and improves the social and artistic life of the school and the individuals involved.

These Hubs must ensure that every child aged between five and 18 has the opportunity to sing and learn a musical instrument, and to have the chance to perform as part of an ensemble or a choir. This is something that AC Academy has been striving for since being founded in 2002.

The result of these changes is that professional arts organisations – including concert halls, festivals, charities and orchestras – are devising and delivering outstanding education programmes to schools across the UK. Of course, it can be said that the quality of education is still uneven, but it is certainly improving. My work with AC Academy, a nationwide initiative which brings first-class music education to children across the UK, enables me to see a cross section of music education across the UK and as a result, I am confident in saying that matters are better now in music education than they ever have been.

Cuts have also forced us all to look for new sources of income, where previously we may have been reliant on government. Rather than relying on a small number of sources, arts organisations are working with larger number of investors and philanthropists who may give smaller amounts, but collectively this becomes a significant amount and is less damaging in future should one be forced to withdraw.

The responsibility for securing the future of music education should lie with government, but this does not have to be a financial responsibility. If the government and head teachers are encouraged to see the benefits of a music leader educated in professional musicianship, and collaborations with professional arts organisations, the quality of music in schools will undoubtedly improve and investment from sponsors and philanthropists will follow.

However, despite all of the recent improvements, one of the leading inconsistencies in our music education still remains: the difference between the artistic scene of London and Central England (where most arts organisations are based) and the rest of the UK. This is a matter on which the cultural sector will have to collaborate if the artistic divide (and the resultant impact it has on education) is to improve. Local education authorities need to be ardently encouraged to engage with local arts organisations to foster new collaborations throughout the country if we are to see this divide begin to settle. And only then can we begin to hope that all children throughout the UK will have an education and life filled with music. After all, a life without music would be beyond a mistake.

Watch a video of 1,500 young voices from AC Academy perform at the Albert Hall in March 2013


I agree with much of what you say, but I'd like to know more: you stop before you've barely got going. Anyway, an excuse to make my own plea: the introduction of music appreciation to give children the option of at least hearing some great music - and may it be lively stuff, a Stravinsky ballet or a Strauss tone poem, Balkan Roma music, anything vibrant and attention grabbing - before they reject it. Because then they can always come back to it in later life; and you're unlikely to return to what you never heard. I'd stress the importance of this because not all children are cut out to play an instrument, or even to sing (though most can, and should be encouraged), but all can enjoy music as listeners as a joy for life.

I work part time as a peripatetic teacher for an LEA music service, so obviously I’ve a vested interest in supporting what the status quo can currently deliver very well – ie supporting ensembles, bands, orchestras. And you’re right – in all spheres of education, from pre-school to post-graduate, there are unmotivated and disenchanted teachers who aren’t as sharp as they could be. But saying that cuts are a great excuse to ‘evaluate and improve’ is a bit like saying that a drowning man will try harder to swim if you give him a really hefty kick. In my experience, inconsistencies in provision are usually dictacted by individual schools’ budgets and priorities – if you’re an inner-city primary heading downwards in the local league tables, you’d obviously be more concerned about raising maths and literacy levels than flutes and ukuleles.

Shocking self promotion of his own interests here at the expense of music education everywhere. I would never have experienced many forms of music if it had not been for a great group of music teachers paid by the local authority in Leeds. They were highly motivated, engaging and inspirational. I still perform with some if them many years on but unfortunately this won't be possible for many youngsters these days. It's fine saying other organisations should pick up the slack but many of these have financial restrictions and in many areas of the country no such organisations exist outside of the council. You don't need to cut funding to improve services, you need to increase funding and allow great music teachers to do what they do best and inspire generation after generation to take part.

The writer acknowledges that some music services provide outstanding musical education, but I do not recognise the bleak picture painted in the first paragraph. There is much good work going on in music services, bringing music into the lives of children and their families. Cuts in funding do nothing to support this. The words unmotivated and disenchanted do not apply to my colleagues who are dedicated and passionate about their work, and continue to inspire children in difficult times with their jobs and salary under threat.

Well, I don't know what fantasy country the author is living in (I suspect he's on a different planet altogether). I've been an Instrumental Music Teacher for 14 years now and I can assure you that the picture has never been grimmer. Our LEA music service was judged to be outstanding and I'm proud to have worked with some fantastically dedicated and hard working colleagues. However, many of those staff are having to leave their posts or face a cut of nearly a third of their salary (including myself - I am leaving to start a new classroom teaching post in Sept and most other qualified teaching staff are also leaving or planning to leave soon). We will be replaced by staff who are not required to be trained to teach in any way whatsoever and there is no requirement to be even grade 8 standard. As for inclusion, that is a joke now. Lessons are far more expensive than they have been in the past in most areas and are now largely only accessible to the rich and elite. Yes working with many hub partners should be an enriching experience, though as far as I can see in most areas, the hubs haven't quite worked out many ways to do this which don't have a negative cost implication. As for philanthropists and private investors, if the author knows any of those, maybe he could direct them to the North of England because there are none that are contributing to our authority or any of our neighbours to my knowledge - we are faced with huge budget cuts and can only meet them by making lessons more expensive and by losing our most well qualified and experienced staff. The author is clearly very badly informed on this matter.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters