Across the UK, music and arts funding has severely decreased, from £510.6m in 2009 to £454m in 2016.
Councils have lost 40% of their funding and can no longer provide free instrumental lessons. That prospect means music may only remain open to the wealthier, denying those less fortunate the opportunity to go out and achieve their dreams. Thanks a lot. Peripatetic music lessons are exceptional at teaching instruments and highlighting opportunities, but to offer this to a class of 30 would mean multiple teachers teaching them, and the government simply cannot afford this. I read an article about a former music teacher, now a famous singer, called Laura Mvula who worked in a Birmingham school for 18 months. She said teaching was “profoundly challenging” because of the lack of time and resources available. It isn’t surprising that students don’t choose music as a GCSE subject if the lessons don’t demonstrate opportunities in the class. However, the problem isn’t only at GCSE. Previously, primary and upper schools often used to offer free instrumental tuition lessons to children. But with heavy cuts this is increasingly difficult.
Part of the reason for these budget cuts is the emphasis on the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). Schools are being judged on this and it demands a grade 5 (a ‘C’ in old money) in maths, English, at least two sciences, a modern foreign language and history or geography. The emphasis on these subjects mean an increasing number of schools and students overlooking music. The number of students doing Music GCSE has decreased by nine per cent in recent years. The government aim is for 90% of students to pursue the EBacc. Less of a demand for music means less money is needed. These cuts mean that children are exposed to less music in school. Consequently, the only music they are exposed to is pop, including the likes of The X-Factor. Now, this programme isn’t really about music, it’s more of a wannabe thing. A good way of describing it would be to say that children may see Beyoncé on TV and want to be like her. Whether it is the image or the musicality they are drawn to is a different matter.
Although the EBacc may have diminished the number of music students, it can still coexist with Music GCSE. I picked my options last year and I chose EBacc subjects along with music. It can be done. The new scheme, though, has put many would-be musicians off. Thanks politicians. Combine the cuts in funding with the EBacc, and the fact the average private music lesson costs about £30, and it all means fewer people learning to be musicians.
In my view, it would be tragic if the government continued to send us down this road. Everyone should have a chance to learn an instrument and its seeming lower place in the strange hierarchy of school subjects is a mystery to me. It would be a quiet world without music.
-- Anton Avis is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds