If music be the food of love …

Shakespeare wasn’t the only one to have views on music. For many it has been the jewel in the crown of local education services, as successive Secretaries of State have discovered down the years. Michael Gove was just the latest holder of the office to discover that you tamper with the provision of music at your peril.

The government’s review of the vexed question of how to fund schools, or at least that part of it that dealt with the Education Services Gant for 2015-16 drew what the DfE called ‘large volumes of responses to the consultation on ESG relating to the provision of music services’. Many who responded to the DfE were apparently concerned that reduced local authority support for music services would impact on the overall quality of music provision, and in particular on the opportunities for disadvantaged children. Indeed, as the DfE noted, few concerns were expressed about any other centrally provided services by Education Departments. Whether the point about disadvantaged children was because authorities know such children represent a government priority group or whether it was because they felt that Pupil Premium cash wouldn’t find its way into music lessons despite the evidence about music and learning, and in particular mathematics learning, isn’t of course clear. But, perhaps I am being a tad too cynical in my old age.

The government is funding £75 million for music hubs in 2015-16, but perhaps the concern is that these don’t always follow local authority boundaries.  

Perhaps music is a service that could be granted extra funds through a top-slice by schools forums on revenue balances more than 3% above the expected levels of 5% for secondary schools and 8% for primary schools. This might encourage some schools to think about why they are keeping this cash in the bank. This negative use of revenue funding is an unfortunate by-product of school autonomy that the DfE should allocate some time to fix.

It seems likely that the battle of music in schools is not yet over. For, although, as the DfE points out, local authorities can spend ESG money on supporting music services, and presumably any other spare cash they have lying around, most local authorities don’t have the money, and many councillors don’t see the point of funding anything to do with schools now they are no longer a local service. Thus, it seems likely that future secretaries of state are going to have to continue to dip their hand in the Westminster pocket if music is to continue to thrive in our schools much beyond the next election.

Personally, I think that it would be a great shame if one of the key antidotes to an exam factory style of curriculum were allowed to wither on the vine. Music is not just important in our schools, it is important in our daily lives, and whether classic, jazz or pop, a major export industry, much of which starts from the roots put down in our schools. So, whether or not it is the ‘food of love’ it has certainly been the bane of many secretaries of state.

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