Is UK music education over?

Art Breaker - The State of Music Education in the UK

The issue of music teaching in the UK has a varied understanding amongst the British public. In arty circles, increasing funding cuts are widely known, but the position of the arts in general in education is understated and quietly swept away by schools, councils and communities.

There are clearly big political reasons behind the scrapping of funding of the Arts in schools. The removal of central government funding for many local councils means that with direct control of their budgets, and financial problems there is no guarantee of local Arts funding. In my local council, there is a budgetary black hole, which ultimately means reduction in funding for most things arts-based, and increases in charges for things that can guarantee an income, like driving charges. Locally to me, there are only two schools that run A Level Music, in a city with an estimated 1900 students at A Level. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is not a high percentage of students. This week Theresa May announced a 120 million “festival of Brexit” Somewhat ironic that central government will not fund the arts unless there is a perceived political gain.

Without arts education, how are artists expected to appear, and even survive?

Seemingly the decline in the arts in general isn’t all political, though. There is quite a large disparity between some UK schools with what they offer. In my research, some schools provided guaranteed free music tuition-in whatever instrument the child wanted- to “free school meals” students. Contrastingly, there was a non-LEA school which was completely funded with separate funding for concerts, and a one off four-figure bursary for one individual student. With that particular school, it was perceived that the “free school meals” students wouldn’t be interested in instrumental teaching regardless. This does highlight a major issue with the box-filling system that many teachers now have to comply with though, and shows that hard times for schools and teachers encourages a survival-of-the-fittest approach to education, which can only be good for a small percentage of schoolchildren.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) reported that the average tuition fee charged in the UK for personal music tuition is £30 p/h, and £38 p/h in London. So assuming the average school will be 12 weeks of lessons per term, a years worth of lessons costs £1080. The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music published research saying that 3.5 million children (35% of the child population) have private tuition, which transversely suggests that one-to-one tuition is more popular than first thought. These “average” fees are not equal across the board, though. I went to university with an opera singer who was charged £400 per hour for his lessons. The issue here is that the available data doesn’t give an accurate reflection on the system from beginner to expert level.

An issue with all of this is that for music professionals, everything is expensive:

Basic costings for a music student studying 2 instruments and a degree-level qualification. Note this doesn’t include things like materials, additional instrumental study, instrument costs etc.

Training and insurance are costly, and there is no guarantee that once you are qualified you will be able to find continuous employment. For music (and arts) graduates, there are progressively fewer and fewer jobs, and increasingly the jobs that are available are not arts based, but financially based.

I believe that music education is still viewed as an elitist subject in many schools. So much music education is focused on music that students don’t actually like, so in very basic terms, what incentive is there for the 10 year old schoolboy to try and persuade his parents to pay to play what he doesn’t actually want to? Until there is a radical change in the way that music education is perceived, and the way that the government subsidises music education for students and tutors then I fear that music education in the UK will continue to decline.

This is an excerpt from a longer study.

Sam Marshall is a freelance musician, writer and reviewer based in SW UK.

Freelance musician and writer. Specialising in Disco and Pop.

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