Saturday, 4 March 2017

What would I do without my music?

Published as a column in the Llanelli Herald on March 3rd 2017

Imagine the scene: A music teacher with just 30 minutes to teach a dozen children - each with different levels of proficiency, and many playing different brass instruments.

After they’d each tuned their instruments and sorted their sheet music out there was little time left to teach them much new - let alone tailor teaching to their individual needs.

This was an example quoted to me by Gareth Kirby the Carmarthenshire Music Service co-ordinator. The experience left him frazzled, understandably. He was giving evidence to the Assembly’s Culture Committee as part of our inquiry into the state of music education. It’s a topic we’re investigating after a public vote to choose which subject we should look at.

The distinguished conductor of the Welsh Proms, Owain Arwel Hughes, described the state of music in school as a ‘crisis’. He told our committee that cuts to school budgets mean Wales is at risk of losing its reputation as a land of song. He called on the Welsh Government to do more to ensure that children learn to sing and play instruments.

As I’ve seen from my own experience the availability of music provision in schools depend enormously on the enthusiasm of the Head. In Stebonheath Primary school in the middle of Llanelli children get multiple opportunities to take part in different types of music. Whereas in other schools I’ve visited there is little or no music on offer. This is true across the country and means that many children don’t get the chance to express themselves through music at all.

Carmarthenshire has some of the highest fee levels in Wales at £57 per hour. It’s simply unaffordable to many families, and the number of schools buying into the service is declining by some 10% a year.

Organisations who run our national ensembles, like the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, warn that applications to join this year are down as fees have gone up.

We can see the impact of this is in the number of pupils who go on to study music. The number of students taking GCSE music has dropped by 25% since 2010, and the drop-off in A-Level entry is 36%.

Of course, this impacts social classes differently. 43% of children whose mother had a postgraduate degree had music lessons, compared with just 6% of children whose mother had no qualifications.

Huge talent is being wasted by our under-investment in music for all young people.

The Welsh Labour Government has announced a new National Endowment for Music with an initial contribution of £1m to cover the setup of the fund. The aim is that the fund will eventually generate at least £1m per year which will be used to fund additional music activities for young people across the country.

It is a good start but will not be enough to address the problem I have set out. I want to hear about your experiences, and any ideas you have to help the situation, so that I can feed it in to the work I am doing with the Culture Committee. My email address is Lee.Waters@assembly.Wales

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