Music education today and yesterday part 2

Part 1tap to read 

There are still many wonderful opportunities for exceptionally gifted young musicians in the UK today. Many charities offer support for tuition fees, the cost of music, and instruments.

Perhaps it is unfair to list some and not others, so let’s mention a few of the many organisations that offer invaluable support in passing. This is to show that all is far from doom and gloom- provided children can initially develop facilities and show the world (panels, distinguished musicians, fundraisers) a sense of artistic potential and promise:

Awards for Young Musicians

Awards for Young Musicians is primarily concerned with the ever-escalating demands of tuition fees which talented instrumentalists and singers inevitably incur. AYM currently supports some 800 individuals and hopes to extend its provision so that over 1,000 will benefit by 2024.


Future Talent

In many respects,  AYM is similar to Future Talent, founded in 2004 by the Duchess of Kent and Nicholas Robinson, with the aim to ‘strive for an equal reality’ so that ‘all gifted young musicians from low-income backgrounds flourish’. With a junior and development programme aiming to nurture and inspire, there is no question that Future Talent has also had a significant impact and made a positive difference in the development of many exceptionally gifted children.


Cherubim Music Trust

Focusing exclusively on instrumental loans for musicians aged 15-25, the Salisbury Based Cherubim Music Trust has also fulfilled an exceptionally valuable service, providing musicians with the requisite professional standard instruments that their musical artistry unquestionably deserves.


MDS, Music and Dance Scheme

But perhaps the most significant and long-standing support for talented children in the UK comes directly from Government with the MDS, Music and Dance Scheme.  

Currently, the MDS provides grants and help with fees at eight independent schools (including Chetham’s, the Royal Ballet and the Yehudi Menuhin) and some 21 centres for specialist training (including the Saturday morning junior conservatoires and Aldeburgh Young Musicians).

The MDS has enjoyed cross-party support for decades and is a surefire way for children from low-income families to benefit fee-free from exceptional educational provision at schools and institutions where the annual fees can exceed £30,000.00 per annum.

Though she may have gained something of a reputation as a ‘good housekeeper’ and cost-cutting politician par excellence, it was gratifying to note that Chetham’s school entered the MDS during the first year Margaret Thatcher held office as Prime Minister and that in 1983 the education secretary Sir Keith Joseph was present as the keynote speaker for the school’s speech day.


Music should be for everyone

But if the situation for the exceptionally gifted is currently manageable, it still leaves the bigger problem of uncertainty and instability in terms of provision for the non-specialist child.

Music should be for everyone, and from the times of Plato onwards, the greatest thinkers, philosophers and outstanding individuals have supported that sentiment. Sadly, we continue to hear about cutbacks and a lack of opportunity in far too many schools nationwide. Of course, there is no shortage of outcry.

We have had celebrities supporting, endorsing, promoting, and. ging society to do more for children, to support music at the grassroots level. The extraordinary achievements in Venezuela with their internationally famous orchestra and unique El Sistema music education crusade have naturally led to calls for emulation elsewhere, with Julian Lloyd-Webber spearheading In Harmony in 2009. In the UK, this led to positive developments in Lambeth and elsewhere. Read more 

More recently, it has been invigoratingly positive to see pianist Lang Lang’s extraordinary International foundation capture a truly global sense of inspiration for young musicians, whilst Nicola Benedetti has campaigned with courage, tenacity and a great deal of success for the core values outlined in these two blogs. Read more

In this spirit, and with a direct and impassioned feeling for the need to return to the 1970s free tuition in schools norm, it has been deeply encouraging to see John Wallace working with huge success in St. Andrews for a scheme that has already managed to provide just that for a significant number of young people. Read more 

This encouraging development shows how determination and lateral thinking, combined with optimism and inspiration from leaders, can and will make a positive difference.

But even the phenomenal efforts of Wallace, Lloyd-Webber and Benedetti are insufficient in themselves to really sweep away injustices and lack of provision universally. Whilst there is no question that there is sterling work being done by today by many organisations, HUBS, Youth Orchestras, choirs, and individuals nationally, as a society, we unquestionably lack a centralised road map or ‘pathway’ to take all the good intentions, one-off projects and inspiration convincing on a systematic, structured long term way.

The Music Manifesto by Sir Nicholas Kenyon

Arguably there has been a lack of the decisive joined-up action that is perhaps essential to make the really radical changes that are unquestionably necessary if music is to truly thrive long term with firm foundations on a national scale.

Enter the Music Commission under the chair of Sir Nicholas Kenyon! With the arrival of this detailed, idealistic, persuasive, and convincing ten-year plan to make the UK fit for musical purposes in the 2020s, there is now a sense that things really could be ready to change everywhere. Read: Returning Our Ambition For Music Learning – Every Child Taking Music Further by The Music Commission. 

Kenyon is categorical in outlining a need for unity of purpose:

‘We need a more collective and a more concerted approach to creating these pathways and taking them forward.’ The manifesto calls for a ‘music education digital forum spearheading new UK-wide partnerships with the music industry, tech companies and music educators.’

This is important- joined-up action and unity of purpose that makes the chances of success and implementation of recommendations all the more likely in the near future.

The Music Manifesto is a ten-year plan outlining in optimistic and vibrant terms just what we need to put music back in its rightful place as a universally valued and invaluable means of educating and inspiring- not just for exceptionally gifted children, but for literally every child in the country, embracing the love of music in all its forms.

While hinting back to much of the idealism in government thinking in the 1960s, the manifesto also stresses the necessity of safeguarding in all educational areas. It appreciates that music has come a long way in the past few decades and that music is experienced in a totally different way by young people today than it was back in the 1970s. It understands the need for diversity and for taking on board sound before symbol, group music making and the need for educators to love the whole universe of music rather than just a specialised corner of it.

Indeed, the Manifesto is extremely clear on the need to avoid exclusion, aware of a potential void and conflict that can exist between music in institutions and music in leisure time. In the words of Claire Whitaker:

‘For the formal system to work better and be more attractive, it has to understand and offer a breadth of genres. We can’t have two worlds.’

A section of the manifesto that should be pinned up on notice boards in every school in the land is ‘The Case for Musical Progress.

This is an excellent summary of the many reasons why music is so essential for everyone, from health and psychological ones to the vast powers of social interaction that music enhances, finishing not only with the benefits of music in a broadly intellectual context but also more materialistically in financial terms:

‘Music is vital to economies. In the UK alone, the music industry is worth an estimated £4.5bn a year and projects its “soft power” around the world’.

Key points

Key problems outlined about current practice in state institutions are revealing: Too often, there is insufficient support beyond first access programmes for learners who wish to progress.

An individual’s interest in music may be significant. Still, sadly there is a not uncommon tendency with the transition from primary to secondary school education for increasing music to be deprioritised as assessment tests, examinations, and league tables take over.

Lack of teacher guidance over critical musical skills in the curriculum is another big issue. There is presently too little guidance regarding the range and detail of musical skills needed, and most certainly a lack of support for delivering this too.

Resources and organisations are not working together effectively enough to support every learner. Outside of their school-based activities, there is significant inconsistency in the opportunities and spaces for young people to develop their individual and collective music-making.

The summary recommended points for implementation in the manifesto’s section ‘Returning our ambitions for music learning’ are worth listing as an excellent ‘to do’ list for any government really serious about addressing one of the most serious educational issues in state education today:

  1. Leaders in schools and education are enabled with confidence to put music at the heart of their students’ learning.
  2. Every school is supported to provide an effective music curriculum, and the provision of a quality music offer is a key performance measure.
  3. The development of a diverse and skilled music education workforce is extended through enhanced training of specialist and generalist teachers, and support to enter the profession.
  4. ‘Financial support is universally available to support all music learners to progress beyond first access.
  5. More collaborative models of music education are established, involving support for and between schools and relevant partners to help students to progress in music.
  6. Parental engagement is supported as a priority from the earliest years onwards.
  7. Young people are informed and engaged in shaping their own learning pathways and involved in the development of music education programmes.
  8. New, integrated approaches to the teaching and assessment of learning of music in a digital age are developed.

Most significantly of all is the direct pledge at the end of the manifesto as a ‘ten-year ambition’ to offer free school-based instrumental tuition for all. That truly would make a difference- as long as the lessons were sustained and maintained over the years rather than just for months in ‘project’ form.


Going back to the 1960s and our ‘golden’ arts era, I feel certain that Harold Wilson and Jenny Lee would strongly approve of Kenyon’s Manifesto. In essence, it strongly recommends that every child in the country, regardless of background or circumstances, must be offered the support necessary to fulfil their musical potential.

Harold Wilson: The Winner

Perhaps the tide is beginning to turn for Wilson’s reputation and legacy. A new biography ‘Harold Wilson: The Winner’ was launched on September 1, making much of the fact that his premiership ushered in many cultural and social changes, including the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the abolishment of the death penalty, and the legalisation of abortion. 


But the book downplays the artistic achievements of the Wilson years, as have all previous Wilson biographies. When comparing other Prime Ministers, there is no question that he stands as the strongest supporter of music and music education this country has ever had.

A statue in Huddersfield square is undoubtedly not enough- how long will it take the Parliamentary Arts Committee to change opinion and vote for a statue of Wilson to earn its rightful place on display in Parliament next to the other chosen Prime Ministers?

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