in News | 07 NOV 18

UK Music Education in Crisis, Poorer Children Priced Out Of Lessons, New Report Claims

Children from lower income families half as likely to learn a musical instrument as their richer counterparts

in News | 07 NOV 18

London Philharmonic Orchestra, 2010. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

A new report released by the Musicians Union (MU) has placed a spotlight on the state of music education in the UK. The study has shown that just 19 percent of families with a lower income (defined as earning under GBP£28k) have one or more children learning a musical instrument, compared to 40 percent of their richer counterparts (defined as earning more than £48k).

The disparity in the numbers of children enrolling in musical education exists despite a similar level of interest from each family income bracket. 53 percent of respondents from lower income families said that their children did not learn an instrument, but would be open to the possibility. The research is based on a study of 1,206 parents of five to 16-year-old children.

The MU report has concluded that the cost of lessons as well as musical instruments is seen as a barrier to learning, with the former cited as the primary reason for a lack of uptake. Price also impacts on how children are learning, with many families with low and middle incomes choosing to teach themselves, rather than hire a private tutor.

Encouragement from home has also been cited as a contributing factor: children in higher income families are almost twice as likely to learn an instrument because of pressure from their parents. The MU is now calling on the government to review music education in schools.

In response, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said: ‘The department has invested GBP£300 million in music hubs between 2016–20, to give every child the chance to learn an instrument without any cost to them or their families […] Just last month, analysis showed that through music hubs over 700,000 children learnt to play instruments in class together last year.’

Horace Trubridge, general secretary at the MU, said: ‘With certain children priced out of learning musical instruments, we may well only be hearing the songs and sounds of the affluent in years to come […] Those from poorer backgrounds will, unfairly, be increasingly under-represented within the industry.’

And educational psychologist Hannah Abrahams commented in an MU statement: ‘Parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds often have so many additional stressors that accessing music may be low down on the priority list for their child. It is the role of government and schools to nurture and encourage children’s exploration of music as a powerful learning and social tool.’

The MU have added that since the removal of arts subjects from the EBacc, together with increased Ofsted focus on STEM subjects, music has been ‘downgraded’. The report comes at a time of renewed scrutiny over the state of arts education in the UK. Last week, a leading surgeon claimed that the loss of creative subjects in UK schools meant that medical students lacked important tactile knowledge.

Meanwhile, the London Symphony Orchestra is launching a new initiative, the LSO East London Academy, aiming to offer music tuition to 40 young people ‘from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds who show exceptional promise.’ Free of charge, the programme targets East London musicians who have the potential for a musical career, looking to bridge the gap between secondary school and the conservatoire system. The scheme will launch next year.