Questions for Mr Gove

My old horn-playing pal Sarah Rock is preparing for an interview with Michael Gove next Tuesday for BBC Radio 3. Tom Service will be doing the interview and it’s going to be broadcast in ‘Music Matters’ on Saturday, 15th June from 12:15pm on Radio 3.

Sarah asked through Facebook (perhaps unwisely, given the massive response she is likely to get) for suggestions from music professionals for any points she should raise with him. Here are my initial suggestions, which I’ve sent to her:

  1. The amount of instrumental teaching in schools is plummeting. Parents who want their children to learn an instrument now have to find almost all the costs, including buying or hiring an instrument (and sometimes necessary accessories too, such as strings or reeds), paying for lessons and exam entry fees and paying extra to take part in ensemble work such as Saturday morning music activities and youth orchestras, bands and choirs. In my work I have seen a huge impact on less well-off families – even middle-class families are finding it hard to afford it. What will Mr Gove do to enable all talented children to be recognised and nurtured, and not just those whose parents are well-off?
  2. The extended opportunities system was intended to enable all children to learn a musical instrument. What is actually happening in many places is that instead of in-depth teaching, they are getting one or two terms of learning a few chords on the ukulele, and nothing more. Mr Gove needs to recognise that he cannot cover up the lowering of standards with snazzy statistics – there may be more children learning, but the experience is limited, despite the efforts of music teachers to make it as inspiring as possible.
  3. Only a few years ago, the ‘Cinderella instruments’ – the ones that few people took up – included the double bass, the bassoon, the viola and the horn. Now they include the clarinet and most orchestral brass and brass band instruments – instruments that used to be played by thousands of young people. This is partly down to the collapse in instrumental teaching, but also linked to the downturn in community brass band playing. The future of our professional orchestral and band world is at stake. The UK is a world leader in music but we are about to go over a cliff in terms of the number of high-quality players moving into the profession and into teaching. The music business generates huge amounts of income and prestige for the UK, but current policies are damaging that. There is immense frustration in the arts world that this is not recognised – ministers give it lip-service but do not realise what a disaster is on hand.
  4. Music teaching in school has a huge knock-on effect on music in the community. A town local to us used to have bands and an orchestra – it now has only one small community band. Several schools in the county where I work now have no school orchestra or band. A number of youth orchestras and bands are struggling or actually ceasing to exist because of cut-backs and lack of investment. Our flourishing local symphony orchestras and bands will cease to be replenished as the flow of young musicians reduces to a trickle. A lack of music education impoverishes our whole society – both literally and metaphorically. Will Mr. Gove commit to turning back the tide and to investing in music education?
  5. It has been shown over and over again that music creates educational, social and personal benefits which are invaluable to raising the standard of education and learning across the board. Again, these benefits seem not to be valued by Government ministers. The new curriculum reduces the arts to hobby status, instead of recognising them as the rigorous and demanding disciplines that they are. Will Mr. Gove reinstate music and the other arts to their proper place in the school curriculum?

If I think of any more, I’ll let you know.

If you have any comments, she’s on

Pip pip!

Published in: on June 7, 2013 at 12:48  Comments (12)  

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Singing – great for young children and it’s free

    • Singing is great for children, and I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done – in fact I’m all in favour of it. But the crisis in instrumental teaching cannot be ignored. Music in general is being downgraded – and singing will go with it.

    • Is it free? Don’t you need a teacher, a venue, an accompanist, some sheet music, some CRB checks, some petrol, some orange juice, a risk assessment and a music licence?

      • If you’re from outside the school you do need a CRB check. However teachers can and do sing with the younger children and so do some parents. You certainly don’t have to have sheet music, music stands, accompanying instruments. Children have excellent ears, they love singing together and they remember what they’ve learned.

      • Yes – All children should be singing. But instrumental tuition should be supported as well. They’re not one-thing-or-the-other – we should have both!

      • Young children singing along with teachers and parents is obviously desirable. But it shouldn’t have to stop there. Older children should have the chance to learn to read music and sing both in ensembles and accompanied by other instruments, and that mean money for music, a qualified music teacher etc.

      • Yes agreed, all of it is vital. Drama and dance too of course. It’s shocking, though, to think we have to prove the case to the government in the 21st century.

  2. Well singing still needs a teacher – and although you can do it without sheet music, it’s good to learn to read music! I agree singing is wonderful and with all the recent TV stuff about choirs you’d think it would be right up there in government priorities.

    Lady Eff, I think if Sarah just asks your questions “Mr” Gove should be squirming like a worm on a hook. However, I suspect he is SHAMELESS, an EGOIST and DOES NOT CARE as long as he ends up leader of the Tory party.

  3. Just to add – my whole education was in the state sector and I learned to read music in my FIRST year of school, playing the recorder (“Go and Tell Aunt Nancy”). I actually don’t remember not knowing how to read treble clef.

    • Dear Catherine

      I wonder if you have been troubled by apparently new legislation regarding PRS and copyright permissions. It would seem to affect even playing taped music at funerals etc., let alone evening classes or A level classes hearing an extract from some recording. I see the point but gather that the legislation has been drafted in a woolly way making most of us culpable by omission much of the time.

      Best wishes Jane

      • Hi Jane
        Sorry not to reply for a while – I was on holiday. I don’t know much about PRS in the classroom – only in terms of how it affects live performance as that’s my main contact with it. I know you have to have a PRS licence to play music in the workplace or in a retail outlet if there is more than one person present. I understood that school performances are exempt but I don’t know about listening to extracts. Sorry!

  4. Too much emphasis on the National Curriculum (too much information, too soon?) and not enough freedom for teachers to teach singing. Plus many primary teachers have actually not really been taught to teach. 6 months conversion course is no substitute for a proper teaching degree. If you disagree I’m happy to do your plumbing as that’s how much experience I’ve got at that.

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