Why don’t we just…
make music education compulsory?

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Music is worth £4.5 billion a year to the UK economy. Businesses need workers with the creative approaches required to tackle new challenges. British orchestras are jewels in the UK’s cultural crown, giving concerts across the world to showcase the best of British music-making. So why don’t we just make music education compulsory for everyone?

Recent education reforms have had a devastating impact on music education. Thanks to a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, Sussex University and the Incorporated Society of Musicians, we know that students are discouraged from taking creative subjects in order to focus on subjects forming part of the the English Baccalaureate, and that there has been a fall of 17 per cent in students taking music GCSE since 2014-2015. In turn schools are losing specialist music teachers and creative subjects are being driven out of primary schools. We risk losing a generation of young people who will not develop musical skills, nor have access to the rich social and wellbeing benefits music brings. Music risks being reserved only for those who can afford instruments and tuition, or who happen to have a knowledgable support network.

The UK is blessed however with a strong tradition: hundreds of orchestras, venues and music charities supporting the delivery of music education. The music sector is already good at making our resources go further, collaborating with schools, local services and charities to ensure that music can reach even the most vulnerable young people. The orchestras reach audiences of over four million a year, along with over 700,000 children and adults through their learning and participation programmes.

I am lucky enough to lead LSO Discovery, the learning and participation programme of the London Symphony Orchestra. I have seen time and time again the positive impact of music: the sense of inspiration and achievement of a young musician performing at an open-air concert in Trafalgar Square alongside the LSO; the smile on the face of a member of LSO Create (creative music sessions for adults with learning disabilities) who has just created something new with an LSO violinist; or the lively chatter of curious schoolchildren coming out of the Barbican Hall having just attended a schools concert.

However, as charities with finite resources, there is a limit to how much each of our creative organisations can do. Funding cuts to local authorities and schools reduces what we can do to support young people of all backgrounds accessing music-making.

In the current stay-at-home world, the country is turning to culture and music for inspiration, to soothe the soul and find comfort at a strange time. Music and the skills of our musicians are needed more than ever as people switch to TV, films, Spotify playlists, YouTube and streams of archive broadcasts for entertainment at home. Thousands are missing their weekly rehearsals with their choir or band, and the important social and creative interactions they bring. Surely we should investing in this, and making it compulsory for all young people to experience a quality music education, so that they can have a shot at developing their own creativity and future generations can share those skills. The release this week of a wonderfully illustrated book, How To Build An Orchestra, tells the story of conductor Simon putting together his orchestra, and will give families at home the chance to explore something new, accompanied by a CD of LSO recordings. If that whets your appetite, the LSO is currently streaming two full-length archive concerts a week; and LSO Play is a free online resource getting you closer to the orchestra, with teacher resource packs available to download to support creative classroom music-making. Now is the perfect time to make music an essential part of your child’s education.

Andra East is head of LSO Discovery. How to Build an Orchestra written by Mary Auld and illustrated by Elisa Paganelli is published by Wayland in association with the LSO

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Interact: Responses to Why don’t we just… make music education compulsory?

  • Andrew
    28 Nov 2022 22:10
    I dropped school music at the earliest opportunity. I bitterly regret the time wasted twanging strings and jabbing keys I should have spent that time on maths and english both of which I struggle with, both of which have been relevant in all the jobs I've had in my working life. If I had been forced to take music beyond year nine my resentment would be more pronounced and firmly believe that school music should be an optional extra-curricular activity from the start.

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