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Poverty funding and music in Wales

The national newspaper of Wales, the Western Mail, recently reported that Cardiff Council was recommending schools use their Pupil Deprivation Grant (similar to the Pupil Premium in England) to replace bursaries from the music service for music lessons, which are being cut. It reported that the Education Minister, Huw Lewis, would be writing to Cardiff Council to give it a ticking off and tell it to use the grant more effectively. Here’s my response, in a letter that was published in the paper a few days later – it doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the issue, but hopefully it planted some seeds in a few places:

New strategy needed for music funding

Using the Pupil Deprivation Grant (“Council criticised for using school poverty fund to support music lessons”, Western Mail, March 6) to replace bursaries for music lessons for pupils on free school meals is not necessarily best use of the funding: but this is not because music can’t have a significant impact on closing the attainment gap.

Countless studies in the UK, US and around the world have proved that music education can have a huge impact on the attainment of the most disadvantaged pupils.

What was disappointing about the letter from the council to schools is that it seems the council wants schools to use the PDG to support a service which is being cut and suffering from gradually reducing uptake from young people – without taking the opportunity to reshape what’s on offer to make it more viable.

All over the UK local authorities are responding to cuts by innovating, and reshaping the way they work. The old adage “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” rings true here. Wales’ music education is in crisis and has been for years as your paper has reported – patchy provision, reaching the few not the many.

A new way of thinking is required – along with Wales-wide strategy and partnership working.

Simply providing one-to-one or small group instrumental lessons as it has been offered for decades is not enough – particularly not as the only way of supporting disadvantaged pupils to access music.

There needs to be a strategic approach (nationally, and for individual schools) that looks at the needs and interests of each school and its pupils; develops a music plan with agreed outcomes, and a range of suitable music opportunities (from one-to-one lessons in a range of instruments, to whole-class teaching to reach all pupils in schools – already provided by Cardiff’s Music Development team, another part of the Music Service – to singing activities); and enables schools, parents, pupils and the music service to hold each other to account over this.

Children, music tutors, schools and parents deserve better than this – and the music services that have inspired and developed young people for decades do too: they need support, challenge, and fresh thinking from funders and customers and from within their own organisations – and then they will rise to the challenge, and children on low incomes will feel the benefits.

Anita Holford,
Parent, music lover, and communications adviser to a number of music services and music organisations, Monmouth

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