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The contradiction between the government decision to cut funding for arts courses, including music, in higher education and the recent Ofsted music review is glaring. 50% cuts to arts HE funding contrast with Ofsted comments that ‘Music touches the very heart of our humanity… - becoming more musical [is a] wonderful thing… and needs no further justification. And that ‘The fruits of England’s musical culture, in both community and commercial terms, are plentiful.’ What is going on?


The letter from Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, explaining and defending the cuts stated that “These changes will help ensure that increased grant funding is directed towards high-cost provision that supports key industries and the delivery of vital public services, reflecting priorities that have emerged in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.” This is a logical follow on from the government policy that established an English Baccalaureate that preferenced science (and humanities) over creative subjects, an issue explored in a previous Arts People blog. The government sees a competitive technological future in which it is imperative that the education system turns out more and better scientists than other countries.


Conversely, Ofsted employs educationalists. Despite it having to enforce government priorities during inspection, is an independent body and occasionally, this shows. The music review is one such example. It is written by people convinced of the importance of music and who want it to be taught well and supported by schools. Its report is an uplifting and helpful read.

The Ofsted review points out the importance of music:

For many pupils, the music they love will be part of the narrative of their lives and bring colour to the experiences that shape them.

The fruits of England’s musical culture, in both community and commercial terms, are plentiful.

The music industry is a powerhouse. In 2019, the value of the music industry to the UK economy was £5.8 billion.

But it contrasts this with the decline in school music since 2010. Pupil numbers at key stages 4 and 5 have declined, particularly for boys, whilst key stage 3 provision has been reduced. Primary teachers have been offered less musical training and the opportunities for pupils in primary schools have lessened as a result.

Clear and helpful advice on teaching is given in the document, with the caveat that the success of this will depend on music being given adequate time in the curriculum, by departments receiving good support from leadership teams, including provision for training – particularly in primary schools - and by attention to the three aspects of music in schools:

  • music in the classroom

  • instrumental and vocal tuition (in groups or one-to-one) and ensemble membership

  • musical opportunities, such as singing in assembly, concerts and shows, and trips to professional concerts

These opportunities depend on priorities and on money. The government is setting priorities inimical to school music, but, reading the Ofsted paper, the urge is to fight back. At Arts People, we have cut prices this year for schools in areas of disadvantage and we have improved our offer to support musical opportunities to add to our help for curriculum and instrumental tuition. If, like us, (and Ofsted?) you want to show that the government is wrong and music can prosper alongside science and other subjects, we have your back.


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