British Government Looks to 'Level Up' Music Education Gap Between Rich and Poor

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"Every child should have the right to free music education as a vital part of the school curriculum," says Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, welcoming the new National Plan for Music Education.

LONDON — Representatives of the British music business have welcomed government plans to give all children in the United Kingdom access to music education, regardless of their background.   

A 2019 survey by labels trade body BPI revealed a growing disparity between rich and poor when it comes to music teaching in U.K. schools.

Its research found that music provision in state-funded schools had fallen by 21% over the past five years, compared to a rise of 7% in private schools, with one in four schools serving poorer communities not providing music instrument lessons. 

To address the imbalance, the government is inviting views from musicians, specialist teachers, young people and their parents to help shape its new "National Plan for Music Education."

According to the Department for Education, the plan will "help level up" opportunities for children from all backgrounds to take part in musical education, including the chance to learn an instrument and perform in a choir or band. 

"We can only achieve this if we reflect on the latest advances in music and work together with experts in the music industry, specialist teachers, as well as reflecting on young people’s experiences," said School Standards Minister Nick Gibb. The refreshed National Plan is due to be published in autumn 2020.

Supporting the government announcement, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber said every child should have the right to free music education and called music "an empowering force for good."

"We believe passionately in the need to level up opportunities for all our young people to make music," said BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor. He said that access to music education "is essential to the U.K.’s economic competitiveness and the future success of our world-beating music industry."

Diane Widdison, national organiser for education and training at the Musicians’ Union, representing more than 31,000 professional musicians, called the consultation a key moment to "ensure that a whole generation of children and young people do not miss out on the opportunities to engage with music making."

The government’s announcement comes just weeks after it pledged £80 million ($103 million) investment in ‘music education hubs’ across the U.K., enabling thousands more children to learn instruments.

Advocates for music education see it as vital in propping up the British music industry, which contributed £5.2 billion ($6.8 billion) to the country’s economy in 2019 and employs over 190,000 people, according to figures from umbrella organisation UK Music. 

IFPI ranks the United Kingdom as the third-largest producer of recorded music in the world after Japan and the United States, with music sales totalling $1.4 billion in 2018.