THE BLOG

Music and the Arts Should Not Be Relegated in Our Children's Lives

30/09/2014 15:22 BST | Updated 30/11/2014 10:59 GMT

On Tuesday, Nicky Morgan, the newly appointed secretary of state, will outline her vision for education. I'm eager to hear her speech, as I am keen to learn how she plans to tackle the squeeze on music and other arts in children's education.

Earlier this year, I began to investigate the state of music education, filming my experiences for a TV series, Don't Stop the Music, broadcast on Channel 4. I was pretty shocked to discover that while music is fantastic in some schools, it's in a parlous state in others. In a school I worked with in Basildon, for instance, there was little in the way of music lessons, barely any instruments, and no music budget. And the Basildon school is not alone.

I've spoken to key voices across the sector - the voices of musicians, teachers, head teachers, educationalists and the wider music community. It's clear that concerns have been raised for some time.

Three years ago the Government came up with the National Plan for Music Education, and in it declared: "Children from all backgrounds and every part of England should have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument."

But every child is not getting this opportunity. Whilst some schools are doing excellent work, music education remains a lottery. A recent report from the exam board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) showed that while there have been advances, 1.4million children in the UK aged 5-17 have never played a musical instrument. And of the children from more disadvantaged backgrounds who have never played an instrument, 40% said they had no opportunity to learn at school.

For decades politicians have put education at the top of the agenda. But we seem to have ended up with a target and league-table based system, and a too-narrow focus. Head teachers are under tremendous pressure to ensure that targets around literacy and numeracy are met. Yet the Government says the national curriculum is broad and balanced - but is this true in practice? From what I've seen, creativity in the curriculum is being squeezed hard.

Just last week Mike Cladingbowl, Ofsted's director for schools, said that whilst there was an obvious need to focus on English and Maths, this should not be at the expense of other subjects. And he wants to investigate whether they've got the balance right between those core subjects and others such as music and art. But this needs support from the very top - and I hope to hear it in Nicky Morgan's speech today.

Talking to voices across the sector, it's clear that several issues have contributed to music education's current problems. And it's also clear that a committed, multi-faceted approach to tackling them is needed.

It's essential, for instance, that teachers are adequately trained in music education and feel confident to teach it effectively.

Funding is also key. Whilst it's great that the government recently announced an extra £18million for music education, this still falls far short of what is needed - short term solutions won't help address the real problems. We need guaranteed, sustained funding beyond 2016, for at least the length of the National Plan for Music Education - which runs until 2020.

In Basildon, I was able to help with resources and support to teach Year 5 pupils to play instruments - instruments I managed to pull together through a local 'instrument amnesty', an initiative I decided to roll out across the UK. The results in just one term in Basildon were inspiring: not only did children enjoy learning to play, it boosted their confidence and for some even improved results in other key subjects.

This is no surprise when you consider that study after study have demonstrated the positive knock-on effects of a good music education for subjects like literacy and numeracy, and a host of other outcomes.

We need to make sure that every child, whatever their background, gets a good music education at school. Spurred on by my experiences and what I've learnt from the sector, I've started a campaign, and a petition calling on education secretary Nicky Morgan to deliver on the Government's promise set out in the National Plan for Music Education, to give every child a good music education and the opportunity to learn an instrument.

In just a couple of weeks nearly 70,000 people have already signed up. We want to work jointly with the sector to build on their good work, galvanise the public and help improve music education for all.

Please join us and sign my petition at dontstopthemusic.co.uk/add-my-name or follow on Twitter on #dontstopthemusic