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Music education and grassroots venues must be better supported, or the music industry faces a “perfect storm”

By | Published on Wednesday 26 July 2017

UK Music

If you’re going to have a storm, it might as well be perfect I guess. So good news everybody, the music industry is facing a perfect storm!

Though the thing about perfect storms is that they make the world around them somewhat imperfect. And the imperfection this perfect storm is set to unleash is a British music industry without the platforms required to support and hone new talent.

These are not my words, by the way, but the words of Michael Dugher, the new boss of cross sector trade body UK Music, who gave a speech at a conference for members of the Musicians Union in Brighton yesterday. Among other things, he expressed concerns about music education in the UK, and the much discussed challenges facing grassroots venues.

He told his audience: “For the industry to continue to grow and flourish we need to ensure that there are enough opportunities for existing musicians and that we can develop new talent. But I believe our industry is now potentially facing a perfect storm that, if allowed to develop unchecked, poses an existential threat to our sector. This grim reality potentially puts in jeopardy the UK’s ability in the future to generate breakthrough artists that are one of the keys to sustaining Britain’s £4.1 billion music industry”.

Honing in on the education issue, Dugher discussed the impact that the slightly confusingly named English Baccalaureate (or EBacc) system – the way the academic performance of English schools has been assessed since 2010 – has had on the teaching of creative subjects, including music. He began by noting that “creative subjects such as music are excluded from the EBacc”, so that schools generally don’t get any glory for student achievements in creative disciplines.

Lining up some stats on the impact that has had on music education, he continued: “According to the latest research conducted by the University Of Sussex, 59.7% of state schools indicate the EBacc has had a negative impact on music provision and uptake. A fifth of schools did not offer GCSE music at the start of the 2016/17 academic year. Of those schools that do offer music GCSE, 11% are taught outside curriculum time”.

As a result, Dugher explained: “In June, Ofqual figures indicated that there had been an 8% year-on-year decline in students taking creative subjects at GCSE. Entries for music have fallen from 46,045 to 38,740 between 2010 and 2017 – a 16% decline”. And as it currently stands, there are no plans to add a compulsory creative subject to the EBacc system, the UK Music chief noted, despite the government’s own commitment that young people receive “an excellent well-rounded education”.

He concluded: “Music in schools is vital. The creative industries are a growing part of the UK economy, at which Britain is world-leading. And all the evidence is that kids who do well at music, as well as other supposedly non-core subjects like drama or sport, do better at their maths and English. So cutting music in schools is bad for the country and bad for the education system”.

In addition to the down-playing of music education in English schools, those young people who nevertheless choose to make music will likely find it increasingly difficult to locate a stage on which to perform it, given the challenges facing grassroots music venues.

Government has various roles to play here, Dugher reckoned. And that includes a further simplification of live music licensing laws, a proper adoption of the agent of change rule that limits the impact of new property developments on existing music venues, and an overhaul of way business rates are calculated. “How can it be fair that the Emirates Stadium has received a 7% cut in business rates, whereas the Lexington venue down the road gets hit with an increase of some 237%?” the UK Music chief asked.

Concluding, Dugher declared that: “It is vital that we all rise to this challenge and fight to keep music alive in our schools and battle to save all those music venues that are currently in danger”.