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Musicians’ Union warns music education crisis is silencing all but affluent voices

By | Published on Wednesday 7 November 2018

Musicians' Union

The Musicians’ Union has again called on the UK government to review music education in schools. This follows the publication of new research that shows that learning to play instruments is increasingly something only available to children of affluent families.

Cuts to music education in schools has been a widely discussed topic in recent years. Due to the way the government assesses schools in England, many have cut arts subjects in order to put more money into the core subjects that they are actually assessed on. This has resulted in less focus being put on music in the classroom and fewer children learning to play an instrument.

According to the new report, just 19% low income families – with a household income of less than £28,000 a year – have one or more children who plays a musical instrument. This compares to 40% in high income families – which means those earning over £48,000 a year. In middle income families, the figure is 26%.

This is not due to lack of interest, the MU says, with 53% of respondents from low income families saying that their child does not currently play an instrument but would be open to learning.

For those whose children do not currently play an instrument, when asked why, those in high income households tended to say the child was not interested or was already involved in another hobby or club. But in low income households, the two most common answers were that lessons and instruments were too expensive.

In high income families, pupils were most likely to be having private instrument lessons for which they paid full price. Children in lower income families were most likely to be learning their instrument in a normal school music lesson with other children or teaching themselves.

For those whose children were learning to play a musical instrument, almost half said that their child was more confident as a result, while improvements in concentration (42%), happiness (35%), self-discipline (30%) and patience (30%) were also reported.

Discussing the MU’s stats, and why they matter, educational psychologist Hannah Abrahams said yesterday: “The power of music to young people is palpable, as access from a young age can not only positively impact a child’s cognitive abilities, but their social and emotional development too”.

“Parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds often have so many additional stressors that accessing music may be low down on the priority list for their child”, she adds. “It is the role of government and schools to nurture and encourage children’s exploration of music as a powerful learning and social tool”.

Aside from the wider social impact of children from lower income families not learning to play instruments, which this research highlights, the Musicians’ Union says that it also risks reducing the range of voices in the music industry.

“With certain children priced out of learning musical instruments, we may well only be hearing the songs and sounds of the affluent in years to come”, says MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge. “Those from poorer backgrounds will, unfairly, be increasingly under-represented within the industry. The data released today shows the extent of the problem – and we would like to work with government to address this issue”.

Read the full report here.