Music Education

– in the House of Commons at 6:11 pm on 19 March 2024.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Suzanne Webb.)

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North 6:15, 19 March 2024

I rise to speak about the changes to funding for music education hubs. This Government have made an important and worthwhile commitment to a vision of enabling all children and young people to learn how to sing, to learn how to play a musical instrument and to have the opportunity to progress their musical interests and talents, including professionally, if that is what they want to do.

The 2022 national music plan published three key aims for music hubs: first, to support schools and other education settings to deliver high-quality music education; secondly, to support young people to further develop their musical interests and talent, including into employment in some cases; and thirdly, to support all children and young people to engage with a range of musical opportunities in and out of school.

By 2018, record numbers of children were learning instruments because of this Government’s actions. As my right hon. Friend the Schools Minister will know, music education hubs have been funded nationally to the level of around £75 million to £80 million a year since their inception under this Conservative Government in 2012, which is sometimes referred to as the national music grant.

However, the national music grant, which funds the functions of the music hub leads, has risen by only 1% since 2012. During this time, the Bank of England inflation calculator shows inflation running at 37%. As I am sure the House understands, it has therefore always been a challenge for music hubs to maintain their exceptional levels of service up and down the country.

My Northampton North constituency is home to a great many talented young musicians and performers. I spy many Northamptonshire Members in the House today, and they will know the value of music in their constituencies.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I commend the right hon. and learned Gentleman for securing the debate. He is right that music encourages us all, and not just in Northamptonshire. The Education Authority in Northern Ireland supports 689 primary and post-primary schools to provide musical learning to students. These are fantastic opportunities, but some courses cost £140, which is a disadvantage. In Northern Ireland we have a tradition of flute bands, pipe bands, accordion bands and brass bands, and they are associated with people who come from my tradition, as Members will know. Such bands also give opportunities for young people to learn an instrument. When it comes to music, we in Northern Ireland have the better part of the deal.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

I knew that the hon. Gentleman and I would be singing from the same hymn sheet. His melodious tones resonate daily in this House, and on this subject, as on so many others, we are in complete agreement. He will know, as will other Members, that I am a former Culture Minister, so that pleases me greatly.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Music hubs have a vital role in providing high-quality music education to 87% of schools in England, as well as providing support outside schools. The right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly says that music hubs have effectively been on standstill funding for a decade, during a time of increasing costs, staff pay, venue hire and utility bills. I am sure that he will be moving on to discuss that, but I wish to add to it by setting out that the threats to the financial security of music hubs are a real concern. These hubs are often the only providers of instrumental tuition—at no cost or in heavily subsidised form—in state schools.

We have what is starting to be considered a crisis in music education, given that the number of young musicians being taught at advanced level by music hubs has halved over the past decade, and sadly there are now 20,000 fewer state school bands, orchestras, ensembles and choirs than there were seven years ago, so this is a timely debate. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that by not addressing the funding issues, which I hope he is going to come on to, the Government risk losing music teachers, musicians and audience members, as well as failing to give children access to an activity that holds so many benefits for their academic, social and emotional development?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

I will be coming on to the funding aspect, but the hon. Lady speaks of the value of music and that is the point I am making.

Many schools serving my constituency and others in Northamptonshire offer tremendous music education. Northampton School for Boys, which borders my constituency and has a catchment area for Northampton North and Northampton South, regularly stages productions and concerts of the highest standard. Northampton School for Girls was the first specialist music college in the country. Malcom Arnold Academy has a strong music basis, as one can see from its name, with Ofsted having described the quality of music provision at that school as “exceptional”. Children at Headlands Primary School are exposed to music education from a very young age, with weekly singing classes from reception. So this is characteristic of not only my constituency, but all the constituencies in Northamptonshire and, doubtless, elsewhere.

That strong sense of the importance of introducing children to music in Northampton North is rooted in the Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts TrustNMPAT. It was established as an independent charitable company in 2012, after functioning for 40 years as the local authority music service. In May 2012 it was designated as the Government’s music and education hub lead for Northamptonshire, and later it became the hub lead for the county of Rutland as well.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation has described the importance of music education in the following instructive terms:

“engagement in the arts and heritage enriches lives, unlocks creative potential, improves skills, changes behaviour, increases confidence, and should be available to all. In order to maintain vibrancy in the arts, it is critical that the next generation of diverse artists is nurtured and encouraged.”

We have already heard from a representative of the Province of Northern Ireland, and I am so pleased that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is on the Front Bench. He is unable to speak from the Front Bench this evening, as is the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border, who is also present. I am sure that, as fellow Northamptonshire MPs, they will agree on the importance of music education.

NMPAT embodies that ethos wholly and fully, and, as a former Culture Minister, I strongly agree with it and understand it. The range of opportunities provided by that organisation is enriching and they are plentiful around Northamptonshire and Rutland:

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

My right hon. and learned Friend is making an excellent speech, and I congratulate him on securing the debate. Does he agree that NMPAT’s reach across all of our constituencies in Northamptonshire is truly impressive? Last year it educated in music more than 53,000 children and young people, with its dedicated staff of 200 employees. Is that not an example that other music hubs should follow?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, because he is absolutely right. There are 1,000 children involved in NMPAT’s award-winning music and drama groups alone, and NMPAT is the biggest provider of music lessons in Northamptonshire, which includes his constituency. NMPAT currently teaches 15,000 children on a range of musical instruments and in a variety of musical styles in schools, through whole-class and individual lessons. It has 11 Saturday music and performing arts centres and three contemporary centres at venues across the county. The centres are open to everybody and they exist to provide an educational and fun environment for any person interested in the arts.

NMPAT has also had overwhelming success in the Music for Youth national festival, by regularly having groups featured in the top Royal Albert Hall Music for Youth Proms, and we are very proud of them. Annual orchestra tours to Europe are also organised. Later this year, the County Youth Orchestra in Northamptonshire and the County Youth Choir will be travelling to Zaragoza in Spain for a series of concerts. As my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone has pointed out, NMPAT interacts with 52,000 children every year, and that is just Northamptonshire and Rutland.

It is important to emphasise the reach and impact that NMPAT has in order to display just how important its services are. One of my own staff members here in Parliament, Callum Dineen, was a student in NMPAT for five years and has told me of the overwhelmingly positive effect that the organisation has had on his life. Through the opportunities it provides, NMPAT helps children to find the match that lights a creative fuse, and that cannot be underestimated. This fuse often burns throughout adolescence and into adulthood, igniting a love for the arts, which not only enriches those in our country now, but is passed on to future generations.

Hard work, an eye for detail and a drive to succeed are values taught at NMPAT, which translate into all other areas of life. Social skills and opportunities to make new friends through music are provided to children who might otherwise feel left out in school settings. It is for all of those reasons that I was so concerned when the chief executive of NMPAT, Peter Smalley, contacted me with his grave concerns about the future of his organisation, and he is watching this debate today.

NMPAT, as the music hub lead, has a turnover of £4.5 million. That includes £1.13 million of core hub grant from Government. Payments for services from parents and schools make up the majority of the remaining turnover. But, in the two years since the pandemic, NMPAT has used substantial amounts of its reserves to rebuild, regrow, and restimulate activity across the two counties, to achieve levels of engagement and activity close to pre-pandemic levels. This was clearly only ever going to be a short-term option, and I am sorry to say that these reserves have now been exhausted.

In addition to the current funding challenge posed by the pandemic and the frozen national music grant, the organisation is now gravely concerned about the effect of losing a grant that covers increased employer contributions for the teachers’ pension scheme, and that is the thrust of what I wish to raise today. That scheme was introduced in 2019, in common with other independent music services. This grant was worth £210,000 per annum to NMPAT, but it finishes in August of this year.

I am aware of a letter that my right hon. Friend the Schools Minister sent in response to correspondence sent jointly by the Independent Society of Musicians, the Musicians’ Union and Music Mark in December last year, which addressed their concerns about this issue. The Minister acknowledged that

“incumbent and potential new Hub Lead Organisations have had over 12 months’ notice of this intention so that this can be carefully planned for well in advance.”

I accept that, and although this notice period was welcome, it has now been made redundant, I am sorry to say, by an additional announcement of the 5 percentage point increase to employer contributions, which begins in April—imminently. Although some support towards these costs has been intimated until September, the ISM, the Musicians’ Union and Music Mark rightly say that hub lead organisations have had “no way of planning” for this additional change.

Interestingly, these further additional costs will be fully funded for mainstream schools and further education. Local authority music services that employ teachers will also receive support. However, NMPAT and other music hubs across the country are currently due to receive no assistance. This adds an additional annual cost of £240,000 to NMPAT’s budget. For NMPAT, the resultant total annual cost of employer contributions for the teachers’ pension scheme alone will be £1.15 million, which will be greater than its national music grant of £1.13 million. It is axiomatic that other aspects of NMPAT services will suffer severely if its national music grant is swallowed entirely by the new pension contributions, as is likely if nothing is done.

As a result, Peter Smalley and others have been forced to begin consultation with staff to take them out of the teachers’ pension scheme and offer an alternative workplace pension.

Photo of Andrew Lewer Andrew Lewer Conservative, Northampton South

My right hon. and learned Friend and I have both been strong supporters of NMPAT. I visited again recently and wrote about it in the local newspaper. The Department for Education has encouraged flexibility and autonomy in music partnerships. It is better for all schools to be covered and for teacher skills to be utilised. That works, but only if it is done fairly, and the challenge to that fairness has, as he eloquently describes, come through the teachers’ pension scheme. Does he agree that it would be quite wrong for music partnerships not to be able to offer their teachers—those in state schools right across Northamptonshire, for example—the same pensions as their less peripatetic fellow professionals?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. As he rightly says, he has been a powerful advocate for NMPAT, and I am so pleased that he is here in support.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way and for securing this important debate.

It is not just Northamptonshire that is impacted by these financial pressures on our wonderful musical hubs; West Yorkshire is, too. I am very fortunate to have Musica Kirklees in my neck of the woods. Its music director Nick Dolling has been in touch with me about this issue. Previously, it was led by the inspirational Thom Meredith, who produced a stream of talented young musicians for local brass bands, choirs, Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra and many more, to the extent that we have the world-champion Lindley School choir, led by Alison North, in my neck of the woods. We also have the Mrs Sunderland festival and the Haydn Wood musical festival in Linthwaite. There is so much musical heritage, but the people involved are now worried about exactly the financial pressures that my right hon. and learned Friend has mentioned. May I just say that we in West Yorkshire are with him in this campaign? I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right that West Yorkshire and counties up and down the country are affected in that way. I am pleased that he is here and in agreement.

This further disruption is demoralising for the workforce. That is the effect of what Peter Smalley and the other heads of hubs have had to do, because it carries the inherent risk of a talent drain and recruitment crisis. NMPAT is also undertaking a full internal financial review to establish where cuts and savings can be made. It is inevitable that some services currently being delivered will be lost, and that costs for parents and schools will rise, perhaps by as much as 20%.

It has become clear that this is a worrying time not just for NMPAT, but for music education hubs up and down the country. I am concerned not just for the hubs that are having to make difficult decisions, but for organisations that perhaps might not be fully aware of the details of the changes that are about to occur. Music hubs making cuts to their budget, which reduces services and outreach, is a situation that we should not allow to occur because of the important impact that music education has.

The Minister’s predecessor, my right hon. Friend Nick Gibb, said:

“I believe all children, regardless of their backgrounds, should have the same opportunities and that’s why it’s so good to see that our music hubs are reaching so many.”

However, these changes are placing the viability of music hubs under threat. As a hugely successful music hub lead, NMPAT should be looking to expand the number of children it interacts with every year, not facing the unpalatable decision to make cuts to its services. I am aware that the Department for Education has confirmed that there will be some funding to cover the employer pension contribution, and that a formula to agree allocations is being worked on. When the Minister replies in a moment, would he be able to provide more detail on that formula and on whether NMPAT can expect a grant to cover those costs?

It also strikes me that the savings made by this cost-cutting measure will be rather small. According to Music Mark, the cut to the teachers’ pension scheme allowance will save His Majesty’s Government only around £1.2 million, which the House may think is a modest sum in the grand scheme of things. Furthermore, I am told it has been estimated that treating music teachers in independent music hub lead organisations equitably with schoolteachers by providing a grant for their pension schemes would cost only around £2 million annually. Is the cost of the effects of this policy change on NMPAT and other music education hubs around the country worth those relatively modest savings?

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

My right hon. and learned Friend continues to make an excellent speech. Perhaps we could hear from the Minister his thinking about the principle that my right hon. and learned Friend is highlighting: why should the Government fully fund extra employer contributions for teachers in schools who are delivering the Government’s national curriculum, but not fully fund the extra contributions for teachers employed to deliver the Government’s national plan for music education? Why is that such an important point of principle when the costs involved are so small?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

I am sure our right hon. Friend the Minister has heard those points. I am coming to my conclusion now, so hopefully he will have the opportunity to address them.

We must not forget that music is not just important to the welfare and wellbeing of so many of our young people —and indeed people of all ages—but a great addition to the economy of this country. According to UK Music, the music industry’s contribution to the UK economy in 2022 was £6.7 billion, and our UK music exports generate £4 billion. Our country’s great cultural offering is clearly enjoyed by many people at home and abroad. British music is famous around the world, and we should be encouraging young people to contribute to the UK’s music economy.

As with any issue, I choose to look at this matter proportionally, and would argue that the benefits of scrapping this grant do not outweigh the impacts. I respectfully request that the Minister be willing to look again at this matter and provide assurances to Peter Smalley, NMPAT and other music education hubs up and down the country that His Majesty’s Government will do all they can to support their important work, and that their outreach will not be adversely affected.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education) 6:38, 19 March 2024

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Michael Ellis on securing a debate on this important subject, and on what is an unusually well-attended Adjournment debate. I thank all his colleagues—all our colleagues—from Northamptonshire for being here. My right hon. and learned Friend is a former arts Minister, and I commend him on the great work he did in that role, including his very important work on public libraries as well as on music. I know that music is a subject very close to his heart, as it is to the hearts of so many of us in this place, including my own.

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Nick Gibb. As our right hon. Friend has often said, studying and engaging with music is not a privilege, but a vital part of a broad and ambitious curriculum. All pupils should have access to an excellent music education and all the knowledge and joy it brings. This is why music is part of the national curriculum for all maintained schools from the age of five to 14, and why the Government expect that academies should teach music as part of their statutory requirement to promote pupils’ cultural development.

Music, like every subject, is generally funded by schools through their core budget. In the November 2022 autumn statement, we announced an additional £2 billion in each of 2023-24 and 2024-25, over and above the totals that had been announced at the 2021 spending review. In July 2023, we announced an additional £525 million this year to support schools with the teachers’ pay award, and £900 million in 2024-25. The Government have continued to provide additional funding, over and above school budgets, to enable children and young people to access high-quality music and arts education. From 2016 to 2022 we invested £714 million, and we are investing £115 million per year up to 2025. Altogether, since 2016, this sums to close to £1 billion for a diverse portfolio of organisations over those years.

That sum includes £79 million a year for music hubs, as was mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton North and by Barbara Keeley, who is no longer in her place. Hubs provide specialist music education services to around 87% of state-funded schools, and over £30 million a year goes to the music and dance scheme, which provides means-tested bursaries to over 2,000 young people showing the greatest potential in those art forms. It also includes a growing cohort of national youth music organisations, with new additions such as the National Open Youth Orchestra, which works with young disabled people, and UD, which runs programmes including Flames Collective, its flagship pre-vocational creative development programme. It was great to see Flames Collective perform with Raye at this year’s Brits. As part of the refreshed plan, the Government continue to invest £79 million a year in music hubs, as well as providing an additional £25 million of funding for musical instruments.

On the teachers’ pension scheme—the TPS, as it is commonly known—the Department for Education has secured £1.25 billion to support eligible settings with the increased employer contribution rate in financial year 2024-25. That will mean additional funding of £9.3 million for local authorities for centrally employed teachers, including those employed in local authority-based music hubs. The Department has published the details of the additional funding for mainstream schools, high needs and local authorities with centrally employed teachers. I can also confirm that the Department is committed to providing funding to cover the increase in employer contribution rates for existing non-local authority hubs for the current academic year—that is, until August 2024—and officials are working to agree the precise amount. Further details, including funding rates and allocations, will be provided soon.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton North will know there is a music hubs competition in progress. Following its conclusion, which is due to be announced next month, the Department will work with Arts Council England to set final grant allocations for the newly competed hub lead organisations that will take over from September. As part of that work, due consideration will be given to additional pension pressures due to the increase in employer contributions through the TPS.

We know that, while potential is equally spread throughout the country, opportunity is not. As part of levelling up, our plan is to provide an additional £2 million of funding to support the delivery of a music progression programme. This programme will support up to 1,000 disadvantaged pupils to learn how to play an instrument or sing to a high standard over a sustained period. Further details about the programme will be announced in the coming weeks, once a national delivery partner has been appointed.

We know that many schools across the country deliver first-rate music lessons to pupils and offer high-quality extracurricular activities as well. However, we are also aware that there are some areas where music provision may be more limited, and to address this a refreshed national plan for music education was published in June 2022. That plan clearly sets out the ambition of the Government up to 2030 that every child, regardless of circumstance, needs or geography, should have access to a high-quality music education—to learn to sing, play an instrument and create music together and have the opportunity to progress their musical interests and talents.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I thank the Minister for his response so far. Encouragingly, he is moving in the right direction. Does he recognise that Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Trust has warmly embraced the publication of the Government national plan for music education, the title of which is “The power of music to change lives”? Is the Minister impressed by the reach of NMPAT to over 53,000 children across Northamptonshire and Rutland? Not many music hubs have that scale of reach.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Education)

I echo my hon. Friend’s words about the power of music, and I join him in paying tribute to the great work of NMPAT. I do not have the statistics at my fingertips to assess where in the table, as it were, those thousands place it relative to others, but it certainly is a very impressive reach.

The expectations set out in the plan, starting from early years, are unashamedly ambitious, and informed by the excellent practice demonstrated by so many schools, music hubs and music charities around the country. As highlighted in the Ofsted “music subject” report published late last year, we know some schools do not allocate sufficient curriculum time to music. Starting this school year, schools are now expected to teach music lessons for at least one hour each week of the school year for key stages 1 to 3 alongside providing extracurricular opportunities to learn an instrument and sing, and opportunities to play and sing together in ensembles and choirs. We are monitoring lesson times to ensure that that improves.

Another weakness in some schools that was highlighted in the Ofsted report was the quality of the curriculum, in which there was insufficient focus on musical understanding and sequencing and progression. To support schools to develop a high-quality curriculum we published a model music curriculum in 2021, and, based on a survey of schools from last March, we understand that around 59% of primary schools and 43% of secondary schools are now implementing that non-statutory guidance. We want to go further in supporting schools with the music curriculum, which is why we published a series of case studies alongside the plan to highlight a variety of approaches to delivering music education as part of the curriculum. We are also working with Oak National Academy, which published its key stage 3 and 4 music curriculum sequence and exemplar lesson materials late last year, with the full suite of resources to follow in the summer.

While the refreshed plan rightly focuses on the place of music education in schools, it also recognises that music hubs have a vital role in supporting schools and ensuring that young people can access opportunities that schools on their own might not be able to offer. I join colleagues in paying tribute to the work of our music hubs across the country, including the organisations who lead them and their partners, who for the past 12 years have worked tirelessly to support music education.

One such organisation is of course the Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Trust, which I was pleased to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton North speak of in such glowing terms. I join him in thanking its chief executive, Peter Smalley, who I gather might be with us today. Just last week I had the privilege of seeing the work of another music hub in Surrey. I was very impressed by all that its partnership is doing to support schools to provide high-quality music and offer amazing opportunities to young people also beyond the classroom.

This year, hubs have continued their excellent work against the backdrop of a re-competition of the lead organisations led by Arts Council England. I recognise that that will not have been easy. As no announcement of which organisations will be leading the new hubs has yet been made, Members will understand that I cannot comment on the individual circumstances of any organisation currently in receipt of hub funding.

From September a new network of 43 hubs made up of hundreds of organisations working in close partnership will continue to build on the outstanding legacy of the hubs to date, and I offer my wholehearted thanks to everyone who has played a part in the music hub story so far. It will be exciting to see how the new hub partnerships develop and flourish with the support of the announced centres of excellence, once they are in place.

One area where hubs provide support to schools is in helping them to develop strong music development plans. This year we have invited every school to have a plan that considers how they and their hub will work together to improve the quality of music education. Our sample survey of school leaders last March showed that slightly under half of schools already had a music development plan in place. Of those, the vast majority—nine in 10—of school leaders intended to review it for this school year. Of those without a plan, nearly half reported intending to put one in place this school year. I hope it will not be long before every school has a strong music development plan that sets out how the vision of the national plan is being realised for their pupils.

The quality of teaching remains the single most important factor in improving outcomes for children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We plan to update our teacher recruitment and retention strategy and build on our reforms to ensure that every child has an excellent teacher, and that includes those teaching music. Our strategy update will reflect on our progress on delivering our reforms, as well as setting out priorities for the years ahead. For those starting initial teacher training in music in academic year 2024-25, we are offering tax-free bursaries of £10,000. That should help attract more music teachers into the profession and support schools in delivering at least one hour of music lessons a week. The Government will also be placing a stronger emphasis on teacher development as part of the music hub programme in the future, including peer-to-peer support through new lead schools in every hub.

There is fantastic music education taking place across the country. Indeed, the opening remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton North did a better job at bringing that to life than I ever could. For my part, I offer and add my thanks to every music teacher in every setting for all that they do, but there is still a lot to do to make our vision for music education become a reality for every child in every school. I am confident, however, that our reforms are having an impact and will lead to concrete action that every school and trust can take to improve their music education provision. Through partnership and collaboration with hub partners, we will ensure that all young people and children can have access to a high-quality music education.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Following this excellent debate, I am going to go to a reception sponsored by Mr Speaker with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It struck me that we have all the orchestras, sinfoniettas, musical theatre and musicians generally—all these incredible talents—and I wonder how many of them started their lifelong love affair with music by picking up a musical instrument in school. We are so fortunate.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.