Music education ‘must move into 21st century’ or risk failing young musicians

Music education must evolve to fit the needs of the 21st century or risk failing generations of young talent, a new report has warned.

There are “huge disparities” in provision of music lessons between schools and a failure to recognise how young people engage with music, according to The Music Commission. who published the report.

The report, entitled Returning our Ambitions for Music Learning, comes as a result of an 18-month inquiry chaired by Sir Nicholas Kenyon, who is the managing director of arts centre the Barbican and a former controller of the BBC Proms.

It argues that young people from all backgrounds can achieve their musical potential by forging better connections between schools, music teachers and publicly funded music organisations in the community.

Music education

The Music Commission warned that the delivery of music education would have to change to halt falling music student numbers.

Other recommendations include universal free school-based music tuition, a stipulation that schools can only be classed as ‘outstanding’ if they have a broad cultural programme, and initiatives to get young people involved in the planning of music organisations’ work.

Sir Nicholas said: “There is a host of pressures we understand on schools to meet targets and achieve results.”

“But there’s a growing understanding that this is not enough. Part of this is about funding and connecting young people with the opportunities there are to progress, but we have got to do more to move music education into the 21st century.”

The report also argues that music is “central for creating skills for a modern economy and society”, according to a statement from The Music Commission.

The music industry generates “significant economic value” but education in the art form also improves confidence and broader academic attainment among pupils”, it added.

Sir Nicholas said: “Every young person should be supported to achieve their musical potential, whatever their background.”

“This is a basic issue of equality of opportunity. There is some great practice out there, especially in the early years, as we’ve shown that we can start them on this journey.”

“The problem is that too often we are then failing them – and ourselves – by not supporting them to progress and realise the personal, creative and economic benefits of the initial investment that we all make”.

A spokesman for the Department for Education (Dfe) said they are currently working with music groups to “refresh” the approach to music education, adding “We want all pupils to have the opportunity to study music at school.”

He continued: “This is why the subject is compulsory in the National Curriculum from the age of five up to 14. We are also putting more money into arts education programmes than any subject other than PE – nearly half a billion pounds to fund a range of music and cultural programmes between 2016 and 2020.”

Key findings from The Music Commission report

Read the summary of findings from The Music Commission report here.