Royal College of Music head criticises decline in provision in schools

Budget cuts and subsequent loss of specialist teachers has led to skills loss, says Colin Lawson

The director of the Royal College of Music has criticised the “steady decline” of music provision in UK state schools.

Prof Colin Lawson used a speech celebrating Prince Charles’s 25-year association with the school to add his voice to a situation that Andrew Lloyd Webber has called a “national scandal”.

Lawson praised work that has been done to analyse the effect of arts and culture on public health.

“This work seems especially important in view of the steady decline in music provision in state schools within the UK, reflected in ever smaller numbers of arts candidates at GCSE, down 20% since 2010,” he said.

But he said a combination of cuts to school budgets and the consequential loss of specialist teachers had created a skills loss.

He particularly criticised Bingley grammar school in West Yorkshire, which has started charging pupils taking music as a GCSE for after-school theory lessons.

Prof Colin Lawson, the director of the the Royal College of Music, right, with Prince Charles, left, on Wednesday.
Prof Colin Lawson, the director of the the Royal College of Music, right, with Prince Charles, left, on Wednesday. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA

Sharing a stage with Prince Charles, Lawson said: “We were of course appalled to note the widely flagged situation of one grammar school in the north of England which resorted to charging pupils £5 a week to take GCSE music out of hours.

“In a climate where the RCM is required to hit ever more challenging diversity targets this is dispiriting news indeed.”

The perceived decline of arts education in UK schools is, in many eyes, one of the most urgent cultural policy issues.

Last month Arts Council England (Ace) announced more details of the Durham commission on creativity and education, which will explore the best ways of nurturing creativity in young people.

The commissioners will be leading figures from business, culture and academia. Already signed up are the children’s laureate Lauren Child, the architect Sir David Adjaye, and the dancer and choreographer Akram Khan.

It will be chaired by the Ace chairman, Sir Nicholas Serota, who said the commission was an opportunity to “step back, review the evidence, see what has worked and come up with some proposals” that could be considered by his organisation and the government.

The biggest problem, many believe, is the lack of a compulsory arts subject in the English baccalaureate, which has led to petitions and protests but no sign from the government that is prepared to change its stance.

Serota believes it is a wider issue than the Ebacc. “Even if they were to open the Ebacc to one arts subject, I don’t think that would be the complete solution. In my view, it would help, but it would only be a partial solution.

“What I think the Durham commission might do is come up with a number of ideas that would be applied across the country to ensure kids in all kinds of schools get the kind of opportunities that are currently available only in the best of schools.”

A number of studies have suggested a trend for falling numbers of children taking arts subjects.

A report last year by the Education Policy Institute said the proportion of 15- and 16-year-olds in England studying arts subjects, including music, had fallen to the lowest level in a decade as a result of government policies and education cuts. The EPI estimated that about 19,000 fewer pupils took arts subjects at key stage four last year compared with in 2014.

The Department for Education said: “Arts subjects are an important part of our broad and balanced curriculum and music is compulsory in all maintained primary and secondary schools up to the age of 14.

“We are investing £400m in music and arts education programmes, including in the 120 music education hubs across the country which give every child the opportunity to play an instrument.”


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Music disappearing from curriculum, schools survey shows
Fewer schools in England offering subject at A-level and fewer pupils taking it at GCSE

Sally Weale Education correspondent

09, Oct, 2018 @11:01 PM

Article image
Lloyd Webber calls for more music tuition funding in schools
Exclusive: Composer says ministers seem unwilling to recognise benefits music can have in disadvantaged communities

Dalya Alberge

12, Jan, 2022 @11:39 AM

Article image
Provision of music in schools is evolving | Letters
Letters: There are programmes that counter the perceived decline in music-making and make it more inclusive, writes Catherine Barker


19, Jul, 2017 @7:19 PM

Article image
Royal College of Music

Students at London's Royal College of Music have no excuse not to feel inspired: not only are they are one of the top conservatoires (schools of music) in the country, attracting more than 600 students from 49 countries; they also practise directly opposite the Royal Albert Hall.

01, May, 2008 @2:24 PM

Royal College of Music

1 Will you charge:
A Top-up fees across the board maximum (£3,000)
B A flat rate for all courses below £3,000. (If so, what is it)
C Different rates for different courses.(If so,please specify range - ie minimum/maximum)
"We have one undergraduate programme and one postgraduate programme - so we would be expecting to charge the same for all."

21, Sep, 2004 @1:07 AM

Royal College of Music

Students at London's Royal College of Music have no excuse not to feel inspired

30, Apr, 2008 @11:00 PM

Article image
University guide 2023: Royal College of Music
All you need to know about studying at the Royal College of Music

04, Sep, 2020 @9:34 PM

Article image
‘Creativity crisis’ looms for English schools due to arts cuts, says Labour
Number of GCSE music and drama students fell by a fifth over last decade, research finds

Sally Weale

15, Jul, 2021 @9:30 PM

Article image
Chinese virtuoso Lang Lang to set up ‘piano labs’ in UK schools
Exclusive: Plan follows schemes in US and China that have given 180,000 disadvantaged children access to keyboards

Dalya Alberge

18, Apr, 2022 @10:32 AM

Article image
Exam board drops only black composer from music A-level syllabus
British jazz artist Courtney Pine axed amid Covid-related course changes, says Pearson Edexcel

Harriet Clifford and Richard Adams

04, Jan, 2021 @10:47 AM