Nick Gibb – 2015 Speech at Music Education Expo


Below is the text of the speech made by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, at the Music Education Expo in London on 12 March 2015.

Good morning. It is a great pleasure to be here today at the Music Education Expo in the Barbican, home to world-class music, theatre, art, dance and film.

And it is a fitting venue in which to be speaking about the importance of music education. As music teachers and others involved in music education, your work helps to build a love of music among pupils.

Building this love of music in schools is crucial. Because music shouldn’t be the preserve of those who can afford it, whose parents play instruments themselves or listen to music at home. This government’s plan for education has focused on raising standards for all and narrowing the gap between disadvantaged students and their peers. In the same way that high-quality schools are essential to meet this goal, so too is high-quality music education in schools.

Music is an important subject in its own right, combining intellectual rigour with creativity. The academic opportunities offered by music are clear – in 2009, 18.6% of pupils who achieved an A grade for music A level went to Oxbridge. Only 5 subjects had a higher progression rate.

The wider educational and social benefits of music are also clear. ‘The Power of Music’, recently published by Professor Susan Hallam, points to the positive effects of different aspects of music teaching and training on verbal instruction, reading and comprehension, motivation, communication and behaviour.

Senior teachers and heads in schools often speak of these benefits. As the assistant headteacher of Hackney New School, which offers all children music lessons, recently said:

Music has undoubtedly had a huge impact. Not only are pupils enjoying school more, but almost without realising it they are gaining confidence, resilience and team working skills which they then bring into other subject areas.

The ABRSM Making Music survey in 2014 found that there are particular disparities in music: children from less well-off backgrounds are less likely to play a musical instrument and less likely to have had music lessons. 40% of children from lower socio-economic groups who have never played an instrument said they had no opportunity to learn at school.

That is why when we came into government in 2010 we set out high aspirations. In the remit of the ‘Review of Music Education in England’ by Darren Henley, we stated that “every child should receive a strong, knowledge-based cultural education and should have the opportunity to learn and play a musical instrument and to sing”. Music education was patchy across the country and we wanted to change that so every pupil could benefit. The Henley Review and the subsequent National Plan for Music Education were the starting point for our approach, and set out the direction of our reforms.

Through our curriculum review, music remained a statutory subject in the national curriculum, so every child in maintained schools must study it from age 5 to 14. The new national curriculum, introduced in September, is particularly important to tackle disadvantage as the focus is on setting high expectations for everyone and ensuring that children have access to all of the national curriculum.

Alongside the new national curriculum, we have also reformed GCSEs, A levels and vocational qualifications. The greater rigour and focus on knowledge and skills in the study of music throughout key stages 1 to 3, including exposure to a wide range of music and composers, and teaching children how to read and write music using standard staff notation, will mean that music is an option for more pupils at GCSE. And the new more rigorous GCSE will in turn better prepare students for progression to A level and beyond.

Across all subjects, the importance of high-quality teaching is known to be the crucial factor in delivering better outcomes for pupils. We are fortunate to have some excellent music teachers working in our schools and I was lucky enough to present Classic FM’s primary school music teacher of the year award to Katie Crozier last year. Katie teaches at 2 schools in Huntingdonshire and has delivered significant improvement for pupils there. At her school, where she has taught since 2008, she has transformed the approach to music: the school has gone from having no orchestra and a choir of 8 members to a 50-member orchestra and a choir of 100 singers.

While there is already a great deal of good practice, we also want to make sure there is support available for teachers who may need it – in particular, practical help for non-specialist primary school teachers. I am delighted that Classic FM and the ISM are going to compile, and give schools access to, a new list of 100 pieces of classical music that every child should be familiar with by the time they leave primary school.

Being familiar with the best known classical works is as important as reading the canon. Music has been important to me personally and my suggestions for pieces to include would range from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to Parry’s setting of ‘I was glad’ and Allegri’s ‘Miserere’, which I still remember singing as a choirboy. I very much hope there will be strong engagement from those within music teaching with ISM and Classic FM as they develop the list.

These initiatives highlight that our ambitions cannot be achieved by acting alone. That is one of the key reasons behind the music hubs which we established in 2012 as part of the national plan. The hubs are helping to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn instruments through whole class teaching, that there are clear progression routes available and affordable to all young people, opportunities to play in ensembles and to sing regularly, including in choirs or vocal ensembles.

In their first year, the hubs gave nearly half a million children the opportunity to learn an instrument for the first time, as well as working with almost 15,000 school choirs, orchestras and bands. 80,000 disadvantaged pupils took part in instrumental ensembles and choirs. Last year, the hubs were working with more than 60% of primary schools and more than 50% of secondary schools on their singing strategy, and 50,000 more children were receiving whole-class ensemble music teaching as a result of the hubs’ work.

On a recent school visit to Redbridge Primary School, I was able to see first-hand their whole-class ensemble teaching programme, which they offer to pupils for 3 years, first hand.

The positive impact the hubs are having is clear. That’s why in July last year we announced further funding for music hubs – an extra £18 million for music programmes, bringing the government’s investment in music education to more than £270 million since 2012.

Government support also continues for the Music and Dance Scheme, that supports the exceptionally talented at 21 music and dance centres of advanced training and 8 specialist schools, including the Royal Ballet School, which I visited recently, the Purcell School and the Yehudi Menuhin School. Programmes such as the National Youth Music Organisations, Music for Youth and In Harmony, a national scheme which focuses on offering children in 6 deprived communities an intensive orchestra experience, also give important opportunities to children up and down the country.

I was fortunate enough to attend the schools prom series, run by Music for Youth, at the Royal Albert Hall back in November, and enjoyed listening to performances by a wide range of ensembles, from the Glantaf Duo from South Glamorgan to the Wessex Youth Orchestra from Dorset.

In addition to government-funded schemes, I am pleased to see other organisations working in this area to increase opportunities in music for young people – such as the National Orchestra for All. NOFA was founded by a Teach First participant in 2011 and takes 150 musicians each year from schools in London and the west Midlands to form a full orchestra, which rehearses and performs in venues such as the Southbank Centre and the Royal Academy of Music.

The government’s free school programme has also unleashed innovation in music teaching, with a number of schools offering a specialism or focus in music such as West London Free School, East London Academy of Music and Hackney New School.

There is a great deal to celebrate and to be proud of in our performance in music – from the great classical composers of past and present, to the string of UK artists who top the charts worldwide. And in 2 years’ time, Sir Simon Rattle will return to England to the London Symphony Orchestra here at the Barbican.

A strong and rigorous music education is as important a part of being well educated as learning about science, history and literature. I hope our commitment to music education in schools is clear. We want to ensure this success in music continues and I am confident that our reforms have set us off in the right direction.