Howard Goodall: No country in the world can match our music services

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The Independent Online

First, some statements that may surprise you. Adding together private and public tuition, roughly a third of all British children are learning a musical instrument. This is a very high figure, probably only exceeded in South Korea and Germany. In Britain, music is an obligatory subject on the National Curriculum to age 14. Very few countries, if any, have this entitlement written into the statute book. Ten times as many young people now take GCSE music as took O-level in the Sixties. Music related courses have seen the biggest percentage growth of all subjects at tertiary level since 2000. And music technology is the fastest growing of all AS subjects.

Music services operate in every county, borough and town, providing Saturday morning music schools, local and regional ensembles, bands, choirs and orchestras. Having been decimated by the Thatcher and Major governments, they were restored to life by the Music Standards Fund in 1999.

No other country in the world can match the output of our music services, nor do they have anything comparable to the National Festival of Music for Youth, which last year involved 13,000 young people.

The reigning world champion youth brass band is from Smithills, a comprehensive school in Bolton. Abraham Darby School in Telford's remarkable concert wind band walked away with the first prize at the World Youth Music Festival in Zurich last year. The reigning world champion girls' voices choir is Cantamus, from Nottinghamshire.

The lottery-funded Youth Music, set up by the Blair government in 1999, has created a nationwide network of Music Action Zones in deprived areas, which so far have involved over a million young people. It also helps fund all our flagship national youth orchestras, choirs and bands. No other country has come up with an idea like the Music Manifesto, coordinating for the first time education, industry, voluntary, state and independent sectors in a collective effort to improve and expand musical offers to all children. No other government has attempted anything as bold or as visionary in this field as Wider Opportunities, the pledge to give all Key Stage 2 children access to tuition in singing or a musical instrument. Wider Opportunities has now been rolled out in some form in most counties and cities though, of course, it will take a few years to reach the target of every single KS2 child.

Head teachers whose primary schools have been given full-on Wider Opportunities programmes report widescale improvements in behaviour, attendance, test results and pupil morale. Percentages of children who wish to continue after the introductory year are the highest in the world - ranging from 75 to 100 per cent.

We still have much to do. Until every child is experiencing what at the moment only some are receiving, we cannot afford to be complacent. But it is worth noting that complaints about the apparently "parlous" state of music education hardly ever come from teachers, or from others providing youth music services. These cries come from critics, commentators and performers exclusively in the classical field, for whom an award-winning African drumming project in Southwark, for example, doesn't really count, as it is not delivering to children conventional western music. For these critics, a DJ-ing workshop is not "real" musical study. This attitude is patronising and counter- productive, because classical music's best chance of being part of young people's lives in the future is if it is seen as an enthusiastic part of the whole world of music, not an exclusive club that turns its nose up at youth culture.

Don't take my word for it, nor anyone else's. If you care about music and young people, go to a Schools Prom. Find your nearest Youth Music Action Zone and go to a gig. Visit a music or performing arts specialist school and hear their outstanding performances. Check out your local youth choirs. Let them show you what they can do, how they embrace all forms of music. That really will be an education.

Howard Goodall is a composer, broadcaster, trustee of Youth Music and chair of the Music Manifesto's Vocal Strategy