Lord Lloyd-Webber has launched a pioneering scheme which hands musical instruments to deprived schoolchildren to improve their academic results and combat gang culture.
The West End musical theatre impresario said he hoped that the programme, which he unveiled at a north London school where a similar scheme has proved successful, could provide a blueprint for others.
“This will snowball. It won’t just be me – other people will be excited,” said the peer, adding that he had an “undying commitment” to the programme.
He was speaking at Highbury Grove School in Islington, which last year saw its first pupil accepted by Oxford University to study music after a former headteacher, Truda White, set up a music programme in 2006. She was inspired to start it after witnessing the impact of a similar scheme at a school in the Bronx in New York. “Music permeated everything they did,” she said. “I thought that if they can do it in the Bronx, I can do it in Islington.”
After the scheme began at Highbury Grove, pupils’ grades and attendance improved and problems with gang violence receded. A school that was given a rating of four by the education standards watchdog Ofsted in 2002 had risen to a rating of one for “outstanding” four years after the programme was set up. Two years after that, pupils performed at the Royal Albert Hall.
Cyan Koay, 19, now in her first year studying music at Oxford, said: “Music changed my life. This programme should definitely be taken up across the country.”
She said she was worried before joining by reports of fights in classrooms and fireworks in the corridors, but the school introduced her to playing music for the first time.
Ms Koay started playing the piano in year eight when “barely anyone could play an instrument and [the school had] an extremely limited music scene”. She picked up a flute in year 10 and in three-and-a-half years had reached grade eight.
Lord Lloyd-Webber used Highbury Grove as the venue to launch The Music in Secondary Schools Trust, which will provide children from schools in deprived areas – with with limited access to the arts – with their own instruments and compulsory music education.
Backed by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and the Charles Wolfson Trust, which have committed a combined £2m over four years, the first institution to take part in the trust’s scheme will be the Lister School in Newham, east London.
A further two schools will follow next year, reaching more than 2,000 pupils. “It is enormously significant because we have seen with other projects like El Sistema [a publicly funded music education programme in Venezuela] what has happened in other parts of the world,” Lord Lloyd-Webber said.
“Frankly this country is behind in that. It’s time that music in schools is given far greater prominence than it is at the moment.”