School music plan is just spin, say top soloists

Evelyn Glennie and Julian Lloyd Webber accuse ministers of breaking their promises on tuition
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Government's long-awaited master-plan to rescue school music from crisis has been dismissed as "spin" and "waffle" in a damaging row between ministers and some of the country's most distinguished instrumental soloists.

The Music Manifesto 2004 will be unveiled at EMI's Abbey Road Studios on Tuesday by the Education minister David Miliband, British R&B star Jamelia and Beatles producer Sir George Martin, together with leading figures from schools, orchestras and the music industry.

It will repeat the long-standing promise that every child will be given the chance to learn a musical instrument for free, and issue a "call to action" to raise the profile of a subject that is barely taught in many schools.

But the international cello and percussion stars Julian Lloyd Webber and Evelyn Glennie are to snub the event, despite having spent the past 18 months campaigning for school music and advising ministers on what the manifesto should contain. Today they will launch an outspoken attack on Labour's record, accusing the Government of breaking its promise to take the subject seriously.

According to official reports, thousands of pupils are getting little or no music teaching as schools concentrate on the core areas of literacy and numeracy.

Julian Lloyd Webber said: "This document is a masterpiece of talk and waffle. It's not going to help the people we want to help."

Together with Ms Glennie, flautist Sir James Galway and the late film composer Michael Kamen he helped to bring this week's manifesto about with a series of deputations to the Department for Education, as first reported in The Independent on Sunday.

But this week's manifesto promises no money and fails to ring-fence any time on the curriculum.

The musicians are particularly angry that there is no time-scale for meeting the long-standing promise about giving all children instrumental lessons, first made when David Blunkett was at Education.

"This experience of dealing closely with the Government has confirmed what people have said about them using this word 'spin'," Mr Lloyd Webber said. "There's an awful lot of very clever talk but where's the action? It's a classic document - pages and pages long. But it says very little."

Ms Glennie said: "The Government has had numerous opportunities to back our campaign and put music at the forefront of the curriculum and at every turn they have pulled away from giving solid commitment to the alteration of the curriculum or providing real funds."

A recent report by advisers found that roughly half of primary schools had difficulty teaching music because of a shortage of qualified staff. According to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, some schools devote as little 0.4 per cent of the timetable to music - which works out at less than 10 minutes a week.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, will be at the launch. He said: "In too many schools, they're either not getting music, or it's frankly not being taught by qualified staff. It's been squeezed out of the curriculum." He believes music should receive at least an hour a week.

But Victoria Todd, director of the National Campaign for the Arts, defended the manifesto, describing it as "a positive achievement" after years of decline. "I don't see the point in damning it before it's up and running," she said.