Westminster Media Forum conference panel June 2020

The world is looking very different three months into lockdown. We are surrounded by uncertainty both here and abroad. It is difficult to know what to hold on to, what to believe.

Even before COVID-19 and the lockdown, there was clear evidence that the various education policies emanating from Whitehall were harming the provision of music and the arts in our schools. There were concerns about cuts to school funding, the pressure on the curriculum due to accountability measures and the rise of academies which has led to the disappearance of music in many of our maintained schools. There were concerns that our children were becoming more socially isolated and less physically active and that music was becoming the preserve of those who were educated in the private sector.

And that was before the lockdown. What we are now seeing is the curriculum narrowing still further. There is no music in the materials the Department for Education (DfE) has supplied during lockdown. And the government-backed Oak Academy, an online learning hub which was launched at the start of lockdown’, has no lessons for primary schools and just nine lessons for those from years 7 to 10.

And yet now is the moment when we need a creative curriculum even more. You could call it a recovery curriculum for our children with music, drama and art at its heart.

Cast your minds back to the halcyon days of 2019. On 23 October the CBI noted the value of the creative industries in their report Centre Stage and called for creativity to be considered equally important to numeracy and literacy in our schools. They also called for a creative subject to be added to the EBacc to address pipeline issues for the creative sector. These findings echoed much of the Durham Commission’s report on Creativity and Education.

Just before the lockdown we took part in the consultation on the National Plan for Music Education. So far there has been no government response and it is not clear when the refreshed National Plan for Music Education will emerge. We strongly made the case that the Plan should make clear to schools their obligations so that music is embedded in the classroom, rather than becoming a 'nice-to-have' or an extra-curricular activity. This is even more true now. And music education must cover performance composition and listening. It is not just about learning a musical instrument. We also asked that the DfE make it clear to all maintained schools, whether they are an academy or not, that they should deliver a broad and balanced curriculum including music and the arts. The DfE should also warn schools not to reduce Key Stage 3 to two years. This ask is even more important now.

I would like to close with some observations around music, home grown talent and COVID-19. The music industry is worth £5.2bn per annum, while the creative industries are worth £111bn, the same amount as construction or finance.

Things currently look very bleak in the music sector. There is no indication as yet as to when musicians will be back at work. Most musicians are self-employed. For all kinds of reasons, access to the self-employed scheme has been limited, and many musicians have found themselves on Universal Credit. Despite repeated calls from the ISM and others, so far there has been no indication that the government is going to step in to support the creative industries. And yet in other countries such as Germany and New Zealand this is precisely what has happened. With both the furlough and self-employed schemes coming to an end there is a very real risk of mass redundancies across the creative industries.

And all this chaos is not surprisingly having an impact on young talent. From the data which the ISM has amassed, it is clear that younger musicians are twice as likely as other groups to be in severe financial difficulty. And the payments they are receiving through the self-employed scheme are simply not enough to cover basic living costs. It is not surprising therefore that about one fifth are now considering leaving the profession.

Even though the creative industries contribute so much to the UK economy, musicians have got the hint. They are simply not wanted. Education policy has squeezed music out of so many of our schools, Brexit will make it very difficult for them to tour in Europe, the self-employed scheme has left many musicians in poverty and with no real safety net, and the government has failed to take steps to stabilise the creatives industries through financial measures, unlike other governments. So why should they stay?

And we will all be the poorer for their loss.