Suffolk’s education community calls for more music cash ahead of government Spending Review on November 25

A workshop at Ipswich School Festival of Music

A workshop at Ipswich School Festival of Music - Credit: Su Anderson

Music must play a critical role in children’s education if they are to reach their potential.

National Youth Jazz Orchestra musical director Mark Armstrong works with pupils at Ipswich School Festival of Music

National Youth Jazz Orchestra musical director Mark Armstrong works with pupils at Ipswich School Festival of Music - Credit: Su Anderson

That was the resounding view of staff and musicians involved in Ipswich School’s Festival of Music held this month.

The sixth annual event brought together 14 state primary schools with the independent institution inspiring pupils by working with internationally-known musicians.

Performances, across the six days running from October 1-6, were open to the public, with groups including the Royal College of Music Strings, and Grammy-nominated American jazz singer Stacey Kent playing.

Beverley Steensma, education director of the event, said: “I think we underestimate a lot how much children benefit from having music in their education and how many schools find it really difficult to fund those and also find the resources.

An Ipswich School Festival of Music workshop.

An Ipswich School Festival of Music workshop. - Credit: Su Anderson


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“We are lucky here that we have got loads of fabulous resources. I think it’s really important for them to see fabulous musicians coming in performing live which is something most young children do not see enough of these days.”

Teacher Alison Leveridge from Rushmere Primary School, which was involved in the festival, said it was crucial that schools had sufficient money to spend on music.

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Mark Armstrong, musical director of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, known as NYJO, which performed at Ipswich School, called on the Government to provide more money to local education authorities for the subject.

“I think it’s a great shame that music isn’t considered part of the [English] Baccalaureate (EBacc) qualifications and I think that it’s extraordinary how it’s so embedded in the educational and cultural history of this country but for some reason it appears to be ignored or swept to the side,” he said.

Music director Bev Steensma works with pupils at Ipswich School Festival of Music.

Music director Bev Steensma works with pupils at Ipswich School Festival of Music. - Credit: Su Anderson

“One of the arguments for that possibly is that maybe it does not lead to a career, but this country has an extraordinarily rich industry of music at so many different levels – the orchestras, the commercial, the film music recorded in Britain – it’s billions of pounds worth of business coming Britain’s way because we have such skilled musicians and that would not happen if we did not have a decent music education.”

He added in ancient times music was part of the ‘quadrivium subjects’ along with arithmetic, geometry and astronomy.

No-one from the Department for Education responded to questions from this newspaper in time.

Last week schools minister Nick Gibb backed Arts Council England’s ‘Cultural Education Challenge’ which aims to bring people in the arts and education industries together to offer a “consistent cultural education” for children.

Mr Gibb, who launched the challenge, said the arts were a “national strength” of the county, adding music was a compulsory subject for children between the ages of five and 14.

“The concern that the EBacc will drive pupils away from creative subjects at GCSE has been made vocally in the media, but proven to be unfounded,” he said. “The EBacc covers a core set of five subject blocks – English, maths, science, humanities and languages – but this allows most pupils to choose a number of additional GCSE options.

“Since the EBacc measure was introduced in 2010, total entries for arts GCSEs have actually increased over that period despite a small decline in year group population, and the percentage of pupils entered for at least one arts GCSE has also increased.”

From 2012 to 2016, the DfE will have spent more than £460 million in arts and education programmes, designed to improve access to the arts for children of all backgrounds.

This includes funding to ensure that every child has the chance to learn a musical instrument during their school career, through a network of music education hubs across the country.

One of those hubs is the Suffolk Music Education Hub, of which Suffolk County Music Service is the lead partner.

The service, part of Suffolk County Council, offers music lessons to schools and can provide a free instrument loan service for pupils.

Philip Shaw, head of the music service, admitted council spending cuts meant resources were more limited than in the past but said Suffolk was “better off” than other authorities in terms of the service it provides.

“We are using the resource extensively and as best as we can to best effect to supply schools and young people but music remains the responsibility of schools to provide,” he said.

He added although music is part of the National Curriculum it was the responsibility of governors and headteachers how much focus was placed on it.

He said: “They [the school] have to provide something, it’s their responsibility, we can help them with it if necessary but they do not have to come to us and the authority.”

Mr Shaw said he was waiting with “bated breath” for news on the Government’s spending review, due for November 25, which will announce future levels of education funding.

Ipswich School invests in music

Ipswich School’s music festival comes at a time when work is well underway on a £5million new music school for Ipswich School.

The state-of-the-art new building will provide the home for the Britten Faculty of Music, on the school’s Henley Road site. There are new teaching and practice rooms with a concert hall and recording studio.

The first stage of the development is opening this month – with fundraising work for the final stage of the overall project, at the school which has charity status, is ongoing.

Nicholas Weaver, headmaster at Ipswich School said: “These facilities will create many more musical possibilities for our own pupils as well as the local and wider community. It is our intention for this new facility to become one of the region’s main musical hubs, attracting performers from Suffolk and beyond.”

Karl Daniels, chairman of governors, said the building would serve as a “wonderful facility” in the local area.

The school’s education programme sponsor this year is Landex, with funding from the Arts Council England which supported the jazz workshops run by the NYJO during the festival.

Importance of creative industries to Britain

The creative industries in Britain employing 1.7 million people and added £77 billion to the UK economy in 2013 - outpacing growth and job creation in many other industries.

(Source: Department for Education)

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