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Right Here – Right Now: Moving on from the Election

Posted by Sandra Wood on 13 December 2019

So the UK has set its course for what looks like 5 years now after December 12th’s General Election. The campaign has been a tough few weeks, and I can’t say it has set any kind of example for the young people we spend so much time with here at More Music. And as so often, it has been easier for politicians to promise 20,000 police officers rather than 20,000 music leaders.

5 years is a long time. But, what do we do – as Greta Thunberg and / or Fat Boy Slim would put it “right here, right now”? From our spot here in Morecambe Bay, here are a few thoughts-

Listen to Towns

It will be tempting for a government with a comfortable majority to think that people in towns and rural areas have just signalled their approval. But the challenges faced particularly by coastal towns don’t go away simply by taking down the Union Jack in Brussels and Strasbourg. The voices and issues of us out of ‘cool’ urban centres need to be heard like never before – and that goes across the political spectrum as well as for funding bodies. There must be a massive reprioritisation of resources. This would be logical following the Arts Council’s new 10 year draft strategy to open up culture and make it more relevant to people’s lives. The reprioritisation must also be one of power and decision making. It must be up to us to determine how funds like Future High Streets Fund should be spent and framed. Funding can not be like largesse dispensed with expectations of being suitably grateful.

What community based arts organisations and particularly organisations working with young people need is that the local community structures around us are shored up and supported. Increasingly, we feel like we are bearing a burden we can not reasonably be asked to shoulder. At More Music we do extraordinary work in the area of singing and health, with a great relationship with health professionals. But we can not be the Health Service. We do leading work with young people, supporting their growth. But we are not a youth service, and we can not fill the gaps of local government funding.

A Credible Plan to Secure Music Education

Along with our partners in Music Education Hubs and the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England we deliver much work for and with young people both in and out of school. We have bundles of evidence on the benefits, in the specific sense of building musical skills and the general sense of building decent human beings. I can’t help observing that I was personally left feeling the General Election could have done with a greater supply of the latter.

Politicians of various stripes have been at pains to say that they value the role of the arts. Both Labour and Conservatives promised ‘arts pupil premium’ policies in their manifestos. But the reality is that cultural education continues to lose out. The decline away from arts subjects at GCSE and A level may be bottoming out but it continued in 2019. Ministers must bring forward a new National Plan for Music, which recognises early years 0-5 provision. There needs to be a new multi-year Music Education Hub agreement, and this must be timely. Any new plan must focus not just on numbers, but also on clear action to remove barriers to participation. There needs to be a concrete commitment to the arts pupil premium. The all too narrow focus on STEM must go. The distinctions of ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ music learning need to be challenged. All of this needs to happen by July 2020 – so crack on right now.

A Forward View From the Music Industry

It’s welcome that the music industry bodies like UK Music are increasingly emphasising action on education policy. I’ve never been a fan of the term “music industry”, as music is not an industrial process. What it is, is a human process. What should concentrate the music business boss’ minds is that those humans with the range of skills they need could well be in short supply. From Gordon Brown’s loss in 2010 to a next general election in 2024 is the length of an educational generation.

For far too long the music “industry” has focused its political effort on technology politics and intellectual property. From now on, UK Music and the BPI should worry more about pupils and less about “pirates”. And to be frank they need to put their money behind the organisations that are nurturing diverse talent. I challenge the music industry to pledge to match pound for pound in to the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England the extraordinary investment of Youth Music.

This is perhaps enough to be getting on with, right here, right now.


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