Every now and then Julian Lloyd Webber goes on a rant about music education in the UK. And why not… he has been a passionate advocate, along with Evelyn Glennie and the late Michael Kamen, to bring the issue to national attention.
Here are his latest musing from the Daily Telegraph:
Julian Lloyd Webber on the Government's U-turn on their music education promises
All children should have the opportunity to play a musical instrument," said Charles Clarke during his spell as Education Secretary.
Much as I hate to kick a man when he's down, it does look as if the odds of this being achieved during this government's lifetime are considerably less than the odds of one of Clarke's 1,023 "lost" foreign criminals reoffending.
Like so many New Labour initiatives, things were looking rosy. When the four members of the Music Education Consortium – James Galway, Michael Kamen, Evelyn Glennie and myself – were ushered into Clarke's office three years ago, there was a genuine feeling of hope in the air.
"Music has a unique contribution to make, both to education and to the health of the economy," Tony Blair wrote to the Consortium and his sentiments were echoed by Clarke. True, Clarke seemed keen to leave all the minutiae to his sidekick, David Miliband, but Miliband's were the safest pair of hands music could wish for in a politician.
Sure enough, a year later the government produced its much-touted Music Manifesto – a lengthy document that was widely acknowledged to be full of good intentions but noticeably short on how they would be delivered. Yet, after 30 years' neglect of music education by successive governments, it was at least a start.
Better still was the loudly trumpeted announcement in 2005 of a further 30 million (pounds) each year for "music services" – the organisations that run music education at a local level. Perhaps, at last, the appalling discrepancies between local education authorities would be addressed. (In Manchester, for example, 13.75 (pounds) per child is allocated for music education, whereas in nearby Sheffield the figure plunges to a meagre 1.15 (pounds) per pupil.)
But with Miliband moving to a different department, the U-turns began. Firstly, the extra 30 million pounds mysteriously became 26 million pounds. Then the money would no longer go to LEA music services at all but instead be sent directly to schools, where the headteacher could spend it on whatever he liked. In other words, the whole episode has turned out to be a classic case of New Labour spin.
Still, every cloud has a silver lining. The other day, I chanced upon a fascinating volume entitled Music in Schools – A World Survey, published in 1964 by the Schools Music Association. It was encouraging to learn that "the teaching of music in Iraq is similar to that in England". How gratifying to see our government preserving the status quo.