OPINION: We need to secure our local music education service

Music education plays a vital role in nurturing talent, fostering creativity, and driving not only the thriving UK music industry, but also the musicians themselves who enhance our lives in innumerable ways. They form part of our culture, our heritage and give us the soundtrack of our lives that inhabits every sinew of our being.
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Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Trust, (NMPAT), based in the Kettering Road was set up in 2012 to be independent from the then County Council. In various guises, it has a longer 55 year history of delivering music education in the county and is directed currently under the formidable leadership of Peter Smalley.

Since its inception, NMPAT has played a crucial role in improving access to high-quality music education across the county. It facilitates partnerships, coordinates resources, and ensures that every child has the opportunity to learn an instrument and participate in musical activities, regardless of their background. It is the lead partner for the Government’s Music Education Hub for Northamptonshire and Rutland. Last year, they worked with 53,017 children and young people from Northamptonshire and Rutland, delivered by a team of over 200 employees.

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The economic impact of the UK music industry underscores the importance of cultivating the next generation of musical talent through robust music education programs. In 2018 alone, the industry contributed £5.2 billion to the UK economy, with the live music sector accounting for £1.1 billion, a 10% increase from 2017. Employment in the industry reached an all-time high of 190,935, and the total export revenue was an impressive £2.7 billion.

NMPAT CEO Peter Smalley showing Andrew Lewer MP some former students who work in the music industryNMPAT CEO Peter Smalley showing Andrew Lewer MP some former students who work in the music industry
NMPAT CEO Peter Smalley showing Andrew Lewer MP some former students who work in the music industry

Despite these impressive economic contributions, there has been a decline in the provision of music lessons in UK schools. Data from the Department for Education reveals that the number of students taking GCSE music has dropped by nearly a quarter (23%) between 2010 and 2021. This decline can be attributed to various factors, including budget constraints, curriculum pressures, and a lack of qualified music teachers.

We need to reverse this. Investing in music education is not only essential for nurturing the next generation of musicians, but also for fostering creativity, emotional intelligence, and cultural awareness among all students. Beyond the educational benefits, a robust music education system is crucial for cultivating the talent pipeline that drives the UK's globally renowned music industry. NMPAT is critical locally to help achieve this.

There are extra challenges. the National Music Grant, which provides strategic funding for Hub Lead organisations like NMPAT, has risen by just 1% since 2012. During this time the Bank of England inflation calculator shows inflation running at 37%. The comparison with 2007 Standards Fund funding is worse: a 9% fall in funding, against an inflation increase of 61%. This loss of strategic funding is particularly evident at a time when Hubs are preparing to address the exciting and expanded ambitions of the new National Plan. The Department of Education is consulting about withdrawing extra pension financial support with organisations like NMPAT who have employees enrolled in the Teacher's Pension Scheme, expecting NMPAT to make up the shortfall. This is short sighted and counter-productive.

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This is why I am working with Peter and NMPAT to make sure they get the funding they need to continue delivering the high quality services that makes such a difference in young people’s lives. I have been challenging Ministers and senior civil servants on these issues in my role as a member of the Education Select Committee and as the local constituency MP. NMPAT provide a first-rate music education service and it changes lives. We want this, not just to continue, but also to grow and get better.