‘There is a sickening division of opportunity for our children’, says Sheffield’s secret teacher

Our secret teacher thinks we need to do more to protect music education for all children. These students do have music education.
Our secret teacher thinks we need to do more to protect music education for all children. These students do have music education.

There has been a flurry of OFSTED inspections in Sheffield schools over last the two months and it’s been pleasing to see at least one of them pick out music as a strong point – but as a nation we are still dangerously missing right the musical note.

Despite highlighting the demise of music in many schools across South Yorkshire, it’s grand to be reassured that many still take music on the curriculum very seriously, with weekly lessons and annual concerts used to inspire young people.

Since I wrote last week’s Secret Teacher column, the response I have had on social media has been amazing, with direct messages coming in from concerned music lovers across the country.

What’s become apparent is just how strongly people feel about their children having musical opportunities while they are at school and also how the loss of music on the curriculum is an issue across the nation and not just in Sheffield.

Yes, there is a lot of positive work going on in the city at all levels, but the service we give to our young people is undoubtedly getting worse because of funding shortages and the obsession with SATs and Ebacc.

In the last five years alone there has been a 21 per cent fall in the music provision offered to children in state schools compared to a seven per cent increase for children with fee-paying parents.

This hideous polarisation of musical opportunity reflects the fact that independent schools are not facing the severe budget pressures seen elsewhere and also that their headteachers are feeling less pressured by accountability to squeeze the broad curriculum.

But the sickening stats didn’t stop there – they just kept getting worse.

The one that stuck in my throat and made me ashamed of our current education system had to do with a child’s access to joining an orchestra.

In the most deprived areas, as little as 12 per cent of schools gave their students the opportunity to thrive in an orchestra and put on performances for their parents.

But when you asked private schools the same question, it turned out that 85 per cent of the schools were promoting their orchestras.

This is a sickening division of opportunity in the country, one which does not stop with music.

What does it say about the state of our nation when we’re not giving the poorest in society anything like the same opportunities afforded to the rich – and the figures show the wealthy are not just a little musically advantaged but are in a different ball park. Are we not proud of the working-class kids who excelled in music and made a name for themselves?

Are we so short-sighted that we think it’s not worth investing in state school children? I shudder to think what will become of our music industry if the odds continue to be stacked against working class would-be musicians.

Pop culture is already being swayed towards offering fee-paying mummies and daddies more options for their little darlings.

From print journalism to acting, from music to broadcasting, the number of talented youngsters brought in from private schools is on the up.

But in music, the work of posh young things like Mumford and Sons and The Maccabees misses out the gritty realism of a modern-day struggle and becomes a kind of privileged pop.

While Manchester have Morrissey, Oasis and the Happy Mondays, we have Pulp, Arctic Monkeys and Richard Hawley – all these, working class bands that have been given opportunities at school and formed bands at an early age, but the musical inspiration that helped make Pulp into a great band is now in the firing line.

What if there’s a Jarvis Cocker or a Richard Hawley or an Alex Turner sat in a junior school this week and is not being inspired to love music, not being given the spark needed to ignite a creative career.

The decline of music in our classrooms is bad for the city, bad for the country, bad for our culture.