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SCHOOL MUSIC: Shakeup could have devastating impact on poorer families

SCHOOL MUSIC: Shakeup could have devastating impact on poorer families

Image: LDRS

A major shake-up of school music lessons in Gateshead could have a devastating impact on poorer families and leave big money concert venues short of talent, councillors have been warned.

Gateshead Council has been urged to abandon a restructure of the borough’s Schools’ Music Service, which would see pupils’ small group instrument tuition axed.

In a behind-closed-doors decision in March, the local authority’s cabinet resolved to approve the changes and start a redundancy consultation with music service staff – a move that has sparked a public backlash, with more than 2,000 people signing a petition to oppose it.

The council has insisted that the reorganisation is not a cost-cutting exercise, with no details of the financial implications of the plan revealed, but has put the decision on hold until at least September.

Judith Thompson, who has worked for the music service for 20 years, pleaded with councillors on Thursday to reconsider the proposal.

She told a full council meeting held at Gateshead Leisure Centre that the plan would leave children with “no easy and affordable access to progression and specialisation”, but only “patchy” opportunities dependent on the income and interest of their family and school.

Under the proposed restructure, schools would only be offered whole class music tuition rather than tailored instrumental lessons for gifted individuals or small groups.

The petitioner added that the changes would ultimately mean reduced access to higher education music study and job opportunities in the industry for Gateshead’s youngsters, adding that the service presented “no financial risk” and had only struggled in the past year due to the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid pandemic.

Labour councillor Dave Bradford agreed, saying that his children and many classmates who went through the music service would not have been able to afford private tuition fees.

The Chopwell and Rowlands Gill representative added: “The thing being cut here is opportunities. What we are saying by making these cuts is that, if you come from the estates or poor areas, you can forget being a musician because the progression is gone.”

Birtley councillor Catherine Davison warned that cuts at a grassroots level will mean that Gateshead “won’t have the performers” to fill the concert halls at the Sage and the new £260m arena planned on the Quayside.

Liberal Democrat Ron Beadle also urged the council to listen to the testimony of its employees in the music service and come up with “creative solutions” to avoid cuts.

However, Labour council leader Martin Gannon said the changes were “not about money” but ensuring every child in the borough has equal access – pointing out that schools in his Deckham ward do not participate in the current programme.

He added:  “What we want to achieve is a better service, equally and widely available right across Gateshead.

“We are very proud of the service we have, but there is room for improvement.”

A council spokesperson said: “Gateshead Council has always been proud of its fantastic music service. We are conducting this review so that it can remain long into the future and provide children with the creative opportunities that are so vital to their development.

“As a council we remain committed to providing an inclusive music service for all of our children. We want as many children as possible to have the opportunity to learn an instrument, with more schools and children benefiting from specialist music teaching. This is fundamental to the review.

“We are working closely with schools and parents during the consultation and are taking on board all of their feedback. The review has been extended until September and we welcome anyone who has interest in the service to take part and give their views. No decisions will be made until the review is completed.”

Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter

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