Education Secretary accepts Committee’s challenge to improve access to music education

(Title Image: North Wales Youth Orchestra)

Another report discussed yesterday was the Culture Committee’s inquiry into access to music education – a summary of that being available here.

Hitting the Right Note

Committee Chair, Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West), said the inquiry was undertaken at a time of “crisis” in music services following cuts. However, while money – and access to music by poorer families – was an issue, it wasn’t just about that:

“….we have heard from the sector that it suffered from a lack of strategic direction – so it’s not all about the money – and that this has also contributed to the variable nature of the services on offer. We have, as a result, called on the Government to provide this strategic direction.”
– Bethan Sayed AM

The Committee recommended an arm’s length national body be established by the Welsh Government to deliver music services – something the Welsh Government “accepted in principle”. The subsequent creation of Anthem (music endowment fund) was considered “a step in the right direction”.

Shadow Education Secretary, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), repeated calls for music services to be given a sense of direction and it “cannot be left to cash-strapped councils trying to rescue these services themselves”.

Not Rushed

Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli) said the report wasn’t rushed but said there was “slight exasperation” amongst stakeholders that it took so long – the first evidence session was in January 2017 – but this slow pace was deliberate due to the complicated nature of funding for music services.

“I applaud the new models that have been put forward through the endowment from National Youth Arts Wales. I worry for them, having run a charity and tried to get funding from trusts and foundations. It’s damn hard. It really is difficult, and London trusts and foundations are not quick to come to the aid of cultural services outside of the metropolis.”
– Lee Waters AM

Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) added that the impact of the voluntary sector on music services shouldn’t be ignored – namely the Urdd and National Eisteddfod – which gives young musicians a national platform. However, one issue he raised was that only 13% of applications to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama were from within Wales.

“This is not just about learning an instrument. This is about equality of opportunity for all of our students across Wales, and our identity internationally that we must continue to be, in the words of the report that was commissioned from my office by Professor Carr, ‘the land of song’. It cannot be in name only. We have to have that infrastructure underpinning the services that we need in order to deliver for all of our pupils.”
– Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn)


Replying on behalf of the government, Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), said the OECD considered Wales’ Creative Learning Arts programme as “world-leading” and is being used as an example to other countries.

Nonetheless, the Cabinet Secretary tempered expectations as to what the Welsh Government could do, saying that it would be wrong for her to take sole responsibility for music services and that establishing a national arm’s length body would be difficult during austerity.

“I am pleased that we’ve been able to increase the funding made available to local authorities for the purchase of musical instruments. We have made £1 million funding available per annum for 2018-19 and 2019-20 for music provision, and I’m currently considering proposals on how the money should be allocated. This includes an option of making, perhaps, more funding available to each local authority to purchase yet more instruments.”
– Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams

In summing up, the Education Secretary said the Committee set her a “real challenge” to deal music services but it was one she was willing to accept.

  • 10