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Call for Inclusive Music Education at the Trades Union Congress Disabled Workers Conference

Musicians’ Union (MU) delegates called for inclusive music education for all children at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Disabled Workers Conference.

Published: 31 May 2019 | 12:00 AM Updated: 06 July 2021 | 5:02 PM
Photograph of Bournemouth pier at sunset
This year's conference was held in Bournemouth

Delegates for the MU called on the TUC to lobby Government to:

  • Make inclusive music education services a priority in the National Plan for Music Education 2020
  • Increase school funding
  • Abolish the EBacc
  • Bring the socio-economic duty into force

Why is this an issue?

Music is a powerful learning tool. Access from a young age positively impacts cognitive and language abilities, and social and emotional development.

Yet the introduction of the Ebacc has pushed music out of the classroom, as schools focus on the subjects Government measures them on.

Many Music Hubs do invest in music-making for disabled students. However, limited resources often mean that it’s only possible to fund one-off projects. This limits the long-term impact on the quality of music provision.

Recent research by Essex Music Hub shows that 47% of special schools spent less than an hour on music every week. Only one-third of schools reported that staff felt confident delivering music sessions.

While teachers and parents have high aspirations for what disabled students can achieve, cuts to education funding mean schools cannot afford the resources to support students with disabilities. This means those high aspirations cannot be reached.

Children from low-income households are half as likely to learn an instrument.

MU research reveals families with a total household income of less than £28,000 are half as likely to have a child learning an instrument as more affluent peers with a family income of £48,000 or more. This stark disparity exists despite similar levels of interest from both groups of children.

"The problem is even worse for disabled students who are more likely to live in poverty and have even less chance of accessing music education because of the cost," Heidi explained.

"Private lessons aren’t an option for a lot of disabled children because of the cost. Then there’s other barriers such as transport to music lessons, adaptive instruments, and music in Braille or large print," she added.

As a result, music education is increasingly becoming the preserve of the non-disabled and the wealthy. Disabled students are being left behind.

Why it matters

Delegates across the trade union movement spoke in support of inclusive music education:

  • “Music is so important. There is more to school than tests and many students flourish in creative subjects but aren’t being given the opportunity. Support this motion and let’s keep making music” - National Education Union delegate
  • “A school music teacher gave me a trombone and that saved me from a life of crime. I discovered a different world, a world of music. Music lessons at school helped me achieve where I would usually fail” - GMB delegate
  • “Music has given my nephew who is on the autistic spectrum a way to communicate. If he gets music lessons at school we know it will improve his communication and cognitive skills. We must have free music lessons in schools” - Unite delegate
  • “Music has given me a reason to live and a career that has allowed me to work with other disabled musicians. But this is only available to people who can afford it. Music lessons should be free for all students” - Equity delegate

Let every child learn music

“The MU believes that true equality is based in disabled and non-disabled people working together. We also believe in and advocate for inclusion at every level: policy, management and delivery,” Heidi said.

If you agree, add your voice to the call.

MU members: get involved the MU’s work for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Contact to find out how.

Not an MU member? Sign up as an MU Supporter to support access to music education for all children.

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