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MU National Organiser for Education Chris Walters was asked to write a ‘Final Word’ article for the National Education Union’s (NEU) Educate magazine (July-August issue).

The article, discussing the vital importance of all children being able to access music and arts education, is reproduced below. You can download Educate for free on the NEU website.

The MU represents more than 33,000 musicians in the UK. Since 2012 we have had a partnership with the NEU (at that time the NUT), born of our shared belief in every child’s right to music and our desire to support those who teach it.

My role at the MU is to look after our teaching members (who number some 11,000, a third of the total membership) and to advocate for music education at a political and music industry level. That’s why I was delighted when one of our joint MU-NEU members, Victoria Jaquiss, told me that her motion on the importance of music and arts education had been tabled for the 2023 NEU annual conference.

The motion was passed, with the outcome that the NEU is now called to campaign for music and the arts in education, working alongside the MU and others.

Arts education is inherently complex

Arts education is inherently complex and faces many challenges. There are school performance measures that stifle non-STEM (science, technology, engineering andmathematics) subjects; insufficient space and resources; specialist teacher shortages; and inadequate music training for primary teachers, to name but a few.

While some schools do great things, others find their hands forced and their priorities shoved in different directions.

Most teachers instinctively know what the arts can do for children.

Most teachers instinctively know what the arts can do for children. As well as being fascinating and rewarding in their own right, arts subjects have been shown to develop confidence, focus, self-sufficiency and many other positive traits. Some children may eventually be suited to careers in the arts, but if their school doesn’t support these subjects, that vital moment of inspiration can be missed.

Large parts of the music industry are much less socially mobile than they once were. Where our professional orchestras were once full of state-educated musicians, a child growing up in a low-income household today stands much less chance of accessing the subsidised instruments and lessons that are required for that career.

Government funding for the arts – across education, grassroots and the professional culture sector – has been decimated. When we turn on our TVs and see musicians and actors who are disproportionately privately educated, is that fair?

We must campaign for music and the arts to take their proper place

Arts careers are one thing, but it’s important to remember that most children will enter different professions entirely. For them, the arts are something that will carry them through their lives, accompanying them through the highs and lows of human experience.

We need to make sure that every child has the opportunity to build their own personal relationship with the arts.

For that to happen, we need to make sure that every child has the opportunity to build their own personal relationship with the arts, through discovering what enthuses them in a safe and nurturing environment.

That’s why we must campaign for music and arts to take their proper and equal place in the school curriculum, as Victoria’s motion demanded. Very few private schools would get away with not offering a rounded programme of arts subjects. Why does the Government allow that in the state sector?

The MU and the NEU offer discounted joint membership of both unions.

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Chris Walters

Chris Walters is National Organiser for Education and Health & Wellbeing at the Musicians' Union. He leads on the Union's music education advocacy and policy work in the four UK nations and oversees services for music teachers. He previously developed the Certificate for Music Educators qualification at Trinity College London and was editor of Music Teacher magazine for Rhinegold Publishing, where he helped launch the Music Education Expo. He has taught music in the UK and Kenya and began his career as a professional clarinet player.

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