- Written by Katie Razzal
- Culture and Media Editor
The first new school in the UK to partner with a professional orchestra has opened its doors to pupils.
The Shireland CBSO Academy and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra offer pupils weekly workshops, performances, masterclasses and free instrument lessons for at least two years.
Orchestra president Emma Stenning told the BBC that there was a “crisis in music education in schools”.
The Ministry of Education said it was “committed” to music education.
“We are committed to ensuring that every young person has access to a high-quality music education,” she told the BBC.
The brand new state school is located in a former office building in Sandwell, one of the most deprived boroughs in England.
It opened with 138 september 7s on September 5, with more joining in the next few weeks. The BBC is the first media outlet to be invited since the Academy began its new chapter.
A state-of-the-art performance hall is now being built, with soundproof panels and angled walls to ensure the best sound quality.
Music is also included in the academy's curriculum.
Pupils studying the story of the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, for example, learn how understanding music and rhythm can help them decipher Morse code.
Principal David Green said the school follows the national curriculum.
“We are a completely normal school,” he said.
“We have French, arts, math, science — all the things you would expect, but we have this really special partnership with the CBSO, which gives these students a level of musical opportunities that they can't get anywhere else.”
Its aim is for every student to study music at GCSE, a subject which has seen a significant decline in take-up in recent years.
This summer, 29,730 students earned their high school diploma, a 45.2% decrease since 2008.
'A level' music was studied by 4,930, representing a decrease of 47.9%.
“There is no funding, no skill set, and no time to study music,” Stenning added.
“This school is here to buck that trend and prove to young people what a wonderful part of educational music it is.”
The Department for Education said it has allocated £79 million a year to fund England's music centers program until 2025, including £25 million from 2024 to fund a variety of instruments.
Catherine Arledge, a CBSO violinist whose Stringcredibles quartet presented an interactive workshop for children in the second week of term, told the BBC: “It's devastating, there's a huge injustice” when it comes to access to music.
She added that music helps young people develop other skills including teamwork, flexibility and creativity.
“In music there is mathematics, because you are counting all the time, and there is storytelling…”
For her, the potential outcomes for students are “the most exciting thing about this new adventure.”
The CBSO is not the first professional orchestra to operate at the school.
In 2020, the Age of Enlightenment Orchestra announced that it would be moving to Acland Burghley School in north London, following the expiry of the lease on its previous accommodation.
OAE pays the rent, which increases the teaching budget. He rehearses in the school hall and involves students in his productions and performances.
For the CBSO, this new school partnership aims in part to broaden the talent pool to ensure that future musicians come from more diverse backgrounds that reflect modern Britain.
But it's not just about bringing out the next generation of musicians.
Whether students want to become astronauts, politicians, teachers, soloists, conductors, or if they want to work in marketing, lighting design or management, they will learn transferable skills.
They say everyone benefits from having music a part of their life.
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