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Page 2 – MusicTank

Keith Harris OBE: Education’s Place In The Equality Debate

Having been asked to Chair the Equality and Diversity taskforce for the UK Music industry, I was struck by a casual comment that I heard on Radio 4 the other day.

It came up during a discussion about gender equality, and the presenter in the course of promoting the case for wider range of opportunities for women, said “…after all, women are now doing better than men at all levels of education.”

This is probably true and certainly wasn’t challenged in the discussion, but if it is true, I find it quite disturbing that nobody seems to be addressing this as an issue.

I am of course very happy to see that the educational reasons women being at a disadvantage in the workforce have disappeared, but long-term it seems we are heading towards a future where men are going to be facing the same disadvantage. It is a mistake to think that trying to balance years of injustice by creating a new wave of injustice can work out well.

The taskforce is going to be concentrating its efforts on gender and race initially as areas that need to be brought into balance, mainly because these are things which are relatively easy to identify and deal with. However, I am conscious that there are many facets to inequality; inequality of education can have profound consequences.

Radio commentator and journalist Ed Smith, in his excellent book Luck – What It Means And Why It Matters”, points out that when the England cricket team toured Pakistan in 1987/ 88, thirteen players represented England, twelve of whom were State school educated. In 2011, the England team that beat India at Lords had eight privately educated players and only three former state school pupils.

The 1987/ 88 team was approximately 92% state educated which mirrors the percentage of 92% state educated students in the population, whereas the 2011 team was almost 72% privately educated, the percentage nationally of state versus privately educated pupils (92%) having barely changed.

The same phenomenon can be seen with England Rugby.

There is little doubt that the education in these sports provided by private schools is generally superior.

Over the last few years I have seen quite a bit of comment about how British pop and rock music has increasingly become the domain of the middle class and the privately educated. Might this be because the same bias that is clear in sports education is being seen in music education?

Or is it perhaps as much to do with employment opportunities in the industry for working class people, leading to a tendency for them to also be frozen out of the creative process, because they have no champions holding the reins of power.

Whatever the reason it means that we are narrowing the talent pool and it is only a matter of time before our competitiveness begins to suffer.

In the same way as it is disturbing that nobody seems to care that boys are falling behind girls at all levels of education, it should bother us that state school pupils are being disadvantaged in the creative industries in general, and music in particular, because in the modern world with a highly proscriptive educational syllabus, music and sport tend to be easy candidates for neglect.

Since the creative industries are one of Britain’s economic powerhouses, perhaps the government, who are in a position to do something about this, will begin to take notice and take steps to rectify this glaring problem.

Keith Harris OBE, MusicTank Chair

Survey: UK Music Diversity Taskforce – Workforce Diversity Survey 2016
Other Reads: Diversity Management In The UK Music Industry