Music school grants for poor students going to ‘comfortable middle class’

At the age of eight Natasha Petrovic passed the auditions to the Yehudi Menuhin music school near Cobham, within commuting distance of home. Because her parents were unemployed, Petrovic received a full bursary to cover the fees. Now in the sixth form, she plans to go to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and work in outreach to encourage music in state schools and institutions such as prisons. The Guardian reports

Petrovic, 19, benefited from the government’s music and dance scheme (MDS), a £172m annual fund established to help “ensure that talented children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and families with limited financial means” have the opportunity to attend one of eight independent music or dance schools.

Now, however, the scheme is under attack, accused of contributing to arts elitism, just as state schools face funding cuts and a concentration on core subjects. Figures obtained by the Guardian show that, despite the aim to help disadvantaged young people, families earning up to £190,000 a year are receiving awards. At Yehudi Menuhin for example, two students whose parents earn between £170,000 and £190,000 are getting MDS help with the £43,000-a-year boarding fees.

At Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester the figures reveal that four students with family incomes of between £120,000 and £130,000 and nine between £100,000 and £120,000 benefited last year. Those earning £100,000 receive £18,000 towards the £32,000 boarding fees and those on £150,000 get £8,052.

The father of a state school pupil, who asked for anonymity as his son is still in education, adds: “When we first looked into it the MDS looked like an amazing opportunity for hard-up kids who need a break and we hadn’t expected it to be quite so comfortably middle class. All that raw talent from the wrong side of the tracks just doesn’t know the scheme exists. Surely they’re the ones it’s meant to be for? It’s a huge wasted opportunity.”

According to the DfE, more than half the pupils supported by MDS awards last year were from families with incomes of under £40,000. But at Wells Cathedral school in Somerset 16 pupils with awards had parents earning between £60,000 and £100,000. One family had an annual income of over £120,000.

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