Poorer children face sterile cultural treadmill through limited access to music

New Social Mobility Commission study reports that children from poorer households are being excluded from musical activities — missing out on life enhancing social skills, confidence building and a sense of belonging.

  Disadvantaged children are missing out on the benefits of out of school musical activities

A new Social Mobility Commission study from the University of Bath has reported that children from low income families are three times less likely than wealthier counterparts to engage in out-of-school activities such as learning a musical instrument, joining a choir or play in an orchestra.

The findings of, 'An Unequal Playing Field; Extra-Curricular Activities, Soft Skills and Social Mobility' was led by Dr Michael Donnelly, and were highlighted in an article written by journalist Barbara Ellen in The Observer newspaper on the weekend.


It showed that many children, as young as 10 from poorer backgrounds, are already 'hard-wired' with the self-limiting poverty notion that such activities are "not for the likes of us".

The study also found that there were also differences according to race – just 4% of British Pakistani children took part in music classes, compared to 20% of white British children – as well as regional divides: just 9% of children in the north-east of England played a musical instrument, compared to 22% in the south-east.

Key finding

A key finding of the report showed that nearly three times as many children from the highest income households take part in music activities (32%) compared to the lowest income households (11%).

It said that: "Children from poorer households were especially excluded from music classes and sports, where the participation gap is much more pronounced."

Speaking about the findings, Dame Martina Milburn, Chair, Social Mobility Commission said: "It is shocking that so many people from poorer backgrounds never get the chance to join a football team, learn to dance or play music.

The activity costs too much, it isn't available or people just feel they won't fit in. As a result they miss out on important benefits: a sense of belonging, increased confidence and social skills which are invaluable to employers. It is high time to level the playing field."

A key finding of the report showed that nearly three times as many children from the highest income households take part in music activities (32%) compared to the lowest income households (11%)4BR


Meanwhile, under the newspaper strap-line heading; "Condemning poor children to a life without culture is a form of cruelty", Barbara Ellen wrote that she found the findings "heartbreaking".

She wrote: "It's hardly news that life is tougher for poorer children, but it's an outrage if all sense of curiosity, artistry and playfulness is knocked out of them so early.

The result is full-blown structural elitism: one set of kids grows and thrives, the other is diverted on to a culturally sterile treadmill they could stay on for life.

It's about sowing the seeds for a cultural hinterland that will sustain and enrich them for life."


In its report the Commission sets out four key recommendations for the government, voluntary groups and schools, including the introduction of a national extra-curricular bursary scheme for disadvantaged families as well as provide funding to develop and extend voluntary sector initiatives which allow access to activities.

It also recommends that the capacity of schools is increased to provide extra-curricular activities and provide extra information and that there must be an improvement in data collection with further research into soft skill development


The report can be accessed at:

The Observer article:

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