Sage Gateshead Written evidence (EDU0081)


  1. Sage Gateshead is an international music development centre and with excellence and inclusion at the centre of its mission. It gives international quality concerts across musical genres in its three acclaimed performance spaces and is home to Royal Northern Sinfonia. It is at the centre of the redevelopment and regeneration of Gateshead Quays and opened in December 2004.
  2. Sage Gateshead does significant work with disadvantaged children and young people. For the past 20 years, and pre-dating the opening of the building, Sage Gateshead has operated a large-scale programme of participatory music making and music education. Much of this work focuses specifically on improving the lives and life chances of children and young people from across the North East who face multiple disadvantages. In 2021-22 there were 62,698 attendances at classes and workshops for children and young people.
  3. Sage Gateshead runs one of the largest creative learning programmes in the UK, serving adults, young people and communities across the North. The  Young Musicians Programme for people aged 4 – 19 offers introductory sessions up to advanced training in multiple musical genres. 75% of Centre for Advanced Training students received a bursary. In 2022-2023 YMP families received over £230,000 of bursaries.
  4. Sage Gateshead works with Children North East on poverty-proofing our ticketing, course access and all aspects of our operations. The focus on increasing the diversity of young people who take part in our programmes has led to a 57% Increase in applicants from children and young people from socio-economically challenged backgrounds.


The range and breadth of subjects covered in the 11-16 curriculum

  1. Data compiled by the Education Policy Institute[i] showed that in 2016 fewer than half (47.8%) of North East pupils took at least creative subject[ii] at GCSE, the lowest proportion in England and 5.7% lower than the England figure of 53.5%. The EPI has not updated its report but the downward trend in creative subject entries at GCSE continues, albeit with a some statistical noise[iii]. The Cultural Learning Alliance[iv] reports that GCSE Music entries fell by 4% from 2021-22 despite the overall cohort growing by 2% and fell by 27% between 2010 and 2022. A level Music entries fell by 40% between 2010 and 2022.
  2. Evidence[v],[vi] shows that formal study of music improves attainment across academic subjects, benefits oracy and increases confidence, teamworking and civic engagement. It is a matter of concern that school accountability measures including Progress 8 and the English Baccalaureate deprioritise the creative subjects which themselves provide significant cross-curricular benefit.
  3. We welcome the refreshed National Plan for Music Education and that music is included in the National Curriculum, which does not apply to academies, but we are concerned that government policy to convert all schools to academy status would make the National Curriculum obsolete and place the choice to offer music as part of the curriculum into the hands of individual academies or trusts. There is some evidence of music not being included in this instance and this is a loss for students in our view.


The effectiveness of the 11-16 curriculum in equipping young people with the skills they need to progress to post-16 education and employment in a future digital and green economy

  1. In the last pre-pandemic year the creative industries contributed £116 billion[vii] to the UK economy Gross Value Added and grew faster than the economy as a whole. In the same year (2019) the UK environmental goods and services sector’s GVA was £89 billion[viii] and GVA for digital products was £92 billion[ix]. We would argue that designing a curriculum with pre-determined destinations in mind serves neither our national economic interest nor the interests of young people.
  2. While the 11-16 curriculum as it currently stands is suitable for some young people and will equip them with the skills they need, its excessively narrow focus at such an early age limits people’s capacity to change direction and to develop a full and rich understanding of the full range of career options potentially open to them, as well as limiting access to lifelong personal fulfilment.
  3. There is poor understanding of creative sector career pathways throughout the education sector as referenced by Sir Peter Bazalgette in his President’s Lecture[x] to the Royal Society of Arts in April 2023. This leads to skills gaps, both within the creative sector and across the wider economy. Skills in innovation and invention are expressions of creativity which is fostered and enhanced by a curriculum which balances creative subjects with more knowledge-focused subjects.
  4. The downgrading of creative subjects at KS4 (and the consequent squeeze on resources to teach them at KS3) means that access to cultural and creative participation by young people is moving out of schools which means that it is increasingly accessible only to those who can afford it. This leads to a reduction in diversity of creative talent and closes off careers in the creative sector with the very real risk, aside from the damage to individuals and communities, of reduced international competitiveness of such an economically important sector.


The impact of the 11-16 system on the motivation and confidence of pupils of all abilities

  1. High quality music education at school is a predictor of continued engagement in music-making with the career possibilities and wellbeing benefits that confers. In 2021 Sage Gateshead commissioned Youth Focus North East to carry out consultation with young people aged 16 to 25 years-old who do not currently engage with Sage Gateshead and the programmes we offer to young people and compared their responses with young people who do. The consultation found a very strong association between a positive educational or home experience of music and continued participation.
  2. In conjunction with Youth Focus North East we currently run a weekly session in a local community centre where young people of any musical ability aged 14-25 can enjoy, experience and play music together. Over the past year, 25 Free Space sessions took place: 36% of the young people taking part were not in education, employment, or training, and 40% describe themselves as having mental health issues. Activities were developed collaboratively with the participants, leading to activities such as jam sessions, field trips to community radio stations and music production classes at local recording studios.
  3. As a result of the project: 46% of participants have progressed to other music-making activities; 20% of participants have progressed onto employment, education, training or volunteering; and 20% attended other cultural activities that were new to them. Participating in music through Free Spaces has helped young people in challenging circumstances to find within themselves and develop the motivation and confidence take more control of their lives. The clear implication is that this programme filled a gap in 11-16 provision.

We work with primary schools in an economically deprived area of Newcastle to deliver one of six English In Harmony programmes where children in the phase prior to 11-16, i.e. KS1 and KS2, are engaged in orchestral music making. Ofsted[xi] reports: “Pupils grow in confidence during their time in school, acquiring an assured and resilient approach to learning. This is in no small part to the personal and life skills they acquire through music, which have ramifications for learning across the curriculum and their all-round development as young people. Pupils say that they love school and thrive in the well-ordered and positive school environment.” We see no reason why those positive impacts on confidence, resilience and academic and personal development should stop at the age of 11. 

2 May 2023



[i] Entries to arts subjects at Key Stage 4 - The Education Policy Institute (

[ii] Art and design; drama and theatre; media, film, and TV studies; music; dance; and performing arts.

[iii] Arts GCSE and A Level entries 2022 – Cultural Learning Alliance

[iv] Ibid

[v] Does learning to play an instrument have an impact on change in attainment from age 11 to 16? | British Journal of Music Education | Cambridge Core

[vi] HALLAM, S. & HIMONIDES, E. (2022). The Power of Music: An Exploration of the Evidence. Cambridge, UK: Open book Publishers

[vii] Impact of government policy on the creative sector - House of Lords Library (

[viii] UK environmental goods and services sector (EGSS) - Office for National Statistics (

[ix] UK Digital Economy Research Data - Office for National Statistics (

[x] President's Lecture 2023 - RSA (

[xi] Hawthorn Primary School Ofsted Report February 2019.pdf