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Newham scheme offering schoolkids free music lessons and theatre tickets under threat

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A scheme that provides free theatre trips and music lessons to schoolchildren in a London borough is under threat.

Newham Council is consulting on the future of its Every Child Programme, which costs it £2.5 million.

It said that the vast majority of this – 90% – goes towards the Every Child a Musician element of the scheme, which provides musical provision in Newham’s primary schools and gifts a musical instrument to every year in year 6.

The Every Child a Theatre Goer part of the scheme provides young people in year 6 and in secondary schools the chance to attend theatre productions for free. Partners have included the National Theatre.

In 2017/18, around 16,000 children attended theatre performances as part of the scheme.

However, the council said cuts to its funding from central government meant it now had to make savings of £14.5 million in 2019/20, rising to £27 million by 2022.

The authority said its own research had discovered that the music element of the scheme “delivers some benefits, [but] it is not achieving the best outcomes for children”.

It said the other three programmes in the scheme, including theatregoing, “represent a small proportion of the overall Every Child budget and do not all offer a universal service to every child in Newham”.

“We will consider with stakeholders how these programmes should be taken forward as part of a new service offer,” it said.

Julianne Marriott, Newham Council cabinet member for education, said: “We have to balance priorities at a time of extreme cuts to council budgets. We must make sure every pound we spend has the maximum impact and [provides the] best outcomes for all our young people.”

The Musicians’ Union has raised concern about the move, with its general secretary, Horace Trubridge, calling on the council to reconsider its plans.

“The real losers in this scenario are the very people that Newham Council claims it wants to help – namely the kids from poorer backgrounds,” he said.

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