Support the ISM Campaign to save Music Education

Allan Beavis's picture
Music education in the UK is on the verge of collapse if the government’s plan to encourage local authorities to withdraw funding for music services goes ahead at the end of this month.

Under the coalition’s schools reforms, there have been worrying signs that arts subjects have been sidelined. 15% of schools surveyed by Ipsos MORI in 2012 had withdrawn one or more arts subjects as a result of the EBacc. 21% of schools with a high proportion of free school meals (FSM) reported withdrawing arts subjects.

There was a degree of optimism a few years ago when Michael Gove launched the National Plan for Music, insisting that “music education must not become the preserves of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition”. Following a comprehensive report by Darren Henley, the government pledged £171m via the Arts Council to fund music hubs across England over a three year period.

There was more reason to be optimistic when the Dfe announced in April this year that Art & Design, Dance, Drama and Music GCSEs would be part of the suite of qualifications to be reformed ready for teaching from 2016. A Levels in Dance, Drama and Music were also to be reformed alongside other subjects, also ready for teaching from September 2016.

So the removal of local authority music services (whose major partners are the same Music Hubs the government established to reach out to children from lower income families) suggests that there is a vast difference between what Michael Gove says he wants when it comes to enriching children from poorer backgrounds and what his policies will actually do.

This contradiction is not the worst of it. The last time the Tories were in government, Margaret Thatcher made the decision that local authorities need not allocate a proportion of their funds to music education. Free music lessons for hundreds of thousands of children whose families could not have afforded them went down the plughole at the same time as Mrs. Thatcher urged the world to shun communities, worship free market greed and pay scant attention to the spiritual nourishment that the arts can bring.

The Department for Education blithely suggests that music services should henceforth be funded through school budgets and music hubs (which can extend over two or more local authorities). There are two problems with this.

• Firstly, maintained school budgets are already stretched beyond endurance (little wonder there is so much outrage on the millions of pounds spent by the DfE on establishing free schools and in areas of little demand) and there is enough evidence that schools are cutting resources to arts subjects;

• Secondly, the DfE pre-supposes that hubs have become financially self sustaining. They have not. And it remains to be seen what levels of funding they are slated to receive after March 2015 – very little if the pattern of cuts to music services is an indication.

When the arts community gets vocal about funding, there is a tendency for their critics to ridicule what it is that artists actually do or contribute to local or global communities. It becomes even easier at a time of economic austerity. Subjects like music are dispatched into the periphery of the curriculum – a hobby rather than an essential component of learning. Swingeing cuts and the punitive focus on the “rigorous’’ and the “academic” prioritise what Michael Gove alone considers what is core learning. But this is to wrongly relegate music to the edge of the frivolous and irrelevant..

Significant numbers of research has shown that arts learning improves maths, literacy and cognitive skills. Introducing music at a young age increases IQ. Community music programmes pioneered by El Sistema Venezuela and Sistema Scotland raise aspiration, help children focus, inspire confidence and transform deprived communities.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians has launched the Protect Music Campaign opposing these truncations. They have published a poll which last month showed that 85% of adults agreed with Michael Gove that music education should not be the entitlement of the already advantaged.

Please sign it and urge others to sign so that we can hold Michael Gove and the DfE to account. He has continuously stated that he supports music and arts education – this is one immediate way of reminding him that the vast majority of public support it and his National Plan for Music pledged a commitment to it. Please help deliver the message that music enriches young people’s lives and that music services are essential to allowing children from less affluent backgrounds to unlock their potential.
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Dom Peck's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 15:17

If local authorities really believed that music education was worth having, then they would support it whether central government required them to do so by statute or not.

Your argument seems to be that we should consider LAs virtuous for supporting music when forced to; but government wicked for no longer forcing them to. Funny ethics, no?

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 00:36

Local authorities do not set education policies. Governments do. And they should do so with consistency and a long term vision. This government has failed to do both and, in the case of music services, has conveniently fobbed it off as an additional extra they are now effectively withdrawing. If Gove really believed that music provision should more readily accessible to disadvantaged children he should make more effort to demonstrate this with positive action to back up his pronouncements rather than stealthily preventing young people from enriching their lives through music alongside their privately tutored contemporaries. He rages that state school children should have the same advantages as those in private schools yet he sets policies such as this one which will ensure that they will be kept apart.

Brian's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 07:31

As far as I can see my LA thinks lots of education services are worth providing but no longer has the funds to do so. Just believing something is worthwhile doesn't make it possible in an LA facing £175 million of additional cuts in the next three years.

Emma Bishton's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 16:39

The ESG consultation document makes great play of the fact that direct school budgets have not been cut, then goes on to outline which services - including music - they should now be paying for. More sleight of hand from Gove, it seems to me. Useful to note that the Henley report made clear that schools needed specialist music input - so exactly who in the new big society is supposed to be paying for the hubs on an ongoing basis?

Wonder what his new culture secretary, who in Saturday's Guardian talks about increasing accessibility to the arts, thinks of the suggestion that LAs no longer need bother funding music services (amongst other things)?

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 10:29

I don't expect Sajid Javid will have the nerve to criticise Gove - look what happened last week when Theresa May got into a spat with him. The specialist input recommended by Darren Henley led to the creation of hubs which were poorly resourced and with no clear overall objective. Little wonder then, that when Ofsted decided to poke around them, they delivered a sniffy and methodologically flawed report which said they needed to pull their socks up. I wrote about it here and now, in retrospect, I wonder whether music hubs were set up to fail with Ofsted putting the final boot in.

Emma Bishton's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 10:57

Allan I fear you may be right - disparaging provision so it loses value is a tried and tested tactic. But LAs wouldn't just stop people driving on roads with potholes in, they would be expected to fill the holes (or at least to challenge and support the music hubs to do similarly). Here in Suffolk (and it's not often you hear good things about education in Suffolk) we have a pretty good hub which does interesting and innovative things in partnership with Aldeburgh Music, and which has a number of highly-skilled music teachers delivering in our schools.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 11:13

Would your hub be able to be self sustaining though if local authority withdrew funding?

Emma Bishton's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 10:33

Local authorities were always expected to fund music and other public services because the expertise to deliver them does not exist in most schools, not because they are some kind of 'additional extra'. But it now suits the DfE to pretend otherwise as (despite rhetoric to the contrary) the LAs simply don't have 'inefficiencies' at the scale needed to make the required savings. LAs are supposed to provide public services, that's what they are for. This is just a short-term financial exercise with no thought as to the long-term consequences (long after the coalition govt has been put to rest).

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 08:09

An article in the Telegraph yesterday echoed Allan's concern about the threat to music education.

Barbara White's picture
Fri, 13/06/2014 - 16:11

A world without music would be a very sad place.

JW's picture
Fri, 13/06/2014 - 16:56

Perhaps the National Lottery could take up the slack and fund musical instruments for schools. We must have enough sports pitches and playgrounds by now!

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 14:27

What worries me is that this government has already abdicated responsibility for many essential provisions and services and handed them over to for-profit making companies or, in the case of the arts education, to charities. This promotes the belief that the arts are a frivolous non-essential when the exact opposite is true. It is already damaging that Gove, in excluding expressive arts from the Ebacc, undermines creativity. We need to get rid of the Ebacc altogether and accept that all subjects are necessary within a broad curriculum and for a comprehensive education which is fit for purpose for each and every child.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 14/06/2014 - 16:00

Allan - better still, phase out high stakes exams at 16 and insist all children receive a broad, balanced curriculum up to 16. One of Wilshaw's recommendations to Gove following the B'ham inspections is that schools must be told exactly what is expected in a broad, balanced curriculum. This would stop schools dropping subjects like music (albeit that it's threatened by under investment).

Jane Eades's picture
Mon, 16/06/2014 - 14:56

I am completely unmusical and gave up piano lessons when all I could do was play "God save the Queen" with one hand. However, as a retired Maths teacher I recognise the value of the broadest possible curriculum. To be able to praise a student's achievement in, say, the arts or crafts frequently helped her/him to make a break through in Maths. So often overall success is dependent on initial success in one area and it doesn't matter what that area is. So, to narrow the choice is to consign some to a sense of failure.

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