Is music going out of tune?

The National Plan for Music Education is due for publication in October when Music Services, the providers of quality music and vocal tuition in our primary and secondary schools, will learn how much central Government funding will be available post September 2012. One thing is almost guaranteed: there will be less cash to go around.

Government funding is through the music grant and this rose under the Labour administration to reach £82.5m annually. This figure remained untouched during 2011/12 while the Coalition undertook a review of music education conducted by Darren Henley, the Classic FM boss. The music grant is largest single amount of money that goes into music education but more of that later.

New ways of working
The Coalition has trailed the way in which they see music education being funded and delivered in the future. Darren Henley’s review paper recommendations have been endorsed in whole or part by the government.

Centrally, Henley recognised the importance of music in the overall education of children, sighting the cognitive, social and overall attainment characteristics that a music education brings to whole child development.

He also suggested that music education should be delivered locally through ‘Music Education Hubs’ that would bring together various funding streams to provide music education both in and outside schools. In addition these Music Hubs should offer to schools a wider cultural offering that could embrace dance, drama and other musical opportunities.

Henley also recognised that there was both an uneven playing field in the way in which funds had been distributed and that the quality of teaching whilst overall was good, did have some areas in need of better musical training, particularly for primary classroom teachers.

In the future, Music Services and other providers will have to bid for funds from central government and be more accountable for the educational outcomes. The formation of Music Hubs will mean Music Services forging closer links with other arts providers including orchestras, dance organisations, community musicians and other groups to pool funds and ideas and not duplicate offerings. In many cases Music Services do this already but in the future it will be more formalised. The aim is to offer more to schools for less.

How will this new funding work?
Currently the overall money available for music education in the state education sector is broken down as follows:

  • Government music grant: 37.5 per cent
  • Local authorities: 10.5 per cent
  • Parental fees and school contributions: 52 per cent

During the last year local authorities have made quite large cuts to their contributions to music education at a local level. In extreme cases they plan to withdraw all funding over a period of years. This has already added financial pressures on the management and ability of Music Services to maintain their level of resources in both staff and what they can offer in schools; out of school music like ensembles and county orchestras and low income families are likely to bear the brunt of any cuts.

The formation of Music Hubs will create opportunities to top-up funds through a number of ways. In addition, the government’s Music Education Grant, to which they are committed to keep, albeit at probably a lower level, it is suggested that additional funds will be derived through a mixed range of sources including the Arts Council England; local authorities; lottery funds; schools; parents; charities; businesses and individual philanthropy.

A new way forward
This will require new thinking by Music Services and new skills will have to be learned on fund raising, approaching businesses and individuals as well as working closely with new partners to deliver the government’s vision of ‘enabling all children in England from all backgrounds to have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and sing and progress to their level of excellence.’ The government is stressing that they want all children to access music education including gifted and talented, those with special educational needs and looked after children.

Whilst the Coalition’s aspirations and commitment to music is heartening it is, as with all funding models which have philanthropy and sponsorship in the mix, difficult to see how a level playing field can be created. Successful fund raising could swell local budgets in one area, while those located in less well-off districts may struggle to raise sufficient funds for an all encompassing music provision. The Federation will continue to work hard to ensure that all Music Services (no matter the slings and arrows of geography) are at the top of their game in terms of attracting mixed income-stream funding.

Campaign for Keeping Music in Schools
The formal role of music in schools is being affected by the recent introduction of the English Baccalaureate and the current National Curriculum Review. The government recognises the value and impact of music on children’s lives and have said that they see access to good music education a key component of a rounded school life. Equally however they are clear that they feel that head teachers and school leaders should not be dictated to and they are keen to avoid a prescriptive relationship with them. It is therefore vital that the Federation of Music Services, and other expert bodies, ensure that schools understand how vital music in schools is.

Key Benefits

Schools are at the heart of music education and without their recognition and buy-in music will almost certainly decline. The music education industry as a whole is mounting a campaign to inform school leaders of the benefits that music brings to pupils, parents and schools. Centred around ‘10 Things Schools Should Know about Learning Music’ the key messages include:

  • Improved cognitive skills
  • Teaches team working
  • Enhances social skills
  • Boosts overall school attainment levels
  • Better behaviour
  • Music is fun
  • Parental approval
  • Music is for life
  • Quality tuition all the way
  • Music as a lifeline

It is vitally important that we engage with school heads and leaders to make them aware of the many benefits that music brings to a children’s overall education and their well being as future citizens. We are backing up our campaign with transformational case histories of how music has made a real difference to pupils’ lives from stopping absenteeism to changing the life of a dyslexic child.

We know from our own research that music makes a real difference affecting the culture and ethos of the whole school; music is greatly appreciated by parents – seeing their children in performance is a positive cultural beacon that enhances the school’s reputation and adds parental appeal. A school without music education is a diminished place of learning.