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Discord at the NCO

17 April 2014

A group of people connected with the National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain (NCO), calling themselves ‘concerned stakeholders’, have publically aired grievances against the charity’s board of trustees, and effectively called for a coup d’état, albeit one with the organisation’s founder at its helm.

The website www.ournco.org.uk, which is authored anonymously but publically supported by NCO founder Vivienne Price, accuses the trustees of secretly ‘implementing a programme of radical change’. Issues under discussion include the diminished managerial role of Price’s successor, principal director of music Roger Clarkson; the cost of appointing and employing the managing director Sarah Derbyshire; and plans to move the base of operations from Somerset to Birmingham.

A lengthy editorial on the website calls for the resignation of all trustees except Price, and for her to be allowed to form a new board. A petition has been launched to this effect.

Responding to the allegations and the petition, Derbyshire told MT: ‘The NCO is going through a period of change, ensuring that we are fit for purpose in a fast-moving world. I am deeply sorry that our founder, Vivienne Price, does not feel that she can support some of the major changes we are discussing and working on and I am particularly sorry for her personal upset. 

‘NCO values are, and always will be, at the heart of all that we do. We are passionate about offering the best experience we can to our children and have developed our musical opportunities to reach more children, such as increasing the numbers of orchestras. But this all takes time and money. We need to work to continue raising our profile and attracting funding to ensure that we can continue what we are doing now so successfully and to offer much more in the future.

‘One significant decision is the proposed move to Birmingham, the reasons for which are understood by the NCO’s largest funder, Arts Council England. This move will: position the NCO in a vibrant musical and cultural centre and raise the profile of the NCO as a national organisation; improve access and support collaborative work, thereby involving more families and more children; provide positive professional opportunities for our staff; offer the NCO the opportunity to work alongside major national music and arts organisations; enhance our ability to raise funds and to maintain our services in what is a very challenging time for charities; and enable us to share good practice with like-minded organisations and so build on our successes in providing talented young musicians with the best possible musical and social experience.

‘The implication on the OurNCO website that Roger Clarkson, principal director of music, is no longer in charge of the musical direction of the NCO is incorrect. Roger’s musical leadership is respected by the board.‘I truly hope that we can begin speaking with Vivienne’s representatives and those who have initiated this petition to try and resolve the situation as quickly and as smoothly as possible, moving forward and working together towards a common goal.’

Following our coverage of recent disputes regarding the management of the National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain (NCO) and the petition launched by the authors of the website www.ournco.org.uk, we have received statements from both ourNCO and the NCO board. The statements can be found here.

£21.3 million of music service funding under threat

17 April 2014

The Department for Education (DfE) has published a consultation report recommending that local authorities cut their funding for music services.

Music Services are the lead partners in many of the 123 music hubs. The document, titled ‘Savings to the Education Services Grant for 2015/16’, was compiled after case studies were made of 18 local authorities and 13 academies across the country. The preface sets up the overarching approach: ‘our expectation [is] that schools should take greater responsibility for their own improvement, leaving local authorities to focus on their statutory functions‘. Later, it concludes: ‘Our expectation is that music services should now be funded through music education hubs (which can cover one or more local authority areas) and from school budgets, not from the Education Services Grant [i.e. not from local authority budgets].’

Leading the backlash is the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), which has said, in a statement: ‘These local authorities were putting £21.3 million into music education in 2011/12 but now this funding could be lost completely.’ 

The ISM’s quoted figure is nearly 40% of the total amount allocated to hubs through Arts Council England for 2013/14. 

ISM chief executive Deborah Annetts, taking the stage at the organisation’s annual conference, said: ‘Following the confusion caused by the EBacc and other mixed messages around the value the government places on music education, we now need an unequivocal commitment from the Department for Education that it supports music education and is fully behind the National Plan for Music Education.

‘Last week we celebrated as music was included in the Government’s GCSE reforms, but this week, we find that the Government is backing additional cuts to the music education budget worth millions. In the foreword to the National Plan for Music Education in England, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, said:  “We would not have scaled the heights of artistic greatness in the first place without our pre-eminence in music education”. He was right. We therefore call on the government to halt this consultation and turn back before it is too late.’

For more information on the ISM’s ongoing campaign, visit www.protectmusiceducation.org.

Overhauled music GCSEs and A Levels to be taught from 2016

9 April 2014

The Department for Education (DfE) has announced today that the ‘reformed’ GCSE and A Level qualifications in music, as well as overhauled syllabuses in religious studies, design & technology, drama, dance and PE, will be taught in schools from September 2016.

It marks the first time that Michael Gove has put arts subjects into the same timeframe for reform as subjects such as English, maths and science. Revised syllabuses for the majority of subjects taken at GCSE and A Level are now set to be taught from either 2015 or 2016, with subjects such as maths, English, science, computer science and history remaining at the vanguard of Gove’s reform project.

In his preface to the statement, the Education Secretary said: ‘Our changes will make these qualifications more ambitious, with greater stretch for the most able; will prepare young people better for the demands of employment and further study; will address the pernicious damage caused by grade inflation and dumbing down, which have undermined students’ achievements for far too long; and will give pupils, parents, teachers, universities and employers greater confidence in the integrity and reliability of our qualifications system.

The full announcement can be found here

New GCSEs to be benchmarked internationally

6 April 2014

England's GCSE pupils will be benchmarked against high-performing international counterparts from 2017. Ofqual has unveiled a plan to link GCSE grades to levels achieved by pupils in China, Singapore and other countries deemed to be high-performing, but the idea of an international educational currency has prompted concern from teaching unions, who said some countries excluded certain types of children to boost their scores in international tests.   


The performance of students in England has recently lagged behind cities and countries such as Shanghai in China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) education survey from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.   In the most recent Pisa survey, published last year, English students achieved marks of 500 in reading and 495 in maths. By contrast, Shanghai students scored 570 in reading and 613 in maths, and Hong Kong 545 and 561 respectively.   

Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said Pisa – which surveys a small sample of 15-year-olds in each country taking part – was not an appropriate benchmark to use for a reform of GCSEs. ‘While we understand the government's wish to raise the bar by aligning some grades to Pisa, this raises all kinds of issues. Pisa is a completely different kind of exam than the new GCSEs,’ he said. 

James Rhodes tackles music education in new Channel 4 series

6 April 2014

Channel 4 has commissioned Fresh One to make a three-part series in which pianist James Rhodes aims to get Britain playing again by launching this country’s biggest ever ‘instrument amnesty’. 


The programmes see Rhodes launch his ambitious experiment in Basildon, working in partnership with the people of one town to prove that his approach can work nationwide. It will be accompanied by a major campaign to build on this case study, spreading the amnesty across the country and getting instruments currently languishing in cupboards and attics to the musicians and potential musicians who need them. 

Rhodes said: ‘Within the space of a generation, music education in this country has been decimated. Where once it was inclusive, widespread and available, it is now, sadly, seen as a luxury rather than a basic right. I am so thrilled to be working with Channel 4 to address this. Music has an undeniable, proven positive impact on self-esteem, discipline, teamwork, numeracy, behavioural problems and confidence. The fact that it has all but disappeared from the majority of our state schools is as shocking as it is appalling. This is potentially the most exciting and rewarding project I could ever hope to work on and, with the right support, it's something that I hope will create lasting change.’ 

John Hay, Commissioning Editor for Arts, said: ‘James is a genuinely inspirational figure and with this series, he has found his cause. The instrument amnesty is one of those ideas that – once described – seems so obvious and so right that you wonder why it isn’t already happening, so we’re delighted to be able to throw the channel’s weight behind it to try and bring about real and permanent change.’ 


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