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Concern over budget cuts as music education hubs launch

10 September 2012, Christopher Walters

Regional music education hubs, the new infrastructure for music education in England prescribed by the government’s National Plan for Music Education, have come into operation.

Hubs, an idea first suggested by Classic FM boss Darren Henley in his government-commissioned Review of Music Education in England, will ‘take forward’ the work of local authority music services by formalising existing partnerships between schools, instrumental teachers and professional musicians.

This follows the government’s statement in the National Plan for Music Education that the best music education involves classroom teachers working in partnership with instrumental teachers and professional performers, and that every child should get the chance to play a musical instrument and sing.

In practice, the vast majority of the 122 new hubs will be led by existing local authority music services, following a bidding process managed by Arts Council England. This involved prospective hub leaders outlining how they would provide the musical opportunities prescribed by the National Plan. It also required them to show how they would factor in central-government cuts to music education. Funding currently stands at an annual £82m, but is set to fall by a quarter over the next three years.

On the ground, there is scepticism about how much difference the new infrastructure will actually make, as well as concern over the funding cuts to come. The latter is a particular concern, and the Arts Council has been charged with ensuring that all hub leaders’ business plans are watertight, although many people remain sceptical that the new hub leaders have sufficient business nous to accommodate such large cuts. The Arts Council, however, is adamant that all the hubs have solid financial plans in place.

‘We have been working very closely with the music education hubs to develop their proposals and business plans,’ said an Arts Council spokesperson. ‘The funding is linked to payment conditions which include providing a viable business plan which demonstrates how the music education hub will ensure that all children have the opportunity to take part in musical activities. The majority of hubs have developed strong business plans.

‘Those who are not yet there have shown great improvement and we will continue to work with them until their business plans are satisfactory. The Arts Council will continue to work with all the music hubs as they implement their plans and we will monitor them closely to ensure that they are delivering the best value for money. Funding would always be withheld from any hub which provides an incomplete or weak business plan.’

The Musicians Union (MU) is concerned that the cuts will mean many peripatetic music teachers being forced into self-employment. Diane Widdison, the MU’s national organiser for teaching, said: ‘The MU will be fighting against any erosion of terms and conditions for dedicated music teachers whose commitment continues to ensure that our young people’s music education continues to be the envy of the world.’

With this in mind, the MU has brought out a hub resource pack, which aims to advise hubs on issues such as child protection and employment. The pack is intended for directors of hub-leading organisations, but it is also being sent to arts organisations, instrumental teachers and politicians. It can be downloaded free of charge at www.musiceducationuk.com/hubs.

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