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Ofsted: Hubs ‘have done little to improve’ music education

15 November 2013, Alex Stevens

Ofsted: Damning report on hubs' first year
Ofsted: Damning report on hubs' first year

Music education hubs have done little to improve the range in quality of music education across England, says a report released by Ofsted today which urges hub leaders to act more as ‘champions, leaders and expert partners’.

It also says that Arts Council England, the awarding body of hub contracts, ‘is not yet able to gauge the quality of hubs’ work’.

The report is based on visits to 31 schools, and 'detailed discussions with their associated hubs', by Ofsted inspectors between February and July 2013, within the hubs’ first year.

Good quality music education still ‘reaches only a minority of pupils’, although where they were working well, hubs have ‘often brought new energy, collaborative approaches and vitality to working musically with young people’.

‘Many of the hubs visited, especially in large county areas, were failing to reach out to all eligible schools, despite receiving funding to do so.’

Poor quality music provision often occurs through unspecialised teachers being unable to challenge pupils appropriately. ‘26 of the 31 schools visited, including all of the primary schools, shied away from teaching pupils about fundamental aspects of music … at an appropriately challenging level, or at all. Typically, the schools were not sure enough how to teach these aspects and thought them too difficult for pupils.’

Overall, Ofsted’s clear message is that quality without reach is not acceptable – and that even where hubs have found it hard to work with schools they must still live up to their responsibilities.

‘In some schools, hubs found it hard to get noticed, especially by senior leaders, and gave up too easily.’

Ofsted has published three interviews alongside the report (see 'More like this, left), with HMI Robin Hammerton talking to Susan Robertson of Tees Valley music hub, Peter Bolton of Kent Music and Richard Jones, leader of the South Gloucestershire music hub. These focus on developing hubs’ relationships with schools, particularly highlighting where they have found success in ‘having a challenging conversation’.

‘It’s about making sure the schools are on the right track, really, with their music,’ says HMI Hammerton in one. ‘Yes, definitely,’ replies Robertson.

Speaking at the Music Mark Conference on 15 November, Hammerton reportedly offered ‘to intervene directly in schools’ which wouldn’t establish a relationship with their local music hub.

The report also recommends that Arts Council England ‘take rapid action to improve the reporting and accountability framework for music hubs, ensuring that it contains evaluation of the quality of the work of the hubs in schools; this should include the evaluative examination of hubs’ work’.

John Smith, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said: ‘The completely unrealistic timeframe which was imposed on music services to recreate themselves as music education hubs last year compounded by cuts within local authorities alongside the statutory grant has made it impossible for hubs to fulfil the aspirations of the National Music Plan.

‘Although the National Music Plan itself was promising, unless the Government is prepared to do more to implement it across the country then musical opportunities for young people will continue to be a postcode lottery.’

The MU's Dianne Widdison told MT: 'Too much has been asked of the Hubs in too little time and because of cuts in the central grant, as well as many having to contend with local cuts, they have been charged with trying to address far wider issues with vastly reduced resources.

'It seems bizarre for the report to criticise music in schools when the government has continually undermined the importance of creative subjects in education. If the aspirations of the National Music Plan are to be realised it is imperative that all schools are charged with engaging with their Hubs and the value of music education is recognised.'

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘In passing the responsibility [of music education] on to music hubs, the government is now denying them the level of funding to be able to provide what is expected of them.

‘There needs to be a far more co-ordinated approach to music teaching in schools as well as the time ‘in the curriculum and a proper status given to music lessons.’

A department for Education spokesman told the BBC: ‘Ofsted’s findings are based on just a quarter of the 123 hubs, which were assessed only a few months after opening. But Ofsted is clear that when hubs are properly run, they are already making a real difference. We are working with Arts Council England to ensure music hubs benefit all children.’

An Arts Council England spokeswoman told the Evening Standard: ‘The Arts Council is already addressing the specific recommendations directed towards it in the report which are around our responsibility to set up and monitor hubs.’

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