The National Plan for Music Education, published on 25 November, 'aims for equality of opportunity for all pupils, regardless of race; gender; where they live; their levels of musical talent; parental income; whether they have special educational needs or disabilities; and whether they are looked after children'.
The emphasis placed on the entitlement of SEN/Disabled (SEND) pupils to 'high quality music provision' in this plan marks a step change in comparison to other major music initiatives of recent years. By their own admission, even Sing Up started out with little or no consideration of the interests of SEND pupils, until their excellent Beyond The Mainstream strand was established as a game-changing afterthought.
Early findings from DM Education's recent consultation into 'disabling barriers to formal education' indicate that while 72% of young SEND respondents say that the nature of their disability/special need makes access to music challenging, exactly the same number (72%) state that it is ‘the way in which music activities are organised’ which is a key barrier. (Full consultation findings will be published early in 2012). Drake Music is pleased that the National Plan will require Hubs and schools to break down barriers to music not only through Music Technology - referencing Drake Music’s accessible singing work as a case study on page 51 - but also through better planning – citing as an example DM Education's long-held concern 'that pupils with special educational needs are under-represented in the GCSE music cohort'.
It is also encouraging to see that Hubs will be required to conduct 'a regular needs analysis and an audit of provision' which they will then use to 'plan their services and partnerships around pupils’ needs'. Combined with the requirement to ensure clear progression routes, as well as the sharpened focus of Ofsted’s remit, these measures should help to stimulate better provision for those SEND pupils who do not yet have opportunities to actively participate in making music, or have their music making formally assessed or accredited.
However, merely stating the entitlement of SEND pupils in a plan is no guarantee that their needs will be adequately met, especially given the cut in funding that the National Plan represents. In particular, Drake Music is extremely concerned about the proposed 'per pupil national funding formula, weighted for free school meals'. If free school meals is the only weighting to be considered, then large numbers of SEND pupils will lose out because they don’t receive free school meals.
It is a fact that the high quality music provision for SEND pupils to which the National Plan aspires is usually more expensive than for other pupils due to factors such as higher staff-to-pupil ratios, more time needed for both preparation and delivery in order to adequately differentiate and also, in some cases, the need for specialist equipment. If the Government and the Arts Council are serious about ensuring that 'the disadvantaged can benefit most', then the per pupil national funding formula must also be weighted to take account of the additional needs of SEND pupils. Indeed, it might give the decision-makers pause for thought to consider those disabled pupils who do not receive free school meals precisely because they are fed via a gastrostomy tube.
Drake Music will endeavour to raise these concerns with Government and the Arts Council and we look forward to the opportunity of working in partnership with Hubs to turn the National Plan's aim of equality for SEND pupils into a reality.