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Plan to go back to school for music

Former Music Manifesto Champion, Marc Jaffrey OBE, welcomes the government’s 'unswerving commitment' to music in the lives of young people but warns that schools are where the power really lies to protect music in children’s education

Marc Jaffrey OBEThis is a big plan, literally 55 pages. Size is rarely a reliable indicator of quality but, for better or worse, it is a plan. And, while in the coming days and weeks we pick over the content, my first response is, 'Hallelujah!' 

It is exactly what we wanted as a government response to the Music Manifesto recommendations all those years ago. Now, we finally have it: a plan we can interpret, use and, if needed, campaign to improve. It establishes the place of music in education from which we can judge deeds and actions. The whole of the last government's strategy was based on an off-the-cuff line in 2001 from the then Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, about 'giving every child the opportunity to play'. This one line drove a haphazard strategy in the most frustrating and hilarious way - worthy of an Armando Iannucci script (a story to tell another time). So we should be big enough to commend this government for at least devising a plan.

Now, with the plan immediately comes a budget cut. A cold shower straight off. Labour may have been short on detail, but they did increase the budget by 100%.  And there you have it in a nutshell: there is plenty in this plan to excite and dismay in equal measures, depending on how you are predisposed to think.

I’m a 'cup half-full' guy – a realist in terms of my intellect and an unashamed optimist in my heart. Who did not expect a cut, really? It does not make it right but any surprise must be faux surely? And, without making light of it, I believe it is survivable. Fighting for arts funding is a peaks and troughs experience, we must keep up the good fight.

I am very pleased to see that music technology's power is finally being recognised and that the needs of key categories of children, notably SEN and Gifted and Talented, will be addressed in the bids to become music education 'hubs'. The workforce development proposals also feel positive and I look forward to commenting more on all of these in the coming weeks.

My first substantive observation is the sub-plot in the plan, which may have the biggest lasting impact on the music education sector, that Arts Council England (ACE) have played a blinder (no doubt behind the scenes) and are big winners. They have been written into the heart of delivering music education. ACE have been made the fund holder and awarding body for the previous Music Fund derived from the Department of Education budget. This fund acts as the central resource (alongside LA and contributions from parents) supporting instrumental teaching and performance opportunities. Historically, this fund was distributed directly to local authorities and mostly passed on to Music Services.

This will now change radically and the plan heeds the call that the Music Manifesto made in 2007, and that Darren Henley - its previous Chairman - made in his independent review at the beginning of the year, that far greater local co-ordination, planning, assessment of need, quality standards and focus on education impact should be driven through 'local music hubs'.

ACE's new role gives them increased formal authority and 'soft' power with which to bring this about and ensure that the type of dynamic partnerships we envisaged in 2007, come about. They can bring more experienced leadership, oversight and performance monitoring to awards. They can also ensure that those running relevant National Portfolio Organisations and Bridge organisations work in far greater partnership with expert instrumental teaching organisations like Music Services and the plethora of 'community music projects' already operating.

Indeed, over time, many of these organisational identities are likely to change. 'Hubs' are only worthwhile if they deliver better services (with greater effectiveness and efficiency) that lead to better individual learning outcomes for children. ACE can help make this happen. They will need to demonstrate humility and respect for those existing and excellent education organisations (something big funding bodies sometimes struggle to do) but why would they not? Over time, I suspect the organisational landscape will change beyond recognition. Expect to see mergers, casualties and 'super hubs' grow up. This may be a very good thing if the outcomes are better and it may be needed to sustain the impact of budget cuts. Time will tell.

Oh and I suspect it is in ACE's best interests to ensure this is managed without too much blood on the carpet. Why?

Ed VaizeyWell, I'm unfashionable in my view (in liberal arts and education circles at least) that generally Gove 'gets' music's value to children and the plan offers much evidence of this. But the real unsung champion and instigator of this plan is, I believe, Ed Vaizey. I'd put my money on Ed chairing the National Plan Monitoring Board to oversee developments.

Now, while he rightly wants to see orchestras and other NPOs take up the challenge better to get involved, he will not want a crude ACE articulation of power or significant disenfranchisement of education organisations on his watch, not least because most relevant NPOs have only limited links with (ah, the word not yet mentioned) schools. Nor do they have an ability to deliver the instrumental teaching currently done by 12,000 music teachers employed and co-ordinated by Music Services. However, they will be able to offer fresh ways of rationalising and achieving this with a level and standard of leadership currently not present in the music education sector. Surely, the very best Music Service leaders will welcome this? It’s certainly a message I have repeated time and time again in my own work with Music Services over the years.

And ACE, as new co-sponsors of In Harmony: Sistema England, have also gained a major say on how this initiative progresses and they will, I believe, allow it to take centre stage in England’s cultural life. Maybe the chattering classes will be blown away by the talent of English children from the far side of the tracks as regularly as they are by Venezuelan ones in the future? I hope so.

I was one of the programme’s original instigators, and have subsequently been an adviser to it, and I believe ACE's involvement is very good news. They will have the opportunity to better knit the relationships between British Orchestras, National Youth Music Organisations and In Harmony together and bring much needed guile to building social partnerships on the ground and giving the programme national advocacy.

But all this is the sub-plot.  As I read the report, I found a few key concerns. 

The first is whether the very shifts outlined above, notably the moving of the Fund allocation process from the DfE to ACE, is symbolic of a distancing of the subject of music from the DfE’s corridors of power? There are those who will comment in the coming days that what I see as a strength is in fact the very opposite. If Gove cares generally about music education as I contest, how specific is that commitment when it comes to maintaining music in schools and in the classroom?

The plan is unable to report on the possible ending of music as a guaranteed 5-14 National Curriculum entitlement (subject to a wider review yet to report) and many, especially in the school music sector, will argue that this is singularly the most important question. And it remains unanswered in the plan – unanswered therefore in the major Government announcement on music this side of a General Election. There may yet be a very harsh sting in the detail of all this apparent intent from politicians.

It is true to say that when I worked as an independent adviser to successive Secretaries of State at the DfE (and the DCMS) engagements with head teachers were dominated by their interest in the fact that the Secretary of State of the DfE was prioritising music. They generally cared less if the DCMS, let alone ACE, were involved (even though they where vital sponsors). In fact, head teachers’ level of interest was often exclusively driven by the assessment that this was a priority for the DfE and a personal passion of successive Ministers - Miliband, Johnson, Adonis and Balls (to name but four of the 10 involved over five years…)

Yet, for me, this belies a challenge that I have been flagging up for some time now that, whatever the plan says, the biggest challenge is to convince large numbers of head teachers to invest in music, to support their music teachers in their classrooms (and to ensure there is at least one music teacher in their school!) Heads need to provide resources, leadership and make music a priority for more than just a few obviously gifted children.

The question we must ask is whether the National Plan will help this happen? For me, this challenge still remains the central task for all music educators, especially the new 'hubs' and their partners. But it should be remembered that, as the command and control relationship between DfE and schools is lessened, the people head teachers and other school leaders most respect and listen to are other heads and school leaders. How many will be directly involved in 'hubs'?

I have long argued that there are not nearly enough school leaders directly involved in championing music education or school music teachers (and it’s remiss of me to mention school music teachers so late). They are largely the forgotten majority, the backbone alongside instrumental teachers of music education for our children. Yet, they are marginal to the many representative bodies. So a question: how will Bridge organisations, ACE and the various music education bodies involved in the new 'hubs' bring school music teachers centre stage and convince school leaders of the remarkable educational value of music (taught well)?

Once the planning is over, that should be a key task and one that I would love ACE to ask prospective 'hubs' about in their selection process. 

If we can mobilise school leaders, we’ll insulate children from any forthcoming removal of their obligations regarding music in the National Curriculum, because a majority of heads will then use their power to protect music. If the changes proposed crack that, it will all have been worthwhile.

Marc Jaffrey OBE and Ed Vaizey are speaking at the musiclearninglive!2012 conference, 12 & 13 March 2012 at the Institute of Education in London.