Freedom or poverty?

I’m almost too depressed to write about the possible future of arts education – and particularly music education – under the auspices of that stupendous ignoramus Michael Gove. There are so many issues on which to take him to task it is almost too much to contemplate, especially going into a Bank Holiday weekend.

He says he wants to give teachers and schools more freedom to teach as they wish to, and to have more autonomy over spending, curriculum, recruitment, etc. This sounds quite good on the face of it – but it’s something that has already been happening in schools over the past three years or so. On top of that, he’s going about it the wrong way, but offering schools the chance to opt out of local authority control. (Let’s leave aside for the moment that he’s already trying to set the process in train without having managed to get a Bill passed in Parliament.) It is not local authorities which have imposed curriculum demands on schools: it was the Department for Children, Schools and Families (handy tip: if you need to remember the name, think of the Department for Carpets and Soft Furnishings).

Cutting loose from the local authority would bring a school some extra cash, but it will mean that the school will have to take on its own payroll and many other costs which the local authorities would have dealt with centrally, thus losing any economies of scale. Teachers have complained that it’s unclear whether other benefits of local authority control, such as advice, legal support and so on will still be available.

But, most importantly to someone like me, it could be the death knell of centrally-provided music services. Teams of peripatetic staff, Saturday morning music centres and youth bands, choirs and orchestras, many of which are already under massive financial strain, could founder and die if too many schools decide to spend their money elsewhere. If Mrs Fanakertipan down the road gives cheaper piano lessons that Mr Hoojum from the County, then budget constraints rather than quality will come first. On top of the cuts that many local authorities will be forced to impose, this could spell disaster.

Let’s also just think of what happens if youth orchestras start to fade away. The youth orchestra system feeds the excellence of our professional and amateur performing arts throughout the land and beyond. If the supply of highly-trained players plummets, then in only a few years’ time the musical culture of our island will be badly threatened. Many local symphony orchestras as hugely enriched by the instrumental teachers live locally – what will happen to them?

I realise this is a bit Eeyore-ish for a holiday weekend, but we have to wake up to the dangers. Write to your MP. After all, it’s going to be raining tomorrow so you’ll need something to do.

To end on a more positive note, I see that the papers are characterising teachers’ response to Gove’s letter inviting them to opt out as ‘luke-warm’. Let’s hope it chills even further (but that the weather warms up again).

Published in: on May 28, 2010 at 12:34  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I appreciate you make very important and valid points, but think things may just work both ways. As a ‘sessional’ instrumental employee for a Local Authority, I know that several schools for which I work would prefer to employ me directly as the LA’s cut is between 33-100% of the hourly rate they charge the school or pupil depending upon the type of tuition I undertake. They (the school) would then pay me considerably more than the slave rate I endure at present and save a considerable amount of their own budget at the same time. Indeed, some local schools have already opted-out, and this is exactly what’s happening. Your model fits a Utopia, which may be similar to one with which you were familiar. If it replicates one you believe is still in place, I can only say you have had an exceptional experience. The music service for which I work is fragmented and disparate,damaged by one too many central government initiatives which dilute the quality of the tuition we are able to provide, by offering any number of incentives for children to begin tuition, but none by which they may continue adequately. The county and area ensembles are in disarray, and levels of disaffection run high amongst staff and pupils alike, yet, guess what, only last week, this particular music service was rated ‘outstanding’.

  2. Don’t know anything about music services, but I used to work in adult education (or adult learning as it is now called, because councils prefer something ungrammatical). The tutors would leave the service because the pay was so low and the paperwork so huge that they realised they were actually earning less than the minimum wage if they added up all the non-teaching time. However they carried on running their classes – just got some insurance, hired a village hall, charged the students the same rate and made a profit. When AE was cut many more tutors did the same. I realise that if music is not carried into schools then some children would never take it up, but I query whether this would not be done by someone enterprising if the council stop doing it. Hey Cathers! Let’s set up a music network where tutors sign up and we liaise with schools to organise lessons! The school would pay a decent rate as per Leonie’s post, we sort out their CRB checks and insurance! Told you some enterprising etc etc

  3. Hi both
    Sorry not to respond sooner – I’ve had my first week at Arts Inform and it’s been hectic. Leo – I don’t disagree with you and perhaps I am being utopian, but having seen what was achieved in Bedfordshire during Michael’s incumbency and how it has suffered since charging and all that general ghastliness has come in, you can perhaps understand me. I’m certainly all for teachers being properly paid, though I too accept a very low fee for conducting Third Orchestra.
    Philly – the thing about people going it alone means that there’s no strategic overview and it’s difficult to set up things like youth orchestra systems. If the youth orch system in Bedfordshire had to be passed into private hands, it would become a shadow of its former self in no time at all.

  4. “It could be the death knell of centrally-provided music services.”

    Won’t people always want music, whether or not services are provided centrally?

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