The National Plan was a ticket for change with a strong signal for doing things differently and working collaboratively. At its core was the formation of 123 Music Education Hubs in England from April 2012. Effective partnership was at the heart of the Plan. Genuine partnership-working between organisations achieving more than they can on their own. Shared vision, shared purpose, shared resources and expertise are now the order of the day.
Good and better governance
Successful partnership-working is a prerequisite for Music Education Hubs to work effectively. And let's be honest, this was pretty new and challenging territory for hub partners, particularly music services, who in almost every case are the lead organisation and accountable body for each hub. Unfortunately, in the crucial setting-up phase in early 2012, the precise nature of these partnerships was often unclear - as indeed was the precise purpose and reason for working together. As a result, partnerships had a tendency to feel piecemeal, leading to organisations quickly getting disillusioned, which wasted time and energy. Perhaps many still feel this way now.
There can often be a misunderstanding about roles and responsibilities. For example, partner organisations are invited to join a hub strategy group which really turns out to be more of an advisory group, with members simply being updated on progress by the hub lead organisation which then cracks on with what it wanted to do in the first place, regardless of partners’ input. If the hub lead organisation remains not just the planner but also the deliverer of all activities - while also at the same time being the fund holder - perceived and real conflicts of interests can arise. Hardly the true ‘partnership’ working intended in the Plan.
What's the solution? Well for me, it's simple. It's about good governance put into practice. I think it is entirely possible for partner organisations in a hub to play a strategic role and agree a mandate to do so. First step: the hub's business plan is agreed and signed off by its strategy group of partners prior to the beginning of each financial year and then monitored and reviewed regularly by the strategy group. At the same time, partner organisations accept that legal accountability does sit with the hub lead organisation as the fund holder. But these two things are not incompatible - it's about clarity of purpose and, of course, trusting and respectful leadership.
Good governance is of course not the end in itself but provides a firm foundation providing clarity for all partners to work well together. My suggestion will also clear up the continuing confusion about the difference between a music service and a hub. They are, of course, two different things, not one and the same. A music service is a constituted single organisation, a hub is a way of working, a principle, a collection of organisations working together but in pretty much all cases hubs are not yet formally constituted single organisations. There's a big difference, which should be clearly articulated and remembered.
Depth rather than breadth, outcomes rather than outputs
We must continue to recognise how great it is that England has a National Plan for Music Education. However, the 'every child' mantra (evident as far back as 1997 and continued in the National Plan), while laudable in its intent, might well be a hindrance. If the aspiration is that every child should learn an instrument, my immediate thought is yes, that's great, but for how long? Five minutes, an hour, 10 weeks? The 'access' box might have been ticked but to what end? Is it better to do nothing at all rather than have a short-lived 10-week programme of instrumental tuition that goes up in a puff of smoke? Regular music-making together with practical, tangible progression routes identified by the music teacher or leader are absolutely key.
So what's the solution? I would argue that in phase two of Music Education Hubs, an outcomes approach should be adopted focusing on musical, personal and social outcomes for children and young people with an emphasis on their sustained participation in music. This is what we have developed and implemented at Youth Music over the last five years. We would, of course, be happy to share and develop this approach further for the next stage of Music Education Hubs.
Targeted rather than universal subsidy
I believe there should be a far greater focus on targeting the public subsidy and precious resources we have where they are needed most: subsidy to maximise impact rather than universal subsidy, which can get spread too thinly trying to be something for everyone.
So where is subsidy most needed? Much more emphasis needs to placed on targeting disadvantaged children and young people in challenging circumstances to address, the unfairness and inequalities that exist head-on. This would require not just a change of emphasis but a change in the business model for hubs i.e. the funds from DfE managed by ACE being more restricted and specific in what they can be used for. Fundraised and trading income could then be used for other purposes, bearing in mind that in many cases parents can afford to pay for their children's music-making. This also takes account of the fact that music continues to be a statutory curriculum entitlement from KS1-KS3, with an obligation on schools to resource accordingly.
A diversity of music is celebrated and explored
I would argue that the National Plan, while warmly welcomed, promotes a relatively limited and traditional view of musical knowing. Most of us recognise that the making of music takes place in many forms, in many places, across a diverse range of styles and traditions. This should be more clearly acknowledged and accepted, giving license to (the many and varied parts of) the sector to provide a well-funded, broader range of work with confidence. This is more likely to harness the existing passion for music many children and young people already have, by relating it more closely to how they experience and participate in music, both in and out of school.
My hope is that in three years time, we will have collectively made great strides in achieving our goal at Youth Music of a musically inclusive England. That is, that children and young people can inform and progress their music-making, despite all exclusionary challenges; the workforce is suitably skilled to enable them to do so; and a diversity of musics are celebrated, explored and respected.
An edited version of this article appeared in the November 2015 edition of Music Teacher magazine.
Photo from Get Your Folk On! a project supported by Youth Music and run by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). Photo by Roswitha Chesher.