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Dear Gavin Williamson…

Posted by Sandra Wood on 07 August 2019

Open Letter to the New Secretary of State for Education

Dear Gavin Williamson,

Congratulations on your new post as Secretary of State for Education. It is a job which really is about nurturing the future of everyone in this country.

It may well be that in these ‘interesting times’, as the well-worn phrase has it, you might think that music education is not exactly top-of-the-in-tray important. However, it plays a significant role and there is a big to-do list building up. DCMS will be able to tell you the huge economic significance music has, UK Music values the core music industry contribution at £3.5bn and supporting 101,680 full time jobs. This simply cannot continue without educating a new workforce.

Of course, music’s impact is broader than a core economic role. There are well proven health and wellbeing effects. Targeted approaches like arts-on-prescription have shown a 37% drop in GP consultation rates, and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions, this represents a saving of £216 per patient. And for the sake of future communities we need to be educating not just the next Adeles, but also the next church choir leaders, the next music teachers, the next brass band leaders, the next pub venue programmers.

Here at More Music, we have a wealth of experience seeing the change music can make for young people. We work in schools, communities, we put on events and festivals, we train future music leaders and support the sector, we work with bodies like the Music Education Hubs and Education Partnerships. So from our experience, I have a few recommendations.

Space and Support for Music in Schools
More than anything, there needs to be a sea-change in support for music (and other creative subjects) in schools. Everyone in the field agrees that the pressure to demonstrate performance in the eBacc subjects has had a negative effect on music.
·     Find a new mechanism to support core skills and suspend the eBacc
·     Schools should not be able to receive ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ unless they have a demonstrable commitment to music and other cultural subjects

National Plan for Music Education
The current National Plan for Music Education (NPME) extends until 2020, but there is still lack of clarity about what is to happen after 2020. There have been many successes and much good work, but from our point of view it should be more responsive to different areas’ needs.
·     Urgently set out a timetable of when the next NPME is to be consulted on and come in to force
·     Make a clear commitment to Music Education Hubs with a new 4 year agreement
·     Make the age scope of the next NPME 0-25
·     Strengthen the Music Education Hub (MEH) commitment to partnership – MEHs should demonstrate clear, embedded partnership working
·     Let MEHs be locally accountable for their NPME delivery, to demonstrate responsiveness to communities’ needs
·     Data collection by MEHs should be adequately qualitative as well as quantitative to reflect local accountability for NPME delivery

I am more than aware that resourcing and finance is a continued pressure. It would seem however that the new administration is taking a different view to the previous 2, and new sources of billions can be found.
·     Any widening of scope in the next NPME – e.g. expanding the age range- should be matched by robustly costed extra funding
·     The funding recommendations of the House of Commons Education Committee ‘A ten year plan for school and college funding’ (16/7/19) should be adopted, especially:
·     Urgently addressing funding for Further Education by increasing the base support to £970 million and rising in line with inflation
·     Increase SEND funding, address the £1.2 billion projected deficit and plan to age 25

Model Music Curriculum
The announcement that a new model music curriculum is to be drawn up has caused some controversy, not least in how the task was awarded to exam board ABRSM. It’s important to underline that, in of itself, a new curriculum can’t solve a fall off in those taking GCSE music if music teacher numbers continue to reduce too.
·     Reopen the Model Music Curriculum process
·     Make sure a wider range of partners are brought in to the advisory process
·     Clarify the relation of the Model Music Curriculum to the NPME

Listen To Young People
Above all, make sure that young people’s voices are heard in how we deliver music education. We hear a lot of bad news about young people. But if we take the time to listen and support them they can thrive. Which after all, is what education should be about.

All the best,
Loz Kaye – Artistic Director – More Music.

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