Mention the subject of music teaching to most people and the chances are that at some point in the conversation, the issue of ‘cuts’ will raise its head. In the post-Covid lcokdown era, as the cost-of-living crisis bites, cuts to music education from many different directions are further corroding an already suffering service.
For peripatetic music teachers - those without a regular base or place of work - the erosion of music provision in schools is an ongoing cause of concern and it’s one that the MU is constantly endeavouring to address.
Music provision under pressure
David Barnard, the MU's Education Official, has a UK-wide remit “that covers employment, contractual issues, IR35, holiday pay, employment status, pay cuts, just about anything’” he says. “It’s fascinating, though I sometimes feel like an employment lawyer.”
Barnard has a background in music education and has worked as a brass tutor and music service manager before spending 12 years as Director of Education at Roland. Having been involved in setting up teacher co-operatives he suggested he could be considered poacher-turned-gamekeeper, but retains a deep inside knowledge of an area which, presently, is extremely fluid.
“For those music teachers in work, there’s less of it and when you say cuts, whether in funding, access or provision, music will be a victim and availability reduced,” he observes.
“Most schools pass on costs to parents so, if you can’t afford to pay, your child is unlikely to benefit from sustained instrumental or vocal tuition.”
Yet the desire shown by youngsters to engage with music is “inspiring”, according to Barnard. “During lockdown the Music Industries Association noted sales of guitars actually rose,” he says.
There’s also evidence that while music may be declining in maintained junior and secondary schools and in academies, it is increasing in the private sector, though few doubt that music provision overall is under pressure.
Demand for music education
Leon King works for Peterborough Music Hub where his hourly rate has not changed for ten years. “In the rare case where I am employed by a school directly, I have negotiated rate increases for their peris close to the MU minimum rate this year,” he says. “I increased my private rate last September after a six-year freeze and will probably increase again as inflation is so high. I’ve had no protests.”
Unlike others, King has more potential work than he can handle while the story from Simon Keats, an MU Education Rep in Plymouth, is very different.
“There’s not the amount of work there was and it has declined 60% over the last couple of years,” says Keats. “My situation has become virtually impossible in a full-time capacity.”
Uncertainty for music hubs
That pressure compounds itself in a paucity of teachers. “Music hubs struggle to find teachers and there has been a shift in people thinking music teaching is no longer a viable option,” says Barnard. He adds:
“It’s now a highly precarious form of work. There is also considerable uncertainty over the future of music hubs in England. Are there conversations about reducing the number of hubs? Do I have a job? Is the Government asking hubs to amalgamate? We just don’t know what’s happening. There’s been no significant pay increase recently and, for people in salaried roles, that’s a considerable concern.”
Jenny Brown is involved with Bedford Music Co-operative. “We’re all re-inventing the wheel,” she says. “Even before co-ops came about, music services all did things differently. In Bedford, we bill parents directly, which means schools are not engaged. We have no shortage of learners but a shortage of teachers. That is especially the case outside big cities. When we recruit a teacher, they have to recruit pupils to make their role pay.”
In nearby Milton Keynes, her colleague Sarah Tomlinson has been a peripatetic teacher since 2001. “When I joined, I came in on a contract with teachers’ pay and conditions but, bit by bit, it’s been eaten away. There’s little job security now and provision is fragmented. In Milton Keynes, what’s left of the music service has no premises and we are lumped in with the parks and cemeteries department. Inadequate storage for instruments means they are often damaged and in some places, music tuition is not valued.
When I joined [as a peripatetic teacher], I came in on a contract with teachers’ pay and conditions but, bit by bit, it’s been eaten away. There’s little job security now and provision is fragmented. / Sarah Tomlinson, a peripatetic teacher in Milton Keynes
“But it’s still a great job. Covid taught us flexibility, the co-op model gives us all a message of hope and relationships with hubs has produced performance opportunities, support for under-privileged children, training days for teachers – and our numbers are rising.”
Why self-employed music teachers must be empowered
The nature of employment for peripatetic teachers is another issue. Some are employed, mostly part-time, but the majority are either casual or zero-hour employees or self-employed, working on a termly basis with no guarantee of work.
There are too many examples of bogus self-employment where the engager – be it a school, council or private provider – retains all the control but is not prepared to pay a decent wage. / David Barnard, MU Education Official
“There are too many examples of bogus self-employment where the engager – be it a school, council or private provider – retains all the control but is not prepared to pay a decent wage”, says Barnard. “We need a significant employment tribunal case to empower self-employed teachers.”
The state of mental health support
There is also the question of isolation, especially acute in Keats’ case. “Pastoral care and mental health support is non-existent and as everything is now done so secretively even schools that we, as individuals, have built a rapport with, are being taken away and handed to others with far less experience,” he says. There are also issues around continuity of musical tuition and the fact that, in some schools in Keats’ area, Key Stage 3 music GCSE is an extra-curricular activity competing with other activities.
Increasingly, too, there are dubious agencies or ‘music schools’ offering employment or tuition. “Look for the signs,” says Barnard. “Does the organisation appear to be promising everything but fails to pay its teachers properly? If you get into a dispute with an employer there’s a difference between saying ‘I have an employer’ as opposed to ‘I think I have an employer’.”
Pastoral care and mental health support is non-existent and as everything is now done so secretively even schools that we, as individuals, have built a rapport with, are being taken away and handed to others with far less experience. / Simon Keats, MU Education Rep in Plymouth
It’s undisputed that music teaching has evolved massively and working a diverse week can often have a highly positive effect on teaching. But, notes Barnard, “it does require a teacher to be proactive and entrepreneurial”. That’s the essence of a teacher’s new world.
Music education in flux
Around the UK, Government policies are affecting music education differently. While there are plenty of policy announcements, it is far from clear that these are leading to tangible improvements.
In England, a new National Plan for Music Education was published last year, but there was no increase in ringfenced funding for Music Hubs which has been frozen for over a decade. The Plan is non-statutory, meaning that it will not be enforced. The Government has said that it wants fewer Music Hubs and is currently retendering these via Arts Council England, which has created widespread uncertainty about what the future will look like.
In Scotland, the Government recently pledged that instrumental should be free for all children, but the funding it provided did not meet the cost of this. Now, several local authorities are threatening to pull their sizeable contributions, causing chaos.
In Wales, a new National Music Service has been rolled out but it is too early to say what improvements have resulted. The MU is concerned about low levels of resource for the Service, but we are keen to work constructively with the Labour administration on it.
In Northern Ireland, teaching musicians tell us that teaching rates are significantly lower than in other UK nations. Additionally, political stalemate has led to a freeze in policy development in many areas, including education.
The MU is in dialogue with Governments and officials across the UK to do what we can to overcome these challenges.