Supporting music for young people

Over the weekend I attended two charity events in the music world. In many ways they were a microcosm of society today and reflected some ofthe wide divisions even in a city such as Oxford. Saturday’s event was in aid of The Young Women’s Music Project (YWMP). This is an  educational charity that is described in their own words as offering twice-monthly free workshops for women aged 14-21, which provide an inclusive and supportive space for young women to make music together, learn new skills, express themselves, and grow in confidence.  In their music workshops, they make and record music, plan and hold gigs and events, and discuss relevant issues affecting young people. YWMP is trans inclusive.

YWMP also brings cutting-edge projects, gigs, exhibitions and talks to Oxford in high profile institutions such as Modern Art Oxford, the Ashmolean Museum, and the Pitt Rivers Museum, in partnerships with hospitals, schools, and organizations for vulnerable young people such as VIP+ and Readipop. The projects helps young people to challenge issues affecting them in a creative and productive way, such as class, race, sexuality, gender, mental health, and consent. Their web site can be found at: http://www.ywmp.org.uk/about

YWMP’s event was a supper evening in Silvie, a bakery café on Oxford’s Iffley Road. (https://www.facebook.com/Silvie-1089930287738590/) and included poetry and music from some of the young women the charity has helped. This is a small scale charity working with many young women for whom music can matter, where creating performing or supporting on the technical side. The last is a space still mainly occupied by men.

Sunday night’s venue was on the other side of the city at Lincoln College. The college were hosts of a concert by young, and in one case very young, musicians sponsored by the charity, Awards for Young Musicians. This charity aims to help by supporting those with a talent for music, but not the financial wherewithal to be able to develop their potential. Three musicians with a collective age of just 37 and supported by the charity entertained the invited audience with a variety of classical music pieces. One of the players lives on the Isle of Wight and travels every Saturday to the Royal College of Music, a roundtrip of seven hours every Saturday, and this on top of his practice time. (www.a-y-m.org.uk). A different audience, two very different settings, but a common theme.

Both charities are well worthy of support and are trying to keep alive the great tradition of music for all our young people and not to restrict it just to those whose families can afford it. Music was one of the great success stories of the post 1944 Education Act world in which I received my education. However, ever since the 1990s, music in schools has been under an increasing threat of being marginalised. This is despite the recognition of the importance of the arts in schools that occurred when the National Curriculum was first introduced.

The present utilitarian Philistines of Sanctuary Buildings that have devised the EBacc seemingly have no real feeling for the arts in schools. The loss of cash to local authorities in favour of schools and academies has also not done music any favours, as disorganised MATs and stand- alone academies are more of challenge to persuade to work together on developing extra-curricular activities in areas such as music than in the days when the value of central funding for music services was fully recognised as a valuable part of State education in England. Hence, today, the importance of charities such as the two highlighted here. There are, of course, many others. But, if you are interested in supporting music for young people these are two I am happy to commend to your attention.

 

 

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Leaving the arts behind is a risk

My apologies to regular readers for the absence of any posts over the past few days, but I was at the Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth over the weekend and have been catching up on local matters since returning.

Earlier this week EPI, The Education Policy Institute, published an interesting report into ‘Entries in Arts Subjects at Key Stage 4’. https://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Entries_to_arts_subjects_at_Key_Stage_4.pdf Authored by their researcher, Rebecca Jones it paints a depressing picture of falling numbers of entries, even after allowing for the recent decline in the secondary school population. In 2016 there were the lowest number of entries in a decade.  Provisional data relating to 2017 exam entries indicate that the decline observed in the most recent years is continuing

The fall came after a period of increasing entries up to 2013. How far the government’s determination to push the EBacc has caused the fall is a matter for discussion, but the idea of concentrating on a wider measure, such as Progress8 or Attainment8 could well offer a possible way forward to halt the decline.

According to the EPI report, there is a clear and consistent North-South divide in entries to arts subjects, with Southern regions showing higher entry rates than Northern regions. In 2016, the North East experienced a particularly sharp drop in arts entries. The proportion of pupils entering at least one arts subject now ranges from 57.3 per cent in the South West region to 47.8 per cent in the North East, a gap of 9.5 percentage points.

An interesting finding by the EPI team was that before 2013, pupils with high prior attainment were more likely than those with medium or low prior attainment to enter at least one arts subject. This pattern has since been reversed, and those with medium or low prior attainment are now more likely to have at least one arts entry. In 2016, the gap was 3.5 percentage points (54.4 per cent for pupils with medium and low prior attainment, compared with 50.9 per cent for those with high prior attainment).

EPI also found that there is a very large gender gap in entries to arts subjects. In 2016, 64.7 per cent of girls took at least one arts subject, compared with 42.5 per cent of boys, a gap of 22.3 percentage points.

There are substantial gaps in arts entries between pupils from different ethnic backgrounds. Black Caribbean pupils have particularly high entry rates, whilst pupils from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds are much less likely to have at least one arts entry than those from other ethnic groups. I wonder whether the examination boards need to look at syllabuses to see whether they are attractive to those from a wide range of cultures.

For the purposes of the EPI report, arts qualifications were defined as those relating to the following subject areas: art and design; drama and theatre; media, film, and TV studies; music; dance; and performing arts. The EPI analysis does not classify design and technology as an arts subject. Design and technology was excluded from the category of arts qualifications in the EPI report because it includes subjects which have very little overlap with the arts, such as systems and control, and electronic products. It is also categorised separately from art and design in official publications by the Department for Education, including the national curriculum and statistical releases. However, it seems likely that design and technology may have suffered in the same manner as arts subjects since Ebacc was introduced. The government certainly does not seem to fully appreciate its importance in the school curriculum.

The details of the EPI report are of interest to those with concerns about the details. However, the headline finding should concern everyone interested in the role of education in helping to create a civilized society.

 

Celebrating school music services

Last evening I attended the Oxfordshire Music Service annual end of year concert. The setting was the lovely one of Dorchester Abbey, although the pews do seem rather harder than a few years ago. Music has played a large part in the post-war education scene. This is despite successive governments from the 1980s onwards often seeing it as a dispensable extra activity. The fact that this was the 75th year the Oxfordshire Music Service has been in operation and it is now working at arm’s length from the local authority is a tribute to all who care about what this type of service can bring to the life of our young people.

Earlier in the afternoon I had been reading the latest briefing note on school funding from the Education Policy Institute. David Laws, the former Schools Minister and sometime Lib Dem MP makes no secret that he doesn’t believe in local democratically elected councils having a role in education funding. The briefing note laments that there was no legislative proposal in the Queen’s Speech to allow a ‘hard’ national funding formula. However, the EPI note suggests that the DfE could still significantly reduce the role of local authorities by the use of secondary legislation.

Now, regular readers will knows that both as a councillor and philosophically I believe locally democratically elected councils have an important role to play in education. I am not opposed to a national funding formula, but it throws up interesting issues if implemented as a ’hard’ national formula. An academy in the North West is to close as it is uneconomic and in deficit. The Multi Academy Trust will hand the lease back to the council that owns the freehold. All well and good, but the school was built by a PFI deal and those payments will presumably continue whether it operates as a school or not. Who should bear the cost, the local council taxpayers or the government? At present, it will be the local taxpayers, probably without any ability to recoup the costs, just as they cannot for additional transport costs that could result from a school closure. Would the government keep activities such as school music services going or be content to just leave them to market forces? I wonder.

The lack of a rational plan for the governance of our schools have been a worrying feature of the past thirty years, ever since central government really started the process of nationalising the schools with the Conservative Grant Maintained Schools.  Sadly, no government has had the courage to do what David Laws would like and fully remove all education from democratically elected councils. Such an outcome would at least have the merit of clear-cut solution.

You really cannot have a system with responsibility but no power. This fact is highlighted by the plight of children taken into care who have no right to a school place if moved to another area for their safety. I am delighted that all Oxfordshire MPs from the three Parties have signed a letter to the Minister highlighting this issue. Our most vulnerable children deserve better than to be not only be taken from their homes but also have their education disrupted, sometimes for months on end.

Hey big spender

This week the DfE released the fact that the total Schools Budget for 2013-14 is in the order of £39 billion, give or take some £200 million*. Now, since academies and other direct grants schools are funded on a school-year basis and the community and voluntary schools that receive income passported through local authorities receive their funding on a financial year basis, the figure for this year isn’t comparable to previous years.

In addition to the Schools Budget, about £10 billion will be spent by local authorities on other children’s services, and education not related directly to schools. Individual schools budgets make up some 87% of the total Schools Budget this year, with central services, and areas such as transport accounting for the remainder of the expenditure. Over the next few years that 13% spent outside schools is likely to be reduced as councils across the country seek savings from back office functions, and also rationalise transport and other services.

Once again the remaining music services are the types of discretionary services likely to come under pressure, with councils transferring their running costs entirely to schools. It would be a great tragedy if Michael Gove’s relentless pursuit of a school-led education service, coupled with the hang-over from the economic crisis, ended one of the real success stories of the post-war education system.

Nationally, the average pupil will cost the government some £4,350 this year, but that appears to range from £6,935 in Tower Hamlets to £2,134 just across the river in Bexley. Although, as that is £1,600 less than the next authority it might be down to some accounting quirk regarding academies or another part of the calculations. London authorities, with their higher staffing costs, account for sixteen of the top 20 authorities in terms of per capita Schools Budgets. Since their secondary students also benefit from free transport under the TfL budget the figure would no doubt be even higher if this element was included.

Currently SEN transport costs an average of £69 per pupil across the country, and other home to school transport £51 per pupil. Given that the latter costs are mostly in the rural authorities, the cost to those authorities is obviously much higher.

Rather than the universal benefit of a limited period ‘cash freeze’ for consumers, the Labour Leader might have designed an energy policy to help reduce these costs to local authorities, perhaps by a national fuel purchasing scheme that allowed school buses and other community transport to run on lower priced fuel.

Whether a Department at Westminster serving both schools and the other functions supporting children’s welfare makes any sense these days is a matter for debate. The spending functions logically sit alongside many other social expenditure functions of councils, and the monitoring of schooling can be subsumed within a regulatory framework that includes services such as trading standards. After all, monitoring performance is soon going to be the only real education function left for local authorities, if the government at Westminster has its way.

* https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/244055/SR35-2013.pdf