On 24 October, Assembly Members will debate the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee’s report on their inquiry into funding for and access to music education, Hitting the Right Note [PDF 1,478KB].
During Summer 2016, the Committee asked the public to decide what the Committee’s priorities should be. Music education topped the poll.
What type of music education?
While music is a subject in the current national curriculum in Wales, the Committee’s inquiry focussed on the extra-curricular, non-statutory music tuition. This complements music in the curriculum and is often, but not always, provided by local authority music services.
Local authority music services provide opportunities for pupils to learn to play an instrument, perform, sing and compose. Pupils accessing music services in schools are the first level of the ‘pyramid’ system, with pupils progressing to local and regional ensembles up to the six national youth ensembles. The inquiry looked at all music provision throughout the ‘pyramid’.
There have been concerns about local authority music services for a number of years in Wales (as well as in other parts of the UK). Reductions in public spending and constraints on local authority budgets have meant that non-statutory music services have come under increasing pressure. This was acknowledged in January 2015 when the then Minister for Education, Huw Lewis established a Task and Finish Group [PDF 539KB] to examine the current and the future role of local authority music services. Despite the work of the group, as the outcome of the poll suggests, concerns remained.
What the Committee found
The Committee heard compelling evidence about the importance of music education and the wider positive impact it has on pupil’s learning, requiring discipline and perseverance. But many pupils may be being denied these opportunities.
Two main themes emerged from the evidence: equality of provision and equality of access. The Committee heard that there was great variability in music provision across Wales. Increasing pressures on local authority budgets have meant that difficult decisions have had to be made and some local authorities have sought to prioritise funding for statutory services. Indeed, some local authorities stopped funding their music services, such as in Denbighshire where a co-operative was established to plug the gap.
In some areas the costs of music tuition is being passed on to parents. This means that access to tuition is no longer equitable.
The Committee heard that local authority music services provide the bedrock for the National Ensembles and any decline in local provision will inevitably be to their detriment. The Committee thought it unacceptable for the National Ensembles to become enclaves of privilege, which exclude poorer pupils.
Some, like Owain Arwel Hughes, said that cuts to school music services were causing a crisis in Welsh music education. Although not everyone agreed, some saw the potential for a crisis to happen. While she did not believe that describing the situation as a crisis was accurate, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams recognised that funding was a challenge for music services.
A national body and a national plan
The Committee made 16 recommendations in total. Two of the main recommendations were that the Welsh Government should transfer responsibility for the delivery of music services to an arms-length, national body with a regional delivery mechanism , and that the Welsh Government should prepare a National Action Plan for Music.
The Committee believe that a national body is the best way of ensuring that all pupils in Wales are given the equality of opportunity that they deserve and resolve a number of problems that the Committee identified.
The Committee heard evidence that there is a need for strategic direction at a national level which would provide a clear strategy and vision for music service. This would seek to address the current levels of inconsistency that exist.
The Welsh Government accepted [PDF234KB] seven of the Committee’s recommendations and accepted three in principle. The Committee’s most significant recommendation, that there should be a national body responsible for music education was accepted in principle, subject to the outcome of a feasibility study to identify and assess options for music delivery in Wales. The feasibility study could also include the creation of a national plan for music education.
The Welsh Government rejected six of the Committee’s recommendations, although some of these were contingent on the production of a national plan.
Article by Sian Hughes, National Assembly for Wales Research Service