Future of school music lessons in the balance as consultation plans announced

Music tuition in schools has not been axed yet, but it might only be a matter of time unless a public consultation this summer can persuade councillors the service is worth saving.

This morning Councillor Bob Standley, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for education and inclusion, approved the consultation into proposals which could ultimately see all individual and small group instrument tuition scrapped across the whole of East Sussex.

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After making the decision to go out to consultation Mr Standley said that during the consultation process he wanted to hear from as many people as possible: “We recognise the value of the music service in East Sussex. However, due to reductions in Government funding, we cannot afford to provide the music service in its current format.

“We want to do everything we can to ensure pupils continue to have the opportunity to learn to play an instrument, and the consultation will give people the opportunity to share their views, ideas and any information that will help us achieve this.”

Councillor Godfrey Daniel who represents the Hastings ward of Braybrooke and Castle on ESCC, speaking to Hastings In Focus this afternoon, said: “The prospect of ESCC closing its small group instrumental teaching, and sacking about 70 staff fills me with dread. Those parents who are well off may be able to afford private lessons at a much higher charge, but that option will not exist for many in places like Hastings.

“We should surely be encouraging children to engage more in musical activities and not put obstacles in their way. In the Labour Party we will do our best to oppose such a reduction in service, but we know that only the Conservatives cabinet at the county council will get a meaningful vote after the consultation ends.

“This Thursday as people go the polls in Hastings, I hope they will send a clear message to the Conservative county councillors!”

ESCC says despite a major restructuring to the music tuition service, cuts in central Government funding mean it can’t continue to fund individual and small group instrumental lessons.

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There were protests outside the meeting to try and persuade councillors the service should be saved. Picture courtesy of Emma Woodgate.

Under the proposals considered this morning a reduced music service would most likely continue to provide a number of services including whole-class instrumental teaching in schools, the county’s four area music centres – which offer children the chance to play in ensembles – and the sixth form music education provision at the Academy of Music.

However, individual and small group lessons may only be offered through private music teachers, or could be provided by other means, such as through teacher co-operatives which have been formed in other parts of the country.

Stuart Gallimore, county council Director of Children’s Services, said: “We totally appreciate how valued the music service is by children and parents across the county.

“This is not a decision we want to take but, at a time when the council is having to make cuts to services such as libraries and adult social care, we just can’t afford to continue to provide the music service in its current format.

“We’ve already significantly reduced the cost of the service through restructuring and efficiency savings, but it’s not been possible to find a viable way of continuing with the service as it is.

“We will explore all options over the coming months to try and ensure pupils can still have opportunities to learn to play an instrument, and we will be asking people to give us their views on how we can achieve this.”

The music service has seen its direct funding from central government reduced by £500,000 in recent years with more savings required as a result of cuts to the council’s overall funding from Westminster.

The consultation will be held during the summer, with a final decision on how the service will operate in future to be made in the autumn. Any changes would not come into effect until September 2019.

A campaign launched to save the music service has already attracted more than 10,000 signatures to a petition. Oonagh Barry, one of the campaigners said after news of the decision made by Mr Standley was made public said: “This morning has happened and it’s not nice. Friends will be lost from the service, hard working talented people who make a difference. It’s unfair and unnecessary!

“But there will be a public consultation and it will open in June. It’s our opportunity to feed a third option, the survival option, into the mix and get it onto the paper.”

She told campaigners they need to keep going: “We’ve lost a battle today but this is a war! We cannot give up, we will save the service!”

As part of the decision made today Mr Standley agreed to implement a restructure of the way the music service is managed which will see two jobs lost but will create savings of just over £20,000 in the current financial year, rising to saving equivalent to £60,000 by 2022/23.

Councillor Kathryn Field said that children can benefit from music in all sorts of ways, especially those with additional needs and who struggle with core educational subjects, she said: “I think to deprive a child of an area, such as music, that they can excel in is morally wrong.” While councillor John Barnes told those at the meeting how his granddaughter benefits from East Sussex Music Service and how the council need to consult with members of the public to come up with a viable way to continue the music service.

“We need to preserve this valuable service,” he said. “An A-Level in Music is highly sought after by the IT industry. Why do we want to damage the economic future of this county and our country. We need to find an alternative way to not cripple this service.”

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