The battle raging in East Sussex over the future of music tuition in schools could end up costing councillors their seats on the authority.
That’s the blunt analysis of Jane Humberstone who is a representative of the National Education Union, a manager of the East Sussex Music Service and a vigorous campaigner against the plans to axe the service across all of East Sussex schools she is one of those who will lose their job if the service is axed.
Ms Humberstone points out that although the county council has launched a consultation the consultation process is about how to close the service not about whether the service should be closed in the first place and that’s something she is not sure everyone realises.
A petition against the cuts to music tuition now has more than 12,000 signatures and the numbers continue to grow. Ms Humberstone believes that if the campaigners can reach 20,000 signatures that would be a real signal to councillors that their seats are at risk if they go against the will of local people.
With its own website, a vigorous campaign o social media and a series of protests and demonstration across the county by parents and young musicians, the campaign has built a large following since it was launched last month. The council says the music tuition service has to go because it can no longer afford to fund it but Ms Humberstone questions whether the council has got its figures right in the first place. She believes some of the numbers being quoted by the council, including a need for £180,000 per year to keep the service going, are not accurate and that the council could find the money from elsewhere in its budget if it really wanted to. She believes the figures are being presented in a way that suits the council’s purpose.
She highlights as an example that East Sussex County Council is a sponsor of Glyndebourne, already a profitable enterprise. She believes the money that goes there could be better spent teaching children music in schools.
She is also critical of the current management of the music service, people she says who do not have a background in the arts and do not understand what the service provides.
For example there are plans to retain whole class instrument tuition, where groups of up to 30 children at a time will learn to play an instrument. That says Ms Humberston is just the start of the process. It is in what she calls ‘taster’ classes where children learn whether they want to play an instrument or not and from there being able to pass them through a system that provides one-to-one tuition and ultimately the chance to play in ensembles and orchestras is essential.
The East Sussex campaign is garnering support from across the music world including from such luminaries as Nicholas Chisholm a former headmaster of the Yehudi Menuhin School and from former winners of the BBC Young Musician competition who have united in a plea for all primary school children to be given free music lessons.
In a letter to The Guardian at the weekend the former winners of the BBC contest said: “All of us past winners take great pride in… the musical heritage of this country. We are grateful to the teachers and schools that allowed us the chance to be a part of it.
“However, despite some brilliant schemes, we are all deeply concerned that instrumental music learning is being left to decay in many British schools to the point that it could seriously damage the future of music here and jeopardise British music’s hard won worldwide reputation.
“Today, we are launching a campaign for every primary school child to be taught to play an instrument, at no cost to them or their families. It is crucial to restore music’s rightful place in children’s lives, not only with all the clear social and educational benefits, but showing them the joy of making and sharing music. We are especially concerned that this should be a universal right. This is an opportunity to show the world that we care about music’s future and its beneficial impact on our children.”
And writer Jeanette Winterson has said: “Life has an inside as well as an outside. Playing music is more than recreation; through music children find confidence and happiness unrelated to money or social status. In a world where success is measured by what you can buy, many children feel left out or shut out. Music is inclusive. Music works across culture, across class, across language. It seems to be hard wired into humans. Music is spontaneous, and with some teaching music can enrich children’s lives forever.”
There are examples too of other councils stepping up the teaching of music. In the London Borough of Newham all primary school children are given a free instrument to keep and weekly lessons on how to read and play music all at no cost to the children or their families.
Meanwhile in Yorkshire councillors have pledged to retain music tuition in the face of budgetary cuts. Councillor Janet Sanderson, North Yorkshire’s executive member for children’s services says music tuition helps students achieve success in other walks of life.
She says: “It’s not just about creating professional musicians. The council values and has maintained our music service even in these austere times, because it’s about creating aspiration in children, about developing concentration, confidence and creating team players.
“Our students who go on to become successful in other walks of life often put their success down to the experiences they gained through our music service, even if they go on to become doctors or engineers, scientists or lawyers.”
Tony Mansi who founded Bexhill festival of Music says: “The absolutely brilliant East Sussex Music Service (ESMS) is celebrating its 84th year. It delivers music lessons to around 7,000 children in schools across the county per annum and 1,000 children, aged between four and 18, attend area music centres each week.
“Despite this success, the county council has announced that plans are being made to close the music instrumental service by 2019. This will result in the loss of valued music provision for many and destroy a service which has introduced thousands of local children to music over the decades.
“I believe such proposals are unnecessary, wrong and shortsighted. We need County Hall to pause, listen to the people they serve and go back to the music staff to ask them how the funding circle can be squared.
“Most of the musicians in our leading orchestras started their training via local authority music services. As founder of Bexhill Festival of Music, I am pleased to say that they made an enormous contribution during its inception. If you are of the same opinion as myself, and have not already done so, please join me and the nearly 12,000 residents in opposing this cut by signing the online petition.”
The full East Sussex County Council will debate the matter in early July in the meantime if you want to sign the petition follow this link…
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