Communicating with music service teams about what the retender means for them
Three months on from the publication of the second National Plan for Music Education in England, independent Music Education consultant Gary Griffiths considers how little we still know about the retendering process and what colleagues can confidently communicate with teaching teams. Opinions and speculations expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and may not represent Music Mark’s views or policies.
At last week’s London regional meeting of music service heads, a colleague asked what they should tell their staff about the retendering for Hub Lead Organisations. It’s a really good question, especially for those current hubs with a delivery model founded on the local music service. In the absence of any clarity about pretty much anything to do with the retendering, speculation and rumour are rife and the tiniest hint from anyone who might know something is over-analysed and imbued with layers of meaning that it probably doesn’t merit. As heads of service and their deputies are trying to piece together a picture from a few scattered pieces, what rumours and suspicions are fermenting in the rank and file of instrumental and vocal tutors?
The publication of the new National Plan for Music Education in England hinted but left a lot hanging. Most of us wouldn’t get away with presenting that document to our bosses as a plan. It lacks most of the prerequisites of a plan; in places, it reads as a vision, in others as not-quite-a-strategy and in some (particularly part three, which deals with the role of National Youth Music Organisations) it’s not much more than a statement of what exists, almost a catalogue of current provision.
What was glaringly obvious to me was the omission of any mention of music services, even in this paragraph, where any reasonable and objective account of the music education sector in England couldn’t fail to mention them (note also the absence of diversity here):
“School leaders and music teachers should be able to articulate how their provision ensures every aspiring musician in their school can access the high-quality opportunities they need, whether through advanced ensembles in school, local youth orchestras, choirs, bands or national opportunities, such as through the National Youth Music Organisations (NYMOs).”
While the plan is clearly not about music services but seeking to take a wider view of the sector, in many music education hubs throughout England, it is the music service that provides the most cogent range of progressive musical opportunities outside the classroom for most children, and that generates the bulk of the numbers that hubs report.
Music services have been complicit in reaching this state of affairs. I’m far from innocent, having run one and led the hub from 2012 until 2019. While a handful of us gallantly tried to hold onto the music service identity, many adapted to the language of ‘hubs’ straightaway and pretty much all of us capitulated eventually. The problem has been that the music education hub role and the music service role are different, but became conflated through the Core Roles in the first National Plan. The music service in most areas became synonymous with the hub. We shall see shortly why this is particularly problematic now.
The new National Plan envisages Music Hub Lead Organisations becoming more strategic in their role, commissioning partners to deliver in the areas they cover. Since Whole Class Ensemble Tuition remains the responsibility of hubs, (albeit with more flexibility with regard to group sizes than previously implied), music services will usually be the only plausible delivers with the personnel, instruments, logistics and expertise for it. Within hubs, music services’ relationships with schools, progressive instrument groups and choirs and the everyday, bread-and-butter teaching will remain central to hubs’ abilities to service children’s music educational needs meaningfully and to enable at least some of the projects and collaborations to happen in a valuable way.
Many people’s response to the plan’s stated ambition for fewer hub lead organisations covering larger geographical areas was an assumption that their music services would cease to exist and all its functions and personnel would transfer to the new hub lead organisations. This assumption partially comes about because music services and music education hubs have become so closely linked in people’s minds as to become inextricable. The idea is that because the functions of the hub are being delivered by the service, they aren’t just inseparable but are actually one and the same thing. Cultural partners are still valued in this thinking, by the way, as they provide valuable and even necessary enrichment to the hub’s offer. However as partners, their identity and existence are not coupled with those of the hub. I think this false conflation of hub and service is starting to come apart; even so, it is still influencing many people’s thinking.
So returning to the question of what to say to staff, we need to strip away the rumour, speculation and paranoia and go back to what we really know.
- Funding is confirmed at the same level as 2021/22 for three years, i.e. to 31st March 2025. We are now halfway through year one of this settlement.
- The funding is DfE money. It is there to provide music education to children.
- Delivery this year is against current business plans and SMART targets, which were based on NPME1.
- Arts Council England will continue to be the fundholder on behalf of the DfE. While ACE will set certain processes and monitor grants, they ultimately deliver a service to the DfE, are subject to the DfE’s timetables, policies and requirements.
- The funding will be retendered in an open competition, to be managed by ACE.
- We were told in June that the process will not be complete this year, 2022.
- We now know (because it was said at the 21st September webinar) that bidding will not start this year, 2022. We cannot surmise that it will start in January or in spring 2023, just that it won’t start this year.
- Even if it does start in January 2023, there is no way that new hub lead organisations will be selected by 1st
- The Plan says that there will be fewer hubs covering larger geographies than at present. There will therefore be fewer Hub Lead Organisations.
- The DfE civil servant who spoke at Music Mark’s event about the Plan in June said (twice) that the DfE would consult in the Autumn (2022) and would determine the hub areas for which they would invite bids.
- Both the DfE and ACE say that they expect delivery (i.e. the activity that is largely fulfilled by music services in most areas) to continue throughout the process and beyond.
- ACE have requested information on employees carrying out the management and administration of the hub function (but not frontline delivery) who may be in scope for TUPE.
- ACE are expecting and encouraging bids to lead hubs from far and wide, including schools and Multi-Academy Trusts.
- By the time the bidding process does open, there will be a lot of organisations whose NPO bid has failed who will be scratching around to fill gaps in their core funding. Some of these will be credible contenders.
- Nothing else.
We don’t know anything about timing other than points six to eight above. We don’t know if the DfE’s thinking has moved on at all since June. We don’t know if the new Secretary of State and Minister for Education know about the National Plan for Music Education or about Hubs, or if they have other ideas, although we understand from our DfE contact that they have shown interest.
Staff can be told the above as these are all known facts (or logical deductions). Anything else is just guesswork.
Speaking of guesswork, my thoughts on hub areas is that we are not looking at a handful of regional mega-über-hubs: counties will still stand alone, although smaller hubs in unitary authorities will probably become one hub with their neighbouring counties. I think the sights are really set on London, which could plausibly go from the 30 current hubs to between five and eight, maybe based around existing partnerships and alliances. Consolidation of hubs in the North East and South Yorkshire is also likely. Even if the lead organisations are no longer music services, music education will in most (and hopefully all) cases will still be provided by local music services, commissioned by Hub Leads.
Despite everyone saying at the partnership session on 21st September (recording here) that partnerships take time, there won’t be enough time.
The new strategic hub lead functions will have to be resourced (top-sliced) from the grants of all the areas in each Hub. This will vary from a few percent to the full 20%. This could be mitigated where a multi-area hub lead can afford to employ a fundraiser but often the consequence will be that less of the grant will be spent on frontline music education activities for children.
So far, leaders in music education in England have certainly seen the Power of the National Plan for Music Education to Change Our Lives. The thing about music services is that once we know what is happening, even if we hate it, we will make it work. We must, though, seize the chance the vision for Hubs 2.0 presents to decouple the concept of music services from music hubs and to celebrate our work with the confidence and pride that our cultural partners do theirs.
Music Mark have collated resources and information related to the National Plan for Music Education, including links to related webinar recordings, here.