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Lost in Conversation: Concerns about the Music Hub Investment Process consultation

10th January 2023

Music Mark is concerned that a focus on provision of an equitable, diverse and inclusive Music Education is being lost within the Music Hub Investment Process Research and Consultation phase.

On 4th January 2023, Arts Council England (ACE) announced the launch of the research and consultation phase of the Music Hub Investment Process. Music Mark encourages every organisation and individual with an interest in Music Education in England to engage with the consultation by providing an honest, professional response to their survey which closes on Sunday 15th January at Midday.

Over the past few days, many Music Mark members have raised concerns about the content and process of the consultation. These include the three ‘Example Geographic Methodologies’ being put forward; the timeline for the consultation (just 11 days); and the continued lack of a clear rationale for ‘fewer Hub Lead Organisations’ (HLOs) or any detail of the role these HLOs will undertake. Following a number of meetings with our members, it was considered important to outline Music Mark’s ongoing concerns around the Hub Investment Process:

  • We remain unaware of any supporting evidence that suggests significantly fewer Music Hub Lead Organisations will support better musical outcomes for children and young people. The rationale published by ACE, on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE), does not provide that evidence. Much of the rhetoric describes the great work already being done by Hub partnerships across the country.
  • We believe that Hub Lead Organisations need to have music education and musical quality in their DNA. Attempting to artificially separate strategy from delivery has the potential to significantly weaken existing provision.
  • We are concerned that reducing the number of Hub Lead Organisations dramatically will make them too remote from the areas they serve and introduce an additional tier of management and administration, increasing costs at a strategic level at the expense of delivery to children and young people.
  • There is a risk that ‘prescribed geographies’ will not recognise local infrastructure, population and demographics, and may ignore evolving conversations and existing partnerships, many of which have been delivering successfully for several years.

The investment process is being championed as fair and transparent, and Music Mark recognises that public money must be allocated fairly and transparently, however the current reality for existing Hub partnerships needs to be understood by everyone who is considering applying:

  • The government funding available to support the delivery of the NPME is stretched to breaking point, with no inflationary increase of the total grant since 2018/19 despite cumulative inflation of 18.4% (at a time when delivery costs including staff, pensions and venue hire continue to rise).
  • The number of children in education (5-16 years) has increased by over 660,000 since 2011. There are now over 9 million pupils in England, which means the Government funding equates just £8.44 per pupil (less if you include 0-5yrs and post-16). The NPME’s ambitious universal offer is increasingly impossible with this funding.
  • Additional funding for music education secured by Music Hub Partnerships currently doubles the government grant, but Music Mark is concerned that organisations which are no longer HLOs in the future may be unable to continue to leverage this additional funding.
  • If commissioning for the 2024/25 academic year is not in place by spring 2024, there is a significant risk of disruption to the delivery of music education for children and young people, and to the retention of the workforce.

Music Mark’s CEO, Bridget Whyte, summed up the current situation as follows:

‘If we want to increase equitable, diverse, inclusive access to musical learning, we need to keep children and young people at the centre of our thinking about the future structure with which to do that. Whilst it is fully understood that there is a need to periodically retender for public funding, and that encouraging a more collaborative approach to partnership will support a joined up musical offer, I am concerned that the current conversation and consultation on the Investment Process has the potential to obscure the vision we are all keen to achieve. The current network of music education hub partnerships know and understand what is needed to support schools and to overlay that provision with a broader offer. I would therefore strongly urge the Department for Education to listen carefully to the feedback from the sector as it agrees the next step in the process. We cannot afford to lose the momentum from the past 10 years through a lack of recognition of the great work achieved to date by the existing hub partnerships.’

Music Mark will be making a formal submission to the Investment Process Survey, which will pick up its three main concerns: the lack of reasoning for fewer, larger Hubs, concerns about prescription of geographic areas, and ensuring that the process will strengthen, not weaken, the delivery of music education for children and young people. That response will be shared with the membership, but will be from a national viewpoint, which cannot encompass the individual views of all the members.

Music Mark stresses therefore that it is vital that every organisation and individual with an interest in Music Education in England provides an honest, professional response to this consultation.

Find out more about the English National Plan for Music Education on our website.