On Friday 18 March, Music Education Hubs in England finally received confirmation of their funding allocation from the Department for Education for the new financial year, now just two weeks away. This is the latest that the figures have ever been shared, causing considerable stress and concern to senior leadership teams up and down the country. Many have been worried about whether they would be able to keep their staff teams or honour contracts with partners. Although the confirmation means Hubs will at least be able to prepare a budget for April, sadly this 11th hour news means for some that they must now face the challenge of planning for delivery with reduced means.
For the 2022-23 financial year, the total amount of Hub funding from the Department for Education is £76.1m. Ever since Music Mark was established in 2013, we have been advocating for an increase in funding for Music Education Hubs. Whilst a substantial increase was confirmed in 2015/16 (following year-on-year cuts from 2010/11), and a small uplift of 1.5% was made in 2019/20, inflation has seen costs rising at a much higher rate over that time. This has made it increasingly difficult to maintain accessible provision and a quality workforce. According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, in order to keep up with increased costs, the grant which in 2015/16 was £75m should have been £88.5m in 2021. The calculator states that this is based on an average inflation rate of 2.5%. With reports coming in that inflation is currently nearer 5%, this means that as we head into the new financial year, the minimum figure needed to simply maintain provision and cover staff and on-costs is nearer £93m.
However, even that isn’t enough. To support the ambitions within the current National Plan for Music Education, a more realistic figure is in the region of the total £115m the Schools’ Minister announced would be allocated to Music and Arts/Culture Education for this coming three years.
The most recent published data, from 2017/18, shows that each £1 the government invests in Hubs levers additional investment of about £1.50. But it is also evident from that data that funding from other sources, which have historically supported music education, is diminishing. The loss of these other funding sources is partially offset by increased charges to parents and schools (with a large slice of the latter ultimately actually coming from parents). With increased living costs for families, we are at real risk of denying many children and young people the opportunity to learn if more investment is not made by government to maintain and increase provision.
In 2012 a new, fairer funding formula was introduced to distribute funding to the newly formed Music Education Hub Partnerships. This funding formula was based on the school census and calculated the grant for each Hub partnership based on pupil numbers. This has meant, however, that whilst the funding has remained static, the allocation to each local authority area has not. Each year the allocations fluctuate, with some local authorities receiving a little more and others a little less. Music Mark has been monitoring these allocations and we are particularly worried about the figures for 2021/22 and 2022/23.
It is well known that the pandemic saw a significant exodus from London and other cities. In consequence, the allocations to the London Boroughs have been particularly hard hit. In 2021/22 whilst a few boroughs saw an increase in their funding, most found they had decreased, and in total the capital’s music education grant was cut by a staggering £100,000. For 2022/23, an additional £82,000 is now being sliced off the total. The argument that there are fewer pupils and therefore less funding is required to support music education in London is not valid, especially when we know that the pupil population is increasing, so it is very possible that pupil numbers are not decreasing in London but simply increasing elsewhere. Indeed, since 2015/16 the school population has increased by c.0.66m
Of course, if London has lost £182,000 in grant funding there will be other parts of the country that will have seen an increase in their funding. However, with budgets reduced by 6.5% in Tower Hamlets in 2021/22 and 4% in Camden for 2022/23, the people feeling these reductions most keenly will be the children and young people in these boroughs.
As the sector in England awaits the publication of a ‘refreshed’ National Plan for Music Education, Music Mark therefore calls on the government to consider whether additional funding can be found to keep pace; to keep pace with the growing numbers of children and young people, with inflation, and with the other UK nations.
A total grant of £76.1m is a per pupil investment of £8.56. In Scotland the investment is £11.35 per pupil, in Northern Ireland it is £10.36, and in Wales it is £9.51. Our colleagues in all four UK nations are doing amazing things to support children and young people through government investment (and the additional funding it can lever from elsewhere). This latest funding is of course welcome and we know will be put to great use supporting music education. However, as we contend with rising inflation and consider the impact of the rising cost of living, will music education be one of the casualties?