The arts education community has just been given an object lesson in fighting public sector cuts – from the sports lobby. As I write this, on Christmas Day, no less a personage than the Queen has just thrown her considerable weight behind the importance of sport in our lives, through her Christmas Day speech:
“Apart from developing physical fitness sport and games can also teach vital social skills, none can be enjoyed without biding by the rules and no team can hope to succeed without co-operation between the players, this sort of positive team spirit can benefit communities, companies and enterprises of all kinds.”Substitute ‘arts and music’ for ‘sport and games’ and you can imagine what a boost could have been given to beleaguered cultural learning organisations around the country to have had such a champion speak for you on such a high-profile occasion. And this comes hot on the heels of the recent U-turn made by the Prime Minister, on the proposed axing of the schools sports partnership. The SSP’s future is now safe until after the Olympics, whilst the music education sector waits nervously on the decisions arising from the Henley Music Review, commissioned by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education. If the Guardian leaks are anything to go by, we can expect more funds, previously ring-fenced to music education providers, to be devolved directly to schools, and let the market decide. How have we been so comprehensively outmatched by our colleagues in sports? It’s not just having the 2012 Olympics coming to London that has bolstered their case, surely? Those of us who work in music education will look back in years to come and realise that, instead of taking inspiration from the way in which the sports education sector organised themselves, we squandered the many opportunities provided by the Music Manifesto, by seeing it as an endorsement of what we were already doing, rather than a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get our collective act together. The School Sports Partnership has received roughly the same amount as the music education sector over the past 5 years. Yet, because it is a centrally-driven, national framework where priorities and objectives are laid down and worked to, evenly, across the whole country there’s a clear sense of a coherent, strategic workforce working to a common aim. One of the many benefits of this is that the moment it was suggested that such a framework was too expensive to maintain, we saw a fierce and well-organised lobby, involving the grass-roots and sporting celebs, hit the streets and the media, leading to David Cameron insisting we find a way to keep it going. Somehow, I can’t see the arts and music sectors mounting such an effective campaign. Indeed we’ve already had the death sentence pronounced on Creative Partnerships, Find Your Talent and the future of In Harmony, Sing Up and even Wider Opportunities in doubt. The response has been, well, muted, to say the least. Three conversations in recent years stand out. I was one of those who attended the first meeting called by David Milliband, the then schools minister, to investigate the potential for what became the Music Manifesto. After listening to about 50 different representative organisations around the room, he summarised by saying, ‘well, it’s a right bloody mess, isn’t it?’ He was right then and, sadly, he’s still right now. One of Marc Jaffrey’s arguments, from the outset of the Manifesto campaign, was that we simply had too many music representative groups (estimates vary, but it’s believed to be between 100 and 150) to have a credible voice with politicians. And yet, since then, how many groups have come together? We still seem to have just as many. So, we present an external image of a sector that’s parochial, territorial, fragmented and unwilling to change. And getting additional hundreds of millions of pounds in extra funding merely served to reinforce the status quo. After all, if we were that disorganised, why were ministers falling over themselves to give us more money? The truth was, of course, that no-one really believed the money would stop flowing, and we fell for the simple headline-grabbing initiatives that had to be seen to be successful. It’s possible that if we’d had a single, national framework for music education we might have even rejected the offer of the In Harmony pilots, on the basis that they were ludicrously over-funded (a single primary school in Liverpool, with fewer than 100 pupils receiving over £1 million pounds?) and unsustainable. We might have even been able to suggest a better, more equitable, way to spend the money. But, no, we jumped through the competitive bidding hoops once again, because that’s what you do when you’re un-coordinated. The second conversation was with a civil servant at what was then DCSF. I asked why we couldn’t have the musical equivalent of the school sports partnership structure. ‘Ah well, we could’, came the reply, ‘but we can’t afford to have that and the music standards fund.’ Shortly after that, my third conversation was with a chief executive of the Federation of Music Services. We were discussing the differences between FMS and SSP. Clearly, the key difference was that the FMS is a membership organisation, with no central direction – the chief executive has to try to represent member organisations, but can’t lead on their behalf – at least not without their consent. So, I suggested, why couldn’t the members themselves choose to be governed from the centre, agreeing to re-constitute themselves into what, effectively, would be a national music service. I was told it was a nice idea, but unlikely to happen, so long as the music standards fund and the wider opportunities money kept coming in. Well, we’re at a critical point now, in terms of funding and Darren Henley’s Review is going to have a considerable influence on funding decisions made for the next 5 years. Since we’re as fragmented as we were prior to the Music Manifesto, we’re now in grave danger of having initiatives picked off, leaving us to bicker among ourselves over the consequences. There are rumours that the review is likely to resuscitate the idea of ‘hubs’. As one who has invested considerable amounts of time and effort trying to advocate the idea of hubs and how they might be made to work, I would urge Darren Henley not to leave the formation of coordination structures to choice, or chance. My belief is that the sector is only going to get through to the other side of austerity – with most of its services intact – if radical structural reformation is tied to funding. Heads will have to be knocked together, organisations told they will have to be restructured, so that a stronger national music framework can emerge, better directed and with a single voice, thus resulting in services to young people which are more evenly provided for, efficient and effective. Please don’t leave it to voluntary efforts to work together in a piecemeal fashion, or through competitive bid-tendering – make ’em have it, Darren!