Consultation process launched – the future of music in schools is at stake

It might seem that it started weeks ago but the official consultation process in to the future of the East Sussex Music Service has only been officially announced this week.

A statement from East Sussex County Council (ESCC) says: “A public consultation on proposals to reduce the role of the county’s music service has been launched.

“ESCC says the service cannot continue to fund individual and small group instrumental lessons without affecting other statutory children’s services.”

But critics have already branded the consultation – which runs until July 27 – as a sham and claim the council has already made up its mind about the course of action it wants to take.

Paula Radford says: “It’s disgraceful I can’t believe they have the audacity to call it a consultation, it’s more like a done deal.”

Oonagh Barry goes further saying: “…that’s not a consultation, it’s an attempt to thoroughly discredit the service!”

There have been a number of protests around the county objecting to the proposed closure of the East Sussex Music Service.

Setting out the grounds for the consultation ESCC explains: “An Arts Council grant and income from lessons does not cover the cost of instrumental teaching in East Sussex Music, and despite major restructuring the service still needs to save £180,000 to balance its books.

“Further restructuring and other efficiencies will help achieve some, but not all of the savings required. The county council has provided some funding from its reserves to enable the service to continue, but once this funding has been used the service will be left with a shortfall in its budget.”

Launching the consultation process Councillor Bob Standley, ESCC’s lead member for education and ISEND, said: “We recognise the value of the music service in East Sussex, but cannot afford to provide the music service in its current format.

“We want to do everything we can to ensure pupils continue to have the opportunity to learn to play an instrument, and this consultation will give people the opportunity to share their views, ideas and any information that will help us achieve this.

“Reducing the role of the music service is not a decision we want to take, but significant cuts in Government funding mean we have to make some incredibly difficult decisions to ensure we are protecting the most vulnerable people in our county and delivering services we have a statutory duty to provide.”

Proposal put before the council earlier this year would see the closure of the instrumental teaching part of the service. East Sussex Music would continue to provide whole-class instrumental teaching in schools, the county’s four area music centres – which offer children the chance to play in ensembles – and the sixth form music education provision at the Academy of Music.

Jane Humberstone who has been leading a campaign to save the music service explains that whole class teaching of musical instruments is a way of giving children exposure to an instrument but that needs to be backed up with individual one-to-one tuition.

The council says that under it’s plans to revise the music service East Sussex Music would continue to offer financial support towards the cost of lessons for low income families and would look at ways to increase opportunities for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and other challenging circumstances, to benefit from music-making.

East Sussex Music provides music tuition for over 7,000 children in 92 per cent of East Sussex schools and more than 3,000 children have tuition from the instrumental service.

Campaigners to save the service say: “Inspirational teachers enable children from low income backgrounds, from rural areas, in challenging circumstances or with special educational needs or disability to learn. Their progress and achievement in learning an instrument and participating with others also helps them develop life skills to enable them grow their aspirations in all walks of life.

“Thousands of lives have been inspired and transformed by this service. Don’t let our children pay for lazy decisions taken by ESCC officers who could retain the service, without having to subsidise this, but who chose not to.”

They want local people to write to their MPs and  councillors and to sign the petition. They urge as many people as possible to respond to the consultation and to join the Facebook campaign too.

Importantly they want people to share personal stories of how learning a musical instrument changed their lives or the lives of family and friends.

A spokesman says: “Bang the drum for music, rally with us at one of our events, bring an instrument or your voice.”

And campaigners have asked the public to consider what tey see to be a number of key issues, including:

  • Schools will need capacity and expertise to advertise, interview, contract and carry out the necessary checks for private teachers.
  • Financial arrangements between parents will need to be set up.
  • Who will be responsible for quality assurance of teaching standards?
  • Schools in rural areas may not have access to lessons, this was previously provided for by the DSG (Direct Schools Grant) each year which has been lost.
  • Children from disadvantaged backgrounds will be less likely to have the opportunity to learn without substantial financial support.
  • A lack of quality instrumental lessons within a joined up service will contribute to the decline of arts subjects in schools. This will impact not only on out of hours provision but on GCSE numbers and ultimately the numbers of musicians entering the profession which currently accounts for £3.5billion in exports for the UK.
  • How will parents access the instrumental loan service?

Tony Mealings has expressed concern that one of the unintended consequences of a decision to scale back or close the music service could be a loss to the wider community, he says: “The professional musicians employed by the music service provide the backbone of the county’s amateur and community music leadership? Choirs, community bands, amateurs orchestras, church musicians, etc. Disband this group and I suspect a lot of this will start to fall apart as people move away to find secure employment elsewhere.”


Councillor Standley has urged as many people as possible to engage with the consultation, “I am keen to explore all viable alternatives,” he says.

A final decision on the proposals is expected to be made in September 2018. No changes to East Sussex Music would be made until September 2019, the council says although Hastings In Focus understands plans are already in hand for redundancies to be made among the service’s managers this summer.

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