ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts at the Westminster Education… Jump to main content

ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts at the Westminster Education Forum policy conference.

Blog from ISM Chief Executive following her appearance at the Westminster Education Forum policy conference on priorities for music education in England - uptake at GCSE and A-Level, funding, and workforce skills and resources.

I was invited to speak at the Westminster Education Forum on 27 September and what follows are the key points I made during my speech.

The ISM has over 11,000 members and is a subject association for music education. We are well known for our lobbying work, but we also provide a range of services to members such as legal – and indeed we recently won a case in the highest court in the land on holiday pay – called the Brazel case which is likely to affect many peripatetic teachers.

Although the creative industries are worth £116 bn per annum, the same as financial services, the recent fiscal event made it clear that the Government is going to focus on other parts of the economy such as the city as the engine for growth rather than our sector, the creative industries, even though we have the same economic value.

Countless reports have shown how important creativity is for developing a wide range of skills which can benefit both the individual and the broader community and deliver GDP. Over the coming months we are going to have to be very vigilant and continue to make the case for music education. We cannot take it for granted that with so much change happening the role of music in education will not be questioned and come under threat. Cuts to funding are a real possibility.

The DfE has confirmed as part of NPME 2 that Hub funding will continue at current levels (£79 million per year) until 2025. We know already that the Music Hub programme will be opened up to competition. The DfE expects to see a reduced number of Hub lead organisations establishing partnerships across wider geographical areas. We must be vigilant since there is a concern that jobs could be lost as a result of the reorganisation, something which the ISM will strongly push back on.

The 2021 Annual Report on education spending in England from the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that real-term education spending per pupil fell 9% in the decade from 2009 to 2019, representing the largest cut in over 40 years. Echoing these results, the ISM carried out a survey in England from the end of last year to the beginning of this year as to what is happening to music education in our schools. In our Music: a subject in peril? report published in March of this year which analysed the responses of over 500 music teachers in England and found that there was a vast difference in departmental budgets for music, with clear differences between school types. Respondents from Independent schools received over four times the departmental funding of academies and free schools, and over five times the amount for maintained schools. The mean yearly budget in maintained schools was £1,865, in academies and free schools it was £2,152, and in independent schools, £9,917.

The ISM has long campaigned against the impact that accountability measures such as the EBacc and Progress 8 have had on music in our schools. In our Music: a subject in peril? report, 93% of music teacher respondents said that these accountability measures had led to a decline in the uptake of KS4 and post-16 courses. Teachers reported fewer pupils taking GCSE or BTEC music, sometimes resulting in courses being dropped from the curriculum completely. This had a knock-on effect on A-level provision, with one teacher stating that no secondary schools in their city offered A-level music.

The stats reveal a stark picture:

Entries for GCSE music have fallen 27% since 2010.

Entries for A-Level music have fallen 40% since 2010.

With possible cuts to public sector spending such as education being debated, there must be a risk that parents decide not to pay for instrumental tuition whether at schools or via private teaching. And possible pressure on school budgets could lead to schools cutting non EBacc subjects from the curriculum in order to balance their budgets.

In addition to accountability measures and funding there are challenges surrounding the workforce – both classroom teachers and peripatetic and instrumental teachers. Although the refreshed Plan is ambitious, there are concerns that a sufficient music education workforce does not currently exist to support it. A Teacher Tapp survey in June 2022 found that 21% of primary teachers in state-funded schools said that pupils were taught by a music specialist compared to just over half (53%) who said they were taught by a non-specialist.

Many music specialist undergraduate primary courses and post-graduate secondary programmes have closed, limiting the opportunities to pursue a career in music teaching. In October 2020, the DfE announced that training bursaries for arts, English and humanities subjects had been removed for the 2021/22 academic year. At the same time, recruitment for secondary music trainees dropped to 72% of the target figure – the largest decrease in all subjects.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) publishes an annual report on the teacher labour market in England. The 2022 report states that music is likely to meet only 51% of its target. At the same time, classics is likely to meet more than 160% of its recruitment target, history 161% and PE 215%.

Our Case for change report published in July this year, outlined the issues surrounding both peripatetic teachers and academics working in Further and Higher Education.

The average rates of pay for self-employed peripatetic music teachers working in schools remained the same between 2016 and 2020, increasing slightly in 2021. Many peripatetic teachers reported that there had been no pay increase for several years, despite some schools and music services charging fees that were significantly more than they were being paid, in some cases double.72% of peripatetic respondents were on a zero-hours contract which has created a great deal of uncertainty in addition to financial insecurity, which has huge implications for housing, childcare and being able to pay bills. With the increase in energy costs and spiralling inflation how is the workforce going to cope and what we can do to support them?

So, in the coming months we will need to be vigilant on the funding of music education across schools and hubs and support the music education workforce particularly peripatetics who could be coming under acute financial pressure. And all of us must continue to advocate strongly for access to a quality music education at all levels from schools to the communities we work in and locally and centrally. It is down to us to build the future.

Deborah Annetts, ISM Chief Executive