By cutting bursaries for teacher training, the Department for Education will make a career in teaching an unreachable dream for some musicians, says Roz De Vile.
Last week AP reported that the Department for Education had culled its Initial Teacher Training (ITT) bursaries for music, humanities and other arts subjects
This has prompted anger across the music education sector, but what’s behind the DfE’s decision? According to Schools Standards Minister, Nick Gibb, the pandemic has led to an influx of ITT applications across those subjects hardest to recruit for, so bursaries are no longer necessary to incentivise aspiring teachers. Call me cynical, but surely the rush of applications for teacher training is at least partially related to high levels of work loss and unemployment experienced by so many since March.
In the case of music, this is extremely likely. I know of numerous freelance musicians, desperate from losing most of their work since March, who for the first time in their lives have considered teaching or teacher training as an option. I have to admit to feeling mild concern if their main motivation to teach is financial, and potentially temporary. It doesn’t exactly support the profile of music teaching as a desirable career choice in itself, and there is the possibility that children’s experience of music could be negatively impacted as a result of inconsistent or lacklustre teaching.
The reality though is likely to be very different. Almost without exception the musicians I’ve spoken to are genuinely excited at the idea of teaching. They simply hadn’t had the time or need to consider it before, but are attracted to the idea of inspiring the next generation and may even find their calling in teaching. Those pursuing teaching within a portfolio career could find that working in music education complements and enhances their work elsewhere in the music sector – something Music Masters’ research with the Royal College of Music supports. All in all, an influx of musicians turning to teaching could be a very positive outcome for music education. Or…could have been a very positive outcome. Following the DfE’s decision, training to teach may now be unreachable for many musicians, adding insult to injury at a time when so many are struggling to make ends meet.
To make matters worse, the removal of bursaries may not be temporary. According to the BBC, the government’s changes take into account ‘both recruitment to date and the future need for teachers in each subject.’ In February 2020, Nick Gibb shared his vision for music education ahead of the release of the highly anticipated new National Plan for Music Education and said: “I want to continue to level up opportunities so all young people can get the best out of their music education.” At the time, I felt cautiously optimistic. Organisations like Music Masters are working tirelessly to promote an excellent music education for all against a backdrop of ever-decreasing funding for music in schools. Thousands of children have benefitted from the work of our highly trained, passionate and committed teachers, and in turn these children view teaching as an exciting opportunity to inspire and give back to the next generation. The teaching experiences we open up through our graduate programme, Champions, are always over-subscribed.
But around 40% of pupils from our partners schools are eligible for free school meals. Without financial support, it’s highly unlikely that many of these children would be able to access teacher training. How can we tell them that they might no longer have a shot at a career that excites and inspires them – that genuinely means something to them? How do we increase the quality of music education when the teaching talent pool diminishes? How can we model Nick Gibb’s desired ‘levelling up of opportunity’ when teaching itself becomes more exclusive?
At Music Masters, even before the pandemic we knew that there was a long journey ahead of us to reach a world where every child can access and experience the transformative power of music. When lockdown hit we knew that school closures would inevitably mean greater inequality of access to music. We moved our entire teaching programme online and waived all course fees for our PGCEi in Group Instrumental Teaching, recognising that countless musicians and music teachers could be out of work for the foreseeable future and training may not be financially viable for them. Through this move we accessed a wider pool of teaching talent whose passion for the work matched ours and attracted applicants from all backgrounds and experience levels.
Decisions like the DfE’s won’t throw us off course. But just what would it take to get music valued in line with STEM subjects? Likeminded individuals whose lives have been enriched through musical opportunity; schools who understand and value music within education; and music lovers who care about the future of the artform must pull together to take on this challenge. Please get in touch. Together we can do this.
Roz De Vile is Chief Executive Officer of Music Masters