• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

Leading figure in music education warns the top-down nature of planned government reforms has created 'more challenge, more crisis-management and potentially less creativity' in local areas. 

brass players play musical instrument

Parichart Thongmee via iStock

A lack of time to co-ordinate ambitious government plans to improve music education presents major challenges in local areas, a leading figure in the sector has warned.

Speaking at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education last week, Stuart Whatmore, Head of the Tri-borough Music Hub (TBMH) which leads music education across the London Boroughs of Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, and Hammersmith & Fulham, said partnerships "take time to establish".

Whatmore said while he fully supports the vision of the National Plan for Music Education and shares its ambitions, the proposed changes present two main challenges - the amount of time available for the application process and the pressures currently facing schools.


Under government plans, in September next year the number of music hubs will fall from 116 to 43, a reduction of 63%. A bidding process to become a new Hub Lead Organisation (HLO) is being administered by Arts Council England and opened last Thursday (18 July). The application window closes on 12 October.

'Immense' planning requirements

Whatmore said that as a result of the changes the award winning Tri-borough music hub, which he has led since 2014, will become part of a grouping of seven local authorities. 

"All these existing hubs/services are local authority-linked, all have different setups, different models, and have their own identity," he said.

"We are expected to create a brand-new working model across seven local authorities – all with their own identity – with shared vision, priorities, and goals, all within a four-month [application] window. 

"This does not take into consideration all existing commitments, running of services, and annual leave. The level of planning and conversations required to make this happen is immense."

Whatmore added it is "very unfortunate" that the changes come at a time when leaders are "exhausted" due to the relentless pace of the past three years and the impact of the Covid pandemic. 

"There is absolutely no doubt that every music education professional is committed to doing all that we can to find a way to make it work with the goal that we support equitable access to high-quality music education," he said.

"However, it would be interesting to consider and reflect upon whether the bids that are going to be written and submitted would be different, had we been given more time to think, reflect, stand back, and deliver genuine partnership working. 

"Everyone would agree that ‘doing with’ is better than ‘doing to’ – we are now charged with responding to a top-down process that creates more challenge, more crisis-management, and potentially less creativity due to the constraints."

Whatmore went on to highlight the vital role of schools to the success of music hubs, but pointed out that headteachers and senior leaders are overstretched external factors can "potentially place music and arts subjects in peril".

"It is a fact that there is a supply and demand issue with qualified music subject specialist teachers," he said.

"Furthermore, music hubs can plan exciting CPD, music programmes, and pupil progression opportunities, but there is a growing trend that we are seeing where teachers are simply not allowed to be released to attend due to in-school pressures.

"This backdrop of challenges, makes the job of a music hub so much harder."

Holding government to account

Speaking before Whatmore during the meeting, Baroness Fleet, who chairs the government-appointed monitoring board for the National Plan for Music Education, conceded the reforms are "ambitious".
"Some people say, well, it just can't happen," she said. 

"[That] there aren't enough teachers, but there are teachers out there and we need to recruit more. 

"There's absolutely no doubt about that. Sadly, it's not part of the remit of the National Plan to work out exactly where they're going to come from. 

"I can assure you that I am holding the Minister and the Government to account on actually making sure that we have the teachers to deliver the National Plan."

She went on to cite Carolyn Baxendale, who leads the Bolton Music Service, as an example of how government wants hubs to "leverage" additional funding to drive improvements.

"She does a fantastic job. She receives X amount of money from government through the Arts Council for the music hub. That money is leveraged to produce three to four times that sum of money. 

"That is what we would like to see. Every hub do not just say we've only been given X by the government, but how can we leverage more funds from local authorities from our partners.

"Partnerships are incredibly important and expertise that can add value to what the core funding is from [government]."