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Facing up to cuts: the first crowd-funded music service in Wales?

This artCardiff Music Service articleicle was first published in Music Teacher magazine, November 2014. Download the article.

Anita Holford reports on the state of play for music services in Wales, and how one music service has faced the challenges of local authority cuts head on.

Being a music teacher isn’t easy at the moment, but if you’re working in Wales, the situation is grim. In many areas, work for peripatetic teachers and others working in schools has reduced or dried up altogether. As a result, primary teachers are receiving little or no support with music, and secondary teachers are facing a sharp decline in the number of young people who’ve had the opportunity to learn an instrument during primary school.

The local authority cuts of the last few years have simply sped up a process that’s been ongoing since Welsh Government stopped funding music services directly 10 years ago, passing the allocation on to local authorities and removing ring-fencing (see links to articles and news stories below for more information).

Massive cuts and no progress – despite high profile campaign 

With massive deficits in most local authorities, music services have either closed (Powys), or had to lay off staff and vastly reduce support or increase charges to schools and parents (e.g. Gwent, Pembrokeshire, Flintshire). In Conwy, core funding of £257,000 in 2010/11 is likely to be reduced to £59,850 by 2017/18; in Gwent, two of the four local authorities that supported the service withdrew their funding (all except a hardship bursary fund and a small amount for music centres). Most are anticipating further cuts, and some are facing closure. And the latest casualty is Rhondda Cynon Taf with the local authority announcing it is to close the service by the end of the academic year.

Despite a high profile campaign in 2006 from music educators and musicians including Bryn Terfel, and Super Furry Animals, and a music education review by the Welsh Government in 2010, there’s been little or no progress.

In some areas, new organisations are forming to plug gaps and find different sources of funding. One of these, The Glam, was launched recently with a fundraising concert by ex-members of the former Glamorgan and Mid Glamorgan Youth Orchestras and Choirs, aged between 30-74. It is now continuing to raise money for youth music projects.

One hundred per cent cut for Cardiff’s music service

In Cardiff, one half of the music service – Music Development Cardiff (MDC) – looked set to become another casualty. Last March (2013), the Council announced it was to delegate 100 per cent of the music service’s funding to 67 primary schools in the most economically disadvantaged areas in the city. There was to be no ring fencing, so schools could choose to spend the money how they wished. As this was the sole source of funding for MDC, it was a potentially terminal blow.

Until that time, the service had been one of the more fortunate in Wales. The Council had continued to honour the level of funding (£172,800) that the Welsh Government had previously provided to each music service. This funded all of MDC’s work – largely whole class activity in schools, targeting young people with the least opportunity.

The rest of the music service – largely one-to-one or small group instrumental teaching in schools, and orchestras/ensembles out of school – was funded largely through fees from parents topped up with a small amount of the central funding. When the cuts hit, this part of the service was forced to become completely self-funding – which has resulted in the familiar story of services being accessible only to those whose parents can afford them.

In the meantime, Emma Coulthard, head of MDC, and her team were faced with losing their jobs and their services to schools, or rising to the challenge. She says: “We had to just get out there and really understand what our customers needed. And then we had to work faster and smarter than ever before.”

Success in schools – not focusing on the menu

Emma contacted all 67 schools to arrange meetings – not an easy task, as many were dealing with multiple deprivation factors and struggling with lack of resources.

“Sometimes we managed to get a meeting – at other times it was just a phone call,” remembers Emma. “Our opening questions were usually, ‘How do you feel about music in your school? What would you like it to look like? How can we help?’ It was a matter of spending the time finding out from them what was going to work for their school. Then I’d give an outline of our provision, but always keep an open mind – they often came up with new ideas. So it’s never about going to the head with a menu of services and asking ‘which one do you want?’.”

An important part of the approach has been to focus discussions on what’s on the headteacher’s mind – and as Emma says “That probably isn’t music. So we research what they’re dealing with by keeping up to date with policy, and being in tune with education.”

What did schools want?

Emma found that schools wanted a diverse range of services, and outcomes. Some were struggling with delivering the music curriculum with teachers who weren’t music specialists – so the team’s job was to provide the music curriculum in the short term, upskill staff and build their confidence.

With others, the starting point was finding out what resources the school already had – including teachers who had musical skills, and instruments available in the school. In all cases, the team tried to base their work around the instruments a school already had, suggesting low cost ‘top up’ instruments where necessary, like ukeleles and djembe drums.

“One of our long term aims is to empower schools and build capacity within them,” says Emma. “And that’s about helping teachers to feel more confident about music, modelling behaviour and skills that teachers can build on, and inspiring both teachers and pupils.”

This part of the work has included performing ‘rock assemblies’ in schools (in one case, resulting in a hard-pressed headteacher in an area facing a range of challenges, booking weekly sessions for all Key Stage Two pupils), running African drumming sessions for staff, and running school choirs and orchestras.

A crowd-funded service and increased activity

In March 2014, 18 months after MDC’s budget was delegated to schools, the 67th school signed up. The team has secured more than £270,000 worth of tuition (£105,000 in addition to the original devolved budget), has increased revenue by 38%, protected jobs and created six new teaching posts.

In one of the most successful examples, a school which receives £5,000 of devolved funding, has added an extra £8,700 from its own funds to create an annual music budget of £13,700.

In a typical week, MDC now has 23 tutors delivering to thousands of children. There are 27 schools learning ukulele, resulting in 1,500 pupils having an instrumental lesson for the first time, and other provision includes recorder, guitar clubs, folk ensemble, class orchestra, iPad composition, GCSE and BTEC support, djembe, samba, steel pans and school singing.

It was recently confirmed that MDC will be moved to the core of schools work within the Council, the Schools Improvement Team. Emma concludes: “With the knowledge we’ve gained from deep listening to schools, and by focusing on our core values, we’ve ended up with a stronger, more robust service.”

The ISM have recently begun a campaign to protect music education in Wales – visit the Protect Music Wales website or search #protectmusicwales on Twitter.


News reports on recent local authority music service cuts:

Cardiff Music Service cuts
Rhondda Cynon Taf music service cuts
Gwent Music Service cuts
Flintshire music service cuts
Pembrokeshire music service cuts

News reports from the last 10 years on the music education crisis in Wales:

Schools music lessons cut by £500k since last report – 2011

Why we need to defend music in the land of song – Helena Braithwaite –  Institute of Welsh Affairs – 2011

Composer Karl Jenkins speaks up for music education in Wales – 2008
Karl Jenkins – The Politics Show Wales 2008

Schools music ‘uncertain future’ –  2006
Artists including Bryn Terfel, Super Furry Animals, Catrin Finch, Karl Jenkins call for ‘music manifesto’ – 2006

Related story on this blog, giving the history and context of music education in Wales:

Apocalypse now for music education in Wales?

Articles about Wales music education

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