Should Music Education Hubs provide GCSE & A-Level Music?


In advance of the Music Mark Secondary Symposium – which I now find that I am unable to attend due to childcare reasons (hope you’re enjoying that holiday, Mum & Dad!) – I wanted to share something that has been mulling around in my mind over recent weeks.

One of the items on the agenda is ‘Should Hubs provide GCSE and A-Level Music’. Excuse me while I geek-out a bit, because this question falls into a perfect overlap between my two academic research interests! Regular readers of this blog will know that alongside my work for Music Education Solutions® I also work part time at Leeds College of Music, where I lead music education modules on the performance degrees, and entrepreneurship modules on the business degree. In both these areas, we talk a lot about the idea of ‘ethics’ from various different standpoints.

Currently, there is a crisis in secondary music education. Curriculum music provision is slowly, but surely, being eroded by measures such as the EBacc, by schools’ decisions to start GCSEs a year early from Year 9, and by the general squeeze on school budgets. The government’s party line when questioned about this is to cite the amount of funding given to music hubs so that ‘all children can learn to play a musical instrument.’ Those of us in the know understand that this has absolutely no bearing on the situation whatsoever, but it does open up an interesting discussion.

Imagine that several schools in one hub area have opted to cancel GCSE and/or A Level Music. From an educational standpoint, the Hub, which is in receipt of government funding, and which is the ‘expert’ organisation for music in its area, could be said to have an ethical responsibility to provide this provision for those pupils whose schools do not. From a business perspective this makes sense too, there is a market need for this provision, and hubs are meant to function as businesses as well as educational organisations.

So far so good. But now imagine you’re a secondary head teacher thinking about how to make savings in your school. Well, let’s see, the hub is now providing GCSE and/or A-Level provision for music, so let’s get rid of that at school, and signpost our pupils towards this external provision. This makes both educational and business sense for the school, as it is providing an expert-led pathway for their students, whilst saving the school money. Pretty soon all the schools in the area follow suit, and soon ‘curriculum music’ at KS4 and KS5 ceases to exist.

Through what was at first an altruistic decision, the hub has now presided over the decimation of curriculum music at upper Secondary levels in their area. But that’s ok, right, because the hub is still offering that GCSE and A-level provision? Wrong! Because although that provision is ‘there’ it’s not ‘accessible’ in the same way as a timetabled GCSE or A-Level lesson would be in a school. By making the provision external, barriers are created – time, cost, transport etc – which makes the provision selective even though the initial aim was the opposite.

As a business the hub could be said to have succeeded as they have seen off all the competition to become the sole provider of GCSE and A-Level Music in their area. In effect they have conquered the market, which is the ultimate aim of any successful business. But as an educational organisation, the hub has unwittingly narrowed the educational choices of all the children in its area, which could not be seen as a successful outcome from an educational standpoint.

So to return to the initial question ‘should Hubs provide GCSE and A-level music,’ I think this idea should be approached with extreme caution. For what it’s worth, my own suggestion would be this. There is a long tradition of music services (now hubs) offering curriculum teaching in primary schools, so it is not too great a leap to imagine them also offering the same in secondary schools. If, rather than providing an external GCSE or A-Level programme at a music centre, hubs offer the opportunity to ‘hire’ a music teacher on a paid-per-hour arrangement to deliver the KS4 and KS5 curriculum within the school setting, most of the ethical considerations and potential consequences outlined above would be mitigated. (Although we have not begun to discuss what the knock-on effects to the KS3 curriculum would be!)

Of course, the best case scenario would be for schools to continue to provide their own GCSE and A-Level teaching, but given that we know this is becoming more and more challenging for schools, an option to hire a teacher from the music hub to preserve this provision might be the next best solution.

I look forward to keeping up with all of the discussions from this event on Twitter!

Dr Elizabeth Stafford, Director, Music Education Solutions®

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