The autumn edition of arco’ (vol 44 no 4) has a lengthy article by Matthew Gunn (Cambridgeshire), in which he outlines the role and impact of a Music Education HUB – ‘From the Hub- making music education matter’. This article is well worth reading in full, but here are some of the essential points made within it.

The pre Hub musical climate in the UK

In the first section of his writing, Matthew talks about the style of music education available to many of the current teaching fraternity when they were at school. This provision included:

  • A structure for traditional progression in music for young people within the state sector provided by the state
  • Other opportunities through privately funded tuition
  • A targeted, if slightly selective and limited provision for instrumental and vocal learning offered at educational institutions
  • A well delivered classroom music curriculum
  • Tuition for a child that was interested in learning that did not rely on parental charges
  • No assumption that every child would want to learn an instrument
  • A limitation of provision through time and the instruments on offer at each school
  • An infrastructure of lessons and ensembles that could lead the beginner up to a high standard of playing at a county or even national level
  • A route of learning that many of our leading musicians today have benefitted from, regardless of genre

The late 1980’s onwards

Matthew highlights the changes in funding that came about in the late 1980’s, although I seem to recollect that this had more impact at the beginning of the 1990’s when my own teaching career began?

  • Funding became allocated to schools rather than centrally controlled
  • This funding was not specifically for instrumental and vocal learning (after a period of earmarking as I remember it)
  • Resources became stretched and parental contribution became the norm
  • Bursaries became available through schemes such as Pupil Premium
  • Choices of instruments on offer were extended
  • School budgets became stretched further, schools sought out lower cost provision as alternatives to the traditional music services
  • Changes impacted teaching staff with the decline in security of work and employment benefits

How education has changed

Matthew then goes on to outline the change in emphasis of the curriculum and education in schools:

  • The lessening of music in importance from its initial place as an equal to any other academic learning
  • The increase in hours devoted to numeracy and literacy within schools
  • The prioritising of areas of the curriculum that will be publicly measured for time, funding and resources
  • Despite the knowledge that the creative arts can reach out to engage many who may be disengaged with education otherwise, the emphasis has to be placed upon ‘must achieve at’ learning

Divorcing longitudinal skill development from academic study

  • Children who learn instrumental and vocal skills tend to do better academically, not only in music but also other subjects
  • Many whole class instrumental teaching initiatives try to ensure that all children have an experience of instrumental learning
  • Such enabling opportunities have their positives, but what about those children for whom the experience is a negative one?
  • Do whole class learning opportunities put some learners off musical tuition through poor experiences?
  • Has this form of large group learning had a negative impact on the more traditional routes and outcomes of learning an instrument?

Some evidence of long term impact

  • There is an impact on people working towards musical qualifications
  • A drop in the number of people training to be specialist classroom teachers
  • A lower number of musically literate teachers within primary schools
  • Pupils that leave lessons for instrumental learning opportunities receive negative reactions from their classroom teachers
  • Parents requesting that their child only learns outside of key curriculum lesson time

A change in society’s view to music making

Matthew then goes on to look at an important issue – is making music on acoustic instruments, despite being steeped in a rich heritage, becoming a thing of the past? Young people’s musical diets are informed by family, peer group and education. By limiting the input that a school environment has on both broadening and informing this diet, will an individual’s listening tastes and drive to learn an instrument be affected?

The changing face of learning

The article then goes on to discuss the new ways in which young people can set about learning new skill sets, with a focus on instrumental learning.  

Matthew not only focusses on the way that students approach learning, but also touches on aspects of learning delivery. These aspects include regulation of teachers both in quality of what they provide and also the geographical spread of their services. Comparity of opportunity across the country, particularly in rural areas, is something that may become a cause for concern.

Another cause for concern is, what I would term the ‘deprofessionalisation’ of music teaching as a career option. With a lack of true career structure and regulation, how many people of the correct calibre will choose to become the music teachers of the future?

The wider implications of this new style of learning also has an effect on ensemble training and provision, not just locally but at regional and national levels.

So, what actually is a HUB?

Matthew Gunn states ‘the Hub works to achieve access for our children and young people to music making, despite the above’. It is not the same as a music service, however. According to Matthew, as well as providing lessons and ensembles, a HUB also now leads on singing, curriculum support, pathways of progression across genres, CPD, first access and large scale projects.  In my naivety, I always assumed that the HUB was separate to the Music Service anyway, even if the Music Service was the key deliverer and lead organisation? Perhaps I am mistaken in this assumption, but if the HUB ‘is’ the Music Service rather than merely being led by it, does that not give the lead organisation a share of the power that can, perhaps, be detrimental to other organisations that fall under the umbrella of that particular HUB?  

Matthew also makes this statement – ‘A hub has to be a guardian of traditional instrumental heritage, support engagement in modern music developments, be a strategy body to find gaps in provision and try to plug them and gather information from partners and colleagues in all areas of the music education world’. To my mind, this is exactly what a HUB should be. The success musically of any one area will very much lie in the integrity of its own HUB, and the willingness of those in charge of the HUB to work fairly and with a lack of bias.

The article then ends with a series of 7 questions that Matthew poses very much with the intention of the ESTA readership answering for him.  It would be great if, as a reader of this, you then go to read Matthew’s article in full and respond to him with your own views and experiences of your local Music Hub. The article is ‘From the Hub- making music education matter’ arco vol 44 no 4, pages 14-18.

One of the benefits of membership of ESTA is the association’s quarterly magazine, ‘arco’.  The European String Teachers Association encourages open debate amongst its membership on all matters of music education through spoken word, written articles, letters and online forums. For more information about string teaching and ideas of your own career development visit our websites www.estastrings.org.uk  and www.estaeducation.co.uk