I attended a very good conference last week run by the University of London's Institute of Education, called 'The Changing Face of Music Education'.
Good conversations, some outbreaks of new thinking and some very good speakers - particularly Dick Hallam (music participation director) and Deborah Annetts (Incorporated Society of Musicians' CEO and Music Education Council's chair).
Why new structures? Local authority (LA) music providers are currently very much under the spotlight because of the Henley review into the delivery of instrumental and vocal teaching in English schools, which Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, commissioned in September 2010 and which will announce its finding in January 2011. This review is primarily about the structures for delivering instrumental teaching in our schools, which currently enjoys ring-fenced governmental funding until April 2011. Thereafter it is highly possible that funds made available will be given directly to schools and the music services - most of which are producing world-class work in instrumental tuition, running ensembles and participating in the delivery of the whole class instrumental and vocal teaching in primary schools - will have to sell their services back to individual schools.
Now, I'm old enough to remember the last time that the pendulum swung over this particular set of devolutionary principles. Well intentioned as they always are, they brought us local management of schools and a fractured approach to delivering music, which we've fought tooth and nail to re-build into a world-class provision again, with an entitlement - not just access - to music education for all children aged 5 to 14. We now have some great music education intitiatives and activities that are truly worth celebrating and, indeed, developing further. These include the whole-class instrumental teaching programmes (called wider opportunities), Sing Up and the pilots of In Harmony - the English version of the Venezuelan social change music project, El Sistema.
But the current review is not primarily about content. It has been set up to explore the mechanisms of delivery of instrumental and vocal music education. The local authority cuts were always going to happen anyway. However the Federation of Music Services - the membership body for the local music services which deliver instrumental and vocal teaching in schools across the country - has expressed concern that a number of LAs have begun making potentially damaging 'pre-emptive cuts', even before the Henley review is published.
The Henley review itself places additional pressure on those local authority music services which rely significantly on government funding. It is forcing them to look long and hard at the fact that the organisational structure and overheads of the more traditionally-run services make them too expensive in the current climate. After all, if their high overheads mean that they have to bill out at £40-£60 per hour, those headteachers who don't fully 'get' the holistic job that our best music services do - providing a skilled workforce to teach in small groups, run ensembles, collaborate with other colleagues in the whole-class music lessons, etc - will find their own teachers locally for significantly less.
So battles really do need to be fought and won right now on the obstacles to organisational and structural change for those music services which remain under LA control. The shrewd ones may be looking at how to split from the LAs in order to jettison layers and layers of LA management and overheads, which effectively diminish their ability to compete successfully on price.
For our part, Yamaha is already partnering a number of music services in joint Yamaha music school projects. We will also begin a pilot of a new whole-class wind band project with two music services in 2011. Partnership working is a value and principle that we share with many education organisations and one which enables us to multiply the impact. We do this only where we believe our 50+ years of group instrumental teaching experience, our connections with inspirational artists and our top quality musical instruments, spanning the genres, can really help music service colleagues make a difference both to quality and quantity of provision.
While there is a significant minority of music services which have a range of funding sources (and therefore stand a better chance of survival if one funding source is reduced or removed), there are many which appear to be inactive in preparing their strategic plans. Maybe they prefer to wait and see before formulating a robust plan. But my message to those in this position is that, unless you already have several options already mapped out, the pace of change is likely to be such that you will not have time to plan something new if you wait until announcements are made. You will then find yourselves in a position where your only strategy will be a reactive one, putting you at a strategic disadvantage and considerably narrowing your options. It doesn't need to be this way if you have plans already prepared and can then choose the most appropriate one when the details of the Henley review are known.
The conference could easily have been all doom and gloom. But it wasn't.
Instead there was a real sense that this latest set of changes will also provide new opportunites. I get the distinct impression that those who merely wish to maintain the status quo will not be listened to but the radical thinkers, the bold planners and the entrepreneurial leaders in music education may find that this is their opportunity to come to the fore.
But colleagues must put their Plan B together now. It must be bold and they must be ready to implement it. The plan should at least cover the transition to new independent business structures. It could introduce some commercial activities, if that is what is necessary to ensure that the next generation is able to enjoy the musical, personal, social and financial benefits that present and past generations have enjoyed from our music education system.