The National Music Hubs set up to support and improve music education in schools are reaching only a minority of pupils and must do better, Ofsted inspectors have said.
The new approach to supporting music education has succeeded to some extent in providing instrumental teaching and supporting local choirs, orchestras and festivals, as well as promoting musical partnerships and collaboration, but too few pupils have benefited overall from the initiative.
An Ofsted report published this week – Music in Schools: What hubs must do – finds that there is little difference between the provision offered now under the system of music hubs and the previous set-up when music provision of this kind was organised by local authorities.
However, inspectors did note that many of the hubs visited “often brought new energy, collaborative approaches and vitality to working musically with young people”.
National Music Hubs were set up across England in response to the National Plan for Music Education. Funded through the Arts Council, they have defined roles including ensuring that every child sings regularly and learns a musical instrument in normal school class lessons.
There are currently 123 music hubs, which began their work in September 2012 and are funded until 2015. Inspectors visited 31 schools and hubs between February and July this year for the report. It found that in some schools, “hubs found it hard to get noticed and gave up too easily”.
It adds: “In eight of the schools the hub’s involvement was either non-existent or irregular.”
The report suggests that the hubs should be more proactive in their work. It states: “Hubs ... should not be simply asking schools what they need, or offering services that schools can take or leave.
“They must act as champions, leaders and expert partners, who can arrange systematic, helpful and challenging conversations with each school about the quality of the music education and how the school and hub can work together to improve it.”.
Michael Cladingbowl, director of schools policy at Ofsted, said: “Music is a demanding academic discipline, developed through exciting practical musical activity. However, the vast majority of the schools visited shied away from teaching pupils about fundamental aspects of music as they thought it too difficult. All children, not just the privileged few, should enjoy a good music education.
“Over time we must expect greater impact on music education for all pupils in schools.”
An Arts Council England spokeswoman said: “Raising quality drives everything we do and we are working with hubs to pilot new approaches to performance measurement, which will apply from next year.”
However, John Smith, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said budget cuts and a tight time-frame had hampered the hubs.
He explained: “The completely unrealistic time-frame which was imposed on music services to recreate themselves as music education hubs last year, compounded by cuts within local authorities alongside the statutory grant, has made it impossible for hubs to fulfil the aspirations of the National Music Plan.
“Although the National Music Plan itself was promising, unless the government is prepared to do more to implement it across the country then musical opportunities for young people will continue to be a postcode lottery.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education, said: “These are early days for this scheme – Ofsted’s findings are based on just a quarter of the 123 hubs, which were assessed only a few months after opening.
“But Ofsted is clear that when hubs are properly run, they are already making a real difference. We are working with Arts Council England to ensure music hubs benefit all children.”
To download the report, visit www.ofsted.gov.uk