Gloucestershire’s hub – what’s been, and what’s next?

anita-holford-1It’s more than four years since Make Music Gloucestershire was formed.  Anita Holford, who’s freelanced for the Hub throughout that time*, looks back at her experience of this period of change, and has some questions for music educators for the next phase of hub working.

Around five years ago this Autumn, I was freelancing for Gloucestershire Music, helping the team with the development of a new website. There had been murmurings that a change was about to take place in music education, and that things would be very different for county music services in England.

Before we knew it, a little like Alice stepping through the looking glass, we were transported into a world of music education where things were very different.

The Department for Education announced that it would no longer directly-fund county music services. Instead, it would expect groups of music education organisations in each area to bid for funding to form ‘music education hubs’ and deliver on requirements set out in ‘A national plan for music education in England’ 2012-2020.

Shifting our ways of thinking and working

Anyone who works with me knows that I believe in hubs, and in the model we have in Gloucestershire.

The whole concept of hubs was about reaching more children and young people and providing joined-up pathways for them, based on their needs and interests.

This meant supporting the non-school music education workforce (music services, music education organisations, individual music tutors, other organisations working with young people in music) to shift their way of working and thinking.

They would have to work in partnership with schools, which meant moving towards a more market-led approach. The tricky bit was and is, that this needed to be balanced with delivering on the requirements (Core and Extension roles) set out by the new funding.

But the big idea at the heart of this change was that no single organisation could provide that ‘light bulb’ moment for each young person, where they’re switched on to music. Or indeed all the opportunities and support that need to come afterwards, so they can progress as musicians; use music to support their own social, emotional and personal development; or simply develop a life-long love of music.

For many, having an inspiring instrumental tutor in their school, taking part in an ensemble or orchestra, or seeing an inspiring orchestral performance will turn on that light.

For others, taking part in a singing project, world percussion, or iPad music-making programme in their school is far more likely to reach them. Or getting support for their independent music-making in rock, pop and music technology through community studios or out-of-school creative music-making sessions.

Gloucestershire’s model – something to be proud of, and more to do

We have all these opportunities in place in Gloucestershire, and more – either through Hub partners or other deliverers. And they’re pretty well networked and communicated, although there’s far more we can do. We’re also working far more effectively in partnership, as delivery partners and with schools. Again, there’s a long way to go – particularly in finding ways for schools to have a real say and work alongside us, rather than see us as ‘providers’. We also have an exciting, emerging, youth voice strand of work.

Yes, it’s been difficult. Having other providers share the responsibility – and the funding – to deliver on the government’s plans for music has put Gloucestershire Music in a really difficult position. While it’s funding has gradually been cut, it’s had to work in partnership with those organisations who are now, in a commercial sense, taking some of its market share.

And it isn’t always easy working in partnership, putting the ‘greater good’ first and the interests of your own organisation second. But that just makes me even more of a fan of hub working: because it’s hard, and it brings out the best (occasionally the worst), in people and organisations.

In Gloucestershire, the Hub is not simply the music service with another coat on. Funding, decision-making and responsibility for outcomes are distributed amongst a core of key partners (although the County Council currently holds the funding). We’ve had an inclusion strategy that’s been central to our work, and we’ve recently developed a new one to reflect where we are four years on. Those are two things to be hugely proud of.

We haven’t always got things right. The initial model of a commissioning team didn’t give Hub partners enough say in decision-making, or accountability. Initially we didn’t really take account of what young people thought. And we’re still struggling to form effective partnerships with many schools.

And no, we’re not achieving all we want, as fast as we want. The work we do in schools is often short-term which limits its impact; we need to continue to get better at reaching those young people who are facing the biggest barriers in learning and in life; and ultimately we need to keep on improving our numbers and our outcomes.

What’s next?

Four years is not long when you’re creating cultural and systemic change. There are many hurdles still to overcome, so as we welcome the announcement of continued funding for hubs, here are a few questions for us to consider:

  • How can we create a clear strategy that looks beyond Arts Council England/Department for Education funding requirements, measures of success, and timescales, to the difference *we* want to make in Gloucestershire?
  • How can we share resources and knowledge with other hubs to save money and avoid duplication?
  • How can the music service protect itself from further cuts, generate more income, and evolve to meet all young people’s needs?
  • How can we make the case more powerfully for the place of music in schools, and help schools find ways to give more priority to music – in particular those facing the most difficult economic and social challenges?
  • Long-term music education is still something that’s mainly accessible to wealthier families (see ABRSM’s recent ‘Making Music’ report). What changes need to happen in Gloucestershire so we address cost and other access barriers in all our work, as well as in targeted work with young people in challenging circumstances?

* Anita now works part-time for hub partner, The Music Works, as well as continuing to freelance through her business Writing Services.

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