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In tune. Informed. Indispensable.

Musicians' Union calls on ministers to issue clearer guidance on out-of-school music learning under the new tiered restrictions



The Musicians' Union has today written to the Government to request more pragmatic and clearer guidance for instrumental and vocal learning during the next period of restrictions in England.

 

The letter, addressed to Michael Gove, Minister for the Cabinet Office, Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education and Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, lists the ways in which out-of-school or private music teaching supports core or formal learning.

The Union clarifies that musical learning is not necessarily 'extracurricular', as suggested by the Cabinet Office's guidance for the current restrictions, and specifically highlights how music teaching delivers performance preparation, academic learning and revision for qualifications.

The letter also contains a series of recommendations the Union wishes to see implemented. These include that musical learning should be recognised as part of formal education where it serves this purpose, and that while teaching online is a viable solution in many musical learning contexts, some activities must be given an exemption to allow them to take place in person.

  

Horace Trubridge, MU General Secretary, said:

"Our members have done their level best to keep out-of-school music teaching going under the current restrictions. But the Government's guidance has overlooked the important contribution that private teachers and music schools make to formal education provision, instead classifying them as extra-curricular and therefore inessential. We are asking the Government to provide clearer guidance for the new tiered restrictions that start after 2 December, so that all children and young people can access the music teaching they need in appropriate and Covid-secure ways."

  

Chris Walters, MU Education Official, said:

"The MU represents approximately 32,000 members, many of whom teach music privately as well as in schools and other settings. We are therefore in a strong position to report on the effects of the current guidance and to offer practical recommendations for future guidance. We recognise that the current guidance is intended to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, and we support this aim. Since the pandemic began, many of our members have successfully moved their teaching online to help reduce Covid transmission. But teaching that supports formal education and assessment must be allowed to take place in person if there is no viable alternative."

 

The content of the letter is as follows:

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office

The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP, Secretary of State for Education

The Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for Schools Standards

 

23 November 2020

Dear Ministers,

Re: out-of-school music learning under the new tiered coronavirus restrictions

As we move towards the new tiered restrictions in England that were announced over the weekend, I am writing on behalf of the Musicians' Union (MU) to request more pragmatic and clearer guidance for out-of-school music learning. The MU represents approximately 32,000 members, many of whom teach music privately as well as in schools and other settings. We are therefore in a strong position to report on the effects of the current guidance, and to offer practical recommendations on how out-of-school music learning should work under the new tiers.

We recognise that the current and forthcoming restrictions are intended to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, and we support this aim. Since the pandemic began, many of our members have successfully moved their teaching online, but this can be less effective than teaching in person, and it can also limit or prevent some children and young people's access to important educational provision.

We would like to clarify that musical learning is not necessarily 'extracurricular' as suggested by the Cabinet Office's guidance for the current restrictions, which bars pupils from leaving their homes for 'extracurricular classes such as music or drama tuition'. The following is a non-exhaustive list of ways in which out-of-school music learning supports core or formal learning:

• Where it supports performance preparation for GCSE, A level, BTEC and other qualifications, and where it supports foundational learning that leads to these 

• Where it supports academic learning and revision for the same qualifications

• Where it supports preparation for graded music exams, which carry UCAS points at the higher levels, and where it supports lower levels that lead to these

• Where it supports learning for those who wish to pursue music at higher education and as a career (safeguarding the future of music's £5.8 billion contribution to the UK economy in 2019)

The current blanket guidance against pupils leaving their homes for 'extracurricular music classes' does not allow for reasonable exceptions that are needed to keep these and other important activities going. This has been disruptive for teachers and music schools who have had to move some high-level or group teaching onto online formats that are not suited to this purpose. Similarly, it has proved challenging for teachers who need to rehearse in person with their students, for example if they are accompanying them on the piano for an exam. (We note that limited exemptions currently allow some pupils to access music learning in out-of-school settings, but these do not apply to a majority of people.)

Broadband and suitable technology are a requirement for pupils to access music learning online, which our members tell us is excluding poorer pupils. Members also report an increase in suspected mental health problems among pupils they are no longer able to teach in person, many of whom rely on out-of-school music learning for wellbeing and social interaction. Further, pupils with additional needs are often unable to access online learning at all.

We note inconsistencies between different guidance documents that address music learning outside of schools, which has made the guidance as a whole difficult to interpret. A first issue is that the guidance is more restrictive than the legislation, which has caused confusion over what is recommended and what is a matter of law.

A second issue is the difference between the Cabinet Office guidance (referred to above) and the Department for Education's guidance for full opening: schools. The former bars pupils from leaving their homes for music tuition, while the latter states that music lessons in private homes can resume if there is no viable alternative. Taken together, these two documents suggest that lessons are permitted only in pupils' own homes, since pupils are not allowed to leave their homes to attend lessons elsewhere (limited exemptions aside). This position does not support the Government's desire to reduce Covid-19 transmission, because teachers' homes/studios and private music schools – where Covid-secure measures have been in place for months – are likely to be just as safe if not safer than pupils' own homes.

Recommendations

It is hoped that the following recommendations will assist all relevant Government departments in setting a clearer policy for out-of-school music learning.

1. Music learning should be recognised as part of formal education where it serves this purpose. Where it is formal, Government guidance should ensure that it can always take place, just as keeping schools open has been prioritised.

2. Teaching online is a viable solution in many music learning contexts, and it is a reasonable part of any policy designed to reduce Covid-19 transmission. However, it cannot always facilitate musical learning effectively, and it may cause barriers for some learners or interrupt some formal education provision. Teaching in person should therefore be permitted if necessary, unless very serious restrictions are imposed, for example if schools close.

3. Reasonable exemptions to online teaching will always be needed for some activities, including the following:

• Where exams or university/college entrance is being prepared for

• Where a high level of musical learning is being undertaken

• Where there is a risk of exclusion because of digital poverty

• Where there is an adverse mental health risk to learners

• Where learners have additional needs that cannot be met online

 

4. Where reasonable exemptions are in place, these should prioritise operation in Covid-secure environments. This means environments that teachers can manage in a Covid-secure way: their own homes/studios and private music schools, or pupils' homes where safety measures can be implemented reliably.

5. All of the above should be implemented as part of the new tiered system in a way that does not impose restrictions unnecessarily.

 

Signed

Horace Trubridge

MU General Secretary

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