Still the aftermath of the Regional Music Education Hub bidding process continues to throw up disturbing stories. Over a month on from the news that nearly all the bidders won their hubs – admittedly some were told to go back and do more work on their bids, but they will still become hubs – I continue to hear stories of colleagues who have suffered extreme stress and ill health as a result of a bureaucratic and hurried process that appears to have resulted in little overall change.
It all started so well. The idea of hubs ticked all the right boxes – music education being delivered through buzzing, local centres that would bring together classroom teachers, peris and professional musicians. But then reality kicked in, and a series of government additions to the original idea – including a 25% cut to the ringfenced music grant – turned an impressive vision into an urgent requirement for music services to tighten up and refine their offerings – at the same time as taking on board a sweeping budget cut.
Coping with a cut at the same time as having to prove themselves would have been bad enough for music services, but things were made worse by a ludicrously hurried timetable that meant the average music service had to work day and night to prepare its bid – while also figuring out how significant sums of money could be saved. In addition, preparing the bids demanded certain specialist skills, so a number of music services spent big bucks on bringing in external help. And the result? Nearly everyone won their bids anyway, following a bidding process that now seems to have been more about checking up on existing music services than creating a new music education landscape.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Arts Council, tasked with assessing the bids, is perhaps partially to blame for the meaninglessness of the process and for failing to respond to the bids in a way that recognised their huge variation in quality. It’s no secret that the overstretched Arts Council is staffed by a smallish pool of people, many of whom are underpaid and some of whom are inexperienced. The Arts Council may mean well but, frankly, it does not give the impression of being qualified to judge those who actually deliver music education across large parts of the country on a daily basis.
Now, as the dust settles and the status quo resumes, it is time to question whether a process that has resulted in a bit of tightening up and a lot of cutting – but which has cost many who work in music education dearly – has been an appropriate use of public finances.