The Henley Review of Music Education in England and the government’s response were published last week.
The headline news was that the government has promised one more year of ring-fenced funding for music, including local authority music services (who provide instrumental tutors to school, and run orchestras and other ensembles for students).
But it also suggests that a number of reforms may be ahead for music services, so that music education money from a range of sources can be used more effectively. A National Plan for Music Education Plan, being published later this year, will map the way forward for these and other organisations.
I’ll be interested to see if the Plan addresses the way that music services reach and serve their customers. At the moment – particularly in Wales, where there’s no ‘wider opportunities’ scheme where pupils can experience instruments first-hand – it’s very hard for them to reach more and different children and young people – which is what everyone agrees needs to happen. The way they’re set up and operate just doesn’t allow for effective marketing and communications.
What other organisation has to find and connect with its customers through two layers of decision makers: schools first, then parents? What other organisation offers it customers (parents/pupils) choices based on what its staff can provide rather than what customers want? And what organisation markets its services without communicating the benefits and experience of what it’s offering, and the ‘why us’ aspect?
This isn’t a criticism of music services because they are amazing organisations full of incredibly passionate, committed people – but many of them have simply not responded to the changing world.
The only related recommendation in the review is for schools use their websites to publicise *all* music education providers in an area (eg the music service, private tutors, community musicians, orchestras, other arts organisations) – so that parents and pupils can find suitable providers. Its an interesting proposal – essentially setting the cat among the pigeons in encouraging schools to show parents what choices they have. But it doesn’t deal with the real problem (reaching a broader range of pupils and parents) – and how likely is it to happen anyway?
It’s hard enough to encourage schools to update their own websites, let alone embark on the massive task of researching local music providers, and developing more than just a listing. What parents really need – a searchable database, with detailed information about providers, costs, the instrument, and perhaps testimonials or information about qualifications – is even more unlikely.
Schools themselves are unlikely to be interested in adding another task to their communications efforts, so I wonder where that leaves music services’ marketing and communications? In order to really reach a wider range of pupils they need to communicate directly to parents and pupils: tell their students’ stories (or even better, enable them to advocate their music service) and get people excited about learning music.