To an outside observer of the music education system in England, the world of music (education) hubs (or are they music services?) is confusing, to say the least. In this article, we try to clarify what hubs are and what they do. This information is specific to England – the systems in other parts of the UK are different.
What are hubs and what do they do?
Music hubs (or music education hubs) are regional groups of organisations in England – such as local authority departments, schools, other hubs, arts organisations, community or voluntary organisations.
Funded by central government via grants administered by Arts Council England, the hubs – or, rather, the organisations within them – work to create ‘joined-up music education provision’ (see below), supporting delivery of the London Government’s National Plan for Music Education (NPME), published in November 2011. The total amount of hub funding from the Department for Education in the 2018-19 financial year is £75m.
- Jargon-buster: ‘Joined-up music education provision’ includes peripatetic instrumental and vocal teaching (extending to new specialisms like music production and djing), professional development for teachers, and organising local/regional bands, orchestras and choirs.
Music hubs or music education hubs?
There’s no difference – the terms are used interchangeably. (On MUSIC:ED, our editorial policy is to use ‘music hubs’ except when an organisation’s official title includes ‘education’.)
What about music services? Are they the same as hubs?
This is where things get particularly confusing.
Hubs are coordinated by the hub ‘lead organisation’, which takes on responsibility for the funding and governance of the hub, including reporting back to Arts Council England, which holds the purse-strings on behalf of the government.
- Many, but not all, lead organisations are local authority music services.
Historically, music services (usually departments of local authorities) used to be responsible as the key providers of professional development, peripatetic instrumental/vocal teaching, bands, orchestras and choirs to state-funded schools in their region.
After the publication of the National Plan for Music Education in 2011, two things changed:
- music services were replaced as local providers by music hubs. But, because many hubs had music services as their lead organisation, the outside perception (and the practical reality) was that the music service had just renamed itself and added other subsidiary organisations (the local hub partners) within its hub umbrella
- through the government’s education policy of ‘academisation’, increasing numbers of previously state-funded schools moved away from direct local authority control, becoming quasi-independent – and were free to start buying music-related services from a range of providers, rather than only from the music service. In other words, market forces started coming into play, resulting in music services/hubs losing their virtual monopolistic status
Hub names and hub websites
Most hub names relate to their location, for example, Portsmouth Music Hub. However, some use a ‘trendy’ naming strategy, dropping either or both the location and the word ‘hub’. For example, Cantabile (OK, we made that one up, but without much exaggeration). Think of team names on The Apprentice and you’ll get the general idea.
Hub websites range from the good to excellent (an increasing majority) through confusing (eg sites which are just re-labelled music service sites with a token ‘hub page’ created to meet the Arts Council England requirement for acknowledgement of funding) to dire (in some cases, deeply hidden pages within Local Authority websites with copied-and-pasted boiler-plate content).
The future of hubs
Hubs rely on government funding which depends on the current and planned music education policies for England, policies which are informed by a combination of political expediency and sometimes muddled ‘official’ thinking – for example, the conflation at ministerial level of instrumental teaching with curriculum music.
- A key problem, seldom raised publicly, is the highly fragmented state of the music education ‘ecosystem’ – with no single body bearing overarching responsibility for governmental advocacy.
- The ongoing operation of the national music hub network has been extended through a series of piecemeal, usually annual, renewals of funding rather than by a more long-term and developmental approach.
- On 6 August 2021 the government announced the appointment of a new advisory panel to prepare for the publication of a new edition of the National Plan for Music Education in 2022, suggesting that music hubs will continue to operate for some time.