With music services under greater strain and tuition levels dropping across the UK, the industry must embrace digital innovation to boost accessibility for students, says Paritor CEO, Simon Dutton
Music is often called one of life’s greatest gifts, yet increasingly this gift is becoming more costly and inaccessible for students in the UK.
The University of Sussex recently conducted a study on music provision at state and independent Secondary schools in England, finding that budget cuts and a prioritising of EBacc subjects has meant many institutions no longer offer Music as a curriculum subject at lower years. Furthermore, results show a decline in Music offered as a GCSE and A Level option between 2016-18/19. As a result, students wishing to pursue music education often have to choose after-school classes.
Indeed, Ofqual’s 2018 report on exam entries in England confirm that Music and Performing Arts Education is dwindling with the number of students selecting Music at GCSE falling by 7% while Performing Arts fell by 41%.
Strain mounting on music services
Strain has been mounting steadily on music services which deliver tuition to schools and performing arts centres – with increasing funding cuts and shortages of tutors resulting in a lower quality of music education. With music services in the UK also falling under the domain of local authorities, which typically allow parents to handle commercial relationship with tutors, this further alienates students who cannot afford lessons.
Despite the introduction of the National Plan for Music Education (NPME) in 2011, which set out to improve ‘patchy’ music services across the country and ensure accessibility for children of all backgrounds, the majority of its aims are yet to be achieved in 2018. The Music technology section of the strategy acknowledges that schools can enhance music teaching through the use of technology. However, this mainly relates to instruments and sounds. In addition to enhancing the experience of music in schools, the new plan might consider the benefits of technology in delivering and managing music tuition.
An industry-wide transformation
The NPME is due for review in 2020, which means the time is now for an industry-wide transformation to raise music tuition levels as well as the quality of lessons being delivered. Already music education is edging close to exclusivity and there is the risk that music lessons will fall from UK curriculum completely. The new National Plan must be more cohesive and have modernisation at its core, supporting music services in their digital transformation.
Innovative technologies are having great impact across industries from Financial to Healthcare and music education should be no different. It is crucial that music services embrace cutting-edge technology which will help them to maximise their stretched budgets, enhance business performance and, above all, keep music tuition open to students regardless of financial ability.
Outdated legacy systems and paper book-keeping
Perhaps the greatest obstacle facing music services today is the efficient management and delivery of tuition. Most music services handle huge volumes of data yet administration staff and teachers are still using outdated legacy systems and paper book-keeping, which means back-office systems are disorganised and struggle to keep track of payments.
Consequently, there are cases of invoice payments being continually avoided and pupils still receiving tuition when the previous term’s bills are outstanding, creating a build-up of bad debt. Fundamental system flaws such as these are draining time and resources for staff and parents alike.
Modern tuition management solutions
The issue is that music services are ultimately businesses and yet many are failing to operate as such. Music services should look at modern tuition management solutions incorporating leading-edge software, which streamline administration tasks and are designed with the needs of the parent, student and teacher in mind. By supporting administrative staff and tutors with greater communication and scheduling capabilities, the industry can deliver a more consistent service and help ensure there are no barriers for schools in delivering services or for students in accessing tuition.
Schools often rely upon the outsourced support of teachers from a music service and so having an effective system for managing external staff is especially important. A single, user-friendly system will not only simplify scheduling, resource and finance management but also enable accurate and secure handling of sensitive data. Digital innovation is also necessary for music services to be more self-sufficient and less reliant upon government funding for their operations.
Easy-to-use self-service systems
Since the majority of music students’ tuition is handled by their parents, the industry should consider how it can make its tuition management solutions as supportive and user-friendly as possible for parents. According to the NPME, parents’ money represents over half of music services’ overall income, a figure which has likely risen since initial publication. It is the parent who is the customer and, in the digital age, savvy customers want easy-to-use self-service systems. The industry must meet expectation with a management solution to improve the quality of customer experience and thereby increase student retention. Busy parents appreciate the convenience and flexibility of tracking lesson schedules and making payments online, all from one location, providing greater clarity and easier communication with tutors.
Music education and the possibilities it opens is a joy which no student should be denied. Yet for the continuation of music services for all in the UK, digital transformation is needed to support stretched staff, streamline business processes and enhance overall communication for parents and tutors. The latest customer-centric technologies in tuition management solutions will help increase the value of music education and ensure it does not disappear altogether from the UK.
About the author
Simon Dutton is the Founder and CEO of Paritor Ltd, which specialises in software solutions for tuition management in the Music Education and Performing Arts industry.
A software developer at heart, Simon is also passionate about the value of education and the complementary relationship between the arts, science and maths. With extensive experience in writing software, Simon understands how technology can be a tool for teachers and administration staff to effectively deliver lessons to pupils.
It was with this ethos that Simon decided to create a software solution which streamlines administration and communication for music services, allowing more time and attention for the tuition and student experience.
Paritor has now been providing tuition management software to the sector for over 20 years, including over 90 music services, conservatoires and private music education organisations in the UK.
Simon is a married father of four and lives with his family in a small village on Devon’s coastline, only a short distance from the beach.