Axe looms for county’s music service

Students from East Sussex Music Service with famed piano teacher Dame Fanny Waterman (March 2014)
Students from East Sussex Music Service with famed piano teacher Dame Fanny Waterman (March 2014)

A petition is being launched to save the East Sussex Music Instrumental Service which faces closure as part of a cost cutting exercise.

The county council announced this week it was looking at closing the service, which delivers music lessons to around 7,000 children in schools across the county, by 2019.

In addition almost 1,000 children aged between four and 18 attend music centres each week.

The council says it needs to cut costs but the National Education Union says the closure will result in the loss of valued music provision to thousands of children and job losses for teachers and administrative staff.

Union representative Jane Humberstone said: “The council’s director of children’s services Stuart Gallimore will be asking Bob Stanley, the lead member for education and inclusion, special educational needs and disability to single-handedly make the decision whether or not to close the service on April 30.

“To halt this decision, currently resting solely with Councillor Bob Stanley, the NEU suggests that alternative proposals should be sought. A petition to stop this decision from being made is being launched.”

The petition has the backing of hundreds of parents and students including ex-pupil Darryl Noel-Davila, now studying music in London, who said the music service changed his life.

“I came from a background of violence and drug abuse and had zero social skills, zero prospects, no passion for anything until I started learning the clarinet. Those weekly lessons became the focal point of my life for such a long time. I don’t know who I would be without them. I can choose to live, because ESMS gave me a life, friends, a goal and something to look forward to in an otherwise difficult and confusing time of my life.”

Another former pupil, Stephen Page said: “Arriving at secondary school as a lonely misfit child, ESMS gave me so much more than just some lessons but also a chance to play in many ensembles and orchestras, finding friends that I couldn’t at school building skills that I can now enjoy for the rest of my life.”

The council says despite a major restructuring to the service, cuts in central Government funding mean it can’t continue to fund individual and small group instrumental lessons.

A spokesperson said: “Under the proposals, a reduced music service would most likely continue to provide a number of services including whole-class instrumental teaching in schools, the county’s four area music centres – which offer children the chance to play in ensembles – and the sixth form music education provision at the Academy of Music.

“However, individual and small group lessons may only be offered through private music teachers, or could be provided by other means, such as through teacher co-operatives which have been formed in other parts of the country.

“We totally appreciate how valued the music service is by children and parents across the county.

“This is not a decision we want to take but, at a time when the council is having to make cuts to services such as libraries and adult social care, we just can’t afford to continue to provide the music service in its current format.

“We’ve already significantly reduced the cost of the service through restructuring and efficiency savings, but it’s not been possible to find a viable way of continuing with the service as it is.

“If this proposal is approved, we will explore all options over the coming months to try and ensure pupils can still have opportunities to learn to play an instrument, and will be asking people to give us their views on how we can achieve this.”