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MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones on giving all school age children the opportunity to enjoy music, whether performing or watching

When the Chief Executive of Classic FM, Darren Henley was tasked by the government with looking at music education in schools, his findings were patchy. Some schools were lucky to have inspiring music teachers who organised choirs, orchestras and individual tuition; others simply didn’t regard the subject as a priority. And when it came to music GSCE, the top performing schools were overwhelmingly in the independent sector.

The Henley Report, and the subsequent National Plan for Music, were a bold attempt to provide more consistent quality in provision and address disparities in access. It also aspired – quite rightly – to give every child the opportunity to learn an instrument, make music with others, learn to sing and progress to a level of excellence. Music Hubs were proposed, and subsequently created, to replace local authority music services. Directly funded from Whitehall and overseen by the Arts Council, their mission was to deliver consistent quality in and out of schools.

Four years, a postcode lottery sadly still characterises provision and children from disadvantaged families continue to have less access to quality music education. The most recent Arts Council figures show just 12% of primary and 0.4% of secondary school children receiving whole class ensemble teaching. While DCMS figures suggest a decline in those at primary schools learning an instrument from 19.6% to 17.7%. These challenges and the steps needed to put music education back at the heart of school life will be considered in the Lords tonight.

So what went wrong? Fundamentally, Ministers have been guilty of massive inconsistency in their approach to music education. At the same time as Michael Gove was signing off the National Plan, he was devising a curriculum review that excluded music from the Ebac at GCSE. This was later amended to widen the core curriculum subjects but music must now fight for space in the curriculum. It has been widely, and unfairly, portrayed as a creative, ‘soft’ subject not truly based on academic rigour. As a result, the Hubs have struggled to get all of their schools to promote the subject and the numbers taking music GCSE have fallen.

The inconsistency is further illustrated in the funding of the Hubs, with a decline in central funding from £82million to £58million in the three years to 2014 compounded by the DfE also advising councils that they should no longer contribute to music education. That cutting off of a vital extra source has been partially offset by an announcement this summer of an extra £18 million, but such fluctuations make it difficult for the Hubs to plan or invest in staff and equipment.

Another unforeseen impact is that music teaching has been casualised – with less full time teachers employed by schools, and more employed by the Hubs on unpredictable zero hours contracts. The result is that the profession is being deskilled, with less professional development and promotion possibilities. And all of that iss bound to adversely affect the quality of teaching.

There is still some great music teaching taking place around the UK, and teachers continue to inspire the next generation of performers, players and singers. In some areas, the Hubs are providing welcome coordination and leadership. But they lack the authority to intervene when schools do not want to participate so the quality of music in any school remains the prerogative of the school Head.

We should not still be arguing the case for universal access to music in schools. There are so many examples of its capacity to raise the sights of children and transform lives. Labour understands this and is developing policies to counter the post-code lottery in children participating in music and watching great performances. We will also insist that no school can be rated ‘outstanding’ unless it delivers a broad and balanced curriculum for its students, and one which that included the arts. Let’s hope that the Coalition are now prepared to learn from their mistakes and roll out a model of music education that can deliver a similar vision.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Education Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 28th October 2014

Performance rights

Maggie Jones on giving all school age children the opportunity to enjoy music, whether performing or watching

JeremyBeecham.jpgJeremy Beecham on the government’s plans, in the face of wide opposition, to narrow the scope of judicial review

The past four years have seen the Coalition government put major roadblocks in the way of access to justice. 650,000 claimants a year, and their dependants, can no longer benefit from civil legal aid or advice. And the results have been stark.

We have seen the collapse of law centres, extreme pressure on advice agencies, and expense and delays caused by litigants unable to receive legal advice in person when preparing or presenting their case. The insurance industry and employers have benefitted from changes to personal injury law and the imposition of charges for employment tribunal claims, leading to an 80% reduction in applications. Large cuts in fees for criminal legal aid threaten to reduce the chances of a fair trial.

Perhaps the most insidious changes however, are those in which Ministers seek to narrow the scope of judicial discretion, especially in cases where the lawfulness of decisions made by government itself or other public agencies is challenged through judicial review (JR). The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is back in the House of Lords today, seeks deliberately to make it more difficult, and potentially more expensive, for citizens (either as individuals or represented by a charity) to seek a ruling from the Courts on whether such decisions were properly  made.  

While individuals already have first to obtain the leave of the Court to bring a case of this nature, various financial barriers will now have to be overcome if the government’s plans are not amended. Applicants will need to disclose “the source nature and extent of financial resources available or likely to be available” to them before pursuing a case. Interveners, very often charities, who obtain leave to provide evidence or make representations will have to make similar disclosures; and barring exceptional circumstances will not be able to recover their costs.

Costs can of course be prohibitive for an individual or charity, and to date the Court has been able to make an order capping the liability to pay the other side’s costs. The Bill removes this protection from the initial stage of seeking leave so it only applies if that is granted. But even then the new rules on ‘available’ resources will apply, with other tests that may also deter intervening.

To listen to the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling one would imagine that the courts are overrun with applications for JR from meddlesome pressure groups with a political agenda. In fact, campaigning organisations have brought all of 50 cases in 13 years – some 3% of the total. This figure is not much higher than the proportion of government backbenchers who spoke in favour of the proposals during the Committee stage of the Bill.

Grayling’s proposals have been roundly condemned by the Constitution Committee, the Delegated Powers Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Among many other observations, the latter said of his remarks: “such politically partisan reasons for restricting access to judicial review in order to reduce the scope for it to be used by the Government’s political opponents do not qualify as a legitimate aim”. And only this morning, eleven Police and Crime Commissioners wrote to The Times warning of the “deep injustice” that it could bring.

In political terms, it will be interesting to see where LibDem peers end up on the issue. To their credit they have voiced opposition to their Coalition partners’ proclaimed intention to dismantle the Human Rights Act. Their credibility in this similar area will be tested in the lobbies tonight.

Lord Jeremy Beecham is Shadow Justice Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @JeremyBeecham

Published 27th October 2014

A further barrier to justice

Jeremy Beecham on the government’s plans, in the face of wide opposition, to narrow the scope of judicial review

Wilf_4x3.jpgWilf Stevenson on the unsung scrutiny that makes up much of the House of Lords work

The pomp and ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament, the televising of Oral Questions, and the occasional news snippet of a set-piece debate are the aspects of the work of the House of Lords that most people know about. But it is not what working peers spend the majority of their time on. Many colleagues are appointed to Select Committees which are highly regarded for the reports they produce on important issues of the day, and they and others also do the heavy lifting of in-depth scrutiny on huge amounts of secondary legislation.   

Secondary legislation affects us all much more directly and often than might be imagined. While primary legislation gives powers to governments to act, the regulations specify how these powers will be used in practice – and the penalties for non-compliance.

One debate last week was, in many ways, typical of this activity, as I spent the day preparing for and then speaking in a debate on two Statutory Instruments (SIs) introduced by the government, setting up an ‘Orphan Works’ scheme. These are copyright works or performers’ rights for which one or more rights holder cannot be identified (or if identified, cannot be located), so permission to use them cannot be obtained. Such works, some of which are culturally and economically significant, can at present only be used lawfully to a very limited extent.

The need for these regulations arose from two places. In 2012 the EU issued a Directive which required member states to introduce by the end of October 2014 an exception to copyright to allow cultural and heritage organisations to digitise orphan works in their collections and to make them available to the public on their websites. And in 2011, Ministers agreed to implement one of the recommendations of the Hargreaves Report, to extend the EU Directive to enable the lawful use of orphan works for both commercial and non-commercial use in books, TV programmes and exhibitions. That, so the government argued, would enable access to culturally valuable works, contribute to economic growth, minimise existing perverse incentives to use these works illegally, and protect and remunerate right holders.

It is not possible to amend SIs, and while there was concern at some of the regulations from rightsholders, we felt the best approach was ask a series of questions and to get the Minister to put on the record some of the reasoning behind the regulations. The group that assembled to debate the SIs was small but cross-party, and as I think Hansard will attest gave the regulations a proper going over.

For me the most important issues were why there were two SIs not one; the lack of clarity of what would constitute a “diligent search” for rights holders, which the regulations require before material can be licensed; why the fees to be set aside for any right holders that subsequently come forward has to be held in escrow (with a third party) at a time when grant-in-aid funding was so scarce; and why the vesting date was not one of the Common Commencement Dates agreed for all new regulations. 

The irony of a Conservative-led government not only implementing an EU Directive but gold-plating it was not lost on the Committee, and may come back to haunt Ministers. The Impact Assessment produced by the government paints a picture of a scheme that will make a small contribution to economic growth. There may of course, be a treasure trove of millions of orphan works but the truth is that we simply don’t know. We have been promised a review of the SIs in a year’s time, when what Ministers said in response to our questions can be used to hold them to account for what has actually transpired since the scheme was introduced. Interested spectators should book their seats now for the replay!

Lord Wilf Stevenson of Balmacara is Shadow DCMS Minister in the House of Lords, and also a member of the Shadow DCMS team. He tweets @Missenden50

Published 27th October 2014

Classic instruments

Wilf Stevenson on the unsung scrutiny that makes up much of the House of Lords work

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