With music services under greater strain and tuition levels dropping across the UK, the industry must embrace digital innovation to boost accessibility for students
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%, whilst Performing Arts fell by 41%.
Strain has been mounting steadily on music services who 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 who 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 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.
The National Plan for Music Education 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 a 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.
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 bookkeeping, 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.
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.
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 National Music Plan, 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.