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Take action to save local music service

Take action to save local music service

Urgent! East Sussex Music Service under threat

East Sussex County Council is proposing to cut instrumental teaching from the East Sussex Music Service (ESMS), affecting the tuition of over 3,000 children. Local resident and mother, Andrea Needham writes passionately about the vital importance of the Music Service and urges you to take action to oppose the cut – urgently – as the vote is next Monday (30 April).

My daughter has been learning the violin for several years now. She’s home-educated, so each week a wonderful teacher from East Sussex Music Service (ESMS) comes to our house in Hastings for her lesson. Over 3,000 other children in East Sussex are also learning instruments and have the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of instrumental groups, ensembles and orchestras run by the music service.

But all that is under threat, with East Sussex County Council proposing to entirely cut instrumental teaching. In relation to this, the document outlining the proposals says, airily, ‘If the Music Service no longer directly provided instrumental tuition, provision would still be available through the private market’.

Of course, the reality is that some children will be able to have private lessons, but many – perhaps most – won’t. A quick scan of local music teachers reveals that tuition costs from around £25 – £40 an hour. This is much more than parents pay for lessons from the Music Service, even if they pay the full rate. Many parents (almost 30% in Hastings) pay far less because they are on a low income, making instrumental playing accessible to all children.

The Music Service has already been cut by £600k over recent years through what the council euphemistically calls ‘restructuring and efficiencies’ (these ‘efficiciencies’ included cutting lessons from thirty to twenty minutes, without reducing the fee). Now the council is looking to save a further £180k and has outlined two possible options. Both include more ‘efficiency and restructuring’, but one also includes cutting instrumental lessons in their entirety. This would not only affect the 3,000 children who learn instruments, but would also mean that around 70 staff would be made redundant, at a total cost of £350k.

Although the decision is to be made on 30 April, parents were not informed until 19 April, leaving almost no time to object. The decision will be made by a single councillor, the Conservative member for Wealden North East, Cllr Bob Standley, the lead member for Education and Inclusion, Special Educational Needs and Disability. It seems incredible that a decision which could impact on so many people can be made by a single councillor, with no input from anyone else, but that’s how the county council works.


Parents have set up a Facebook page to oppose the ending of the music service as it currently exists. A number of ex-students have posted on it, talking about the impact the music service has had on their lives. One, Karin Lambert, says:
‘I was 10 when a demonstration by the teachers of the East Sussex County Music Service inspired me to take up the clarinet. I read every detail on the letter; carefully noting that discounted or free lessons and instrument hire were available to children from families on low incomes. Armed with this information I brought the letter home to Mum and she agreed I could participate. Without the County Music Service my family could never have been able to afford to give me music lessons or the experiences I have been offered. Little did they (or I) know it would turn into a life long love and commitment to music. After working my way up through the local and County ensembles, I was accepted into the National Youth Orchestra. I became the first person in my family to graduate after earning a place at the Royal Northern College of Music’.

The Facebook group is full of similar stories, from parents, students and ex-students, of how ESMS has been instrumental – to make a rather obvious pun – in their lives. Some describe winning places at prestigious institutes to study music; many are now professional musicians. They talk about the confidence it gave them, the friends they made, the lifelong love of music it engendered, whether or not they went on to study music after leaving school.

I learnt the flute at school, many years ago now, and was part of a youth orchestra for many years. It was an incredibly important part of my life, and although I wasn’t the most talented player, I loved being in the orchestra, making music with other children, learning the skill of playing together. The county council says that the various music groups they run will be retained even if instrumental lessons are cut. It’s hard to see how that could happen, though, as the pool of children to draw from will inevitably be vastly diminished. Some parents will be able to afford the £700 a year or so it would cost for private lessons, but many more won’t. As usual, it’ll be the poorer children who lose out.

East Sussex Music Service is truly inspiring. The teachers are dedicated, children can learn a huge range of instruments, and there are great opportunities to progress, as well as to play in proper concerts from an early age. Children can start at age three, shaking maracas, and end up at 18 in a chamber orchestra. I’ve sat through more concerts than I could count, but each time I’m struck by the sheer joy of most of the children, from six year old violinists up to highly professional 18 year old jazz musicians.

The substantial discounts for low income families mean that the music service is there for everyone who wants to take part. I don’t want to live in a world where music is the preserve of the privileged few. If you agree, please take a few minutes to make your voice known.

Take action!

Violin Stringed Instrument Music Instrument


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Posted 20:24 Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018 In: Campaigns


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  1. Laurence Keeely

    Shall we call for a motion of no confidence in the Cabinet of East Sussex County Council,while it may not be all their own fault regarding the cuts.I believe they ate going along with them to keep in power, they should all resign and tell the Government ,come and do the job yourselves,we start with a campaign for 5,000 signatures,
    we are against the closing of the Liburies,care places & music services.

    Comment by Laurence Keeely — Sunday, Apr 29, 2018 @ 21:22

  2. susan ellis

    These letters say it all – music should never be the preserve of the wealthy and become an elitist subject; shame on the council for even thinking this! Music is part of a balanced education and marks us out as being a cultured nation.

    Comment by susan ellis — Sunday, Apr 29, 2018 @ 13:32

  3. irene Sepion

    Dear Cllr. Bob Standley

    I am sure you will appreciate that giving children the tools they need to develop their potential is priceless. Unless we do this how can children ever honour society with their talent, their intellect and their intelligence. Music is an important part of this process -part of their education and each child is entitled to participate in seeking to develop their interest and abilities by learning music. Equally music allows their families and friends to engage in the child’s endeavours thereby encouraging engagement by the parents – an activity which both children and parents can participate in together.

    To deny children the opportunity to learn music is a dereliction of duty not only to the child but also to the people of East Sussex and beyond.

    Comment by irene Sepion — Saturday, Apr 28, 2018 @ 20:50

  4. Felicity Laurence

    Here is my letter just sent to Cllr Standley, with Cllr G Daniels and S Gallimore copied in.
    Dear Cllr Standley,
    I write as someone who has taught music all my professional life, to children from all backgrounds and at all levels of education. I have also authored numerous chapters and articles on music education and its benefits, and can confirm that there is extensive and growing evidence that musical activity has wide-reaching positive effects upon children’s development and learning. Any programme which makes it possible for the largest numbers of children to receive instrumental tuition is ultimately increasing well-being, learning and social adjustment and cohesion throughout our society. In a context where schools themselves are cutting down on general music provision, a fact recently criticised publicly by the Director of the Royal College of Music, Professor Colin Lawson, -(see ), it is more imperative than ever that children from lower income families be enabled through the existing council programmes to continue accessing instrumental tuition at fees they can afford. Indeed, the article above concludes with the statement by the Department for Education confirming their support for music and the provision of instrumental tuition – for ‘every child [to receive] the opportunity to play an instrument’.

    Without such provision, there will arise yet another impediment for such children in sharing in the resources so readily available to those whose parents are better off and can afford private tuition at a much higher fee. My entire music educational practice has been based upon the idea of universal musicality and the right of every single child to a musical education; music is absolutely for everyone, and, ultimately, of integral benefit to society as a whole.

    Cutting these services of music instrumental tuition, as East Sussex County Council is currently proposing to do, inherently contradicts any agenda of inclusion for which you are currently the lead council member (of education and inclusion). Please do not enact this proposal.

    Thank you for your attention.

    Yours sincerely,

    Felicity Laurence.

    (Dr Felicity Laurence, retired university lecturer in Music Education)

    Comment by Felicity Laurence — Friday, Apr 27, 2018 @ 15:09

  5. Eve Montgomery

    My mother was involved in the East Sussex Music Service many years ago – she was a concert pianist and a piano teacher (both in schools and privately) all her adult life, retiring at the age of 81 just before she died in 2004. She was born in Brighton and won a scholarship to the Brighton School of Music at the age of fourteen. Later she attended the Royal College of Music (also on a scholarship) where she gained her LRAM and ARCM. She would not have been able to achieve any of this nowadays as her family would never have been able to afford to pay for lessons or to support her through college. That was why she supported the ESMS.
    It would be very sad if the East Sussex Music Service was ended. Music must never be regarded as a luxury only for those who can afford it.
    I was incandescent when I learned of the plans to axe it, especially remembering how council leader Glazier awarded himself a pay rise of 37 per cent last autumn.

    Comment by Eve Montgomery — Friday, Apr 27, 2018 @ 02:05

  6. Geoff Clarke

    My wife is a member of the music service. She teaches for 3 hours each week but spends more time preparing the lessons and often pays for extra teaching aids herself.
    She, like her music service colleagues is passionate about teaching music, all the music service team are so committed.
    I appreciate the single councillor is in a difficult position and in all likelihood the decision has already been made to dispense with the musical instrument teaching but surely due time should be given so everyone can have their say.
    The way ESCC have handled this situation is truly shameful, letting down the most financially vulnerable children in our society and I would urge, even at this late stage for ESCC to pause to reflect on the impact their decision will have. Geoff Clarke.

    Comment by Geoff Clarke — Thursday, Apr 26, 2018 @ 21:55

  7. Bev Towner

    As a parent whose children both received instrumental lessons in school and were part of the Saturday morning music service I am appalled and disgusted at the proposal to restrict this service. In my opinion this service has always been the jewel in the crown in education in East Sussex. It gives opportunity to all children to develop and learn through music, it is more than just notes on a page.
    My guess is that the decision is made. As I understand it teachers within this service heard of the proposals on the first day of the summer term and yet it seems the decision is being taken by one man on Monday 30th April – what happened to consultation?
    Constantly this Government and it’s Conservative led councils continue to implement policies which remove opportunity from children and families and which
    continue to strangle the potential of the next generation. Good education for all children is a fundamental, we deny it at our peril.

    Comment by Bev Towner — Thursday, Apr 26, 2018 @ 12:24

  8. Pam Brown

    As a ‘Life member’ of the E.Sussex Music Service since 2005, I have many times silently thanked E’ Sussex for their enlightened commitment to the music service. Our young peoples’ ability, commitment and sheer enthusiasm at the concerts I have attended (all at St Marys in the Castle, Hastings, and some at Bexhill), are proof of the benefit acrueing from the time and effort of the staff to produce near professional standards.
    Whatever our young people decide to do with their future, all that they have learned whilst from E. Sussex Music Service will play a major role in their development. Can we afford to remove this vital building block from our young peoples’ dveleopment ?
    I w\rite in the knowledge of the predicament of ESCC who are faced with horrendous challenges, due to central government imposed cuts.
    How to balance young peoples’ future against adult social care needs ?
    Nevertheless, I plead for ways and means (working with the Music Service) to keep this vital benefit alive- increase audience costs- the concerts are worth treble- whatever can be achieved, with commitment and determination from all who love music.
    No stone m,ust be left unturned to save this vital element of our
    young peoples’ development as rounded human beings.

    Comment by Pam Brown — Thursday, Apr 26, 2018 @ 10:45

  9. Andrew J Daniels

    It is a sad day indeed when a county council even contemplates denying children the right to learn a musical instrument. To some it may seem a nice thing to learn to play music, but its effects go far deeper. Numerous studies show that children who learn a musical instrument do better academically, they develop skills such as coordination, problem-solving, self motivation, teamwork, dealing with stressfull situations, early literacy, artistic expression. Instrumental students are learning about history, maths, science and a host of other subjects. They learn to express themselves through the medium of sound and, perhaps most importantly, they interact with other musicians, forging lifelong collaborative friendships and promoting social cohesion.
    Whatever our social status we are all surrounded by music, and therefore we should all have the right to experience its benefits, especially when those benefits have been proven time and again in scientific studies, practical observation and testimony. Music is transformative, and a country that does not promote it surrenders the right to be called cultured.
    East Sussex County Council have appointed one man to decide whether the East Sussex Music Service should be cut, leading to multiple job losses and the denial of instrumental lessons to thousands of children. On top of slashing other vital services, citing a lack of funding from central government, they now seek to take away a service that gives young people purpose, friends and supportive networks. Would most parents prefer their children to learn an instrument, or be media-influenced tearaways causing trouble on the streets? In the same way that violent crime has risen as police numbers have fallen, so will we see the problems that can arise when young people are not sensibly occupied.
    It is the duty of all of us to stand up and say that we will not tolerate any more. Sign the petition, agitate, post, write to your county councillor and MP and use your local election vote wisely. Music must never return to being only for the rich, as it represents us all. This is a fight we must all win.

    Comment by Andrew J Daniels — Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018 @ 21:09

  10. Nick Perry

    From Cllr Kathryn Field, Liberal Democrat

    The future of East Sussex Music Service will be determined on Monday by the Lead Member for Education and Inclusion, Special Educational Needs and Disability. Under discussion will be the proposal to consult on the number of staff managing the service and a review of the “terms and conditions” of the music teachers employed by the county.  Proposed cuts will involve the closure of the small group instrumental teaching service which currently teaches instruments to 3221 children and young people.  These cuts will form part of a larger cut to Children’s Services which is expected to have its budget slashed by millions over the next two years.

    Cllr Kathryn Field (County Councillor for Battle and villages, also deputy leader of the Opposition on ESCC) said:

    Schools are an important part of our lives and our communities. The education they provide allows children from any background to succeed and flourish and music plays such an important part in their development. How can it be right to even think about removing this important part of children’s education and experience?”

    Comment by Nick Perry — Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018 @ 20:41

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