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Councillors scrutinise school music provision in Flintshire

FLINTSHIRE Council is to write to the county’s headteachers emphasising the importance of enabling pupils to access its music service.

In 2019 it was agreed that council employed music teachers would be moved to the responsibility of Theatr Clwyd, under the newly set up Theatre Clwyd Music Trust, and contracted by the council via the theatre to deliver instrument tuition in the county’s schools.
The council’s education, youth and culture scrutiny committee received a report on the first 18 months of the scheme from Liam Evans-Ford, Theatr Clwyd’s executive director, and Aled Marshman, director of Music at Theatr Clwyd.

A pilot called First Experiences aimed at Year Three pupils aims to give every child the opportunity to take up learning an instrument.
Chairing the meeting, Mold Broncoed Cllr Teresa Carberry (Lab), praised the service but said it was disappointing to see a fall in the number of pupils accessing it.

Mr Marshman explained the pandemic had an effect on numbers, as they lost 75 per cent of learners between March 2020 and free virtual lessons starting up in May the same year.
He added that pupils that did continue felt it helped their wellbeing and by September 2021 numbers doubled and had grown again by September last year albeit still not at the level hoped for.
There are around 1,110 pupils having small group and individual lessons, and 90 pupils in eight ensembles across Flintshire.

Mr Ford-Evans said the theatre was committed to lowering the cost of the service to schools and families.

Flint Castle Cllr Ian Roberts (Lab), leader of the council, recalled his own experience as a youngster in Flintshire developing an interest in music, going on to be an organist at Flint Parish Church.
He said: “There are opportunities through pupil deprivation grants and other mechanisms to allow all pupils to have this valuable experience.
“I thank Theatr Clwyd and Aled for all the work you have done in this area and you have 100 per cent of my support in achieving your aims for the children and students of Flintshire.”

Buckley Bistre West Cllr Carolyn Preece (Lab) also applauded the work of the service, highlighting how music helps the development and wellbeing of children.
She suggested a motion to send letters to headteachers to promote the service in schools and the mechanisms to fund lessons for pupils from all backgrounds.

Cilcain Cllr Andrew Parkhurst (Lib Dem) asked about the charging structure, wondering whether the cost of one-to-one lessons was prohibitive and suggested private music lessons may be cheaper.
“With the current financial situation many families are in, I wonder if this is a bar to people taking part?”, he said.

Mr Marshman added that the number of pupils taking part in group as opposed to one-to-one lessons was only split 60/40.
He added: “It is slightly more expensive than private (lessons) but we are proud of our quality assurance, we are proud of the level of our teachers and I like to think we are still providing top quality tuition.”

Mr Evans-Ford added that musicians being directly employed rather than freelance like in neighbouring counties gave quality assurance.

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Holywell West Cllr Paul Johnson (Lab) raised the aim of increasing participation from pupils in areas such as Connah’s Quay, Holywell and Saltney.
He asked: “Given the challenges of those areas, what outcomes are you looking for, what will you define as your success criteria?”

Mr Marshman said: “It’s targeted work. The First Experiences programme has to be for every child, has to ensure every child can succeed and part of that is identifying those young people that love those sessions, who thrive, are hugely successful.
“How will we know we’re successful? In three or four years’ time when the number of children arriving at Connah’s Quay High School with those instrument cases is significantly higher than it is currently.”

Members backed Cllr Preece’s motion to send a letter to all headteachers to encourage schools to promote the delivery of the music service, especially targeting those pupils eligible for free school meals.