As demand grows for music lessons community centres seek Ministry of Education funding help

Community music centres need proper Ministry of Education support to expand to more year levels and retain well-qualified teachers, or risk losing budding musicians to the failing system, educators say.

One institution at the heart of the issue, the Wellington Music Centre which heavily subsidises lessons for students, up until recently was run out of Island Bay School. The school had been subsidising the centre but said it could not justify continuing to do so, citing rising administrative costs.

Miramar North School stepped in. Principal Joyce Adam said the school was thrilled to help some 150 students who get lessons at the centre, who were in limbo for months as it looked for a new home. “For us, it’s providing a service to the community.”

While the school was at capacity for the number of rooms it was using to host the centre, Adam said the centre would undoubtedly grow.

Wellington Music Centre at its new home of Miramar North School. Percussion tutor Andreas Lepper with student Tom Torrens, 13.

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Wellington Music Centre at its new home of Miramar North School. Percussion tutor Andreas Lepper with student Tom Torrens, 13.

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Sally Jane Norman, director of the New Zealand School of Music–Te Kōkī based at Wellington’s Victoria University, said community music centres often could not adequately focus on music theory due to stretched resources.

Students auditioning for the school had to have a reasonable theory level to be accepted. There was an “increasingly low level of music education” from students coming through secondary schools into university, she said.

Wellington Music Centre has been saved by Miramar North School.

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Wellington Music Centre has been saved by Miramar North School.

Because the ministry did not subsidise out-of-hours centres past year 8, that meant students who did not have the “good fortune” of being able to finance private tuition and purchase instruments fell through the cracks, Norman said. “People are being lost through the system.”

In May Michael Greenwood, from Auckland’s Marshall Laing Music School – which operates subsidised lessons after school and on Saturday mornings – told a select committee that community music education was at breaking point.

Despite music and the arts being fundamental to the wellbeing of society, and improving cognitive benefits for children, out-of-hours centres could not keep up with demand.

There needed to be increased minimum base funding for out-of-hours music and arts programmes and their teachers from the ministry. “We’re in crisis,” he told the select committee.

Wellington Music Centre violin tutor Leo Liu teaching class.

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Wellington Music Centre violin tutor Leo Liu teaching class.

Helen Hurst, the ministry’s deputy secretary of sector enablement and support, said it contributed funding to schools which chose to run out-of-hours arts or music programmes for years 1-8.

“Schools run these programmes, employ the staff and make decisions on the lessons they offer and the salaries they pay,” Hurst said.

“Our contribution means that schools are guaranteed a certain number of lessons and can offer their staff a base salary that is consistent nationwide. Schools are able to charge for lessons and may choose to top up rates of pay and/or the number of lessons they offer.”

Hurst said arts education was important to the ministry, and was a learning area in the NZ Curriculum it funded schools to teach. The ministry would look at strengthening arts education as part of its curriculum refresh, she said.

Piano tutor Hector McLachlan with student Abby Johnson, 10, at Wellington Music Centre. Educators recently went to Parliament to lobby for better support for community music centres like this one.

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Piano tutor Hector McLachlan with student Abby Johnson, 10, at Wellington Music Centre. Educators recently went to Parliament to lobby for better support for community music centres like this one.