Council's plan strikes a bum note with music teachers

1st March 2013 at 00:00
Peripatetic staff will be stripped of their status and face pay cuts

The government recently announced reforms of school accountability measures, which included an enhanced role for arts subjects. But dozens of music teachers in one county have little reason to celebrate: they have been told by their local authority that they face the sack if they do not agree to new contracts that will strip them of their status and lead to pay cuts of thousands of pounds.

Cash-strapped Cambridgeshire County Council has told 68 peripatetic music teachers who give instrumental lessons at maintained schools that their teaching contracts will be terminated in April.

They are currently employed on teachers' pay and conditions but will be issued with new contracts as "coaches" and reclassified as local government employees. TES understands that they will lose their entitlement to school holidays, instead receiving a holiday entitlement of 30-35 days a year, depending on length of service. They will no longer be eligible for the teachers' pension scheme.

The teachers will also lose up to #163;10,000 from their salary. The NASUWT union has already issued a legal challenge to the council over the decision.

One of the teachers affected told TES that her salary was due to be cut from #163;36,756 pro rata to #163;28,636. "That is a loss of #163;8,120, or 22 per cent, before I even begin to take account of the changes to working hours," she said.

A letter from the council seen by TES reveals that the Cambridgeshire Music Service is currently "losing a minimum of #163;26,000 a month". This is despite the authority last year receiving a #163;1.6 million grant for its music provision from the Arts Council England. In the letter, sent to music service teachers in December, Keith Grimwade, Cambridgeshire council's head of networking and partnerships, claimed that the changes were "essential" to "avoid the likelihood of closing the service".

Woodwind teacher Sheanna Ashman, who has worked for the local authority for 23 years, said employees of the service were unhappy about losing their title as teachers.

"I work in schools with children. I plan schemes of work and lessons, I assess continually, I write reports. I teach, I don't coach. To be called a coach after all my years of teaching is extremely demoralising," she said. "These changes will also have a huge impact on me financially. My full-time annual salary would be approximately #163;10,000 less."

Ms Ashman warned that the quality of music education "will inevitably reduce" as a result of the authority's being able to hire unqualified staff to replace current teachers.

Another teacher told TES that he would have to increase his working hours by a third in order to keep his pay cut down to #163;3,000 a year. "The downgrading of the status of teacher to instrumental tutor could have serious implications for the students," he said. "Instrumental tutors, as merely local government employees, would have far less idea as to how to deal with children on a day-to-day basis."

Geoff Fewtrell, Cambridgeshire negotiating secretary for the NASUWT, said the service was coming under financial pressure as private instrument tutors undercut its teachers. "The council has decided to remove teachers from teachers' pay and conditions despite the fact that they do a teacher's job," he added. "That is completely unacceptable."

Martin Freedman, head of pay, conditions and pensions at ATL, said a handful of other local authorities had introduced similar changes in recent years.

A council spokesman said: "We recognise that the whole issue of changes to terms and conditions is very difficult for everyone at Cambridgeshire Music. However, the service is losing large sums of money because its terms and conditions mean that it cannot compete on an equal footing with private providers."

Low on funds

#163;600 - Difference between Cambridge's annual per-pupil funding and the national average. Cambridge is the lowest funded of 151 local education authorities in England.

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