Ofqual chair asked to ‘retract’ proposals to 'suspend' music amid Covid teacher absences

Harriet Clifford
Thursday, January 6, 2022

In a strongly-worded letter also addressed to the schools minister, ISM chief executive suggests that Bauckham may have ‘overstepped’ his ‘remit’ as chair of the exams watchdog


Ofqual’s chair Ian Bauckham is being called upon to retract his comments about ‘suspending’ specialist subjects like music amid Covid-related staff shortages in schools. 

In a letter sent to Bauckham and schools minister Robin Walker, Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) chief executive Deborah Annetts expresses concern over Bauckham’s proposed ‘emergency timetable changes’, which were revealed in a recent Tes article. 

His proposals include the ‘suspension’ of ‘specialist’ subjects like music so that teachers can be redeployed to cover other lessons. 

Annetts writes: ‘This is not the right approach to deal with the situation’, adding that, ‘by making such a suggestion it is possible that you have unfortunately overstepped your remit as chair of Ofqual.'

'Broad and balanced curriculum'

Calling on Bauckham to ‘retract’ his proposals, the letter draws upon recent government rhetoric about the importance of a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ during Covid recovery, and highlights how music has been ‘disproportionately affected’ by the pandemic

It continues: ‘To suspend music lessons, even temporarily, would cause even more damage to the subject.

‘It reinforces the already strong impression that there is a hierarchy of subjects in our schools in which creative arts are undervalued, as well as sending an unhelpful message to head teachers about prioritising core subjects to the detriment of a broad and balanced curriculum.’

In 2021, the former education secretary Gavin Williamson was criticised for referring to university courses other than science and engineering as ‘dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt’, only months after launching proposals to halve funding for higher education arts courses.

Covid-related staff shortages 'all too foreseeable'

In her letter, Annetts quotes the Department for Education’s statutory guidelines on teachers’ pay and conditions in maintained schools, pointing out that staff shortages at this stage of the pandemic have been ‘all too foreseeable’. Annetts writes that Bauckham's proposal 'contravenes' the guidelines, as teachers should only be asked to cover in unforeseeable circumstances.

Responding to MT’s comment request yesterday, before this letter was publicly available, a DfE spokesperson said: ‘Face to face learning for all pupils is a priority, which is why we have put in place a range of measures to help keep young people in the classroom.

'We’ve also asked schools to have contingency plans to maximise attendance and minimise disruption to learning, should they have high rates of staff absence.'

They continued: 'We are working with the sector to share case studies of flexible learning models in the event of high workforce absence, supporting the development of schools’ contingency plans, and we are grateful for Ian’s contribution.'

Ofqual was also contacted but declined to comment, saying that the work was done for the DfE.

The DfE have been approached for further comment following the publication of the ISM’s letter. 

Read the letter in full