MU column: Charter for VMTs

Chris Walters
Monday, April 1, 2024

A freely available Charter for Visiting Music Teachers has been created by the Musicians' Union and National Education Union to help schools and VMTs work together effectively. Chris Walters, the MU's national organiser for education, tells us more.

Adobe Stock / wladimir1804

Music education is vitally important to the Musicians' Union (MU) and the National Education Union (NEU). Both unions believe that children should be able to access a broad and balanced curriculum that includes music, and that the benefits of music education are profound and lifelong.

Where schools have a strong commitment to music, a significant number of children will have instrumental lessons. This is where visiting music teachers (VMTs) play a vital role in the delivery of a school's music education programme.

Working as a VMT is not easy. VMTs sometimes report that they feel like outsiders, lacking support and visibility in the school environment. Working across multiple schools can also present challenges, and pay and contracts can be variable.

To help overcome these issues, the MU and the NEU have created a freely available Charter for Visiting Music Teachers. A simple and concise guide, the Charter clarifies what VMTs need from schools to do their jobs effectively. It is updated from an earlier version published in 2018.

Essential advice for schools

Much of what schools can do to help VMTs is straightforward. For example, the Charter asks that schools should provide:

  • A welcoming environment in which to work
  • Opening times and building access details
  • Emergency evacuation and fire drill details
  • School map
  • Timetable
  • Term dates
  • Dates of exams, reading/revision weeks, sports days and other key events
  • Information about any forthcoming inspections or observations
  • Key staff information and contacts, including the designated safeguarding lead
  • Policies and procedures
  • Pupils' special needs or safeguarding needs if relevant
  • Expectations for lessons, e.g. upcoming concerts or exams to prepare for.

 The Charter asks that school leadership should:

  • Have a strong commitment to music, of which it is understood that VMTs are a vital part
  • Provide reasonable and equipped teaching spaces
  • Take all reasonable steps to support VMTs' work, e.g. by ensuring that classroom teachers do not prevent pupils leaving class for music lessons unnecessarily, and by supporting pupils to attend lessons promptly and independently, where possible
  • Approach timetabling constructively, considering breaks for the VMT and the time needed for a lesson and prior set-up
  • Make all reasonable efforts to mitigate VMTs' isolation at work by welcoming them into the school community, e.g. by inviting them to use the staffroom and ensuring they are introduced to colleagues.

Advice on contractual differences

The Charter also provides advice relating to VMTs' contractual basis. For example, where VMTs are directly employed, schools should:

  • Invite them to relevant training and meetings, paying them overtime when these fall outside contractually agreed working patterns
  • Pay for resources (except what is paid for by parents) and usage licenses
  • Provide access to benefits enjoyed by other permanent staff, e.g. staff discounts for lunch and parking spaces.

More often, VMTs will be engaged by a music hub or another third party, which means that they will have a contractual relationship with that organisation and not with the school or pupils' parents. Schools should understand and be supportive of this.

Self-employed VMTs will usually have a contractual relationship with their pupils' parents, and in some cases directly with the school. If genuinely self-employed, they will have the right to negotiate their rates, use deputies to cover absences, change their teaching days and times, and devise their own teaching curriculum. Self-employed VMTs normally cover the cost of the resources they use, except for what parents provide.

VMTs' points of contact are different depending on who they are engaged by. Those engaged by pupils' parents should have parents' contact details and will invoice them directly. VMTs engaged by a school or hub should not be in direct contact with pupils' parents unless a special arrangement is in place. Schools should therefore check before asking VMTs to contact parents.

Our aim is to make as many schools as possible aware of the Charter, and we encourage teachers to email the webpage link below to schools and hubs. MU members can contact us (email for posters and flyers, both physical and digital, that highlight the Charter and its key points of guidance.

I hope you find the Charter useful. Feel free to contact the MU with any questions or feedback.