New South Wales Regional Conservatoriums: responding to school communities and state education policy

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In an early 2016 edition of Loudmouth, I wrote about the Association of NSW Regional Conservatoriums (ANSWRC), the peak body for regional music education in NSW. That article gave some historical and operational background for the 17-member network, and contextualised the community-owned and operated member organisations within the music education landscape of the state.

With regional conservatoriums presenting as non-metropolitan music hubs, they are increasingly called on as third-party providers of formal (school-based) music education, in addition to their more traditional function as community music organisations - centres of semiformal (Sattler 2016) and nonformal (Hanze University of Applied Sciences 2014) music education activities. In the last five or so years, the ANSWRC has also established itself as a resource for professional learning services for in-service teachers.

By way of elaborating on the sustained trend of increased government recognition of regional conservatoriums and their programs, the 2016 article touched on a landmark evaluation of regional conservatorium programs for schools. This article discusses that evaluation, its independent recommendations and the member organisations' response to those recommendations. The recommendations and ensuing actions constitute valuable and valued feedback to the government, the member organisations, and their communities.

Approximately 16,000 of the 21,500 students engaged in regional conservatoriums in NSW are school-aged. Approximately 400 schools across the state, 62 per cent of which are government schools, currently partner with regional conservatoriums in music education programs (Western Research Institute, 2016).

The evaluation of regional conservatorium music programs for school students (WRI 2016) was commissioned by the ANSWRC in 2015 and carried out by the Western Research Institute. It gathered and analysed both qualitative and quantitative data, and was the first of its type to be carried out in the state. The qualitative data sample comprised twelve school principals, twenty-five school staff members, eighty-one parents and twenty-six students; with quantitative data collected from 570 surveys.

While the preliminary findings (reported on in the 2016 Loudmouth article) indicated that regional conservatorium programs in and for schools impacted positively on student social and emotional wellbeing, achievement in music, and achievement in other areas of their education, the final report, released in April 2016, provides the following conclusion:

Overall... regional conservatoriums are delivering high quality music tuition services, both in schools and on conservatorium campuses, extending into the community through quality student performances. Conservatoriums enjoy very strong reputations in their respective communities, attended by equally high levels of satisfaction from conservatorium stakeholders, including students, parents and schools. Conservatorium programs and tuition are having significant positive impacts on students in terms of their social and emotional wellbeing and their music education, with smaller positive impacts being experienced by students in other areas of their education... conservatorium programs are assisting schools to reach their educational goals and engage with their local communities. Conservatoriums are seen as having significant operational strengths, although survey feedback has highlighted operational improvements that could assist conservatoriums to provide better services. A good proportion of this feedback related to poor communications with parents and schools. Further work on improving communications and certain other operational aspects will see conservatoriums more fully meeting the needs of their stakeholders.

The final report also included a set of twelve recommendations, grouped into four categories:

  1.  Extending conservatorium programs,
  2. Resourcing,
  3. Strategic alignment, and
  4. Strategic communications.

The recommendations are as follows:

  1. Extending conservatorium programs
    1. That conservatoriums undertake more efforts to understand the demand for services - increasing services where possible
    2. That conservatoriums engage with schools so they are aware of all the beneficial impacts of conservatorium services
    3. That the department work with conservatoriums to best manage the communication of the benefits of conservatorium services to schools
    4. That conservatoriums place a priority focus on delivering group lessons in schools
  2. Resourcing
    1. That conservatoriums and schools be better resourced to provide conservatorium tuition to students in schools and on campus
    2. That the Association assist conservatoriums to use videoconferencing as a teaching tool and assist with technical issues
      Northern Rivers Regional Conservatorium, Lismore
  3. Strategic Alignment
    1. That conservatorium strategic plans align with the Association strategic plan (Association of NSW Regional Conservatoriums 2015)
  4. Strategic Communications
    1. That the Association implement a range of strategic communicationdocuments to be used by conservatoriums to manage key relationship
    2. Teaching agreements (teachers)
    3. Service charter (conservatorium administration)
    4. School plans (schools)
    5. Learning Plans (parents and students)
    6. Capturing complaints and feedback
      While the above recommendations identify a range of foci for conservatorium action, recommendations 1.2, 1.3, 2.1, 2.2 and 4.1.3 require government and/or school willingness to achieve the desired outcomes.

Regional conservatoriums are unique to NSW. Their developing relationship with the NSW state government since 2001, and particularly since the incorporation of the ANSWRC (the peak body for the seventeen autonomous member organisations) has seen an increase in both support for and expectations of the network. The Regional Conservatorium Grants Program (Department of Education 2016) provides substantial part-funding for the organisations, and thereby the institutions have become increasingly accountable and formalised as key players in praxial music education outside of the metropolitan centres of Sydney and Newcastle. While the 2015 evaluation of regional conservatorium programs for school students (WRI 2016) identified high levels of satisfaction in relation to programs and services provided by conservatoriums in regional school-based communities, it also raised a number of areas in which attention and further, focused, efforts should be made to add greater robustness in delivery and value for schools, students, and their families.

By way of response to the twelve recommendations of the evaluation report, conservatoriums have formulated an action plan that addresses the four recommendation areas of: extending conservatorium programs, resourcing, strategic alignment, and strategic communications. Conservatoriums are working through the Department of Education-convened Regional Conservatoriums Advisory Group to address the five identified recommendations (1.2, 1.3, 2.1, 2.2 and 4.1.3) that require departmental and/or school-generated action.

REFERENCES

Association of NSW Regional Conservatoriums. (2015). Strategic Plan 2015-2018. Wagga Wagga, Australia: ANSWRC.

Department of Education and Communities. (2013). NSW regional conservatorium grants program: Program guidelines 2013-2016.  Sydney, Australia: NSW Government.

Hanze University of Applied Sciences (2014). Lifelong Learning in Music. Retrieved from Hanze University of Applied Sciences website: https://www.hanze.nl/eng/research/centre-for-applied-research/art-and-society/professorships/professorships/lifelong-learning-in-music/organisation/lifelong-learning/formal-informal-learning

Sattler, G. (2016). Community Music: perceptions, expectations and conditions (Doctoral thesis, University of Sydney, Australia). Retrieved from https://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/bitstream/2123/16043/1/Corrected%20Thesis%20sattler_g_.pdf

Western Research Institute (2016). Evaluation of regional conservatorium programs for school students. Bathurst, Australia: Western Research Institute Inc.

Author

Dr Graham Sattler

Date Published: April 23 2018

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