There has been legislation in place since the 1930s to ensure that children in the performing arts are not exploited and that they are properly protected from harm. Until recently, most local authorities have not thought amateur music groups subject to this legislation.
In the last year or so, though, an increasing number of members have raised the issue with Making Music that their local authorities have asked them to apply for licenses for each child for each performance, as well as provide trained and licensed chaperones.
Apart from the considerable paperwork and therefore time input this requires, there is also a substantial cost to the group, and members are both time poor and – often – cash-strapped, so this represents a considerable problem.
I would like to emphasise that Making Music, and its members, take child safeguarding extremely seriously, and quite rightly so. Making Music has thorough and constantly updated guidance available to members on this issue, and is also able to apply for enhanced DBS checks where these are required.
It is also worth saying that in most cases the individual local authorities, whilst applying an interpretation to the law that we might not agree with, are sympathetic to amateur music groups, and their child licensing officers in general are helpful and supportive.
However, we think either the legislation needs updating, to ensure that amateur musical activity is not captured by it; or its interpretation needs to be adjusted. If amateur musical activity involving young people under 16 were to be re-classified as educational – in the same way that youth sports activity is -, then it would be exempt from the requirements of licensing. This would clearly make sense and is what we are asking government to do.
In addition, there is the problem that the current legislation is being interpreted in such wildly differing ways by local authorities. This is causing problems for groups who span several local authorities; it means that some children will have more and better opportunities than in others; and that Making Music is not able to give members solid advice: we can only point you in the direction of your own local authority. We are therefore also asking the government to issue guidance which leads to a more consistent interpretation of the law across local authorities.
You can help! I would like to hear about your experiences so I can collect more case studies to use for lobbying the government on this issue. You can also email me on Barbara@makingmusic.org.uk