Music education is far too valuable to be allowed to disappear

There is nothing quite like music. The ancient philosopher Confucius supposedly said that ‘music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without’, Jane Austen that ‘without music, life would be a blank to me’. Music is somehow able to express beauty but also ugliness, joy but also grief, love but also hate. Music stimulates our spiritual and cultural faculties, transporting us to other times and places, and perhaps even to other dimensions. And the study of music helps to nurture key life skills and personal qualities such as creativity, teamwork and resilience. As we prepare to celebrate World Music Day on 21 June, we should also take a moment to reflect on the value of music in the school curriculum and to recognise its formidable power and reach as a means of communication, with or without the use of words.

It is well worth five minutes of your time watching this delightful film clip of Leila and Luca talking about some of the ways music can support children’s learning — as the accompanying note says, everything from “helping with behaviour and confidence to encouraging creativity and learning skills that can be used across many subjects”.

Or how about this neat summary of the importance of music education, which appears on the website of an organisation called The Musical Me? More about them below.

In 2011 the UK’s then-coalition government published its National Plan for Music Education (for England). What’s not to welcome in a statement like this?

Our vision is to enable children from all backgrounds and every part of England to have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument; to make music with others; to learn to sing; and to have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence. Music teaching starts in the early years, and we want the vision to extend across all five- to eighteen-year-olds, both in and out of school, in both formal and informal settings.

Unfortunately, a 2019 BBC report based on a BPI survey of 2,000 teachers, Music lessons ‘being stripped’ out of schools in England, suggested that music provision in state schools has actually been getting worse rather than better since the plan was published. It claimed that:

  • there had been a 21% decrease in music provision in state schools over the previous five years (but a 7% increase in provision in independent schools)
  • just one in four schools in deprived areas were offering music lessons
  • one in five primary school teachers said there was no regular music lesson for their class, and only 12% of schools in deprived areas had an orchestra, compared with 85% of independent schools

There is also a great deal of evidence that the Covid pandemic has — as in so many other areas — exacerbated existing problems and inequalities. An Ofsted report published in December 2020 confirmed the findings of other reports and surveys. The chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, said:

Ofsted have confirmed what the ISM already found in its key report The Heart of the School Is Missing, that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to music education provision being reduced in England.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive, Incorporated Society of Musicians

Corrine Hope is listed on our Changemakers page. She is co-founder of The Musical Me Academy, mentioned above. It is an online CPD training provider “dedicated to helping teachers deliver the primary music curriculum confidently”. Its website also offers resources and lesson plans to help primary schools to teach every lesson through music, including a free 36-page cross-curricular resources pack specially for World Music Day.

We have argued here many times that effective communication is much more than being able to read and write well. We need an approach to learning in our schools that recognises the role that all curriculum subjects can play in developing children’s communication skills. The expressive arts, in particular — art, dance, drama and music — increase the breadth of children’s communication skills and strengthen their connection to the cultural and creative spheres.

Michael Mac, creator of life-based learning, has written that “music for 5- to 11-year-old children is in desperate need of a boost as an educationally overlooked, but highly social, vehicle of communication between people … The life-based approach to learning gives increased status to music in the curriculum.”

The Musical Me

Changemakers

Life-Based Learning Blogs

Image at the head of this article by Valéria Rodrigues Valéria from Pixabay.

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