• Ruth

We are Viable: In Education

Over the past year, musicians have had to fight harder than ever to be included in discussions both about Brexit and the Pandemic. To not fall through the gaps when it comes to financial assistance and to prove to our Government, even when the figures should speak for themselves, that we bring a huge amount to this country and we're worth fighting for. As this series continues to look at the viability of musicians and celebrate all we achieve, there's a dark fundamental issue that makes our fight ever more of an uphill battle - the disappearing act of music in our schools.

Even though music is a compulsory national curriculum subject for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3, music teachers (largely in the state sector) are having to battle against time constraints and budget cuts to make sure that the subject remains a viable option for their students. Even in the early stages of my teaching career, I have seen first hand the increasing pressures on teachers. What began as "Ms. Hallows, the cello teacher", soon become strings tutor and now, I spend a third of my teaching, tackling the year 5 music curriculum to three different groups.

The struggle to properly support music education is nothing new. In 2018, Colin Lawson, director of the Royal College of Music wrote an article in the Guardian criticising the "steady decline" of music provisions in UK state schools and a year later the ISM reported, GCSE entries of had fallen by 18.6% since 2014 and in 50% of state-funded schools (including some schools still under local authority requirement to teach it until Year 9) they found that music was no longer taught!

With these facts, is it any wonder why, as professionals, our jobs are seen as a glorified hobby when it's seen as a luxury in schools?

When Kadie Kanneh-Mason spoke to the BBC saying, "there will not be another Sheku Kanneh-Mason coming out of state schools if things go on the way they are", she'd rather hit the nail on the head. I am a product of a state school music education. I started cello through the initiative that all children in year 7 should learn an instrument, whilst learning violin through the local music service. I had my cello lessons for the first few months in school during my lunchbreak and I'm proud of how I started but it was tough. If it wasn't for the fantastic St. Christopher's Music Department and parents who were willing to sacrifice a huge amount to pay for me to learn privately, I would have probably had no option but to give up. With a vast amount of parents unable to magic up the finances needed to learn an instrument, it's easy to see how it effects the number of children wanting to take the subject on to GCSE and A level, when they don't have the practical to compliment the theory.

So why have music in the first place? Well, music has been scientifically proven to;

  • help develop language and reasoning: the left side of the brain is better developed with music and it can help imprint information.

  • make students stronger academically: researchers found connections between music lessons and higher reading, comprehension and maths skills.

  • Increase IQ: Numerous studies including E.Glenn Schellenberg 2004 study on Music Lessons Enhance IQ, from the University of Toronto have found that musical training increases brain activity and increases a child's IQ.

These are all before we even talk about the impact on children's health and wellbeing.

This week I spoke to teachers who are in the thick of it, teaching music and keeping the learning alive.

Yiannis Christofides is a Freelance Music Producer but he also works as Subject Co-ordinator of Music Technology at DLD College as well as teaching Music Technology at Mtec Academy. When I asked him whether he had noticed any significant change to the way creative studies have been prioritised in recent years, he had this to say:

"The Arts in education have always played second fiddle to the main core curriculum and their inclusion and justification for inclusion has been at the discretion of headteachers, principals and budget holders. We should not have to justify the inclusion of the Arts in the lives of children. The focus, it seems, has now moved heavily towards STEM subjects that require hard skills in order to meet a demand for jobs that have yet to be created. We all know the role and value of the creative subjects in education but when the decisions have to be made, largely based on finances and demand, the Arts are an easy target."

So what are the Government doing about the situation? Well there may be tentative cause for celebration (or maybe just one party popper), a new National Plan to shape the future of music education, is currently being discussed. Back in February, musicians, specialist teachers, young people and parents were invited to share what they wanted to see in music education. Inspired by the incredible achievements of the Music In Secondary Schools Trust, that have worked with names such as Nicola Benedetti and Andrew Lloyd Webber to "transform young peoples lives through music education", the government now wants help "level up opportunities for children from all backgrounds to take part in musical education". The plans will be announced in the Autumn.

I love what I do. I love Friday mornings introducing Solfège with a bit of Do-re-mi and feeling like Julie Andrews when they all start singing back. But it's more than that. Music was the only time I felt like I fit in, the only time I felt confident enough to put my hand up and answer questions, it's where I made my friends. The idea that children who have the same feelings and impulses as all of us reading this piece but don't have access to voice it or explore where it could take them just feels like such an injustice. I hope this new plan highlights how much we need music in our schools for so much more than the grade. It's a viable subject and one that shouldn't be left out of the spotlight.

Stay safe,