The Importance of Music Education in Schools

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The Ofsted report into music education in schools in the United Kingdom, published November 2013, reported that good music education “reaches only a minority of pupils” with the headline on their homepage reading “music hubs fail”. In this age of austerity with funding cuts hitting the arts particularly hard and with less money in parents pockets it is important to look at how beneficial a good music education is to our children and society as a whole.

The Ofsted report comes two years after the Department of Education published The Importance of Music – A National Plan for Music Education in which plans were laid out (albeit alongside funding cuts) pledging that music education was of great importance and replacing local authority with so called ‘music hubs’. In doing this it seemed to recognise the 36 recommendations set out in Darren Henley’s report on music education in England, promising a shake-up to help music education move forwards.

The government is sending [a] message: the arts are secondary and expendable in an age of austerity…

A key quote from the plan is that music and instrumental lessons should be “available and affordable to all young people”. Music lessons are primarily paid for by parents and are anything but cheap. With the global financial crisis taking hold many parents have been rendered unable to pay the bills for music tuition. Speaking with instrumental tutors it is evident that the amount of pupils taking instrumental lessons has dwindled and the consensus is that not enough has been done to prevent this.

In times gone by music was an important part of everyday life with most people able to play at least some rudimentary piano. Today the application for GCSE Music courses are low compared to many other subjects. Most older pupils in one of the secondary schools visited by Ofsted were not involved in any school musical activity at all and the students who had chosen GCSE Music almost always had additional experience of playing instruments or singing engraved by their home lives.

Research has shown a direct link between music and improved reading ability in children as well as improved Maths and Science results. The study of an instrument promotes the rewards of hard work and discipline, teamwork from playing in various ensembles and can increase children’s health and well-being, not to mention the practical benefits of increased creativity and self-confidence.

Music is part of the United Kingdom’s cultural heritage; from Benjamin Britten to Gustav Holst and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The arts are part of what makes our country great. The music industry is a big contributor to our economy and should be held in high regard as such.

…instrumental lessons should be available and affordable to all young people [but] are primarily paid for by parents and are anything but cheap…

The Ofsted report reads that most pupils reach the age of fourteen without being able to understand the basics of music with teachers shying away from the subject as they think it too difficult. It also states that the introduction of music hubs has done little to improve on support previously given by local authorities.

The plan asks each music hub to produce a “school music education plan” to address the issues raised. The report also makes recommendations to schools asking them to make better use of provisions and funding provided through hubs with accurate evaluation of spending and results.

The government is sending the message that the arts are secondary and expendable in an age of austerity. Unless this attitude to music education changes then the shackles are firmly fitted as to what the music hubs and schools can achieve. The shake-up of the music education system has clearly failed to make the significant improvements needed and it is time to re-think again before another generation misses the chance to experience the joys that music can bring.