Gramophone guest blog

Why should we teach music in schools?

Thomas KempWed 28th September 2016

Music should be central to children’s learning right from the start yet it is in peril in many state schools due to a lack of funds, vision and joined up thinking

In an educational environment where everything is justified by results and quantified by league tables, music has to some extent become the weakest link: marginalised and superfluous - not a real subject. It has also been the victim of the constantly shifting sands of government policy: many fine intentions for music have not been fully implemented.

Think for a moment and imagine a world without music and more importantly, our youngsters growing up without knowing what it is. Is that a world we really want?

Music is a key part of our lives. It is everywhere and at an educational level, can provide a liquid link between a diversity of academic subjects whilst offering kids something that is emotional, imaginative, creative and fun. The focus needs to be at the foundation stages of education where music can be a truly inclusive subject and the driving force for learning. This is where there is incredibly patchy provision, a need for real long term investment and a clear strategy.

There are many brilliant organisations working to combat this. Invicta Valley Academy in Kent have placed the arts at the centre of their education - a starting point for many subject areas in which children are invited to make observations, articulate ideas and express opinions. Crucially, they invest in specialist teachers for music and make this central to their ethos in their primary schools. 

Our orchestras, opera and ballet companies do a great deal. There are the Sistema projects across the country that give children access to music from challenging backgrounds and great work for pre-schoolers with organisations such as The Wheels on Debussy and Bach for Babies. However, many schools are left out - and there is only so much each organisation can do to combat this.

The key is for every school to be given the funding to have a specialist music teacher and have access to professional musicians. Also, more than 3 hours needs to be spent on music in the Primary PGCE. For this to happen, music needs to be taken seriously at a governmental level and there needs to be a shift in policy.

Music@Malling - a festival that I run in Kent - has an outreach programme to engage primary schools. Here one can see the problem in a microcosm. Some schools - like the four Invicta Valley Primary Schools have the arts at the centre of their philosophy, others have very supportive head teachers. Some schools are lucky in having a brilliant music teacher or visiting instrumental teachers. Others are simply not interested. Perhaps part of the problem is that music has traditionally been perceived as being elitist. But I would argue that it is the most inclusive subject if it is at the core of a school’s philosophy and used as a learning tool: a gateway into other subjects.  

I would also argue that professional musicians have to do much more to engage with primary schools and lead this change. Otherwise we run the risk that another generation of children grow up without exploring the transformational world that is music.

For more information about the current Music@Malling Festival, visit: musicatmalling.com

For more on this important subject, read: 'Why are our schools pushing classical music to the margins?'

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