Music And Schools

One of the things that drives me slightly (more) crackers is the way that Music is treated by the Government with regard to education. In the light of OFSTED’s recent holistic changes in their assessment criteria, isn’t it time that education had more of a think about the place of music in the curriculum?

Music In Schools

During their time at Primary school, most students will have been singing every day during Assemblies, whether they be hymns, choruses or, in some cases, favourite pop songs. In one school I worked at, students regularly sang Katie Perry's 'Roar' - to protect the innocent, they shall remain nameless! Still, could've been worse: could've been The Cheeky Girls. 

I digress.

Anyway, throughout their Primary schooling, students will have had regular exposure to music, through tuned percussion, recorders, ukuleles and even brass and strings supported by institutions like the excellent Dorset Rural Music Service. My eldest played recorder, guitar, clarinet, cello, tuned percussion and drums all by the end of Year 4! 

Now, when they hit Secondary School, that all comes to a crashing halt. Rarely, if ever, do they sing in groups, exposure to instruments is limited and music occupies such a small part of their overall curriculum that it becomes seen as an 'extra' rather than a valuable subject. This is not the Schools' fault: the relentless drive to improve results in STEM subjects and literacy relegates everything else to the sidelines. Effectively, the sub-text is that 'If it ain't English, Maths and Science, it ain't anything'. 


This is probably not the forum to debate the philosophical purpose of education, that is to say 'Should education be used instrumentally by society to achieve a specific socio-economic purpose or should education be undertaken for the intellectual and spiritual enrichment of the student?' However, the teaching of music in Secondary schools is a prime example of how the powers-that-be, of whichever persuasion, view education. The students' rounded curriculum is sacrificed in order to cram the timetable with as much of the subjects that 'count' towards the School's performance measurement. For example, can you imagine a School proudly advertising it History results? Or value-added scores in Geography? Or RE? Or Art and Drama? No, it will always be the STEM subjects that grab the headlines, but...

... When it comes to showing off the School at public events, who do they wheel out? The Music department and their young proteges. The department whose subject is given so little timetable space and whose funding is cut whenever they need to save a few quid. If it grinds my gears, imagine how it feels to be one those teachers. 

Benefits of Music To The Student

Music has been proven in so many studies to have cross-curricular benefits to children of all ages. For example, this Bradford school chose to give up to 6 hours of music per week to students and went from being in Special Measures to 'Good' within 4 years:

The School's SATS results went from being below national average in 2011 to 74% of students attaining expected standard in reading in 2017. Just to put that into perspective, the national average was 53%! 

Mental Health And Emotional Literacy

You want to improve STEM scores? Sure, why wouldn't you? But there are other ways to approach it. Music is an expressive art form, it requires a literate mind. It is mathematical in theory - you can see applied maths in composition and tab.  It improves emotional literacy and offers a non-verbal route to express one's feelings. The average human male teenager MkI normally expresses itself by grunting and hitting things but give them a set of drumsticks and they are the most eloquent person in the room. Music provides the soft-skills of team-work, listening skills and co-operation whilst simultaneously offering opportunities to open up friendships and new experiences.

Yes, this is a hobby-horse of mine but the benefits of a musical dimension to education are far more than you might expect.