Do We Need Music in Schools?

Many might imagine that music within school is just a ‘nice to have’, however it has been proved time and time again that taking part in music is so much more than just a lovely ‘hobby’.  Indeed for many Plymouth College alumni, music is how they have gone on to forge their place in the world including Michael Ball, who is well known for his West End performances, and Annabel Kennedy, a mezzo Soprano who recently made her solo debut at Cadogan Hall.

In a recent analysis of data from the Department of Education by Cambridge Assessment, their research has found that taking a music qualification is linked with higher academic achievement overall.

As well as GCSE music, the analysis also found a positive link between taking graded music exams – formal assessments of those learning a musical instrument, where grades are available from 1 to 8 – and GCSE attainment.  For those achieving more advanced grades of 4 or above in music exams, the positive effect was estimated to be a third of a GCSE grade per qualification for girls compared to those not taking them, and half a grade for boys. For graded music theory exams – which also cover areas such as notation, scales and composition – the positive effect was worth almost one grade in every second GCSE taken. 

There is a TEdEd animation on YouTube that explains this effect which you can watch here:

However, despite this research, Music education in schools is facing an “unprecedented crisis” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic which was highlighted in a report summarised in a recent article in The Guardian.  It reads, 

“There is “genuine cause for alarm” over the impact of the virus on music provision, says The Heart of the School is Missing report produced by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM). “Beyond the intrinsic value of studying music for its own sake, there is a plethora of evidence that studying music builds cultural knowledge, creative skills and improves children’s health, wellbeing and wider educational attainment.

More than two-thirds (68%) of primary school teachers and more than a third (39%) of secondary school teachers reported a reduction in music provision as a direct result of the pandemic in a survey carried out by the ISM at the beginning of this academic year.

Almost one in 10 primary and secondary schools are not teaching music as part of the curriculum at all. Some lessons “contained no practical music-making”, the report says.

Singing has ended in more than a third (38%) of primary schools, and instrumental lessons have ceased in almost a quarter (23%).”

However, here at Plymouth College, knowing just how important the creative arts are to the development and wellbeing of the whole child, we have been able to maintain an excellent level of music within the school even with Covid-safe protocols in place.

We have been able to carry on with our normal full programme of singing and instrumental lessons: piano, singing (classical, musicals, rock & pop), violin, cello, flute, recorder, trumpet, cornet, tuba, classical guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums

All of these have been possible with distancing, ventilation and cleaning between lessons.  Teachers have continued to teach online where the students or teachers have been in vulnerable groups.  Our peripatetic teachers have adapted brilliantly to giving feedback from a distance, refining their instructions and teaching students the awareness skills to give their own feedback more precisely.

Our normal choir programme has continued including anthems for Remembrance Day and a full Carol Service.  This has required us to split the school choir into three to work with our bubble groups, rehearsing on separate days, so the amount of rehearsal has tripled to produce the same effect.  It is totally worth the effort to make music with our students, who have shown the commitment to turn up and sing, even when the ventilation makes it rather chilly!

Our normal orchestra and string ensemble, with the music room divided into three bubble zones to keep students seated at safe distances.  This term has included Vivaldi’s Autumn and suites from My Fair Lady and The Mikado and we are  in discussion with the Plymouth Music Hub to explore how we can resume the Saturday String Orchestra next term.

Even in the Prep, music has continued; instrumental teaching has continued as normal and our extra curricular work has included the formation of two new groups: The Samba Band and The Ukulele bandThe choir and recorder group have also continued. 

Being an independent school means we can apply the rules according to our detailed knowledge of our own context, without other bodies trying to interpret the rules for us who don’t know our spaces, our staff and our students.  In some instances, schools have been unable to run extra-curricular music because a local authority has decided on a blanket ruling that it is unsafe in all schools under its jurisdiction, regardless of whether local conditions would enable schools to comply fully with safety rules.  Our small scale makes us manoeuvrable and adaptable to rapid change. 

Our Director of Music, Mark Bennett said, “ All music teachers want to go the extra mile for their students – that goes with the territory – and I feel for those who are prevented from doing that at the moment.”  Robin Stubbs, our Prep School Music Lead adds, “as a school we are offering something very close to normal music making. As Mr Bennett says it takes twice as long to get to the same end result but it’s worth it. Our children are very lucky to have such a dedicated group of peripatetic teachers  who have adapted their teaching methods”.  Having such dedicated staff as Mr Bennett and Mr Stubbs certainly helps too!

As a school, we want to educate, enrich and empower.  Music certainly enriches all of our lives and can also improve our academic attainment too.  However the other skills that can be learned from music making; the collaboration in ensembles, the responsibility required when looking after an instrument, these Plymouth College Principles all help empower our children to go forward to make positive choices about their future lives.

Yes, we need music in schools.  And we are very lucky to have such an excellent, proactive and forward thinking music department in this one.

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