Making music accessible to all


ith a number of internal and external pressures squeezing music and the

performing arts out of the curriculum in many schools, how does the future look for the arts in the UK? In our second feature this month on music and the performing arts, Richard West, Director of Music at Loughborough Schools Foundation, argues that schools, and the independent sector in particular, must do more to encourage participation.

Lord Black of Brentwood, chair of the Royal College of Music, recently addressed the House of Lords, warning that music is “literally disappearing from our schools”. One in five schools has stopped teaching Music GCSE entirely, with only 35,000 pupils completing the exam in England in the summer term of 2018, a decline of 23 per cent since 2010.

In addition, entries to A-level music have fallen

by 40 per cent since 2011. Although music remains compulsory in schools for those between the ages of 5 and 14, this alarming fall in the number of pupils continuing their musical studies suggests major concerns for the future of the arts in the UK, as well as raising a number of challenges across the rest of the curriculum. The positive impact of music across the whole

of the curriculum has been comprehensively researched. As well as improving verbal reasoning, particularly among younger children, and significant correlations between music literacy and general numeracy and literacy skills, pupils who remain active in music education develop much stronger language skills, both in their native tongue and in foreign languages. It is not only academic skills that see the benefit

of an effective musical education. Continuing to learn an instrument, for example, means that

young people can develop crucial soft skills and improve their mental wellbeing. At a time when teenagers, and increasingly younger children, are facing the barrage of pressure from the internet and social media, the power of music is potentially more important than ever. Musical therapy, singing in particular, is widely

used to increase levels of mental wellbeing and happiness in adults and children. Simply listening to music reduces levels of cortisol, a hormone causing stress, and increases levels of serotonin in the body, helping to alleviate the causes of depression and anxiety. At a time when young people are unhappier than ever before, I am a firm believer that schools should be providing as many opportunities to boost happiness and wellbeing. While sports are often promoted as the best

avenue to increase pupils’ ability to work in a team, musical ensembles offer an opportunity to be a part of something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is incredibly helpful for young people to work together to create something beautiful and ensure that everyone leaves the stage elated, which isn’t always possible in sports where there are winners and losers. In music, everyone wins! To achieve all of this, schools must shoulder the

responsibility of ensuring that barriers to entry in musical education are as low as possible. In a tussle between music and sport for both time and money, sports are a frequent winner. Not only are instruments a significant expense, particularly as children advance in ability, but also the intensive nature of tuition means that many simply cannot afford to support children through music lessons outside of school. The Government has tried a number of

initiates to increase participation within schools with varied success. The Wider Opportunities scheme, offering classroom-based instrument lessons, is often the first step for children to start learning music. The programme has had some success, with two million children introduced to

28 November 2018

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