The Sound of Music in Schools

As a child, I was fortunate that my parents were passionate about music. Music was both a joy and an important feature of life, and the childhood of my sisters and I were filled with lessons in a variety of instruments and voice and the constancy of singing and laugher around the piano. Memories of speed races with my Father as we played “Chopsticks” can to this day make me smile. My own school days fuelled my passion further where hours of practice and improvisation ensued. All subjects had equal importance: music and maths went hand in hand, as did sport and science or English and economics. So it was perhaps not too surprising that I pursued a degree in Classical music and a career in teaching.

Excellence in schools is sadly often judged in society solely by the academic outcomes and external benchmarking data achieved. In the desire to top league tables, the sounds of music provision are in danger of being silenced in our corridors and classrooms. It is all too easy to argue the need to replace the music room with a science room or the drama studio with another maths room but it takes greater courage to argue for their sustained existence and importance. Holding on to the provision of the arts and specifically music in our schools has never been more important in my view, a view shared by many. Just last week, the Guardian newspaper columnist, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, wrote that “Music, art and drama, often perceived as options for less academically minded students, are being squeezed out or underfunded” in UK schools.

But that general perception is flawed: there is nothing easy about these options. They just require a different skill, a different talent, a different form of study and practice. The writing of a Bach Choral or a string quartet is potentially as taxing as an extended higher level Maths problem. The creation of a contemporary song in a Music lesson that will harness the imagination, is no less intricate than the writing of poetry or prose in an English A level class. Should there be a further reason to embrace music in our schools, there is a substantial body of research on the impact of learning music in the overall development of children.
Professor Susan Hallam MBE, of the UCL Institute of Education is a renowned academic who advocates strongly for the teaching of music in schools. She says that “engagement with music plays a major role in developing perceptual processing systems” and goes on to say in her research of 2015 that “there is compelling evidence for the benefits of music education on the wide range of skills including: listening skills which support the development of language skills, awareness of phonics and enhanced literacy; spatial reasoning which supports the development of some mathematical skills”.
Great schools do and will continue to celebrate all subjects and music will be no exception to their diverse approach to education. Despite the pressures in the UAE of an inspection framework that places greater emphasis on a group of core subjects, exceptional schools do not marginalise the arts and are even more significant because of their balanced and broad approach to curriculum design, a curriculum design that is applauded in inspection reports.

Plato wrote that, “Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything.” These words resonate with me and bring back memories of a musically rich childhood. It is incumbent on me as a school leader to deliver in my school’s curriculum, that same opportunity that was afforded to me and to share somehow the love of music that I cherish. Let us hope that there will always be a place for the music in our schools so that we might inspire another generation of performers, composers and intrepid Chopsticks players!

Fiona Cottam
Hartland International School

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