How The UK Government Is Killing Music Tuition (And It’s Not What You Think)

Lack of funding for the arts, right? That was your answer. Lack of funding hurts any subject eventually but music’s more resilient and I’ve already lived through one catastrophic withdrawal of funds. Music tuition survives (sadly only for the wealthy – more of that in a future post).

What’s strangling music tuition is the insane level of regard for for maths and english to the exclusion of all other subjects. M&E are regarded as the benchmark both for pupil’s intelligence and a school’s effectiveness. No scratch that. Ability to pass exams in those subjects are …. blah blah.

In practice that means less time to teach other subjects and less timetable flexibility. 9 -10 am is the sacred hour in many schools. Nothing is allowed to disturb Maths.

This kind of message from parents is common and so is the error it contains. The pupil was actually missing half of one of their five, hour-long, weekly lessons. So they weren’t missing ‘half of maths’, they were missing 1/10th of maths (I guess that means the parents don’t know how to be making the maths so good). ‘Five hours a week’ doesn’t include extra mock tests and booster sessions as SATS, GCSEs or A levels approach.

It’s a similar story with English, though not as zealously protected (which is odd when you consider english literacy is the gateway for learning in almost every other subject and a significant proportion of children enter the UK education system with English as a second language).

But ‘hey ho’ – it’s only two subjects right? Surely we can work round it? Hang on. Once the exams kick in pretty much everything grinds to a halt. I recently encountered a student unable to attended their GCSE music lessons because they were being ‘offered’ (as in Don Corleone ‘offered’) an opportunity to attend booster groups for ‘more important subjects’ dooming them to a ‘C’ grade in music at best.

Post exams students (especially the younger ones) are rewarded with fun activities – cinema trips, bring your bike in, watch a DVD – which also is hard to miss.

So apart from exam time things are OK right? Yes. Apart from compulsory swimming lessons.
And DARE (drug awareness).
Road safety quizzes.
School trips.

And so on. You fill in the blanks.

So what’s REALLY killing music tuition in UK schools is a government who explicitly deems a whole list of things as MORE IMPORTANT THAN MUSIC and has created a system that punish schools who dare to act like a well-rounded education is a thing to be pursued. Most heads and teachers (many of them musicians themselves) can see the folly of this but don’t have much room to challenge it.

Soapbox Teaching

Teaching Music Is More Important Than Teaching Math(s)

Welcome to Soapbox – a series of short posts where I put forward a unusual argument about music, education, musical education (maybe even educational music?). Each post is a single bite and is not intended to cover every possible point pro or con. 

Teaching Music Is More Important Than Teaching Math(s)

This runs counter to everything coming out of mainstream education, but it’s true.

One reason it’s true is that the skill required to do many maths problems is being rendered obsolete by computers. And not just huge MIT style, server farmed computers. The tiny computers your 10 year old kid carries around in their pockets and occasionally phones home on. Just like we no longer teach kids how to use a mangle, churn butter or shoe a horse, most people no longer to need to learn the kind of maths we spend days, weeks and months cramming into the heads of 8 year old kids. Like map reading, it’s a skill which the machines are now doing faster, better and cheaper.

Music creation on the other hand is not a profession that our robot overlords are going to be taking over any time soon. Programmers have succeeded in creating software that can listen to music, decipher the tempo and then tap a robotic foot along to. That’s as good as it gets. But the human brain can hear Happy Birthday To You, played fast or slow, on a piccolo or a bass guitar, in the key of Bb or F# and instantly perform the mind-numbingly complex equations to identify the tune without, you know, your mind going numb. We’re decades away from a computer program that can do that.

That’s decades of gainful employment making music with no threat from the machines, while the math dudes are asking “do you want fries with that?”

Education Music Is The Best Soapbox Teaching

Why Guitar Lessons Are More Important Than Any Other Lessons

There are lots of things you can do to make you smarter but music is the only thing that will make your corpus callosum thicker. The corpus callosum is the wiring system between the two halves of your brain. So when you have a guitar lesson you are literally rewiring your brain and upgrading it. Only music does this – not literacy, not maths, not even SRE.

And music doesn’t just help your brain talk to itself. It’s also great for strengthening the areas that handle balance, movement and motor control. It’s one of the few activities that gives the entire brain a workout; the parts that handles higher thinking (frontal cortex), memories (hippocampus), emotions (amygdala) even the parts that we share with animals (cerebellum and brain stem). And if that wasn’t enough, music makes you feel good by releasing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Spelling tests don’t do that.

Recent studies have shown that music can help people with parkinson’s disease walk, autistic children socialise, premature babies gain weight and even reduce pain during spinal surgery.

Music doesn’t just change your brain when you’re young though.When older people lose the ability to speak after a stroke, scientists have found using music not only aids recovery but can produce visible changes in brain structure after only six months of treatment and it’s far more effective than getting them to listen to audio books.

Take that Charles Dickens!

Source: Zoe Cormier “Tune Into Treatment FM” in Focus Magazine (p.59) Oct 2015