Tanya Derham, Music and Arts Service Manager at SIPS Education, discusses the benefits, challenges and future of teaching music in schools
I think I speak for thousands of pupils, teachers, and parents when I say how wonderful it is to see (and hear) the return of live music – whether that’s Coldplay in concert or a cornet recital in a primary school.
The pandemic has affected our lives in a myriad of ways, and one of the most profound for my profession has been the realisation of how important face to face music lessons are.
Every year, SIPS helps over 8,000 students make music, and we believe the arts do change lives; we see first-hand that children love learning an instrument, singing and participating in music lessons at school.
Whether it’s purely for enjoyment, or as a chosen career path – the well-being and, pardon the pun, harmony that learning an instrument brings can’t be understated.
Delivering music tuition during the pandemic presented its own challenges and need for adaptation; close proximity is desirable, and wind instruments can create ‘aerosol’ emissions, so the SIPS music leadership developed a programme for schools called “Hear it, Feel it, Make it” – whole class instrumental tuition which focused on educational (national curriculum) and emotional (NHS areas of wellbeing) needs.
So, what are the key benefits? Here are just 10:
- It helps internalise listening to instructions
- Music helps improve overall learning skills
- It fosters teamwork
- Music develops life skills
- It underpins better behaviour
- Encourages creativity
- Music is for life
- It’s an educational building block
- Music is fun!
- It’s for everyone
It’s great to have a virtuoso in your class, but the bigger picture is making sure they understand the power of music in terms of SEMH – social, emotional, and mental health.
A great example is our Inclusive Choir, a new SIPS initiative which I have been lucky enough to help out at; it’s a Saturday morning group for pupils with autistic and learning difficulties – but not exclusively for them – we want it to be truly inclusive. Parents get involved too. I’ve felt the benefits myself – it’s really lifted my mood. After all, when you’re teaching, you’re also performing.
I love the children to all feel they achieve something in a music lesson, and I share their joy; it’s a delight and a privilege.
Watching children develop a lifelong love for music is really fulfilling, but there’s no getting away from the fact that there are barriers to getting an instrument in their hands and delivering a lesson: funding; social and cultural deprivation; even everyday life and the multitude of other pastimes and activities that are on offer.
Guess what the key barrier is? Yes – funding.
SIPS Education is a not-for-profit cooperative. Many Sandwell schools financially support music lessons in their school, they subsidise this cost to families who may not be able to afford an instrumental lesson for their child. We value this inclusive approach to music making.
We are lucky in Sandwell that many head teachers and schools value music as part of their school curriculum, they see the wider benefits, but it can be challenging when school leaders don’t necessarily share this same view. We strive to challenge schools with this view, but it can be difficult!
The second barrier is establishing a change of mindset in our community. Encouraging our diverse community to celebrate the joys and benefit music can bring to all our lives culturally and socially. Sandwell is one of the most culturally deprived areas in the West Midlands and is pretty high up on the list nationally; many arts organisations are working hard to change this statistic in Sandwell and culturally reform children and young people’s lives.
We need to consider teacher training and how new teachers are taught the skills and knowledge to teach music. It is often a subject where many teachers lack understanding and confidence particularly in primary settings. More needs to be on offer to support class teachers in the key skills to deliver progressive and effective music lessons in their classes. This will then promote the value of music in our schools and engage children across all settings and key stages. As a service we offer CPD on music delivery to schools across Sandwell as part of our key roles.
Sandwell lacks performance spaces. More facilities to share all of the arts would go a long way to improve the social acceptance and value of ‘performance’ and arts education. A conversation that will continue until facilities are on offer to service the needs of the whole community.
Despite all these challenges, we think the future for music is bright.
Our music service has been established for over 50 years, but we’re not resting on our laurels; we’ve just employed 16 new music teachers. It means we can expand our offer and teach more children with additional needs, music specialism and hopefully reach into those communities where the economic and cultural barriers exist.
If we are going to keep music alive – be that performing, writing or simply listening and loving it – we need to continue to work on these different fronts; engage as many people as we can; and ensure that local authorities, school leaders and governments, parents, carers and communities give music and the arts as much funding and support as it deserves.
Now that would be music to the ears…