Director of Music, Angela Chillingworth, responds to an article in The Guardian about the diminishment of Music in English schools.
The people in charge of our children’s education are rarely musicians. A survey shows that the most common degree taken by Head Teachers is English, however, these are not the most successful Heads. Those with the highest salaries and the most awards (OBEs and MBEs) are generally PE teachers, but their success is based on them taking over struggling schools and expelling the low-performing pupils who will gain less than a 5 at GCSE. After a few years these Heads move on, leaving a school that has not shown real improvement, only a higher number of grades. You may be surprised to learn that the most successful Heads are usually History or Music teachers. On the whole their results are stable for the first three years, but then start to show a real improvement as these Heads are able to see the bigger picture and plan for the long-term, focusing on relationships within the community and provision for under-performing pupils.
Studies show again and again that the one aspect of the curriculum which makes the most difference to all-round pupil progress is Music, yet this is the subject that is cut from the curriculum most often and is suffering such dwindling numbers – A Level down 38% since 2010 and GCSE down 15.1% in just two years – so much so that it may not survive in state schools. Many believe that the EBacc is directly responsible for the decline of music in schools. The list of subjects by which a school’s success is measured does not include any of the arts and in times of stringent cuts the subjects which are supposedly irrelevant to statistics are side-lined or removed altogether.
Some may argue that losing arts subjects does not matter, that they are for the less-able pupils and that what really matters in a cut and thrust world is Maths and Science. However, research shows that Music is the second hardest A Level, requiring specialism in three discrete areas and, increasingly, university requirements for trainee doctors are A Levels in Biology, Chemistry and an arts subject in order that they are able to show creativity alongside skills in Science. We only have to look at geniuses throughout history to notice that the majority played a musical instrument. So, do we have to be intelligent to play an instrument? The answer is no; playing an instrument increases one’s mental flexibility, enhances one’s ability to pick up new concepts, see connections and add a creative twist to an old idea; all skills that are in demand in today’s employment market.
At Ipswich High School we are extremely fortunate that our Heads recognise the significance of music in the curriculum. Music is compulsory for pupils in Years 7 and 8, unlike in an increasing number of schools, and, moreover, the Heads have enabled the PRIMO (Prep Range of Instrumental Music Opportunities) Programme. Their investment in instrumental lessons for every pupil from Years 2 to 5 shows an absolute faith in the ability of music not only to improve academic results but also that they are willing to take a long-term view regarding the mental well-being of all pupils. Music does not give quick results, but we are not interested in short-term gains; this is a race that will be won by the tortoises and, with parental support, we guarantee that music will enhance and enrich the lives of your children throughout their time at this school and into their adult lives.
Angela Chillingworth, Director of Music