Gareth Harris, Director of Music at Dauntsey’s School argues for more music in the classroom

With access to free musical content at the touch of a button on any mobile device, you might be forgiven for thinking that singing and music is enjoying a resurgence. Sadly, the reality in many schools is quite the reverse.

Nationally, the number of students learning an instrument has declined dramatically in recent years. Research commissioned in the UK by the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music has highlighted that the average A-level music class has just three students. This is driven largely by the omission of music from the English Baccalaureate list of subjects and the regular public pronouncements about science being more important than anything else.  

This is despite research suggesting that both listening to music and playing an instrument stimulates the brain, improves concentration and promotes social skills. Enhanced mathematical skills have also been observed in many advanced musicians and those children with a good musical ear can often pick up languages more quickly.

But music has a role to play beyond the classroom. It crosses all borders, languages and cultures. People of all ages and backgrounds can come together under the umbrella of music to communicate, empathise and develop long-lasting friendships. Music builds a sense of community and provides a feeling of belonging in an organisation.  

I am pleased to say that we are bucking the trend with 40% of students learning an instrument and participation in ensembles from choirs to rock bands increasing almost every week. Singing lessons have grown enormously in popularity while piano and violin are also seeing a resurgence, along with guitar and saxophone. 

A number of pupils go on to study music at GCSE and A-level. Far from being a ‘soft option’, the qualifications have a challenging curriculum to master and universities value them as part of an academic set of GCSEs or A-levels. Senior consultant surgeons have remarked that they find a doctor who is also a musician is easier to train in surgical skills than a person without instrumental skills, as the ability to learn patterns quickly and to understand instruction through gestures is already embedded into a musician’s scheme of learning.

I urge schools and governing bodies contemplating curriculum reform to think about the importance of music provision in and out of the classroom. Parents have an important role to play, too. Encourage children to take up an instrument or work on their singing, help them to do a little practice on a regular basis and take an interest in what they do. No matter what style of music they are exploring, be their biggest fan and their best critic. More than anything else, performing should be fun. When we enjoy ourselves, all of us learn more effectively and challenges are merely a temporary inconvenience rather than an insurmountable barrier to progress. 

I hope that at least some readers will join my crusade to push music higher up the list of priorities in schools. Education – and society – is a poorer place without music.


If you enjoyed this, why not read ‘The importance of PE‘?