Elly Sturges, Director of Music at Millfield Prep, discusses the life-enhancing and lifelong benefits of developing children’s skills and opportunities to play and perform

The arts have long been an integral part of British education. From choral singing and drama to music and dance, the arts have the power to engage and inspire students of all ages and they play a vital role in the cultural fabric of the country.

The pandemic underlined the hugely positive impact that the performing arts have on the personal well-being and mental health of young people. I will never forget those first live concerts and productions following the lockdowns. The unbridled sense of joy and accomplishment from our pupils following their inspirational production of Moana was palpable, and only reinforced my strong belief that the arts need to be celebrated and protected within the British education system.

We know that learning an instrument can have a positive effect on a child’s academic achievement, but it also promotes teamwork, camaraderie, and collaboration. One of my favourite events is our annual house singing competition, which involves every pupil from Year 3-8. Seeing the whole school united in song is truly wonderful and the event is often cited as a highlight by pupils. Participation in Young Voices – an annual series of concerts uniting 5,000-8,000 children each night in arenas around the UK – creates a sense of excitement and anticipation like no other event, and with memories which last a lifetime. In a world that can often feel divisive and disconnected, the arts provide a common ground where individuals can share experiences and connect with one another.

“In a world that can often feel divisive and disconnected, the arts provide a common ground where individuals can connect with one another”

The performing arts also encourage creativity and self-expression. Many pupils arrive at our school with a deep-rooted passion for sport, and all value academic achievement, however, many are hesitant and even downright resistant when encouraged to join an ensemble or production. In my experience, it only requires genuine encouragement and enthusiasm to transform a child’s attitude to the performing arts. We are currently lucky enough to include over 250 pupils in our large end-of-term concerts. When students are given the opportunity to explore something new, it helps them to develop a sense of individuality and self-worth and provides a unique outlet for stress and emotion.

The government’s National Plan for Music Education is an encouraging step towards ensuring schools continue with music provision and it underlines the importance of music in a child’s development. However, many agree that there are significant obstacles – including questions surrounding whether current funding is sufficient to deliver the aspirations set out by the plan. Additionally, there is scant mention of how to monitor the quality of the provision being delivered.

Providing a varied programme can often be key to enthusing children – and at Millfield Prep, we are lucky enough to be able to offer pupils access to a host of choirs, orchestras, bands and solo performing opportunities. For pupils in the surrounding area, we have a newly launched Saturday Morning Music programme. We share our facilities with local primary schools and recently invited several to watch Moana, and soon they’ll be returning to watch this year’s production of Matilda. We also visit local care homes and perform to the residents.

The benefits of the performing arts are immeasurable, and we need to work together to ensure that resources and support are available to all schools. Children deserve the opportunity to unearth a talent and love for music, drama and dance. The positive impact on their development and life experiences is undoubtedly worth the effort.

Millfield School millfieldschool.com

Further reading: Wells Cathedral School on why sharing music matters