So, the science is out. Music education has been proven, time and time again to benefit academic progress – something of which the vast majority of educationalists must be aware.
Yet, time and time again, music, along with all the arts, is the first thing to be cut, when budgeting becomes an issue. In a sensible world, this of course, would cause a huge outcry, there would be protesting on the streets, blah de blah de blah. But as we know, apart from a few disgruntled music teachers turning to drink, not a lot changes, here in the UK, at least. And I think I know why.
This was the situation at one of the schools I taught at last term – and I would like to point out here, that this was a nice primary school in a beautiful town in Buckinghamshire, where most of the pupils I talked to were planning trips to the Maldives/Florida/Australia, over their summer break.
My brief was to teach violin to several groups of children, in twenty minute blocks, over the course of three hours - the majority of the groups being two to three children.
Once I started, I realised that the groups I was teaching had been selected for their academic years, not for their ability and that, within each group, there was a huge range, from complete beginners, to children who had been playing for three years. (and I was asked NOT to interfere with said groups.) Only two children EVER turned up for their lesson on time, which meant that I had to spend at least five minutes of the allotted twenty, tracking my pupils from various parts of the school. When once I had got them back to the room, (which incidentally, was so cramped that they couldn't do an up bow without hitting the wall) fixed and tuned the violins (because yes, there is nearly always at least someone whose bridge has fallen down, or whose chin rest has come off, string broken etc etc) we had a maximum of ten minutes before I had to go in search of the next few children. When I asked the children why they didn't come to their lessons on time, it turned out that may of them couldn't tell the time, so had no way of telling when their lesson was, the others were so deeply engrossed in their Maths, that they had forgotten the time, or the timetable (which changed every week) had been placed too high on the wall for them to read. Though I asked several times, it was apparently impossible for the class teachers to remind the children to go to their lessons.
I hasten to add that there is a lot of truly wonderful teaching that goes on in schools, but sadly, the above experience of teaching is not uncommon. I have often had teachers roll their eyes at me when I come to collect children for their lessons, or children who have been told off for interrupting their teachers when they try to come for their lessons themselves.In another school I had to teach six children in 20 minutes, in a room which doubled as Special Needs teaching room/library/photocopier room, which meant that I had a constant stream of people walking in and out to choose books, uses said photocopier, and kids with special needs having lessons at the same time. The best class I ever gave was one where all the children were ten minutes late, two children had broken their violins and one child weed on the floor.
And of course the result of this sort of teaching is that the children do not progress as fast as they can and I shouldn't think it does much at all for their academic progress. Parents who have paid for years for lessons, will read articles about the benefits of music education and might nod their heads or even go so far as to share them on Facebook, but at the back of their minds will the thought that they never saw those benefits themselves. The children will grow up, look back on their childhood lessons and wonder why they never felt the benefit. And so the cycle continues....