Recent attempts to focus the national mind on the primacy of maths and science have received an unexpected dose of cold water from American researchers who point to a diet of art and music as the key to boosting pupils' brain power - mathematical performance, in particular. The findings appear to support the long-held belief that there is a link between musical and mathematical achievement on the lines of Albert Einstein.
Five to seven-year-olds in the city of Providence, Rhode Island, were given special lessons in music and the visual arts, which emphasised "sequenced skill development".
After seven months, the special class was ahead on mathematics, despite starting behind children in normal arts and music classes. The improvement was also visible in the following year.
"When students discover that participation in arts activities is pleasurable, they become motivated to acquire skills . . . with two types of result, " say the academics in the scientific journal Nature.
"First . . . students' general attitude towards learning and school can improve.
"Second, learning arts skills forces mental 'stretching' useful to other areas of learning: the maths learning advantage in our data could, for example, reflect the development of mental skills such as ordering, and other elements of thinking on which mathematical learning at this age also depends."