Every pupil needs a soundtrack to their life

6th February 2015 at 00:00

It is a beautiful concept that over the years has introduced tens of thousands of children to a world they might otherwise never have encountered. Instrumental music tuition in school allows children to learn the recorder, the glockenspiel or even the bagpipes.

Music is, and should be, a part of school life in the same way as sports and art. And, as with those subjects, it should encompass not only a theoretical introduction but a practical, getting-your-hands-dirty engagement, too.

But these are difficult times. Councils are taking every opportunity to stress that they will have to save millions of pounds over the coming years, and with a large proportion of education budgets already designated for protected purposes, cuts can be made in only a limited number of areas.

Something will have to give. Among the proposed victims that have made the news in recent months are the way library services are organised, the number of lunchtime food options and even the length of the school day. So you could be excused for feeling that, in the grand scheme of things, instrumental music is a luxury - something that parents will have to pay for themselves.

But a report on instrumental music published this week is the government's way of saying that, although it cannot tell local authorities how to spend their budgets, music should not be considered an easy target for cuts (see pages 7-8 and 16-18). It should be seen as more than an optional extra we may no longer be able to afford.

Children derive huge benefits from learning an instrument - most obviously being able to make music and the social aspect of being part of a band or orchestra. Research has shown that playing an instrument has a number of developmental benefits, too.

But that research and the government's renewed focus on the issue are not the only reasons we should protect music in Scottish schools. It comes down to what we believe education should be about.

Some local authorities have made a conscious decision not to cut instrumental music and art projects. They believe their pupils are just as entitled to this kind of provision as they are to, say, geography or ICT lessons.

And this is exactly how it should be viewed. It does not mean that every child should learn to play an instrument, but education is meant to be all about opportunity. It is supposed to open doors for children and young people, and introduce them to the myriad things the world has to offer.

And if we hold that statement dear - if school truly is about broadening a child's horizons - then every pupil should have the opportunity to try their hand at the recorder, the violin, the piano or the guitar. And that opportunity should not hinge on a parent's ability to pay for those lessons. Or, even more dishearteningly, on the budgeting constraints of Scottish councils.


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