Opinion: Why the wings of music need the future of education

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The Educational Future

By Dr. Kenneth Taylor, Head Teacher at Edinburgh’s St Mary’s Music School.

The Future of Education campaign should welcome the need to reassess and re-evaluate what we understand is necessary for a well-rounded education in Scotland.

Technology, coding and an emphasis on lasting abilities are, undeniably, vital to life and the workplace and have been well discussed. But let’s not forget the importance of education in music, which in recent months has come under such scrutiny but is so badly needed.

Last year, in partnership with the Society of Musicians and the University of Sussex, a report commissioned by the All-Parliamentary Group for Music Education said, “Studying music builds cultural knowledge and creative abilities.”

It promotes the wellbeing and well-being of children, as well as their greater educational achievement…. Music also enables young children to express themselves through music, to explore their own inner self, and through music to develop emotional intelligence and empathy.

This assertion alone, as we emerge from the trauma of the pandemic, makes it impossible to disregard the role music plays in helping our young people in the months and years ahead. One of our young people’s most urgent needs is mental health and well-being, and the creative arts are central to addressing them.

But the same study also takes a wider economic viewpoint, stating that the creative industries are dependent on a pool of creative talent emerging from our schools, adding more than £100 billion to the UK economy. If Scotland didn’t see the connection between our education policies, the well-being of our children and our reputation for cultural excellence on the world stage, it would be a worse place.

As the principal of a specialist music school, I see every day how music, regardless of its history or academic performance, can level the playing field for talented young people.

I will counter that they are simply complementary to those who see learning an instrument as just a “nice to have” when opposed to the pursuit of excellence in STEM subjects. St. Mary’s Music School students received a 99% pass rate in the 2018/19 school year, 73 percent of which were A grades. These are remarkable results that are replicated year after year, given that our school does not need academic testing for admission.

Our school offers a broad-based education from Year 5 to Year 3, and from Year 4 to Year 6 in line with the Curriculum for Excellence. Our students engage in a broad variety of musical studies and sports, in addition to the regular subjects offered in a Scottish school, and many of them go on to conservatories, music colleges or universities.

One of the UK’s five state-funded music schools, St Mary’s Music School is the only one of its kind in Scotland. Our students enjoy strong cooperation here, as in other specialized music schools, with other young people who have exceptional talent and passion for music. With nearly half of each day spent on music-related activities, they have access to an extended teaching day and practice facilities. Individualized timetables allow music teaching, coaching, performance classes, and ensemble work to be incorporated into academic lessons. Talented and inspiring teachers, many of whom are accomplished musicians themselves, profit from teaching our young musicians.

Ultimately, a specialized music education is one where music is completely incorporated and integrated into the schedule of each student, and where each person is supported through a wide range of expert instruction to improve their musical skills. This is not achieved at the cost of academic training; rather, the near integration of the two offers a stable basis for later life, regardless of which career path is eventually selected.

Most importantly, specialized music education is democratic – it puts access to excellence above financial or social concerns and focuses on each student’s passion and talent so that in a healthy, welcoming, and encouraging environment, they can grow and succeed musically and academically.

When the value of the cre cre is set

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