Celebrating music in Suffolk schools

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying Nayland primary school ukelele group to perform in Snape Maltings as part of the Suffolk Schools Celebration of Music.  That event – which I’ve referred to previously in this blog – is a fantastic opportunity for children from schools across Suffolk, regardless of their experience or level of musical knowledge, to come together and perform in the wonderful acoustic of one of the UK’s top professional concert halls.  I have now been three times to this Celebration; each time it has succeeded in being inclusive yet professional, and each time the children have gained enormously from the experience.

The benefits of opportunities like this go far beyond the performance on the night – enjoyable and thrilling as that is. So events like this must be protected, in demand, and supported.  But the rhetoric from the DfE – whilst on the one hand supporting the inclusion of music in the primary curriculum – suggests that creative endeavour is of little value.  Creative arts subjects remain excluded from the EBacc and the A’level equivalent as schools are encouraged down ever-narrowing lines of academic enquiry.  That’s why I followed the lead set by the Bacc to the Future campaign and wrote  today to my MP – Tim Yeo – asking him to include the creative arts subjects in these school league tables.  The text of that letter is below.  I’ll add the reply when I receive it.

“Dear Tim

I am writing to ask your views and intended actions in relation to the omission of creative subjects from the Government’s English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and the equivalent A-level league table measures.

 Currently EBacc and A-level equivalent league tables place significant pressure on schools to focus on just five ‘pillars’ of study: maths, English, sciences, languages (including Ancient Greek and Latin) and humanities (defined as just history and geography).

 I appreciate the importance of English, maths and science as core ‘enabling’ subjects.  But the exclusion of creative subjects from the EBacc and ABacc threatens the delivery and acquisition of a broad and balanced education and puts our creative economy and the creation of jobs in that sector at risk. I understand that computer science was included in the EBacc after substantial lobbying from the IT industry about the importance of computer science to the UK economy. The Arts should be considered on the same basis – there are over 2 million jobs in the Arts in the UK, and the Arts contribute over £60bn a year to the UK economy and £36.3bn in Gross Value Added (according to the Government’s own figures).

 Hundreds of businesses, education and creative industry organisations have called for the Government to include creative subjects in the league tables and the absence of creative industry relevant subjects has been criticized explicitly by the CBI, Creative Industries Council, Royal Institute of British Architects, the Incorporated Society of Musicians, the Include Design campaign, Heads for the Arts, UK Music and BPI – the British Recorded Music Industry.

 Personally, I am against the use of EBacc and ABacc as mechanisms for measuring the performance of schools, and the relevance of the ABacc appears particularly questionable. However I acknowledge that these are current government policy and my purpose in writing is to encourage you to ensure that these measures have the least damaging effect possible on Suffolk schools and children.

 As a musician I have for many years volunteered in my children’s schools to assist them in providing enriching and enabling experiences through which children – regardless of their academic abilities or prior musical experience – can flourish. In the last two weeks alone I have accompanied children from Nayland Primary School in their performance at the Suffolk Schools Celebration of Music in Snape Maltings and directed a school choir at the Sudbury performing arts festival. Aside from my personal experience, there is a wealth of evidence that points to the advantages such opportunities give children – for example helping to develop confidence and self-esteem, and promoting collaboration. These aren’t just skills necessary for learning across the curriculum, they are also qualities employers seek. 

 These opportunities need to be provided across the school system, as children grow, not just in the early years. Yet the messages to schools from the Department for Education loudly and clearly suggest that creative arts subjects are additional and voluntary.

 Please could you raise these concerns with the Prime Minister and Secretary of State and secure the place of creative industry relevant subjects in the EBacc and equivalent A-level league tables.

 I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely

Emma Bishton”


One response to this post.

  1. The fact that some schools really rely on the goodwill and expertise of parents such as yourself in facilitating music also needs to be addressed. More emphasis on music teaching in ITT would help, as would including music in league tables – just to focus school leaders….


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