Education Quandary

'My 10-year-old says that his new young teacher plays music all the time in class - first thing in the morning and while they work. Surely this is distracting and we should complain?'
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Hilary's Advice

Complain, complain. If there is one thing that many parents are really good at it is complaining to their children's schools. If there were SATs tests in complaining, these parents would all be on level five or above.

There may be something not right here, but you need to know your facts before you take any action. And not only from your son. Ask the teacher what she is doing and why. If she has instigated something radical and new, she has been remiss not to tell you about it - although she may be too inexperienced to realise the overwhelming importance of keeping her parents on board. Teacher trainers need to do an awful lot more to ensure that new teachers know how and when to talk to parents, and also to instil in them the professional confidence that they need to do this.

As for the music... well, it is increasingly used in classrooms to set a mood, or enhance learning. Teachers might play a rousing piece to energise their pupils, or a calming one to settle them down. They might use it for dance and drama sessions, or to add colour and interest to their teaching - music from Mali if they are talking about the Sahara, say, or a Spanish rap track in a language lesson.

There is also an educational school of thought that believes that music specifically changes our brain patterns and puts us into a state of mind more receptive to learning. Baroque music, for example, is said to have a beat pattern identical to our alpha brainwaves, which are the ones that make us feel calm, concentrated and alert. Using music skilfully, they say, can help everyone learn faster and better.

But, like any aid to learning, it all depends how it's done. This young teacher may know exactly what she's doing. Or, she may have picked up some half-baked notions about music-enhanced learning, and be playing plinky-plinky pieces that distract rather than focus her pupils' attention. The fact that your son doesn't seem to know what it is all about is a definite cause for concern.

Readers' Advice

I am a newish teacher, and have also used music in my class. I have played a selection of music from different countries when the children enter the classroom. The music was often linked with the countries we were studying, or introduced new countries that the children had visited or were curious about.

I use rhythmic tunes to get the children to concentrate on their handwriting (picture the strokes of pencils, up and down, to The Nutcracker!), pop songs to time them getting changed for PE, and Peter and the Wolf, for example, during PE. Calm, soft music can keep the children from talking when they are writing a story; and music and maths go hand in hand. Let the teacher play her music - your son isn't complaining, but, rather, working with it.
Barbara Hammond, Bromley

Why not ask the teacher to explain the reason for playing music during lessons, before complaining?
Angela Greene, London NW2

A calm classroom provides the best learning environment. Background music can be irritating and should not be the norm in any classroom By all means mention the music when you have your next progress chat with the teacher. Be circumspect and good-humoured, but probing. Ask whether there has been any positive feedback from the children, and to what extent those children who prefer not to have the music have had their views respected. Her response will determine whether you need to share your concerns with the head teacher.
Mike Whitley, Kent

Next week's quandary

My 13-year-old daughter is so anxious about doing well at school that she often has days off with stomach pains and headaches - up to one a week. She goes to a high-flying school, but is not struggling academically. I've tried to tell the school that there is a problem, but they don't seem to get it. What can I do?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 27 September, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser