Education Quandary: We are a musical family. Do our two children have to go to private schools to get a decent music education?

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Hilary's advice

Independent schools have traditionally offered more music than maintained schools. They have the resources to run big departments, more parents are able to pay for instrument tuition, good music teachers are attracted by such conditions, and all these things can add up to a rich musical culture.

However, it will cost you upwards of £300,000 to put your two children through independent education – unless they get scholarships – and this seems plain stupid when there are so many more affordable ways to give them a great musical upbringing.

You yourselves can pay for them to learn instruments, and find choirs and workshops to join. You can also seek out the most musical schools in your area. It's true that music has been in the doldrums in many maintained schools, but this is now changing fast – as the "singing tsar", Howard Goodall, points out below – and there are many schools that offer a good musical education and a more vibrant and varied menu than that dished up by many private schools.

The growing evidence that music is good for personal, social and intellectual development is helping fuel this change. A recent study from the Institute of Education highlights how musical experiences can help children develop their language skills – and you only have to step into a lively musical school to feel the difference in pupils' confidence. ......... 

Readers' advice

The present government has nurtured the creation of 58 secondary schools with music as their first or second specialism – I have visited many of them and their music teaching is easily the equal of the most famous and richly-endowed private schools. There are a further 298 schools with wider arts as a specialism, where music provision is usually well above average, and even in state schools where there isn't a dynamic music leadership or a supportive head teacher, there are the local authority music services, open to all children, with advanced tuition, ensembles, choirs, orchestras at every level. Next time someone says state schools are rubbish at music, check that they are not talking about the 20th, rather than the 21st century.

Howard Goodall, Composer & broadcaster, National Ambassador for Singing, London

(Read the full text of this reply on www.hilarywilce.com/blog.php)

When my daughter was eight I moved her to a junior school with an enthusiastic and talented music teacher. There were two choirs, a recorder group, a wind band and a string orchestra. Peripatetic teachers (often members of professional orchestras) gave individual tuition for a small fee. The local education authority also ran an after-school orchestra. I would suggest contacting you local education authority to find out which schools provide the best musical education and what musical out-of-school activities the authority also provides.

Gillian Pritchard, London N21

A good church choir will give young people training and education in music, and the joy of singing with others.

Audrey Boucher, HANTS

Next Week's Quandary

My son has just gone to secondary school, and I'm shocked by what his ICT lessons amount to. I work in computing where most jobs go to graduates from abroad and I now see why. How can schools be so far behind the curve in such a vital area?

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