Education Quandary

'My primary-age daughter has had no opportunity to learn an instrument, and my secondary-age one has dropped the flute because it's "uncool". Wasn't the Government supposed to make music education better?'

Hilary Wilce
Thursday 16 August 2012 03:39

Hilary's advice

In 2001, the Government said that every child who wanted to learn an instrument at primary school should be able to, but this has proved meaningless. Its own figures suggest that only about eight per cent of pupils do so. And, instrumental tuition aside, primary schools spend on average only about 45 minutes a week on music - less than on any other subject.

This may change. Earlier this year, music education got a £1.5m boost and the backing of the school standards minister David Miliband and arts minister Estelle Morris, who are putting together a music manifesto outlining ambitions for primary pupils for the next five years. However, although the manifesto appears to be full of fancy phrases, the commitment to extra resources has yet to appear. And until it does, nothing will change.

Which is a pity, because music enhances creativity and confidence, boosts educational achievements and enhances lives. And, as some recent pilot schemes have shown, when done with enthusiasm, it really captures children's imaginations and makes almost all of them want to carry on learning an instrument.

But we are a long way off seeing this done nationally, so parents who want their young children to get musically involved will have to fund and organise it themselves. They will have to lease an instrument, find a tutor and put in the hard sweat of encouraging practice - the local schools' music service should be able to help. They should also remember that solo playing quickly gets tedious and, as their child grows more proficient, look around for music summer schools or youth orchestras.

None of which will combat the "uncoolness" of doing music at secondary school, especially if that school is no good at music. But early spadework may at least encourage a child to return to the musical fold at a later date.

Readers' advice

As a music teacher, I can say that children are generally not tested for musical instruments until the age of seven, when they are confidently literate, because learning music is much like learning a new language. Schools cannot dictate, or do, anything about fashion, so perhaps in a few years being a member of a music group will become cool again. As for the Government, they have never done anything positive for musical education, and look unlikely to do so now.

Angela Mccrisken, Belfast

You are ultimately responsible for your children's education. Learning an instrument takes years of commitment on the part of both child and parent. With the younger child, find out what instrument she wants to play. The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music website ( has a useful information section for parents. Make sure it's one both parent and child like the sound of, and which is small enough to be handled by a young child, or which comes in smaller sizes for children. Find a good local teacher via the ABRSM website, word of mouth, advice from school or the local authority music service. Buy, hire or borrow a decent instrument. Be prepared to devote time and energy to encouraging regular practice. For the older child, ask yourself what you've done to quash the uncool idea. How often do you listen to orchestral or choral music at home? How many orchestral or choral concerts have you taken her to hear? Or maybe she can learn a non-orchestral instrument such as guitar or piano.

Kathryn Robertson, Milton Keynes

Most school music is uncool. Most kids like hip-hop, garage or whatever, but then school orchestras always want them to play things like variations on "Greensleeves". Who wants to do that?

Pat Mellor, Kent

Next week's quandary

I want to go to university in the States. My parents say it's too expensive and most American degrees aren't as good as ours. Isn't this wrong?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 10 May, 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

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