Why Croydon should protect spending on schools’ music

By - Thursday 2nd January, 2014

‘Music is a vital part of our identity. With music, we can celebrate our heritage and share the heritage of others’

This enlightened view is supported by Cllr Tim Pollard in approving the publication of the July issue of the council’s Step Up newsletter.

Baltic Youth Philarmonic at BDF Summit 2009 in Stockholm. Used under Creative Commons license, photo taken by Baltic Development Forum.

Last December more than 1,000 children were at Fairfield Halls when an orchestra of Croydon Music & Arts (CMA) staff and senior students demonstrated the different musical languages of the orchestra, from Bollywood to the mix of European and African heritage in jazz. As the council’s newsletter Step Up says: “Our senior students are no strangers to Fairfield, regularly performing before the London Mozart Players’ concert.”

Despite the fact that CMA is giving 3,000 children the opportunity to have a first year of learning a musical instrument in its whole-class SoundStart programme, another 2,600 are developing their instrumental and vocal skills in group and individual lessons, and more than 400 pupils belong to its Saturday-morning and week-day evening groups, Cllr Pollard and his colleagues are cutting £100,000 off the funding of CMA’s Schools Music Service (SMS) over two years 2014-16.

This will be a blow to Graeme Smith, head of CMA, who will be left to decide whether to cut full-time staff, contract tutor time or other expenditure, and thereby reduce provision.

The arts are an effective tool for learning across other subject disciplines

Smith has strong views about the importance of music and arts in schools, which he expressed in a review of music education in Finland: “The arts are a central part of children’s play and of their interactions with each other and with their parents and other adults. As children grow the arts become an important vehicle for their creativity, enjoyment, identity and well-being.

“The arts develop skills in learning, concentration and team work. The arts are an effective tool for learning across other subject disciplines. Young people who are able to express themselves through the arts, can use the arts to solve personal and social issues.”

Folk Song and Dance Partnership

Smith is very much a hands-on leader. In the current partnership ‘My Song, My Croydon’ project with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), he led an instrumental session on folk tunes as part of training for folk educators and CMA instrumental tutors. In July last year Step Up explained that teachers “in six schools and settings have been using the processes of folk music to connect English and local traditions to the population of Croydon today. They have been able to tailor the project to meet the needs of children and have linked it to other forms of cultural learning including dance, drama, art and design and creative writing.”

Smith has commented on the EFDSS website: “The way [this project] uses the processes of folk music to connect English and local traditions to the population of Croydon today is very powerful… What makes this one of the best projects I have ever seen, though, is that the accessibility and attraction of folk music has empowered teachers (who are not music specialists) to use their skills… to meet the needs of their pupils.”

The partnership with EFDSS is just one imaginative approach to music education in Croydon. In the first half of 2012 with funding from the Mayor of London’s Music Education fund, the London Mozart Players, and Sutton Music Service, CMA “completed a project involving more than 1,000 young musicians. A joint orchestra of Croydon and Sutton young musicians performed along with children in their first year of whole class instrumental lessons, with soloists from the London Mozart Players. A children’s choir was added for a new composition based on the restoration of the River Wandle. This was devised by composer Fraser Trainer, a former pupil at Benson Primary School and Edenham High School using song words which had been written by children in schools following workshops with poet Dean Parkin.” (Step Up July 2012)

Arts Council Funding Support

The funding for the work of CMA is underpinned for two and a half years till 31 March 2015 by £1,126,428 awarded in May 2012 by the Arts Council under the music hubs initiative of the government-backed The Importance of Music: A National Plan for Music Education support for music education in schools. The amount available for 2013-14 has been £407,324.

Graeme Smith said in the July 2012 Step Up: “This is an exciting new development for Croydon. Our new partnership will draw together the skills of local teachers and musicians to develop music making opportunities for Croydon’s children and young people. We shall also aim to use music and arts education to build stronger communities in Croydon.”

Rather than cut back the councillors should be seeking to protect spending on music and arts in schools.

The central government funding support via the Arts Council is only guaranteed into 2015. When this ends it is feared there will be serious cutbacks to music services across the country furthering impoverishing the education experience of pupils. Elsewhere in the country local authorities have been cutting back on their music services despite their Arts Council funding. So funding for CMA from 1st April 2015 could be dramatically curtailed. This is yet another challenge for the political parties as they enter the local elections.

The campaign group Protect Music Education is seeking support for its campaign to have funding continue from 1 April 2015.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • lizsheppardjourno

    Agree and support, and now consumed with shame that my sole recollection of the excellent Sound Start scheme is getting grouchy & stressed keeping track of two vulnerable miniature violins for a whole year while my kids participated in it :-)

  • Charlotte Davies

    Music is fundamental to all learning, it is a building block of language and communication; it trains people to be able to perceive a wide range of sounds and hence learn foreign languages more easily; from music we learn rhythm and so are able to interpret much of the World around us within context from a poem, to a speech, to rhythms in Nature. All areas of the brain are stimulated by music, a great book to read is: This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin, 2006.

    To cut music education is to cut the education of all children in the Borough – a Borough that already has low educational outcomes compared to other Boroughs in Southern Outer London. If Venezuala can prioritise children’s musical education I do not understand why Croydon is so desperate for cash that it has to cut it – we always seem to be in a short-term fire sale, where is the long-term planning? One day it will cost us far more to replace all that we are losing now.