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The Value of the Arts in Education

by Director of Music at Millfield Prep School, Elly Sturges

Performing arts have long been an integral part of British education. From choral singing and drama to music and dance, the arts have the power to engage and inspire students of all ages and they play a vital role in the cultural fabric of the country.

The pandemic underlined the hugely positive impact that the performing arts has on the personal well-being and mental health of young people. Coming together (albeit remotely) for choir rehearsals or watching online concerts was extremely moving. Music, drama, and dance have transformative power and I will never forget those first live concerts and productions following the lockdowns. The unbridled sense of joy and accomplishment from our pupils following their inspirational production of Moana was palpable and only reinforced my strong belief that the arts need to be celebrated and protected within the British education system.

Many of us have read articles relating to the benefits of studying music. We know that learning an instrument can have a positive effect on a child’s academic achievement, but it can also promote teamwork, camaraderie, and collaboration. One of my favourite events is our annual house singing competition which involves every pupil from Year 3-8. Seeing the whole school enthusiastically united in song is truly wonderful and the event is often cited as a highlight for many pupils. Participation in Young Voices (an annual series of concerts uniting 5000-8000 children each night as choirs in arenas around the UK) creates a sense of excitement and anticipation like no other, and our pupils, staff and parents are left with memories which last a lifetime. In a world that can often feel divisive and disconnected, the arts provide a common ground where individuals can share experiences and connect with one another.

The performing arts also encourage creativity and self-expression. Many pupils arrive at our school with a deep-rooted passion for sport, and all value academic achievement, however, many are hesitant and even downright resistant when encouraged to join an ensemble or production. In my experience, it only requires genuine encouragement and enthusiasm to transform a child’s attitude to the performing arts and we are currently lucky enough to include over 250 pupils in our large end of term concerts. When students are given the opportunity to explore something new and develop skills, it not only helps boost their confidence, but also allows them to develop a sense of individuality and self-worth and provides a unique outlet for stress and emotion.

The government's National Plan for Music Education is an encouraging step towards ensuring schools continue with music provision and it underlines the importance of music in a child's development. However, many agree that there are significant obstacles to overcome. There are questions surrounding whether current funding is sufficient to deliver the aspirations set out by the plan and there is scant mention of how to monitor the quality of the provision being delivered. While there are many music education organisations who are providing excellent services and support, it is by no means universal and there does not appear to be a consistent monitoring system for schools. Providing a varied programme can often be key to enthusing children, and although at our school we are lucky enough to offer pupils access to a host of choirs, orchestras, ensembles, rock bands and solo performing opportunities. For pupils in the surrounding area, we have a newly launched Saturday Morning Music programme. These types of activities can be a fantastic option for parents, but are often expensive both to access and run. We are able to offer a set number of free places for children in families receiving income support. We share our facilities with local primary schools and recently invited several to watch our production of Moana and soon they’ll be returning to watch this year’s production of Matilda. We also visit local care homes and perform to the residents.

The benefits of the performing arts are immeasurable, and we need to work together to ensure that resources and support are available to schools. All children deserve the opportunity to unearth a talent and love for music, drama and dance and the positive impact on their development and life experiences is undoubtedly worth the effort.

Join us for our next Open Day on Saturday 4 March or 13 May to find out more about the arts at Millfield Prep School. Book here.