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TIM SLATER: School of Rock!? Why Not?

Tim  Slater
TIM SLATER: School of Rock!? Why Not?

In light of the government’s recent climb down regarding dropping music from the school curriculum, Tim Slater asks whether it is still worth teaching music in school at all?

During my time at school only one music lesson really sticks in my mind. It was the day that our music teacher Mr Baines – a youngish man who sported the obligatory 1970’s teacher’s uniform: ginger beard, long hair and John Lennon glasses – brought an electric guitar into school.

My own personal love affair with the six-string was yet to begin but I recall being utterly fascinated as Mr Baines explained what the different parts of the guitar were called and how it worked. When he plugged it in and strummed the opening chords to David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel Mr Baines immediately shot up in my estimation and I duly resolved to stop flicking inky pellets at his back and to take my music lessons more seriously.

I did neither as it turned out but I never forgot that Tuesday afternoon in 1977, whereas I can honestly say that I cannot recall any of the subsequent music lessons during my remaining school years. Not one.
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While it is always nice to see a loathsome snake like Michael Gove forced to take a U-turn regarding his scheme to remove music from the National Curriculum, it does nevertheless raise the question whether music actually deserves to be maintained as a core subject? How music is taught in school has always suffered from one major flaw: it is mind numbingly dull.

Music is a subject that requires both a modicum of talent and interest on behalf of the student and I argue that our current school system struggles to engage and stream those with potential.

Unless you are a single cell amoeba or possibly a One Direction fan, music is an important part of everyone’s life but those from normal backgrounds who take up a musical instrument generally tend to gravitate towards it during their mid-to-late teens, by which time most have picked their GCSE subjects…and how many young people will have had their interest stimulated by school music lessons to make music count towards getting a decent exam grade?

History proves that Britain’s formidable musical and artistic heritage – at least in rock and roll – had nothing to do with kids being encouraged to take part in musical activities during school time. The art school and college scene gave our first generation rock stars the opportunity to get exposed to a sympathetic environment whilst the likes of the Brit School, LIPA and the plethora of contemporary ‘rock school’ type music academies offer fantastic resources to anyone who wants to develop their craft. But it is not school.

I would love to see music really develop as a core subject but whilst Gove’s heart wasn’t in the right place his logic plainly was. A frightening number of kids are still leaving school that can barely read and write whilst the UK continues to drop down the EU literacy and numeracy tables. I am sorry but compared to teaching kids about music, solid maths and English skills have to take precedence.

However, steering kids toward viewing music is a professional career choice rather than a hobby is definitely something that schools should be addressing but whilst our education system and our government view music as a vocation, not a vital life skill, then it will always be under threat from the likes of Michael Gove.

We’ve won the battle but the war to keep music in our schools is a long way from being over. When Mr. Baines demonstrated his electric guitar all those years ago he engaged the dormant musical part of my brain that eventually drew me to enter the music industry whilst all those lessons about Beethoven and Benjamin Brittain failed.

Without a rethink we still could lose it, which would be a damn shame.


Tags: tim slater , michael gove , national curriculum , music lessons

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