It’s time to stop considering music in schools as a luxury, a leading headteacher has said.
Describing music as “transformational” to young people, Benenden School’s Samantha Price warned that music was likely to face cutbacks as a lack of Government funding left state schools desperately trying to balance their books.
“As a nation we cannot afford to regard music as a ‘nice-to-have’ when it comes to the education of our young people,” said Mrs Price, who has been Headmistress at the renowned independent girls’ school since 2014.
She also said the Government should “sit up and address” its underfunding of state schools that left music vulnerable – even before the pressures of the current cost-of-living-crisis.
Mrs Price said: “If there’s no funding to support essential and transformational subjects such as music then I fear that education faces a bleak future in our schools, which would be a disaster for this country.”
As she unveiled her school’s new music facilities, Mrs Price pledged that Benenden would do its best to help any local schools that were struggling to offer music to their pupils.
In a wide-ranging speech, she also urged politicians to stop bad-mouthing independent schools.
Mrs Price – last year’s President of the Girls’ Schools Association and this year’s Vice-President – said there were some extraordinary examples of partnership working between the state and independent sectors.
“Politicians need to recognise this,” she said. “Rather than briefing against the independent sector, they should instead be celebrating the incredible benefits that come from the two sectors working together in partnership.”
Mrs Price delivered her wide-ranging speech in front of an audience of local dignitaries, school leaders and the media in Benenden’s new Centenary Hall, an 800-seat multi-use space which has established one of the foremost concert halls in the South East. It forms part of the stunning new Centenary Buildings, together with a new music school – The Sir David K. P. Li Music School – which features more than 20 music practice rooms, a music tech suite and a 120-seat Recital Hall for smaller performances.
This time next year the School will be celebrating its centenary year, having opened in September 1923, and these facilities are a fitting addition to the school site to lead the school into its second century.
Excerpts from Mrs Price’s speech are below.
The Importance of Music
“As a school, Benenden has long been admired for its musical achievements – our choir has performed in coveted venues around the world including St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and Notre Dame, while to date we have released two commercial CDs, each to critical acclaim.
“Our students produce stunning music – but they were doing so from portable cabins and rooms without soundproofing.
“I deemed music something worth investing in.”
Mrs Price argued that music had a special place for young people, saying: “In my view music is not just important in the lives of young people – it can be transformational.” She cited some of the benefits of music as boosting wellbeing, community cohesion, academic success and confidence.
Mrs Price continued: “Therefore, as a nation we cannot afford to regard music as a ‘nice-to-have’ when it comes to the education of our young people.”
State Schools Funding
Mrs Price referenced the impact on schools of the current tough economic times, with schools having to make cutbacks and reports that schools are having to divert funds to help feed pupils who arrive at school hungry.
She said: “Clearly, against this backdrop, it is difficult to make the case for continued investment in Music.
“And this is a problem that the Government needs to sit up and really address. If schools are so poorly funded that headteachers are having to make the choice between employing an extra chef or offering Music clubs to their children, then clearly schools are underfunded.”
Mrs Price pointed out that school per-pupil funding is rising by 1.9 per cent next year, while inflation is currently at 9.9 per cent, and that by 2024-25, Government schools spending is forecast to be 3 per cent lower per head than it was back in 2010.
She said: “The new Education Secretary is the ninth person to hold that post in just 12 years. He needs to fight to ensure that education is a priority for the Government and not a political tool to be used when the Government feels like it.
“If there’s no funding to support essential and transformational subjects such as music then I fear that education faces a bleak future in our schools, which would be a disaster for this country.”
Mrs Price said that the UK’s internationally renowned creative industries – accounting for more than £116 billion, or 6 per cent of the UK economy – had its origins in venues like Benenden’s new facilities, which inspire young people.
It’s Time to Stop the Criticism of Independent Schools
Addressing head-on any criticism that is frequently aimed at the independent sector, Mrs Price said: “I am acutely aware that I am in the privileged position of being an independent school headteacher, standing in a stunning new multi-million pound building, giving the Government advice on education spending. I know full well how this will be interpreted in some quarters. Independent schools are undoubtedly better funded than their counterparts in the state sector. Yet that is not the fault of the independent schools but of decades of insufficient investment in the state sector.
“It’s time we stopped the narrative that independent schools are somehow a source of the problems this country’s education system faces. The independent sector is an enormous success story for the UK – our independent schools are admired across the globe and contribute £13.7 billion each year to the British economy.
“More importantly, there is no rivalry between the independent sector and the state sector. We can work wonderfully well together. For example, there are more than 11,500 partnership projects between independent and state schools and here at Benenden we are extremely proud of our mutually beneficial relationships with local schools, some of whom I am very pleased to say are represented here today.
“Politicians need to recognise this. Rather than briefing against the independent sector, they should instead be celebrating the incredible benefits that come from the two sectors working together in partnership. There is a huge amount of partnership work going on already and the independent sector can help to subsidise essential activities like music – and this is happening already. So please can this start to be publicly celebrated and actively encouraged by the Government.”
Benenden’s New Facilities
Of the Centenary Buildings, comprising the 800-seat Centenary Hall plus a Music School featuring more than 20 practice rooms and a smaller 120-seater Recital Hall, Mrs Price said: “We are proud to have achieved this wonderful facility and we have managed this through careful borrowing and the extraordinary generosity of our patrons.
“We have chosen to invest – both in our school community and in the local community. We have established one of the foremost concert halls and multi-use performance venues in the South East that will benefit generations to come.”
Helping State Schools
Mrs Price concluded her speech with a bold offer to local state schools, saying: “If state school cuts do arrive at the door of music departments locally, I want this facility and this school to be able to help. The building we are standing in today represents a vital community asset so if any local schools are struggling with their music provision, I want them to contact us. We will do whatever we can to help.
“This is not just a building for Benenden. It’s for the community to use.
“If Music is worth investing in, then the community certainly is.”
See Benenden School’s online listing here.