I arrived in Glasgow four years ago. At this time, my stay was only part-time and I decided to stay longer when I got an offer to take over after a Celtic harp teacher within Glasgow City Council’s schools. Employed just for few months, my contract has then been renewed until the beginning of this year when I signed a part-time permanent contract. Thanks to this professional experience, I discovered a system of teaching music, very different from other countries such as France for example. There is more than one reason to explain it but the most obvious is the system itself: in France, music is taught mainly in music schools – a specific institution – whereas, in Scotland, it is taught in primary or secondary schools.
If at the beginning, only the secondary school pupils were entitled to instrumental music lessons it has now been implemented also in primary schools. To the extent that the instrument is available, the subject is optional and free during the first years of school. From one school to the others, the proposed instruments may vary but one can often choose between the piano, the guitar, percussions (drum kit, marimba etc.), violin, brass instruments… Traditional instruments are also taught such as the Celtic harp1, Scottish pipes, accordion, or voice. Each week, within Glasgow Gaelic School2, about forty pupils learn the Celtic harp in groups of two or three people when they are beginners and in individual lessons for the most advanced.
A well regarded subject
In secondary schools, the end of the second year is a turning point in the pupil curriculum. This is the time when the pupils have to select five subjects within a list (excluding the mandatory subjects, mathematics and English, the Gaelic language is only required in immersion schools). Among the subjects, they can pick history, geography, sciences, home economics, religion, sport… or music. Like any other kind of subject, the decision to keep learning a musical instrument depends on the choice of taking music as a subject and only those pupils are entitled to keep learning music, still for free3. At this time, the pupils start to learn a second instrument and SQA4’s examinations have to be taken at the end of the fourth year. Since the SQA has set up the Standard grades also for the music subject, not only is this subject part of the education system, but the music marks are equal to the other subject marks.
The adaptation of the schools
In a full time contract, a teacher works five days a week for a total of thirty-five hours including twenty-two hours and a half of teaching and the rest for class preparation, pupil evaluation reports, school meetings, etc. The courses start at nine in the morning to finish at three, sometimes four in the afternoon.
The music integration in schools has not been done without adaptation of the entire school system. Fifty minutes is the normal duration of a subject, called period, divided in two times twenty-five minutes. The pupils registered within the Music department take the general subject during half of the period and the instrumental lesson during the other half. In order not to penalise the pupils, the instrumental time schedule is based on a weekly rotation. This means that each week, this schedule will be different in such a way that if the pupils miss half a general subject, it won’t be the same half the next week.
One of the benefits of the pupil distribution between general subjects and music lessons is the smaller size of the classes and, therefore, a better achievement monitoring of the other pupils. According to the system impact studies, missing half a general subject doesn’t affect the pupils taking instrumental lessons, understanding that they easily catch up.
The principle of free lessons for the pupils is the most positive point regarding this system. Music is a subject like any other and no financial contribution is asked of the parents. Since the instrumental lessons are taught during the day when the pupils are in schools, no need for the parents to take them to a music school after the general school. The instruments, in a sufficient number, are not only available for the pupils during their instrumental lessons but also during their free time, so the parents don’t have to purchase an instrument for their child to practice at home. Of course, many of them will buy an instrument as soon as the motivation in learning is strong and obvious.
The presence of musicians is a great opportunity to organise concerts within the school or even abroad, creating events during all the year. The pupils taking part in music competitions will often represent their school with their school uniform. The fact that instrumental lessons are part of the school system and not only in specific schools enables the teachers to evaluate the pupils in a more global context.
A high-performance system threatened
While the UK government is cutting its budget, some councils are thinking to reduce the one for the music in schools or even to remove it totally. All of the councils haven’t yet set up such a system either, making it difficult to see the outlook of it in a long term future. According to the Musician’s Union5, the money invested in arts – music in particular – generates twice more to the State, a financial manna which no one should neglect.
The free instrumental tuitions open to all of the children has had an important impact on the number of musicians in the country which has increased a lot and is followed by a greater demand on instrument making, musical events and a general improvement of the musical level. Quite often, the pupils taking music lessons in schools also take private lessons or are registered in private or public music schools.
This system is an obvious success at the point that the instrumental classes are often full and even have a waiting list sometimes. In the pupil curriculum, the study of a musical instrument also has a very positive impact on the high schools and Universities. Beside the economic benefits of such a system, one can’t remain insensitive to the fact that opening music tuitions erases social disparities. In that matter, this system is well worth considering.
- In Scotland, the Celtic harp is called by its Gaelic name: Clàrsach.
- Sgoil Gaelic Glaschu.
- Some schools have set up paid instrumental tuition for the pupils willing to keep playing but without taking Music as a subject.
- Scottish Qualifications Authority.
- The Musician, Extra, winter 2010, published by the Musician’s Union, London.