Sue and Pete hold music workshops for toddlers to bring them together through music. (Credit: Srushti Telang)

As a younger kid, most of us were likely made to learn nursery rhymes. Do you remember those piano lessons our parents made us join which took up our play time? Or perhaps you were signed up to the Sunday choir. 

The likes of these activities that were seemingly benign as a child may not have made you a musical genius or an avid music enthusiast. However, plenty of experts would argue that it benefited our development in more ways than one. Even if it’s rather messy, it is one of the first steps for opening doors to children’s creativity. 

One example of such an activity is a weekly music workshop in Bulwell, Nottingham, held by Sue Scargill and Pete Lynn (together, Rainbow Stripes), for children under the age of 5 for just £1. Having been in the music business for over 20 years, the duo strongly believes that music is requisite for all ages, new-born to elderly. 

The £1 workshop for toddlers is funded by Bulwell Forest Garden. (Credit: Srushti Telang)

“Music can cover so many things (in a child’s development) but the socio-emotional aspect to it is the most important,” says 47-year-old Sue, a former nursery nurse. “You can explore feelings, nurture social bonds, and it just gives that feeling of togetherness when you share music.”

The duo are funded by the Bulwell Forest Garden which makes these workshops possible for £1. 

“Pete and I couldn’t have afforded to take our children to music lessons. If you’re on a low budget, that’s not possible for you, so we were always passionate about making it very accessible to every child at minimal payment.”

Sue and Pete work with community venues, which makes their sessions accessible to everyone in the area and brings them together. 

One of the parents at the session, Jo McCarthy, believes the local workshop helps her child with speech and local skills, effectively contributing to an all-rounded education.

Too often, schools and parents lack an immediate understanding of the importance of music education in a child’s development. Being exposed to music at a young age, especially in a preschool setting, has proven to encourage teamwork, empathy, self-confidence, intellectual curiosity as well as improved communication skills.

Evidently, arts education for very young children is crucial but its value is potentially being side-lined further up the age range.

As more priority is given to traditional academic subjects that bring in higher cost, the neglect of arts education, including music, is a concern. 

According to a report by school watchdog, Ofsted, music is now in a steady decline, not only at GCSE and A-level, but also earlier in a child’s education.

Hattie Fisk, editorial assistant at Music Teacher Magazine, argues that the effects of the lack of investment can already be seen. “The decline in students taking Music at A Level or being offered music at their schools at that level – is abundantly clear,” she added.

Chris Walter, the Musicians’ Union National Organiser for Education and Health & Wellbeing, says, “We have seen many secondary school music departments shrink or even vanish. This is hardly going to encourage primaries or early years providers to develop their music offering.”

Walter notes that although there is innovative and high-quality music work with early years – as in Bulwell – this often exists in its own ecosystem with minimal support from the Government.

“Without university arts courses, our world-leading cultural sector is at risk”

And in higher education, the situation is potentially worsening. 

In August 2021, the UK government imposed a 50% funding cut to music education, alongside other arts subjects at university level.

Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, addressed this in the confirmation letter to the Office for Studies (OfS), indicating that these funding cuts will instead be channelled to “high-value” STEM and medicine areas of education adding that arts subjects are “dead end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt”. This would not only put off those from lower socio-economic backgrounds to leave arts subjects but also threatens the value given to creativity in the United Kingdom.

The government’s position is valuing STEM subjects over creative ones. (Credit: @dtruninger via Unsplash)

The Musicians’ Union has spoken against the cuts to arts subjects since they were first proposed last year. 

“Without university arts courses, our world-leading cultural sector is at risk, meaning a potential economic hit to the UK as well as a cultural one,” says MU’s Chris Walter.

It would be fair to say that the catastrophic funding cuts seem unconscious to the extended scope of the imposition while arts education is under crisis. In prospect, the younger children are set to shape the future of the country. A well-rounded education requires arts and music at an early age, which is at risk if the funding cuts to arts subjects are in place. Although support from local communities does plenty in leading the light, it is not enough going forward.

Unless the government changes its tune, it is certain that the country’s cultural status is making its way to detriment.