The Choir

Last night was the third part of a fascinating TV programme on BBC2 called The Choir. As someone who is interested in teaching, when I first read the description to this programme – how a choir master (Gareth Malone) goes into a school with no previous musical background and creates a choir from nothing to compete in the international choir Olympics… it sounded right up my street. I’m interested in teaching, and music is one of my passions. Plus, I have always secretly wanted to be in a choir. So I watched.

I wasn’t disappointed. The results were an amazing insight into what music can bring, and how the continual focus on tangible results – league tables – in school, and the competition that is now so evident between them, has driven out all of the other important parts of the school curriculum. Music being the first of them, despite the fact that things like choirs, orchestras and bands bring together so many people from all different age brackets. This is so important in schools for the simple reason that there is so much hostility between people of different year groups in school. It’s all artificial of course, but it’s all ridiculous. Musical schemes in particular create a feeling of togetherness that very few other societies can bring – simply because music has such a mass appeal. That was very evident in the programme.

But it also displayed just how lacking in self-confidence so many kids are. People often mistake the arrogant in-your-face attitude of a lot of kids these days as overconfidence, when in fact it is, in fact, a defensive mechanism to protect from rampant peer pressure. So many of these kids have so many different talents that you would have thought it was a school’s duty to try to nurture… but unfortunately, there just isn’t the time or the money, and in a lot of cases, the inclination. It was very obvious that the school featured in the programme didn’t care a jot for music… and I can’t blame them because they know that focus on such activities just doesn’t bring them any noticeable tangible benefit to their league table position. To hell with all the other benefits: the self-confidence, the unearthing of hidden talent, the development of responsibility, the feeling of togetherness, the inspiring of creativity, the knock on effects of having generally happier students who are proud of their achievements and representing their school… it just goes on and on. But on the face of it, they don’t have any impact on the schools GCSE and A-Level results. So why bother?

So in many ways the programme was extremely sad. It was a fascinating demonstration about how more specialists (to teach, as so few teachers can do music) and more focus is needed on projects like this. But it showed that with a bit of graft, and the right environment, an incredible amount can be achieved in such a small space of time. There were real transformations in a number of the children they followed during the series… and to me, that was inspiring. It has, once again, showed me just why it is I want to be a teacher.

It’s a tragedy on so many levels that the country’s educational system has reached this state – that driven by market forces it is throwing away all the other intangible benefits of education, the key among which is inspiring the joy of learning. But what exactly can we do about it?

Some other reaction to the show here and here.

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