I was reminded by Michael Cope’s recent column “Pupil Exclusions – Forgotten Children” where he rightly refers to the need for support for persistently disruptive and violent students, of the work of a Welsh teacher some years ago who experimented with playing classical music quietly in the background during her lessons with a particularly disruptive class of boys.
She found that the music, quietly accompanying her teaching, had a dramatic effect on the boys’ behaviour. She then took the experiment one step further to see if any particular composer had a greater impact than that of other composers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she found that the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a more profound effect than that of other composers.
If you have seen the stage production or the film of Amadeus by Peter Shaffer you will know that Mozart was a particularly difficult person often spouting bad language and making inappropriate utterances. It was postulated that he suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological condition which is characterised by involuntary movements and verbal tics, including uttering inappropriate words, throat clearing or sniffing etc.
The suggestion has been made that Mozart was using the composition of his glorious music whether opera, orchestral, chamber or piano as a form of therapy for his condition and that this same “therapy” was having a beneficial effect on the badly behaved boys in the Welsh classroom.
I am a lover of classical music, to which I was introduced at a very early age when taken to concerts at Marlborough College. I will never forget hearing the tenor Peter Pears being accompanied by the composer of many of the songs he sang, Benjamin Britten on the stage of the Memorial Hall. Later, choral singing became, and still is a particular passion.
It seems tragic that so little classical music is taught in schools, which is hardly the fault of the teachers but rather caused by the imposition of particular educational policies by Government Ministers.
This was brought home to me most directly in 2011 at a meeting with Nick Gibb, the Minister for Schools - a post he holds to this day. We were attempting to persuade him that pupils should leave school with an understanding of the global context in which they are living and would be working. One way of introducing them to that global world was by creating partnerships between schools in UK with schools in e.g. Asia, Africa, Caribbean etc whereby students could undertake joint curriculum work together, skype calls to each other and even undergo pupil and teacher exchanges.
This conversation was taking place two years after the Coalition Government had withdrawn £25m ‘Development Awareness Funding’ introduced by Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development in the Labour Government, for a “Global School Partnerships Programme” a programme whose impact had been well assessed and found to have a very positive effect on both students and indeed teachers whose professional development was enhanced by the partnership.
After we had made our pitch for the re-introduction of this funding, the Minister turned to the group of us present and said – I quote verbatim – “As far as I am concerned, education is about academic standards! And I don’t like this proselytising!”
Sadly, playing in the school orchestra or brass band, competing in a football match, performing in the school production of Twelfth Night, and generally taking part in team events has apparently nothing to do with academic standards and yet in a study by the New Economics Foundation into wellbeing in schools it was found that there was a direct correlation between wellbeing amongst students and the amount of team activity that was being undertaking in those schools.
What was that Madison James was writing in marlborough.news about the impact of exam pressures on mental health amongst the young...?
I rest my case.