Layla Moran: We shouldn’t be punishing children for taking part in dance and music

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Back in the day, I used to get permission to be away from school to take part in the local arts festivals. It was good for me to broaden my experience and skills and good for the school to see its pupils win awards and present themselves well.

So I was pretty annoyed to see that the Royal Academy of Dance had complained that the Government’s rules on term time absence from school prevented children from taking their dance exams. From the BBC:

According to RAD exams director Andrew McBirnie, before 2013 ballet exams could be run “during the school day and the student was able to leave a class at say 10 o’clock, do their exam and be back by lunchtime – and that seemed to be a perfectly legitimate activity that the student might be doing as part of their all-round education.

“Increasingly over the last few years… there have been more and more schools saying: ‘No we can’t allow this any more because of this issue with unauthorised absence.'”

Just this week, a study showed the beneficial effects of structured music education on cognitive ability and academic performance:

Structured music lessons significantly enhance children’s cognitive abilities — including language-based reasoning, short-term memory, planning and inhibition — which lead to improved academic performance. Published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the research is the first large-scale, longitudinal study to be adapted into the regular school curriculum. Visual arts lessons were also found to significantly improve children’s visual and spatial memory.

Just like when I was at school in the 80s, a Conservative Government squeezes school budgets and music specialist education is the first to go, as a report in the Guardian highlighted last week.

The director of the Royal College of Music has criticised the “steady decline” of music provision in UK state schools.

Prof Colin Lawson used a speech celebrating Prince Charles’s 25-year association with the school to add his voice to a situation that Andrew Lloyd Webber has called a “national scandal”.

Lawson praised work that has been done to analyse the effect of arts and culture on public health.

The Liberal Democrats have long opposed the limits to term time holidays anyway, but Layla Moran had this to say about today’s reports:

We should not be punishing school children for engaging in extracurricular activities like dance and music – especially when we know these subjects have been cut back in many schools in recent years. We want to ensure that children are able to benefit from a well rounded education, including developing their creative skills.

This shows just how impractical it is to have a blanket rule on term time holidays, and that the current approach can be detrimental to children, preventing them from having other valuable educational experiences.

Head teachers, who are best placed to understand the individual circumstances of their pupils, should be given the discretion to grant children up to ten days of holiday during term time.  We need a much more sensible and even-handed approach to this issue.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Mar '18 - 5:27pm

    It is very beneficial that we see this, from Caron, Layla.

    There are rules, and there are ways to bend them.

    Start by rules making sense, then no need to have to mess about.

    We create systems that only those lacking any creative flair or real imagination would. Sadly too much in public life is organised in that way.

    The arts and culture are referred to as creative industries, because it makes them sound more necessary , according to the Baroness Bonham Carter. What a woeful reason yet she is correct.

    Governments need t focus on well being as much as business, these fields do both , more than most.

    Jo Swinson ages ago talked and wrote eloquently on quality of life as indicator of success.

    We have good policies and very good spokespeople.

  • Ben Rayment 29th Mar '18 - 5:56pm

    I completely agree that the government has got it wrong here. The education of a child should primarily be the concern of the parents and teachers at the child’s school; here a case by case system can be set up between parents and teachers to enhance the individual development of each child.

    Government intervention in this instance is precisely why the Liberal Democrats should be more relevant than ever. To remove unnecessary government intervention and to allow individuals control over their own lives. No politician or civil servant in Whitehall or Westminster will look after a child better that that child’s parents.

  • paul barker 29th Mar '18 - 6:38pm

    I am really glad to see us speaking out on this, reading The BBC report today made my blood boil.
    The Tories are certainly not the only ones to blame, the rot started to set in with Labour under Blair with the elevation of Ofsted. Back around the turn of the Century my Daughters Primary got a bad report, largely on the grounds that they did too much Music. Since then the obsession with “Results”, Grades & Rules has got steadily worse & cuts just add to the pressure.

  • Martin Land 29th Mar '18 - 9:19pm

    Yes, but.. Over the years I’ve had far too many students achieve poorer than expected A level results because of the endless interviews and auditions expected by dance and acting schools and conservatoires. Its a two-way street and both sides need to show more respect to each other.

  • Peter Watson 30th Mar '18 - 11:14am

    Is there any quantification of the problem described in this article? Layla Moran’s response seems to be a bit of a storm in a teacup, over-reacting to something vague and anecdotal. I couldn’t find references to it elsewhere and the BBC article itself states, “The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) says schools too often refuse permission to attend its exams even if pupils will only be away for a couple of hours. Ministers say they support pupils taking arts exams in school hours.” So perhaps a little clarification and it’s all sorted. And let’s not forget that this was a Lib Dem and Tory Coalition measure.

    Meanwhile, a more widely reported study challenges the notion that grammar schools contribute to social mobility and Lib Dems say nothing. The party still seem to persist with an inconsistent and conservative policy of opposing both the expansion and the scrapping of grammar schools.

  • So the real issue here is that schools are not wanting to use their discretion and give pupils authorised absence to attend dance and music exams organised independently of the school. I don’t see a connection between this unwillingness to exercise discretion and provide an authorised absence with the policy over unauthorised absences.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Jul '18 - 11:42am

    The Daily Politics today 3/7/2108 has Ed Vaizey MP trying out a new fashionable dance and some video of the current culture minister Matt Hancock (Con) trying to jump off a wall.
    These things go round in circles. Imagine trying to stamp out a cigarette on the floor while drying your back with a towel. That was The twist, from about 1962, sometimes criticised for being too sexy.

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