The Love of Learning

What are we doing to our young people? Testing them until the joy is out of learning and school is just one tick box after another. The head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, said

The regular taking of test papers does little to increase a child’s ability to comprehend.

We have completely the wrong approach to learning. We need holistic education for our young people, encompassing the widest range of subjects, building character and instilling the love of learning.

This includes the arts. When I was 11, we moved to Missouri. I started at a new junior high school (years 6-7 in the English system) which had a school band. Up to that stage I had played a bit of piano and sung in the church choir. The music teacher asked if I’d like to learn the clarinet as he needed more players in his band. Within three months I was sitting 2nd chair in the clarinet section. I would never have learned an instrument if it hadn’t been for the opportunity at this state school. I remember my parents, who were on a tight budget, scraping money together for some private lessons later that year, costing $4 a lesson.

Years later, I’m a professional musician, wondering where the next generation of musicians is coming from. We need music, and all the arts, as an integral part of our schools. The economic argument is obvious – the creative industries contribute £87.4 billion per year to the economy. We would be denuded as a society without the undergirding of the arts which permeate and enrich our lives.

But I wish to make the moral argument, bringing me back to the opening point of school being too much about testing. Having an arts-inclusive curriculum builds a well-rounded intellect. The brain, when it has to marry the left and right halves in analysing and performing a piece of music, develops physiologically. Attention spans are lengthened when one learns to concentrate on playing your part in a band. Aesthetic awareness is broadened, that life is not about ticking boxes but about beauty, relationships and creativity. Learning to sing together builds community and teaches young people to work together. We learn that coming together produces something more wonderful than striving alone.

And finally, the effects of the arts on well-being and mental resilience are strongly established. If we want to improve the mental health of our young people, putting arts back as a central focus in our schools will result in a healthier, happier and more balanced younger generation.

The stress caused by exams is already well documented. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Liberal Democrats can lead on developing a broad curriculum which encourages creativity and develops the person. Let’s do it!

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Evershed 12th Oct '17 - 6:39pm

    The head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, also said

    “Of course, the curriculum doesn’t just mean a set of national curriculum or GCSE subjects, important as these are. It also means what is snappily titled: ‘spiritual, moral, social and cultural development’.

    And, within that, one area where there is room to improve is the active promotion of fundamental British values in our schools. Recent attacks in Westminster, London Bridge, Manchester and Finsbury Park have brought into stark relief the threats that we face.”

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Oct '17 - 6:49pm

    It’s fine to defend the arts but we need a significant amount of exams, even in the arts. In languages, for instance, how do we measure progress without exams? Teacher assessments? That becomes an exam itself and self-assessment has little credibility.

    Perhaps we could opt for more “tests” and “quizzes” rather than exams. The difference being that tests and quizzes don’t suffer a big penalty if the person fails, but they still measure progress.

    In the adult world we need to keep the rigour of exams, but “tests” and “quizzes” have their place for children (and adults too!).

  • Christopher Haigh 12th Oct '17 - 7:39pm

    ‘Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift’ Bob Dylan (subterranean homesick blues 1965) What a prophet ! What a joyless society schools must be without sport music and the arts and the development of a love for lifelong learning.

  • Kirsten johnson 12th Oct '17 - 8:05pm

    Thank you for reading – I would much rather have a system of quizzes and tests-as-you-learn than exams. I never took a graded music exam, and my daughter, who learns flute, stopped exams after Grade 2. She continued with lessons, just not exams, as they were taking away the joy of learning. She is now playing at a Grade 5 level. I think the same applies for academic subjects: if the emphasis is on achieving a certain mark in an exam, and not on the joy of learning, we are getting it wrong.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Oct '17 - 12:05am


    As a fellow professional in and lover of , the arts and creative industries, this is very welcome.

    I would be very interested to know if you stopped the grades , did you study at an academy or were you one who learned on the job ?

    We as a party need to develop here in a unique way as the party for each unique individual , that also understands community need not be conformity.

  • Kirsten johnson 13th Oct '17 - 8:09am

    Lorenzo – As a high school student, I entered competitions and played recitals. I then studied music at university, and have a doctorate in music. See

  • Peter Hirst 13th Oct '17 - 5:37pm

    It must be possible to mix arts and sciences for most people. Whether it is the science of movement or creative thinking in physics, we benefit from a complementary approach. Enjoying learning demands widening horizons and some teaching for most.

  • Steve Trevethan 13th Oct '17 - 6:05pm

    Thank you for a most interesting post!
    The performing arts are central to a commercially sound and democracy enabling curriculum.
    Provided that one has personal hygiene under control, the most important aspect of a commercially successful life is to be able to present yourself and what you are promoting to a high standard.
    Drama and music teach how to do this in an exciting way. Students will bust a gut to learn when they are motivated and have the superb stimulation of live performance.
    The arts are not an extra, they are the core for they teach confidence and means-end motivation.
    The emphasis put on performances skills, not least public speaking, at public schools shows this.
    If it suits those aiming for power or power retention then we all need it!
    State education which is viewed as a low -cost, just enough-to- get- by activity to produce a low price biddable work-force and an easily led populace is an inefficiency and a deceit.

  • I wonder if this is how, for example, Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School, or Dixons Trinity Academy see things:

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