New research shows that while poorer children are often priced out of learning instruments, school music programs benefit the wider community.
In the UK, years of austerity have chipped away at school budgets, causing the arts to suffer heavily. Today, many schools can no longer afford to employ teaching assistants.
According to Eira Winrow, a PhD Research Candidate and Research Project Support Officer at Bangor University, there is a “huge” economic benefit to children having musical education.
“For every £1 invested in a north Wales community program, we saw as much as £6.69 created in social value. Social value allows us to consider the wider benefits of a program, including those that are not usually valued in pounds and pence,” Winrow wrote in The Conversation.
For 18 months, Winrow and her team worked closely with Raise the Roof, a Welsh community regeneration program set up in 2014. More than 280 children from two socio-economically challenged communities in Gwynedd take part in the scheme, from nursery age through primary school.
The team behind Codi'r To has been working on music projects in the area for several years and recently adapted a Venezuelan program, El Sistema, which seeks to achieve social change through music, and improve educational and well-being outcomes for children.
“These sessions take place during the school day at no cost to the participants. Professional music tutors work with the children and teachers, giving them the opportunity to learn to play brass and percussion instruments,” Winrow explained.
“They can then play in the school orchestra or samba group. Raise the Roof also works to bring live music to the community, and create opportunities for the pupils to perform in public.”
Winrow said her team’s work was focused on producing “a social return on investment evaluation” of the program.
“This measures a wide range of benefits, including social, environmental and economic factors. It identifies benefits for participants as well as those who may be directly affected by the results – the family members, wider school, local community and Raise the Roof itself,” Winrow said.
After identifying the cost of setting up the program, the yearly running costs and putting a value on the time and other inputs from all of the stakeholders, Winrow and her team calculated the social value of every pound invested in it as a ratio of almost 1:7.
Surprisingly, only 48% of the social value generated by Raise the Roof was for the students, while the other 51% of the social value was for family members of the children taking part.
Winrow said this percentage was driven by parents telling them at Raise the Roof brought them closer to the community. The remaining 1% of benefit was divided between the wider school and the community.
“Hans Christian Andersen once said: ‘Where words fail, music speaks’. Perhaps it’s time for less talk and more action when it comes to getting children involved in the arts. The value of schemes like Raise the Roof clearly speak for themselves,” she said.