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Lessons in music and education from Finland

by Graeme Smith, Head of Croydon Music and Arts, Treasurer of Federation of Music Services

Member of Music Manifesto Partnership and Advocacy Group


Investment in music and cultural education in Finland and its place as the top performing country for educational attainment of 15 year olds in reading, maths and science is no coincidence.  That was my conclusion after spending two days in Finland visiting schools and music schools, talking to key music educators and studying information about the Finnish education system.


In Finland the key to the link between music and cultural education and educational attainment is that across all Finnish education there is a focus on Finnish culture.  From history to home economics the national curriculum in Finland stresses the importance of studying Finnish culture, other cultures which have influenced Finland, and other cultures from around the world.  The sense of identity this gives to people living in Finland is a major factor in promoting confidence and achievement in a nation which has historically been overshadowed by its much larger neighbours.


In the UK we tend to use the arts to teach about different cultures.  It is time we developed a more positive approach to giving young people a cultural identity.  This will also improve community cohesion in multi cultural Britain.  To enjoy and value other cultures we must first value the culture of our own heritage.  That is true whether a young person’s cultural heritage is from a region in England or from another part of the world or a mixture.


We already know how music and the arts can contribute to young people’s development.  They can learn vital personal, social and educational skills to enable them to achieve.  Through the arts young people can explore challenges and adversities in life, understand them better and take strength from coping with them.  Young artists can make a positive contribution to their communities.  Investing in arts education will build resilience in vulnerable young people, reduce youth crime and disorder and reduce the number of NEET young people (Not in Education, Employment and Training).  Investing in arts education will save money.


This is well understood in Finland.  An international study of arts education in more than sixty countries found that Finland has far more arts education than any other country.  Finnish music schools have more than five times the funding from central government compared to music services in England, and more than eight times the funding from Finnish municipalities than music services receive from local authorities in England.  Yet the overall spending on education in Finland is very similar to here.


Let us use music and cultural education to give our young people their own cultural identity and the confidence, self esteem and aspiration which goes with it.  Let us use music and cultural education to enable our young people to achieve as highly as the highest performing nations in the world.


The full-length article can be downloaded here:  Lessons in music and education from Finland



Impact Evaluation of Wider Opportunities Programme in Music at Key Stage Two

Wow it’s music next - Executive Summary - download here

Wow it’s music next - full report can be downloaded here

Ten years ago who would have thought that every child would have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument during their time at primary school?  It seemed to be an impossible dream.  We had insufficient teachers, instruments and money to even consider such an undertaking - although many people thought it a good idea.  Yet now, with the combined vision of the government, the music services and local authorities, together with schools and teachers, the programme ‘Wider Opportunities in Music’ is well on the way to making it happen.


This vivid research report, written by Professor Anne Bamford and Paul Glinkowski, tells us very clearly about the impact of the programme – how, at its best, it can transform the lives of children, giving them a sense of pride and achievement, whilst providing them with a real opportunity to learn an instrument in a large group.  This programme is about giving a child the opportunity, indeed the entitlement, to learn an instrument for a year – free of charge – and then giving them the choice of whether to continue or not.


In my rôle as the Music Director of the Hallé I have always been passionate about enabling music – in all its forms – to be part of a child’s early life.  I am conscious of all those who may have talent but have not had the same opportunities as I did to make a career in music.  This report tells us that we have made a superb start in offering instrumental tuition to everyone, but it clearly sets out how we need to continue the investment, especially in tackling the real challenge of how children progress beyond the first year.


It tells us that we have started something which we must continue – for the sake of all children and the musical life of our country.

Sir Mark Elder CBE

Music Director, the Hallé Orchestra


Wow it’s music next! press release January 2010

Wow it’s music next - research key findings