Open Letter to Anonymous Head Teacher

Dear Sir,

In response to your recent letter to parents at you school where you state:

Could I please point out that while listening to music might be your hobby, for many who work in the music industry it is a profession. Indeed for many who work in the industry of the arts it is a profession.

The statement in your letter only illuminates your own ignorance. It also saddens me, as over 30 years ago I was told by my headmaster that I could not make a living as an artist, but that it was a good hobby for me to pursue in my married life. He went on to inform me that girls only went to art college to look for a husband, which seemed a complete failure of logic, for why, if you wished to find a husband to earn a living so you could pursue your hobby would you choose to hunt one down in a place where you can’t make a living? But I digress.

Sir, the music industry in the UK brings in an estimated 690 million pounds. How this is assessed I am not sure, for music does so much more than just provide a living for many people.

But the main point that you are missing I fear is that education is not meant to be a process a child is passed through, like meat in a sausage factory, to emerge at the other end with certificates and employability. Education is a powerful thing, and music teaches people how to collaborate, it teaches a sense of time, it teaches patience, it teaches listening skills, it broaden understanding of wider subjects, so many things, too many to list. Music is not something that is often done in isolation. It’s about learning to communicate, to share space, both physical and sonic. It’s about knowing when to speak, to sing, to play and when to be silent. it’s about finding a voice, being heard.

We don’t have to look far to see what happens when people are unable to co-operate and listen, and think in creative ways.

Those who do not wish to make a living in the music industry can benefit in so many ways also.

As a teacher, and a head teacher, you should be supporting the education of all your pupils and their access to music, not just the few who can afford to take private lessons after school.

A failure to do so is a dereliction of your duty, and were I to give you a school report I would say ‘could do better’.

My old headmaster is dead now ( nothing to do with me), so he did not live to see that I could indeed make a living as an artist, and whilst there were indeed many handsome young men at art college many of the women I was at college with were there to seek an education, and not a husband.

Yours, completely unbelieving that 30 years on this can still be an issue.

Jackie Morris

See Guardian Education article re letter to head. And, if anyone reading this has a child at the school in question please print off letter and take in for headmaster ( assuring him first that my headmaster died of old age, and it was nothing to do with dragons)

My thanks to Dr Adam Rutherford for highlighting this article on twitter. One day we should talk of what happens when artists and scientists work together.

Ps, to all children who are told by ‘grown-ups’ that you can’t make a living in the arts, this is nonsense, and grown ups don’t always, or in some cases, often, know what they are talking about.

To all young musicians, you need to join the Musicians Union so that you can have contracts checked. And also, do take a look at the work of Help Musicians, a charity who fund music lessons, instrument costs, start ups, who have mentor to help you navigate through the tides and turns of currents of what is a fierce industry. And know that if you choose to follow your heart, you may need to get a part time job to help support your dream, you might always need one, BUT you will have spent your days doing something you love. And that is everything.

About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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12 Responses to Open Letter to Anonymous Head Teacher

  1. Patrick Goff says:

    As someone who has trained as a fine artist I have made a good living in the visual arts for 50 years. I have met this attitude most recently at a Christmas p[arty where a father was boasting of having persuaded his daughter to choose business studeis rather than a career in art and design. I succeeded in turning him bright pink aided by a teacher from a local school. The arts are about the soul and the headmaster sounds like he has no spiritual life in him and is not fit for office

    • Jackie says:

      So many people, for so many years. And who do they think designs everything they sit on, drive in, eat off?
      The arts is a fantastic industry to work in, but it’s not easy and it takes its toll.
      My tolerance of numpties has been eroded over the years.

  2. Mick Canning says:

    It’s awful. It almost feels like further evidence that our education system is intended only to produce robots that can earn money. No wonder subjects such as the arts and geography and history find themselves fighting for funding, while science, mathematics, and business studies have it chucked at them. Sigh.

    • Jackie says:

      I’m not sure science does. Thing is, this splitting of subjects is ridiculous. Music and maths sit hand in hand, as do arts and science. And music and history too. And part of the reason we are in the shit we are in must be because history is taught so poorly in private schools.

    • Elke says:

      Our society is producing sad people who consuming! Looking constantly for happiness in buying something. That is our century know. Other wise this society could not survive! But you can see a change already, even in younger people. You can even see that the governments, lobbies, big companies are not happy with this movements……so still trying to control the school, teachers, and the churches…..and the rest of the world. Just look closely, you can see the change everywhere! Even well known brain scientists from Germany talk about this change in humans.

  3. Elke says:

    Thank you very much for this great letter!!!
    Almost all of us where squished in something we didn’t want to do. Just to please our parents or to fit into society! But the time is changing know, you can see it everywhere, and it is good so. So many adults are unhappy, stressed out because they stuck in an unfulfilled life! And I am one of them who always tried to do the best out of the situation and to please the others. And believe me it is not working!
    Even with almost 55 years I learnt, you have to follow your heard, because this is the only way to be successful and “happy and healthy”!

  4. Mr.Tom says:

    Guess you folks aren’t actually working on the education frontline. I am.
    Before I offer a different view, I would like to say I think we should be able to nurture talent and aspirations in partnership with parents/ careers etc.
    However, education is in crisis. With increasing demands from parents and authorities, decreasing staff numbers, budgets and ( more importantly ) the massive increase in Additional Learning Needs pupils I think folk should shoulder some of responsibility for their own kids.
    Before blaming educators, how about folk try the job ? We are as frustrated as you but carry the can for historical, governmental , parental and social failings.
    How about you support us instead of criticising ?
    Thanks for reading.
    P.S. we do it for your children, not the abysmal wage and lack of respect

    • Jackie says:

      Not criticising those who know, just this one teacher. Also, yes, I’ve been in schools and seen the burden placed on teachers, I’ve seen the numbers leaving, having to take time off on sick leave and I also realise that teachers aren’t in it for the money.
      It’s so hard to see the passionate educators being bound by testing, testing and trying to cope with idiotic demands of politicians, who know very little about how teaching works.
      I’ve been in great schools, where teachers engage, are interested. I’ve also been in broken schools, where teachers either sit and mark work while I am doing my talks, or walk out and leave me to mind the class.
      I have tremendous respect for teachers, it’s not a job I could do. And the lack of understanding from other professions as to how hard you have to work is quite shocking.
      But, in this case, the head teachers decision is worth calling out and criticising. Not the profession, just the one person, man or woman, whoever they are.
      I hope that together we can make a better environment for teachers and for children, because what I see in schools is a mental health crisis building. So much testing.
      Good teachers know and understand their pupils.
      The crisis in funding is also shocking.

  5. Bernie Bell says:

    Indeed, Jackie – it started in the ’80’s, when the education cuts really started – they started with the arts.
    And, indeed, there shouldn’t be divisions between the arts & the sciences, as – “All are one, and one is all”.
    And, while on that subject – Robert Plant’s Dad wanted him to be an accountant – steady job – and he started to train, then he packed it in, and, as they say, the rest is history.
    And, there’s another one – History – where does learning history get us? Except maybe a bit of insight into maybe why things happened, and maybe, how to avoid them happening again? Maybe?
    Maybe not as ‘useful’ as……Business Studies (whatever that is), but, in the long run……….. there’s still time to change the road you’re on (Mr Plant, again).

  6. Deborah Texeira says:

    I too read about this Headteacher on Twitter this week. As a Assistant Headteacher in a large primary school in a town which feeds a wide demographic my heart sank! I have been teaching now for 16 years in both Independent and State schools with pupils up to the age of 18. In all of the schools the Arts particularly Music has been a vital part of school life, both curriculum and extra curricular. So much so my current school dedicated a whole year to Music and the importance it has to enhance children’s lives. This year has been dedicated to the Arts as a whole including drama, poetry and the appreciation of art. Not all children are academic, I personally supported a young boy of 15 who had severe SEND and was not able to take any public exams due to many issues. However he did show an amazing talent for Music and could sight read and play the piano beautifully. He did eventually take GCSE Music and achieved an A* which he and his parents were incredibly proud of. He went on to HE to take a foundation course in Music Production. I’ve worked in inner city Birmingham in a school where the children were mainly refugees, families who had escaped war to make a better life for themselves. All children in this school were given the opportunity to learn an instrument, be it violin, guitar or brass. These lessons were free and instruments loaned to the children. These children who came with nothing found a love for music which could lead lead them to better life opportunities. We took these same children to the Barbican in London to take part in a Gala concert which showcased over 500 children all from deprived families. The joy and self belief that these children gained was amazing. We ran two week residentials for children who showed a particular talent for an instrument, these too were fully funded. Many of these children have gone onto study music at top universities gaining scholarships.

    I now teach Reception children aged 4/5 year olds. They are exposed to music everyday, be it singing, dancing or just listening. As a child we lived in a two up two down, money was scarce but we had a piano in the front room. My late father was a musician, music was his life! He wanted my brother and me to be musical, he got lucky with my brother who could play anything but I was not so great but I now have learnt to play the violin alongside my primary pupils!

    So dear HT who made this awful statement, yes as an educator we have the pressure of results and performance and inspections and all the other crap that we have to deal with but taking away Music from our children is like draining the colour from their lives!

    • Jackie says:

      That made me cry a little.
      I guess he wasn’t taking the music away, but making it difficult for those working through grades to take time out of school. And also suggesting that music isn’t a profession, but a hobby. I still get it, so many years on, that heart sinking statement about how lucky I am to make a living out of my hobby. Well, indeed, it is why I have taken up brain surgery in the form of writing,in order to help people to understand.
      There are so many professions in the arts. More than most of us can imagine.
      And also school isn’t the end of education. You can change your path. My daughter moved towards the arts, decided it was not for her, retrained first with the Open University, then campus based and is right now sailing down a river estuary in America out into the ocean to search for whales, with national Geographic and Song of the Whale. Biology lessons at her school consisted of copying out of the school textbook.

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