Seanad debates

Thursday, 4 February 2010

12:00 pm

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this Adjournment matter and the Minister of State for coming to address it. Given his background, he might recognise the value of music in the classroom. Unfortunately, the reality is that many do not realise the music in the classroom programme has more than the capacity to teach them to play an instrument leading to a particular qualification. Therefore, I wish to refer to what is happening at St. Agnes's national school in Crumlin under the great direction and leadership of Sr. Bernadette Sweeney. Joanna Crooks and others also volunteer and give of their time. In St. Ultan's national school in Cherry Orchard every child must learn how to play the violin. Everyone was told he or she had to learn how to play because it stopped one person from mocking another and that if everybody had to do so, everyone was equal. RTE made a series of programmes about the scheme, the last of which was shown this week. The president of the international creative arts society is an Irishman, Mr. Michael Burke, who brought a team to see the school in action. The goal is not to produce little musicians. Sr. Bernadette was unable to attend a conference in Malta recently because the orchestra which does not comprise hand-picked musicians but everyone in the school was playing for the President.

I am rasing the issue because the community has seen the effects beyond the learning of music in terms of increased discipline, self-respect, self-confidence and the potential of children to be more than they and their families would have expected. The programmes show the difficulties of discipline evident in any classroom in any part of the country gradually being addressed. One sees the project in action and the progress which has been made, as well as children leaving primary school for secondary school.

I understand the project is helping in the development of the community and that people such as old age pensioners and others not connected with the school are involved. It is an example which the Government should examine, through the Department, to evaluate what is being done. I am told the overall cost of the project is some €23,000. Trying to deal with discipline in the Department of bad children, as some of the predecessors of the Minister of State might have called it, is difficult. If one is able to intervene with a whole-school cost of €23,000 and yield the results which, anecdotally, seem to have been achieved in St. Agnes's school and in Cherry Orchard, we must try to embrace the great opportunity presented by creating a role model to be introduced throughout the country.

We should hold on as much as possible to the volunteering aspect of the programme and try to maximise the involvement of the Arts Council and other agencies. However, as a musician, I do not see why a musician should have to voluntarily provide services in a school. We often underestimate the value of musicians and artists. It is very important, therefore, that it is not taken for granted that a person can play an instrument and go and transform an entire school. Such projects should be centrally funded and supported, but the cost should not be inflated to an incredible figure.

I hope the answer to the matter I raise is that this is a good project, that it is recognised as such and that the Department will evaluate it in order that it can be rolled out to other parts of the country. It cannot be rolled out immediately to all parts because we do not have a sufficient number of musicians ready to walk into a classroom. We should work with IMRO and others to achieve the maximum from minimum resources.

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe.

I am very aware of the excellent work being done by the school in question using music as a key vehicle to promote inclusion and effective learning. I congratulate it on its work in this area. Music helps children to respond creatively, express feelings and interact with others, as well as inculcating an appreciation of beauty and art. It supports the development of communication, co-ordination, numeracy, creative skills, social skills, team work and leadership skills, as well as promoting a child's self-esteem and enjoyment of learning.

Music is a core part of the arts curriculum in all classes in primary schools and comprises listening and responding, performing and composing activities. Rather than providing subject-specific grants, the Department provides an overall capitation grant towards the running costs of schools. The school capitation grant can be used for the purchase of resources to support any aspect of the curriculum, including music. Substantial additional grants are paid on top of this under the DEIS action plan on social inclusion and under the school completion programme for a flexible menu of measures to address disadvantage.

Schools have discretion as to how best to spend these funds within a framework of guidelines set out by the Department. The guidelines provide that funding may be used on initiatives to support retention, support and engage parents and the wider community, in co-operation with the youth sector, to promote cross-curricular literacy initiatives, music, dance, drama, as well as social, sport and leisure activities which impact on children's learning. These measures are all important in encouraging parental involvement and motivating children to attend school and experience success in learning. The music education projects in these schools, which are in DEIS and the school completion programme, fall well within the parameters of what can be funded under those programmes. Other than those additional resources to schools designated as disadvantaged, the Department is not in a position at this time to provide additional funding to support orchestras in primary schools.

The Department supports music as a subject at both junior and senior cycle level and provides teachers for this purpose. In addition, an allocation of the equivalent of 93 whole-time teaching posts is allocated to a range of VECs to support music education. This takes the form of individual tuition in instrumental and vocal music education and provision of supports for choirs, orchestras and ensembles. Through this some 68,000 hours of music tuition are provided annually for pupils at varying ages, including those of primary school age. The Department is also funding two pilot programmes in Dublin City and Donegal VECs which are promoting music education partnerships along the lines recommended in the Music Network report.

Last year the Minister announced a major initiative to expand music education. A partnership between U2, Music Network, the International Fund for Ireland and the education sector will enable a series of music network partnerships to be established around the country on a phased basis to provide vocal and instrumental music tuition for young people. The initiative has been made possible by a donation of €5 million from U2, and a commitment from the Ireland funds to raise €2 million. These contributions will fund the initiative in the early years of development, with the intention that programmes will be continued into the future with Exchequer funding when the donations cease.

Music Network is managing the overall initiative and is currently recruiting a project manager for the scheme. When the administrative arrangements have been put in place it is intended that Music Network will invite proposals for the establishment of area based partnerships which will provide vocal, instrumental and orchestra tuition for young people. The aim of the initiative will be to expand such partnerships throughout the country on a gradual basis.

Managed by Music Network, proposals will be invited on the basis of competitive tender. Local interests which include, for example, one or more local VECs and-or local authorities, local private music schools, parents groups etc, will be invited to bid for a three year subsidy to provide for the costs of teachers and local administration. It is unlikely that individual schools will be funded, but rather that an area-based service would support tuition in a wide range of locations including schools. An expansion of music education partnerships by Music Network will be rolled out over the period 2010-13 and it is possible that schools may benefit from this in the longer term.

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue.

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for the comprehensive reply. However, it ignored the actual question, which asked for an appraisal of a particular school because funding is always geared and prioritised according to facts. If a formal appraisal were done of a real project, with real criteria and goals, we might then create a very strong case that this type of approach is better than another.

I appreciate the great work done by Music Network and the enormous amount of work that goes on around the country with the current budget. By background I am a musician and nobody pushes this more than I do. I reiterate my request for an appraisal of the specific project so we might use it as a benchmark and move further.

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I undertake to bring the matter to the attention of the senior Minister, Deputy O'Keeffe. I am sure an appraisal formed part of the setting up of the partnerships and the music networks. Nevertheless, the Senator makes fair points and I shall inform the Minister of them.