Benenden School’s headteacher Samantha Price is fighting the cause to prevent musical education being sidelined in our schools
It’s time to stop considering music in schools as a luxury, Benenden School’s headteacher Samantha Price has said. Describing music as “transformational” to young people, she warned that it was likely to face cutbacks as a lack of funding has left state schools desperately trying to balance their books. “As a nation we cannot afford to regard music as a ‘nice-to-have’ when it comes to the education of our young people,” said Mrs Price, who has been Headmistress at Benenden since 2014.
As she unveiled her school’s new music facilities, which Wealden Times’ Rachel and Emily were delighted to attend, Mrs Price pledged that Benenden would do its best to help any local schools that were struggling to offer music to their pupils, saying that there were some extraordinary examples of partnership working between the state and independent sectors.
Mrs Price delivered her speech in front of an audience of local dignitaries, school leaders and the media in Benenden’s new Centenary Hall, an 800-seat multi-use space. It forms part of the stunning new Centenary Buildings, together with a new music school, The Sir David K. P. Li Music School, which features more than 20 music practice rooms, a music tech suite and a 120-seat Recital Hall for smaller performances.
This year sees Benenden School celebrating its centenary year, having opened in September 1923, and these facilities are a fitting addition to the site to lead the school into its second century. “As a school, Benenden has long been admired for its musical achievements,” says Mrs Price. “Our choir has performed in coveted venues around the world including St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and Notre Dame, while to date we have released two commercial CDs, each to critical acclaim. Our students produce stunning music – but they were doing so from portable cabins and rooms without soundproofing. I deemed music something worth investing in.”
Mrs Price argued that music had a special place for young people, citing some of the benefits of music as boosting wellbeing, community cohesion, academic success and confidence. She referenced the impact on schools of the current tough economic times, with cutbacks having to be made and reports that funds are being diverted to help feed pupils who arrive at school hungry. “Clearly, against this backdrop, it is difficult to make the case for continued investment in Music. And this is a problem that needs to be addressed. If schools are having to make the choice between employing an extra chef or offering Music clubs to their children, then clearly schools are underfunded.”
She pointed out that school per-pupil funding is rising by 1.9 percent next year, while inflation is currently at 10.7 percent, and that by 2024-25, Government schools spending is forecast to be 3 percent lower per head than it was back in 2010. “The new Education Secretary needs to fight to ensure that education is a priority for the Government. If there’s no funding to support essential and transformational subjects such as Music then I fear that education faces a bleak future in our schools, which would be a disaster for this country.”
Mrs Price said that the UK’s internationally renowned creative industries – accounting for more than £116 billion, or 6 percent of the UK economy – had its origins in venues like Benenden’s new facilities, which inspire young people.
“I am acutely aware that I am in the privileged position of being an independent school headteacher, standing in a stunning new multi-million pound building, giving the Government advice on education spending,” says Mrs Price. “Independent schools are undoubtedly better funded than their counterparts in the state sector. The independent sector is an enormous success story for the UK – our independent schools are admired across the globe and contribute £13.7 billion each year to the British economy.
“More importantly, there is no rivalry between the independent sector and the state sector. We can work wonderfully well together. For example, there are more than 11,500 partnership projects between independent and state schools and here at Benenden we are extremely proud of our mutually beneficial relationships with local schools.”
Of the Centenary Buildings, Mrs Price said: “We are proud to have achieved this wonderful facility and we have managed this through careful borrowing and the extraordinary generosity of our patrons.
“We have chosen to invest – both in our school community and in the local community. We have established one of the foremost concert halls and multi-use performance venues in the South East that will benefit generations to come.”
Mrs Price concluded her speech with an offer to local state schools, saying: “If state school cuts do arrive at the door of music departments locally, I want this facility and this school to be able to help. The building we are standing in today represents a vital community asset so if any local schools are struggling with their music provision, I want them to contact us. We will do whatever we can to help.
“This is not just a building for Benenden School. It’s for the community to use. If Music is worth investing in, then the community certainly is.”
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