Thoughts from London

Aatu Mällinen 12.5.2023 Our latest

23rd of February 2023, 8:53 o’clock at The Business Design Centre, London.
People buzzing in excitement. Exhibitors with matching T-shirts debating over final edits to presentations and adjusting roll-ups in their booths. A few muffled guitar chords echoing from the main stage sound check. London Music and Drama Education Expo 2023 is about to start.

And I’m just as excited! I visited a generic education themed expo in Finland just a month before and I’m realising that I have much more in common with these people in London than my fellow Finns in Helsinki. These people are musicians, music educators, facilitators, material manufacturers and even though I’m Finnish, I’m one of them. I’ve lived and breathed the music education scene since 1995 when I started my first piano lessons. Having walked through the path all the way from my local music school to pop and jazz conservatory and university of applied sciences – ending up teaching in both of those schools – I’m pretty familiar with the Finnish music education system. And I can feel that many of these people have very similar backgrounds.

But the expo got me thinking, what actually are the differences between Finnish and British music education?

Generally speaking, music education is all the same, no matter where you are. Professional music teachers harness their expertise to motivate children, to help them appreciate music and learn their instruments. Motivated children learn, and the accomplishments achieved bring immense joy and personal satisfaction; aiding improved mental health and wellbeing.

This creates a positive spiral of enthusiasm and the spiral accelerates children’s development. They learn in far more ways than we can even imagine and all this sets a foundation for a more open, nuanced and colourful future.

But the actual differences I’ve noticed during my rather short stint of working with British music education facilitators go beyond just learning and teaching. They are in organisation, distribution and funding, which obviously impact on the education as well.

Organisation and distribution

The first difference relates to the organisation of the music education providers. In Finland publicly funded music education is provided by music schools which can be found in basically every city or town. There are around 80 publicly funded music institutes, a handful of conservatories and a bunch of private music schools. The publicly funded music schools are divided in charity owned and municipal institutions in a similar way as local authority and charity/trust driven music services in the UK.

Music schools usually have their own settings or venues with their offices and classrooms. Some of them have their own concert halls or they are at least very close to one.

Another difference is in the delivery. In Finland teachers usually deliver 30 to 45 minute individual weekly lessons in their own classrooms, whereas in the UK the lessons are usually delivered as shared 20-30 minute lessons. Finnish music schools also very rarely deliver lessons in local primary or secondary schools, whereas in the UK teachers might travel from one location to another even during a single day. Some music hubs have their own facilities or venues, but the majority of the lessons are delivered in schools.


All the other differences can be explained with funding. In Finland music education isn’t funded on its own but it’s bundled up with other art forms (visual arts, dance and theatre) under “Basic Education in Arts” (BEA). BEA is funded by a government agency similar to Arts Council England (ACE) and the funding is based on the annual amount of lessons (45 minutes) delivered by a school with an average funding allocation of around £75 per lesson.

In 2022 the annual funding for the whole BEA, according to the Finnish National Agency for Education, was 156 million euro (£138 million) and the allocation for music was 141 million euro, which equals £124.8 million. So music schools are the biggest beneficiary among the BEA’s art forms. In total, there are 120,000 students in BEA activities and roughly 60-65,000 of them study music.

In comparison, in 2020-2021 the ACE funding for music hubs was £76 million and during that academic year, ACE reports 484,000 music students having taken individual, large group or small group lessons.

In Finland 65,000 students get £124.8 M which equals £1,920 per student per year. In the UK 484,000 get £76 M which equals £157 per student per year. So, the funding is more than ten-fold in Finland than in the UK and this explains the differences.

Leading a change with data

The gap between the funding allocations is so vast that the approach to music education cannot be the same, but the goals, like a demonstrably equal, diverse and inclusive hobby, expanding number of music students and recognition of music’s long-term impact, can. These goals are also the foundation for the new National Plan for Music education. And in my opinion, the new NPME cannot materialise without reliable data of all factors around British music education.

The ACE funding allocation for Music Hubs is determined by music hub’s annual key figures and KPIs reported to Arts Council England. If we collect this data, compare it to DfE’s national census information and add a touch of location and pupil data, we get answers that could have a significant impact on our business. We’d get to know

  • Which schools should we target to expand our local reach among more diverse economic and ethnic backgrounds,
  • How should we change our offering and delivery to attract the unreached pupils,
  • How much should we invest in work force to expand our reach,
  • How to prove music education’s effect on the local Ofsted rating and pupils’ futures after secondary school.

The combined data also provides clarity on the effectiveness of the regional EDI strategy (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) with a clear view on the local FSM or SEND pupil base.

In other words, more detailed data would show us exactly where to market our services and how to reach more deprived areas within the community, how to change our offering to be more attractive to ethnically more diverse audiences and also how to grow revenue streams to fund the operation. After all, ACE funding isn’t growing unless music hubs reach a bigger proportion of FSM, SEND pupils or ramp up the client base among the local schools.

Elitism in music education

Music still has an unjustified stigma of elitism and expensiveness both in England and in Finland. However, for a Finnish child the annual music lesson expenses rarely meet the averages of sports hobbies. For example, at the Vantaa Music Institute, studying an instrument as one-on-one tuition, music theory and ensemble studies cost £632 per year, while my own son’s football hobby at the local football club costs way over £700 per year. In comparison, at Sheffield’s Music Hub, 40-minute individual piano lessons plus ensembles cost £1,185 per year. (Obviously though, one can take shorter and shared 20-minute lessons for £236 but these two lesson types are by no means comparable.)

Nevertheless, Finnish music schools cannot take advantage of this – quite the opposite actually. Some instrumental teachers seem to grab on to their elitist status as if it would be the declaration of their artistic and bohemian superiority. And I should know – I was one of them. I was willing to teach any student from any background as long as I could teach them one-on-one in my own classroom and didn’t have to do anything extra-curricular. And I have a feeling I wasn’t the only one… Music institutions, on the other hand, limit and control their number of pupils to meet mandatory levels set by public funding regulations. Expanding reach without extra funding isn’t their goal, providing high-level music education is.

In the UK, music education is much more expensive than many other hobbies and therefore the claimed elitism has a point, but there seems to be a much more hands-on or pragmatic approach to the whole thing. Teachers teach where they can, travel between schools during the day if needed and deliver shorter lessons more often to small groups than single pupils.

But the problem is, elitism is the reason for some parents to take their kids to music lessons and also the reason for others not to take their kids even though they could easily afford it. Music hubs should be vocal about the proven benefits of learning music, but the biggest challenge for NPME to succeed is proving these benefits and making people understand them. We music educators know how music can impact a child’s mathematical, spatial-temporal and 21st century skill sets, how practising an instrument alone builds your dedication towards a task and how playing for a live audience from a young age builds your openness as an adult. But for music hub customers, they do not believe these beautiful speeches without proof. They want numbers and graphics.

All the wonderful soundscapes and abstract melodies we comprehend as music… All the ever changing emotions music helps us channel… To be able to teach it to our children, we need structure. And for structure, we need data to make it work.