The Institute for Education recently released a 181-page report on a study of Musical Futures that they completed over a three year period. The study is ultimately broken down into nine questions all of which present a fairly glowing report. This article is a brief synopsis of the results; there are three further articles which look at the key benefits for each group that was monitored – music teachers, students and non-music teachers.
A Background to Musical Futures and the Longitudinal Study
Musical Futures was initially implemented as an action research project, tasked with finding ways to engage more young people aged 11-19 in sustained music learning. The research was carried out by three Pathfinder Local Authority Music Services who quickly identified two characteristics; informalise the way music is taught and personalise the opportunities on offer.
The Institute of Education’s Longitudinal Study was carried out in seven Musical Futures “Champion Schools” over a three year period starting in 2008 (there were originally eight but one dropped out). During Phase One, 28 music teachers of varying experience with Musical Futures and 297 non-music staff participated and completed a detailed questionnaire. In Phase Two the same questionnaires were completed by 88 non-music staff and 11 music staff. In Phase Three, 54 non-music teachers completed the same questionnaire for a third time whilst the music teachers took part in detailed interviews.
In terms of students, 733 participated in completing questionnaires, of which 299 (41%) were girls and 434 boys. 75% described themselves as white, 13% Asian, 7% black, 5% mixed ethnicity and 1% Hispanic, Arabic or Chinese. 94% were British with the remaining 6% being from a wide range of nationalities. 11% were from Year 7, 49% Year 8, 34% Year 9, 5% Year 10 and 1% Year 11. In Phase Two, 314 questionnaires were completed by students who had participated in Phase One; and of the 387 questionnaires completed in Phase Three, 153 were completed by students for a third time, although 85 of these had dropped music.
A more detailed description of the case study Schools can be found at the end of this article.
What are the perceived strengths associated with Musical Futures?
The Musical Futures programme was found to improve engagement and uptake of musical studies. Students were found to develop a range of learning and performance skills. The schools also reported that due to the flexible nature of Musical Futures, they were able to build Musical Futures into the schools’ overall working ethos.
Teachers reported that Musical Futures allowed greater emphasis on pop and rock music and allowed them to explore more genres of music. They also found they could stimulate greater pride in the students’ sense of achievement and introduce peer assessment. The Musical Futures approaches proved flexible enough to cope with any class size whilst still making individual assessment easier. The perceived strengths of Musical Futures related to breadth, inclusion, interest and motivation, critical skills, instrumental skills, progression, professional development and satisfaction. Most importantly, perhaps, was the improved confidence and self-esteem attained through band work and performance.
The success of Musical Futures was attributed to the opportunities for autonomous working, practical music making, working in groups, learning from each other, engaging in creative tasks and developing listening skills by working with music students had chosen.
What were the perceived challenges associated with Musical Futures?
There was an overwhelmingly positive response to Musical Futures amongst staff and senior management within the Champion Schools. Most difficulties were related to initial anxieties and were resolved through training, support from senior management and the enthusiastic response from the students.
Interestingly, the report found that Musical Futures was frequently misrepresented as proxy for band work despite there never being an exclusive focus on band work being advocated by Musical Futures. It is proposed that the use of Pop and Rock music may have made teaching Musical Futures much easier in many cases, but it was never suggested this would be appropriate in all cases – and may in fact be counterproductive in some cases. The real strategy that Musical Futures was trying promote was to make learning personal and it would seem this snowballed into simply making it popular.
Other challenges that the schools reported were: finding a balance between freedom and structure; allocating the correct focus on practical work; managing practical music making and running a workshop approach; access to resources, instrument maintenance and technical support; over-subscription of courses; health and safety concerns due to moving heavy equipment, trailing cables and the effects of noise; concerns about developing advanced musical skills; concerns about a bias in suitability favouring boys; concerns that students uncomfortable with public performance or on the autistic spectrum may struggle.
Has Musical Futures impacted on teachers’ confidence and professional satisfaction?
The report found strong evidence to suggest that Musical Futures did increase job satisfaction and confidence in teaching music amongst teachers. They also compiled some encouraging statistics on how Musical Futures had:
- Helped them to become more effective teachers (76%);
- Helped them become more confident about teaching music (61%);
- Increased their enjoyment in teaching music (81%);
- Contributed to increased confidence in teaching singing (44%);
- Contributed to increased confidence in teaching instrumental skills (77%);
- Increased their awareness of the music that their students engage in outside of school (81%);
- Increased confidence in facilitating learning in a range of musical genres (62%);
Does Musical Futures impact positively on student motivation, well-being and self esteem?
Both students and staff were in agreement that Musical Futures had a strong positive impact on motivation. Statistically, the study reports that the teachers saw the following improvement in their students:
- Greater enjoyment of music lessons (93%);
- Wanting to do well (93%);
- Good musical performances (89%);
- Good listening skills (93%);
- Positive attitudes towards music (89%);
- Good behaviour in music lessons (89%);
- Working without help from the teacher (77%);
- Working together effectively in music tasks (91%);
- Helping others during the lesson (89%);
- Exceeding expectations with regard to improving their musical skills (81%).
Meanwhile the students reported that they felt the following improvements:
- They worked better in music lessons when they worked with their friends (84%);
- They concentrated better in music lessons than other lessons (46%);
- Music lessons seemed to go more quickly than other lessons (71%);
- Their teacher valued the music that they were interested in (43%);
How might development of self concept amongst Musical Futures students be characterised?
The study found that students believed being musical was something that could be developed rather than an innate talent and Musical Futures students were able to determine where they had made progress and where they needed to improve. Statistically, the study showed the following results:
- 72% of teachers reported that Musical Futures had equipped their students with a wide range of musical skills;
- 73% of teachers reported that through Musical Futures their students were able to fulfil their musical potential;
- 84% of teachers reported that in Musical Futures lessons their students demonstrated that they loved music;
- 72% of students reported that Musical Futures had supported the development of their musicianship;
- 45% of students reported that Musical Futures had helped them to develop a good understanding of a range of musical genres;
- Musical Futures students were facilitated in developing a ‘musician identity’ through opportunities for exploration and performance in music.
The Wider Impact of Musical Futures
The study also looked at the wider impact of Musical Futures and how it helped the students develop as people. Non-music teachers slowly became aware of Musical Futures and noticed the impact that it was having on their students. 83% of non-music teachers said they noticed students were more motivated thanks to Musical Futures, 82% said they noticed an improvement in self-esteem and in confidence. The impact on concentration and organisational skills wasn’t quite as strong, but still, over 50% of teachers felt this had also improved. 69% said they noticed an increase in the students’ ability to work without help and 86% noticed an improvement in working with other people. The study also reported that the success of Musical Futures and the children’s development was influenced by the participation and support of the parents both at home and at school through attending performances.
Improvements in behaviour and attendance were also noted by teachers – especially in students who had poor records and proved problematic in other classes.
From the students’ point of view, one third of the students believed Musical Futures helped them in other lessons – in particular with group activities. Nearly one half of all students reported that they felt more positive about school. 82% of students said that they had learnt to work as a group with 59% reporting they had learnt to help others through Musical Futures.
Progression to Key Stage 4 was also notably improved by Musical Futures, with a higher uptake, improved instrumental skills and higher than average pass rates. In schools where Years 8 and 9 were being taught Musical Futures the results were “substantially higher” at Key Stage 4 in comparison to the national average.
In terms of extra-curricular music learning, students were more likely to take guitar, drums, singing and keyboard lessons and their musical tastes were broadened.
It was also suggested that ‘leadership training’ could help gifted students push themselves by helping those who struggled to engage with Musical Futures.
The schools were selected by Musical Futures to represent a broad cross-section of participating schools.
School A was a ‘Beacon’ school with 1416 predominantly white British students, of whom few are eligible for free meals. The school’s 2011 Ofsted report graded it as satisfactory.
School B was a single-sex Community Comprehensive School with 1447 students aged 11-19, the majority of whom were from black or ethnic minority backgrounds. The school had high numbers of students eligible for free meals and, for many, English was their second language. The school used Musical Futures in Years 8 and 9 to teach music informally through trial and error.
School C was a Specialist Language & Technology co-educational Community Secondary School with 1790 students aged 11-18. The school has few students eligible for free meals or with learning difficulties or disabilities. Nearly all students were from white, British, backgrounds and the school was graded as “outstanding” in 2007. Musical Futures is mainly adopted in Years 8 & 9 and used as an alternative route for students to achieve in music.
School D was a co-educational Community School with 1286 students between ages 11-16. Three quarters of the students come from minority ethnic backgrounds and for more than half the students English was their second language. The school was graded a “satisfactory” in 2010. They used Musical Futures with Years 7-9, using a workshop and band approach.
School E is a co-educational Community Comprehensive School with 1223 students aged 11-18, relatively few of whom are eligible for free meals or from minority ethnic groups. The school was a Specialist Science College and was graded “satisfactory” in 2009. Musical Futures is implemented in Year 9 and is adapted to meet the needs of the school on a yearly basis.
School F was a non-selective co-educational Church of England Secondary School in a selective area with Specialist Visual Arts College status. They had 956 students aged 11-18, the majority of whom were white British. Very few students were eligible for free meals but an increasing number suffered from learning difficulties and disabilities. The school was graded “outstanding” in 2006 and granted Academy status in 2011. Musical Futures was introduced in 2004 and the school has a strong focus on musical performances in assemblies and concerts.
School G was a co-educational community High School and Arts College with 806 students aged 11-16. Almost all the students were white British and from advantaged backgrounds. The school was made a Specialist Visual Arts College in 2004 and has achieved Healthy School and the Artsmark Silver award. The head of music has a strong focus on Musical Futures.