Four-year research project identifies links between music and attendance, as well as personal and social development.

Youth Music urges complete transformation of music in schools. Grime, electronic music and hip-hop are still absent from most classrooms, but could transform lessons – with help from music industries.

Government should protect music in schools by ensuring pupils receive minimum of one hour per week.

National charity Youth Music is calling for an urgent transformation of music in schools, to shake up the way it is perceived and taught, following a major four-year research project. The study found more inclusive music-making can help improve levels of attendance among disengaged pupils, while supporting their personal and social development.

Published during the charity’s 20th anniversary year, Youth Music’s Exchanging Notes research report was produced in collaboration with Birmingham City University and funded by the National Lottery via Arts Council England. The research tested new methods of delivering music education for young people in schools, through collaboration with music organisation partners.

Recognising that young people’s interest in current music genres – such as grime, electronic, and hip-hop – are not widely reflected in the curriculum, Exchanging Notes used young people’s personal music interests as a starting point. It also involved the music industry and local music-making projects to excite and engage participants.

Matt Griffiths, CEO of Youth Music said: “Evidence shows that music-making is a strong contributor to young people’s personal and social development. But despite school being the one place where everyone should be able to access music, we’ve consistently heard how it doesn’t reflect their existing musical lives and passions. And their access is being restricted because school music departments are disappearing by the day.

He continued: “Our Exchanging Notes research has cemented our view that music in schools has the power to help young people with some of the big issues facing them today – mental health, isolation, and social inequality. But only if it is reimagined to become more relevant and inclusive of all young people.”

During the programme, researchers found links between involvement in music-making projects and higher levels of attendance and attainment among pupils. The study also found emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing outcomes among those participating.

The Exchanging Notes study found that:

Young people at risk of exclusion at the outset of the programme maintained high levels of attendance (>95%) throughout the programme.
The programme helped some young people to re-enter mainstream education after having been excluded.
Over the four-year programme there was an increase in participants performing above expectation in Maths (from 14% to 21%) and English (from 15% to 28%).
The research has led Youth Music to urge the Department for Education to adopt a new model of music in schools that reflects the diverse musical interests of young people today, helping contribute to pupils’ personal development and emotional wellbeing through music-making. If overhauled, music in schools has the potential to re-engage young people in education across all subjects, develop their confidence and self-belief, and create a more positive attitude to learning.

Youth Music has identified a raft of changes urgently needed to transform musical education in schools:

Government – issue an unequivocal message about the value of music: End the obsession with measuring attainment. Music in schools is being side-lined due to increasing pressures schools face to demonstrate performance in core subjects. Reinforce the benefits of music in schools by ensuring that it can be adequately resourced, and that each pupil receives a minimum of one hour per week. Youth Music supports Arts Council England’s view that schools should be unable to receive a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Ofsted grade unless they show a strong commitment to arts and culture.
Schools – ensure that music is for everyone: Pressure on schools to focus on measuring musical attainment is coming at the expense of engagement with creative music making. This means the personal and social benefits of music are being missed. Music making has significant wellbeing outcomes, which can bring changes to school life – these should be tracked and valued. Music in Key Stage 3 shouldn’t simply be preparation for the small percentage who go on to take GCSE.
Partners – collaborate to co-design an inclusive 21st century curriculum: There’s a huge opportunity and a great need to draw on young people’s existing musical tastes to ignite their passion in the classroom. Ensure that the relevance of music in schools is reassessed to best reflect young people’s interests and their listening habits. Local partnerships can offer opportunities for progression, support young people’s wellbeing, and raise awareness of the full range of music-related career paths.
In addition, Youth Music believes that the music industries should be providing strategy and investment to support the next generation of musicians. The learning from Exchanging Notes should be embedded within the new model music curriculum currently in development.

Matt Griffiths stated: “We believe our proposed new model is a win-win for all partners – including schools, Music Education Hubs, music industry, multi-agency partners and local music-making projects – and most importantly young people. Schools can offer an inspirational music curriculum that better supports social and emotional wellbeing; the music industry talent pipeline grows and is more diverse; and young people’s lives in music are completely connected both in and out of school.”

Youth Music is a national charity investing in music-making projects that help young people to develop personally and socially as well as musically. It works particularly with those who don’t get to make music because of who they are, where they live, or what they’re going through.

Dr Victoria Kinsella, Senior Research Fellow at Birmingham City University, explained: “During the four years of Exchanging Notes, project partners re-evaluated what it means to be and to become a musician.

“We explored new understandings of what constitutes musical knowledge - going beyond measures of success based on musical standards, or level of skill, but taking account of musical and communicative practices that were more ethical and democratic.”