Cultural Education Challenge catch up: Music for Change

3 November 2017

Julian Knight, Creative Director at Creative Futures, tells us how Music for Change has demonstrated how music can improve children’s early development, and narrow the attainment gap

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In 2013/14, Westminster’s early years advisory team identified that school readiness targets were not being met among significant proportions of the children living in the northwest of the borough, where some of the most deprived wards in the country are situated. As part of a working group to tackle this issue, and alongside a range of other initiatives, Creative Futures proposed ‘Music for Change’, a music-based intervention in local nursery settings to strengthen children’s early learning and development. The programme was designed to run alongside its ‘Queen’s Park Families’ initiative, already established in the local community, which supports families with children aged 0-4 years through an informal, resident-led weekly drop-in with a strong music and creative theme.

As funders and investors (A New Direction via the London Cultural Education Challenge, Youth Music and John Lyon’s Charity among them) endorsed the idea of Music for Change, the scale of the programme grew from a handful of settings in one year, to more than 10 settings across 4 wards over 2-3 years, with a total budget of more than £200,000.

Roll out

Music for Change started in May 2015, with full roll-out from September 2015. The first two year phase ended in July 2017, and a tail-end of the project will continue until July 2018.

The project involved multiple strands: weekly musician-led workshops with groups of children in nursery settings, children’s centres, and nursery classes of primary schools; CPD sessions for Early Years staff; termly concerts in local venues offering a range of live music experiences; a collaboration with NHS Speech and Language Therapists; a trial to explore how music impacts specifically on executive function skills; and underpinning it all a comprehensive research and evaluation framework to assess the initiative’s impact.

Collaboration with Speech and Language Therapists

Perhaps one of the most significant elements of the initiative, in terms of impact on settings and staff, and on our own organisational development, has been the 2-year collaboration with NHS Speech and Language Therapists (SLT). The aim of this strand of the project was to upskill Early Years Professionals (EYPs) to use music-based activities to support the speech, language and communication development of children with mild or emerging language delay. The NHS estimated that approximately 50% of pre-school children in the area fell into this category.

We devised a 10-week programme which was co-delivered by a musician and the SLT, the format of which evolved over a number of different iterations in 4 nurseries over the two years. A book-focussed approach enabled teachers and children to delve into specific aspects of language in detail, exploring age-appropriate keywords through the dual lenses of spoken language and music (whether sung or purely illustrative – such as through created soundscapes). Activities were modelled and scaffolded, and over the course of the 10 weeks leadership of the activities was gradually passed from musician and SLT to the EYP, with appropriate support. Crucially, where EYPs were able to attend a 20-minutes discussion pre and post-session to plan then reflect with the musician and SLT, we saw a greater change in their ability and confidence to lead music activities which supported children’s language development.

Projects findings

We assessed the project’s impact in a number of ways, and from multiple angles. We looked at the key areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage (for a sample of children), and analysed how children were progressing against age-related expectations; we looked at musical development; we tracked how EYPs felt about their confidence to deliver music, and music’s ability to help them deliver their curriculum; we asked setting managers if they’d seen a change in the use of music across their setting; and we explored particular aspects of the programme in detail, such as the SLT collaboration and the executive function trial. We were assisted in our research and analysis by leading professionals in the field, whom we were privileged to work with: Professor Graham Welch (UCL Institute of Education) and Professor Adam Ockelford (University of Roehampton).

Key findings

  1. Above expected levels of progression in children across all assessed areas of the EYFS (consolidated figures for Year 1 and Year 2):
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  2. Significant musical skill progression: children on the most part started the project well below age-related expectation, and ended at or above the age-related expected level.
  3. Positive change among EYPs in their understanding of how music can support the curriculum and their teaching, and in their confidence to deliver music activities which support their teaching aims.
  4. Positive shifts in some areas of executive function skill after just 8 weeks of a specially designed music programme.
  5. Development of strands of the project (such as the SLT collaboration) as stand-alone programmes to support the strategic scaling up of Creative Futures’ operations.
We had a high proportion of children with SLCN [speech, language and communication need]. This has really helped their confidence, vocabulary and listening and attention.
Nursery Manager
Children who were shy have come out of their shell [and become] involved in a bigger group. Social Emotional development has improved. Children are now visibly volunteering to take part – they are socialising and interacting
Nursery Manager
With hindsight, the emphasis on ‘change’ in the title of the programme (MfC) appears to be particularly apposite, in that it speaks to the multiple ways in which the programme operated and its ripple effects — potential and actual.
Professor Welch, Alice Bowmer, 2017

What next

The third year of Music for Change, from 2017-18, will see a shift from intensive delivery to legacy-building and practical support for participant nurseries and schools. In parallel, we are developing two new strands of Music for Change: the wider roll-out of our SLT programme, to be delivered by specially trained music leaders; and the extension of the project to more Children’s Centres in order to work directly with families and to enrich music making in the home environment.

In addition, we have exciting plans to develop online resources for teachers and other early years professionals with a high profile partner.

New partnerships and collaborations will, as always, form a key part of our delivery plan, including with a range of education and research organisations.

Download the full Music for Change report

Find out more about the London Cultural Education Challenge

Picture credit: Creative Futures

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