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Creating new songs and unlocking voices with The Songwriting Charity

This blog is part 5 of a series of case studies about the work of hub partners in reaching more young people with music in Gloucestershire. Case studies are taken from our most recent annual report so some programmes will have ended, but they are representative of the work of the hub that is ongoing.

This year saw the continuation of the MMG and Gloucestershire Healthy Living and Learning (GHLL) funded term-long Vocal Projects delivered by The Songwriting Charity. The programmes help young people to create their own song, which is then performed, recorded and filmed.

This year the projects extended to seven of the county’s secondary schools and one primary. The focus was to include as many children from as broad a range of backgrounds as possible with three clear aims, which were to:

  •  achieve a good gender balance (increasing access to singing for boys in particular)
  •  increase the number of students who have struggled to access and maintain any regular singing
  •  continue to develop new ways for young people to engage with singing though songwriting, lyric writing and instrumental work, as Director Ben O’Sullivan explains, “responding to the songwriting process and ‘unlocking their singing voices almost by accident”.

The gender balance this year was good, with 96 boys and 72 girls takingpart in vocal projects. Cleeve School’s programme involved all boys, and Ben says: “It gave us confidence that music educators and headteachers are keen to encourage boys to sing. And just as importantly,” he continues, “that boys them selves genuinely love singing in a group, get a lot from it, and respond well to being encouraged to shine as singers and songwriters.”

The video from the programme, featuring the song, ‘Strong’, attracted a lot of attention, achieving 6,000 plays on YouTube in January alone – watch it here.

The Songwriting Charity also worked with Gloucester Hospital Education Service in partnership with The Music Works, and ran a whole school primary songwriting project involving 180 students across the key stages.

Pilot data on attendance from the programme in Newent school shows a marked improvement in attendance averaging a 55.2% reduction in absence, compared with the same period in the previous year, when the project didn’t run. This means that students taking part increased their attendance by 43 extra days in school overall.

In addition, six of the students now have 100% attendance, compared with only one before the programme began.

The Songwriting Charity is now working with schools to increase the scope of the study on attendance, exclusions and progress.

The Songwriting Charity has now worked in more than half of the county secondary schools (19 of the 39) and five others through G15 schools concert, and one-day workshops.

You can read more case studies in our Annual Report


Empowering teenagers to improve their mental health through music with The Music Works

This blog is part 3 of a series of case studies about the work of hub partners in reaching more young people with music in Gloucestershire. Case studies are taken from our most recent annual report so some programmes will have ended, but they are representative of the work of the hub that is ongoing.

Music Minds is a music-based mental health programme for teenagers, run by The Music Works. It helps young people to cope with problems such as stress, anxiety and depression; and behaviours such as self-harm and eating disorders. It does this by empowering students to consciously use music to help with self-expression, self-awareness, relaxation and mindfulness.

The programme has been piloted in two schools: Barnwood Park, and Severn Vale, and has been funded by Youth Music, NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning, Gloucestershire Healthy Living and Learning and Make Music Gloucestershire and has been part of a national action research programme looking at how arts interventions could be commissioned as part of NHS services.

One of the important aspects of Music Minds is that is has been shaped by young people and teachers as it has progressed. Termly focus groups with students and teachers, where they share their experiences and ideas to help us to adapt and improve the programme. These sessions have shown that participants are taking conscious decisions to express or manage their feelings through music:

“I get angry really easily. With music, Iend up singing to it and it just calms me down. It is a way to vent without physically venting.”

“Music Minds has helped me. When I’m stressed I listen to music. And I put down the words that are making me feel stressed.”

“I never really lashed out on other people but I’d punch a wall until my hands were physically bleeding. I’d isolate myself and block out everyone. I’d do everything I could to punish myself. This has shown me that I’m not the only one feeling this. I have major trust issues. This has helped me talk to people more. I can take everything I’m feeling and do it in a productive way through music.”

The interim report on the first phase has shown that Music Minds has made a significant difference to young people’s mental wellbeing. 96% of participants said the programme had indirectly helped their problems; 42% said it had helped quite a lot or a great deal; 37.5% said their problems had improved.

One young person was rock bottom in self-esteem. There were serious concerns about her behaviour, and she was in the top five of students in her school with the most challenging behaviour. Now, she is no longer a concern at all and staff attribute this change to Music Minds.

They’ve said that their relationships have improved, they’re feeling better about themselves and they’re more able to cope with problems:

“I didn’t really know what people were like until Music Minds. Now listening to other people’s problems, I think, I could have been nicer, why wasn’t I nicer?”

“At the start of Music Minds I didn’t really take part, but by the end I’d grown in confidence, I found spoken word … If I feel like I’m stressed I use spoken word, and I wouldn’t have done before …. It helps.”

“It takes your mind off stress, it relieves you from, not your problems, they’restill there, it takes the ease off stressand expectations. Now we’re startingour GCSEs, there are a lot of expectations, a lot of pressure. In Music Minds you don’t need to make it A* grade, it can be whatever you want, you don’t have to do certain stuff tomake it ‘right’.”

The second phase will be completed in December 2017, with a final report due out in early 2018. The programme will then be rolled out to more schools.

You can read more case studies in our Annual Report


Swans, schools and statistics – taking things forward above and below the water

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There’s a metaphor about swans that keeps coming into my mind when I think about the work of the Hub in Gloucestershire – it’s the one describing how all seems quiet and calm above water, but underneath they’re paddling furiously to propel themselves forward. That’s certainly what we, the Commissioning Team, have been doing since our last blog: there’s been a lot of progress, some of which won’t be seen publicly quite yet, but it has propelled us forward rapidly.

Working with schools

First of all, we’ve been making great strides in our talks with schools. With around 306 maintained schools and academies in our county, that’s no mean feat! But we’ve taken a pragmatic approach, working with small groups of heads and teachers who can help us shape plans so they really do respond to what they need now and in the future, to support their teachers and pupils to make sure all pupils benefit from music education, and meet their potential. Some of the results have been:

Schools Music Education Plan – this is the plan that Arts Council England/Department for Education asked all Hubs to create, to map out how we’ll work with schools. We created the plan with the help of a working group of teachers, and are now carrying out the actions including …

Singing Strategy – we’re being encouraged to be more strategic about supporting schools in ensuring all pupils sing, so we’re working with two groups of schools representatives, one for secondary schools, the other for primary schools, and they’re leading us in our work on this. One of the first activities will be a short piece of research to find out what’s actually happening in schools around singing. The teachers involved for secondaries, are: Jenny Cameron, Millbrook; Omar Khoker, Severn Vale; Beth Hayes, Balcarras; Julia Bishop, Chosen Hill. Members of the primaries group will be confirmed soon.

What makes an effective music lesson? – we know locally, and from national evidence, that senior leadership teams (SLTs) in secondaries can find it hard to know what to look for in effective music teaching. We’ve completed our pilot study (three secondary schools looking at how the Hub might support music departments and SLTs in ensuring music is valued, and promoted in schools and good teaching practices recognised and encouraged), and we’re now disussing the next steps in rolling out this approach.

Involving teachers in supporting each other – we’ve had many discussions, through lots of different forums, about how we can work in a smarter way to make the most of the expertise in schools, for the benefit of all schools, and plans include a ‘paired teachers’ CPD initiative, involving teachers as advisors to schools,

Collecting information from schools, and sharing back to schools – see ‘statistics’ below.

New funding for schools and community groups

To helps schools and community groups (eg amateur music groups) to reach more young people with group music making, and help those already involved in music to progress, we’ve launched a ‘rolling programme’ (you can apply anytime) of small grants (up to £1,000). You can find out more here:

Schools grants brief & application form
Community grants brief & application form

Funding for the Hub from Department for Education via Arts Council England

We’ve all been on tenterhooks following the announcement from DfE earlier this year about ‘extra funding for music education’. The figure was announced as £18 million across the country for 2015/16, but as always, the devil is in the detail, and we will find out exactly how this translates to individual hubs and to Gloucestershire shortly.

What we know for now is that Hubs won’t get all of that money, and it may well be short term gain for long term pain – ie we’re getting an uplift in funding for this year, so we can invest in making sure we’re sustainable for the cuts that may follow. We don’t have any information yet on the likely funding for April 2016 onwards, but even though that makes it tricky planning for the future, we will be working hard on more ‘below the water’ conversations, planning and strategy to make sure that the work and partnerships are robust and sustainable.

Working with music educators

Following on from our partners meetings series earlier in the year, we’ve put together a series of workshops to help us all learn, and share our knowledge and experiences on topics that are critical to the future of music and arts education in the county:

Outcomes and impact workshop report
Income generation (25 Nov 2014)
• Relationships with schools & curriculum update (27 January 2015, sign up to the music educators enews to hear when booking opens)
• Getting commission-ready (TBC)

The other great thing about this series is that we’ve developed it in conjunction with Create Gloucestershire, Real Ideas Organisation, and Make Music Swindon, so it also has the benefit of being a first practical step in us working with the first two organisations, which we’re sure will lead to further partnership working.

We’ve been talking with other new partners about how we can make the most of our shared purposes, ideas, energies and resources. One of these is Gloucestershire Healthy Living and Learning who work with schools to improve pupils’ health and wellbeing. We’re agreed that music can be an important means of reaching young people as well as improving their mental health and emotional wellbeing, so we’re working on a number of plans for next year.

How we’re doing

Perhaps the ‘boring but important’ part of this update: we’ve also been collecting statistics and other information so we can report to Arts Council England and Department for Education – and can understand ourselves – what we’re achieving in terms of the National Plan for Music Education, and also begin to map what’s happening and what’s needed. Earlier in the year, we asked schools what they wanted to know too (particularly about what other schools are doing) and following this launched an online ‘data collection app’ (currently closed while we draw down data and clear ready for 2014/15 data) to make it easier for schools and others to include their information. We’ll be sharing this information very early next year.

There’s a lot more work to be done (and in fact much more to tell, but that’s for future blogs). The Commissioning Team and the school and music education partners we work with are all very aware of this, and are sometimes keen to move faster than is possible. But we have built some strong momentum, and we’re looking forward to the next phase with continued enthusiasm and determination to reach more children and young people, and improve the quality of their music education experiences.

Anita Holford, freelance communications advisor, and member of the Hub Commissioning Team.

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