Monthly Archives: February 2014

7 reasons why schools should value Musical Futures

1. It gets results

If that’s what you need to hear as number 1, it’s true. Personally, I don’t think it’s the main reason to use Musical Futures, and it certainly wasn’t why MF was created, but when students are engaged it is likely achievement will follow. 76% of teachers stated that MF improved student attainment in their Key Stage 3 (typically aged 11-14) lessons, and schools consistently see a 42% average increase in the numbers of students wishing to continue with music learning as an examination subject. Indications show that results at KS4 in effective Musical Futures schools are above the national average.

2. It encourages collaboration

Ah, now this is more like it. Music involves people coming together to participate – this isn’t specific to Musical Futures of course, but MF has collaborative music making at its heart. Apart from sport and possibly drama, where else in the school does such natural collaboration occur? Teachers consistently report on how students’ collaboration, team-work, cooperation and listening skills are greatly improved as a result of the self-directed learning strategies, particularly in the informal learning model. 86% of non-music staff in schools surveyed by the IOE (2011) stated that the encouragement for students to work together was a major benefit of MF in their school.

(c) Emile Holba

3. It evokes emotion

As an observer to many Musical Futures lessons, it is never a spreadsheet of attainment levels, or even water-tight performances that grab my attention. What deeply moves me is seeing young people expressing themselves through music in a way that many aren’t able to do through words – whether that is through creating a song, improvising a beatbox line, bashing out a rhythm on a drum kit or playing cello as part of a whole-class ensemble. A significant but often overlooked value of Musical Futures is that it provides time, space and support for students to be creative, amidst their often incredibly pressured, busy school (and home) lives. There is a lot of debate around how ‘fun’ or how ‘rigorous’ music learning should be. We should not be afraid of students’ enjoying Musical Futures. I enjoy it, teachers enjoy it, and quite frankly when delivered effectively it can become the highlight of many students’ days.

4. It promotes independent learning

Musical Futures demands that students work things out for themselves, learn from each other, understand about finding the resources they need, and how to draw on the teacher’s vast knowledge and experience. Many teachers report students’ independent learning skills are enhanced through MF and that their teaching had become more student led. Being able to think and work independently is increasingly becoming a critical skill that employers will look for, it certainly is something that is essential to work at MF HQ!

5. It stays with students beyond the lesson

79% of non-music staff surveyed said that MF had a positive impact on the whole-school, with 82% noting an improvement in students confidence and self-esteem (2011 IOE report). It’s obvious really. If students are fired up and enthused by their music lessons, they retain that energy and take it with them, wherever they are headed next. A major anecdote we hear time and time again from teachers is how students want to come back to the music department to practice, to have lessons, to access the instruments in break times, before and after school. Musical Futures therefore can make music a real presence in a school, simply as a result of enhanced engagement with music in lessons.

6. It challenges teachers

Musical Futures is undeniably hard work. A colleague wore a pedometer once and clocked up a couple of miles after a full-on day of Musical Futures lessons. It is an intense whirlwind of modelling, problem solving, learning alongside students, evidencing work as students progress, being 100% reactive to student need, as well as keeping on top of the logistics of classes of students making music simultaneously. But 1000s of teachers do it, partly because of reasons 1-5 above, but perhaps most importantly because for many MF affirms what good music teaching is all about. 81% of teachers reported that MF increased their enjoyment of teaching music and 76% that it had helped them to become more effective teachers (2011 IOE report).  As so much of MF starts from students’ interests, by its very nature MF challenges teachers to constantly innovate and re-evaluate their own practice.

Emile Holba

7. It lets everybody show what they can do

No school would deny the importance of large-scale musical productions that bring together drama, art, music departments, or end-of-term concerts that showcase students work. A core value of Musical Futures for a school however is that it unearths students who may not have previously engaged with performance opportunities, and it potentially provides a platform for any student who wishes to perform. Seeing students who are difficult to engage elsewhere in the school stand up and perform can be the most powerful advocate for the value of music you can have.

(c) Emile Holba

(c) Emile Holba

Stats taken from an internal 2012 MF survey of 102 music teachers; from Institute of Education 2008 report into the take up and impact of MF and the Institute of Education longitudinal study into MF (2011)  

Blog post published 25th February 2014 and updated 5th December 2016

(c) Emile Holba

Let’s not fall into safe mode

Some friends of my parents didn’t go abroad until they were in their late 50s. It wasn’t due to any particular fear or prejudice, they were just happy and comfortable with holidaying in the UK. One year, they surprised everyone by booking a two-week holiday to a Greek island. There was no easing themselves in gently with a Saga package holiday, they threw themselves in at the deep end, booked into a small, local B&B on a non-touristy island where the sights, smells, landscape and culture were completely new to them. They took a risk, pushed themselves out of their comfort zone, fully immersed themselves in a brand new experience and all of the adrenalin that brings, and it had a lasting impact on their lives back home. Now? They return to the same Greek island every year.

Musical Futures for many teachers represents a similar step outside of comfort zones at first (without the Ouzo). It can take years to fully explore and embed into the fabric of a music department. But then what? Does it become a safe and comfortable delivery method that is rigidly stuck to? Because if it does, arguably part of the essence and core value of Musical Futures will sadly be lost.

By its very nature Musical Futures should evolve and change every year, if not more than that. Why? Because it starts from the needs and interests of students, and what might work brilliantly for one class one year, may fail miserably with a different cohort. The implication for Musical Futures teachers therefore is that they constantly challenge and reinvent themselves.

Online discussions about the music curriculum tend to be slightly one-dimensional – lots of sharing around what ‘topics’ are chosen, very little around why. Perhaps more significantly, even less conclusive debate around some of the tougher questions of organisation and design of curricular, and how students can input into this other than student voice being viewed as ‘asking students what they think of their music lessons’.

Previous Ofsted HMI Mark Phillips posed an important question to teachers at a Musical Futures teacher conference in 2013. ‘You’re doing Musical Futures. So What?’. And I wholeheartedly agree, there has to be full justification for why and how Musical Futures fits into an overall music department’s vision. ‘Doing Musical Futures’ doesn’t mean importing a band instrumental skills module into an existing scheme of work, or making blues a bit more exciting by delivering it using informal learning. To truly ‘do’ Musical Futures involves taking the ethos and philosophy at the core of Musical Futures (i.e. learner engagement, bridging the gap between in and out of school experience, student voice, department and whole-school organisation and design) and use this to underpin what is delivered, how it is delivered, when and where it is delivered – not just once, but to constantly and regularly review, take risks, look for innovation and push the boundaries.

(c) Emile Holba

So what is needed to support teachers on this ongoing journey of ‘innovation’, when school leaders are often simultaneously trying to neatly and tidily package music departments up into little boxes that look on paper like the English department. Face-to-face training undoubtedly is an effective way of invigorating practice, providing new ideas, and having the invaluable opportunity to learn from others. Our ‘by teachers for teachers’ training programme has been successful due to the peer-to-peer nature of the knowledge sharing.

However we are increasingly aware of restrictions on music teachers being allowed out of school for pretty much anything. And I frequently hear teachers bemoan this: ‘my school won’t allow me to attend any training therefore I haven’t received any professional development for five years’.  But is ‘training’ the only form of professional development? Of course it isn’t. ‘Professional development’ is about challenging yourself not to fall into safe mode, it is about doing everything you can to ensure your own practice is effective. Only one person is responsible for that: you. We now live among technology, which provides endless possibilities for professional development – keeping up to date with educational blog posts, joining in with online debates and practice-sharing sessions, setting up skype-sharing sessions with teachers anywhere in the world are just a few examples. Also sharing good practice about what is happening in your music department is a form of professional development – being able to convince somebody else of the value of what you are doing is a real skill that is worth investing in developing. There can be no excuse for a lack of personal and professional development. Musical Futures will continue to re-evaluate what can be offered in terms of professional development for the 21st century music teacher. But it is down to individual music teachers to access and use this as a springboard.

I am not a music teacher. My role is significantly different. However personally and professionally if I feel that something has become safe, I take a deep breath and bash my way out of that comfort zone. This is what we have done with Musical Futures central operations, we never sit still, we have always moved against the tide, and have never allowed complacency to creep in. It makes your professional life risky, challenging, but ultimately exciting and, dare I say it, fun.

(c) Emile Holba

Musical Futures holds professional development events for music teachers in the UK and overseas. For more information see here


Blog post updated 5th December 2016