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.
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.
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.
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