First Thing Music – Official Statement
“It was in the January of 2015 that I first met Susan Robertson from Tess Valley Music Service. We were at a Musinc event in Stockton, and we had been listening to a presentation by Douglas Lonie, Research and Evaluation Manager at Youth Music.
It was becoming obvious that there was a lack of hard evidence demonstrating the impact of music, though there were many encouraging anecdotal reports and observations. I was determined to find a way to ‘firm up’ the situation, and conduct some research in a randomised control format – the nearest thing to a clinical trial that music might be! Susan and I got chatting, and at one point, we looked each other in the eye, saw a shared purpose and shook hands! We were going to find a way to make this happen in Teesside. And thus, First Thing Music was born.
Since then, a lot has happened. I took advice from a senior researcher at Durham University – Dr Beng Huat See, who had co-written the Arts in Education Review 2012, for the Education Endowment Foundation and began preparation for a proposal to fund such a project. As a keen advocate of Kodaly-based music practice, I developed a series of 15 minute sessions aimed at Reception-aged children and Susan put me in contact with 5 schools in the area, inviting them to a meeting at TVMS to explain the approach. Over the summer term in 2016, supported by TVMS I went into these schools for 4 days per week, on the following basis:
- Class teachers should be involved in the music sessions with their class
- Head teachers should contribute their observations by participating in at least one session themselves
Over 4 weeks, we kept records of all sessions, including the teacher experience and the observations of the Head Teachers, and Dr Beng Huat See came to look at what we were doing. She felt there was some potential for a randomised control trial, within this format, as long as we felt confident that we could demonstrate real impact through these musical activities.
There were times when the determination was put to the test – several applications for funding were rejected and there was a general lack of resources. The Arts Council funding for Music Hubs across the country did not include anything for children under the age of 5 yrs, though this was where we felt most strongly that the work should be focused.
So, the only option was to continue working unfunded. Fortunately, two Teesside schools (St Francis Primary school and St Mark’s Elmtree Community Primary) were happy to collaborate with me, and assign two interested teachers to work on the project. Over two full terms in 2017, I visited the schools for 4 days per week, engaging the music groups in 15 minute music sessions. At the end, we compared the progress made by the two groups. ALthough the difference across the curriculum was small, it was significant especially in the areas of behaviour, writing and numeracy.
On the strength of these activities we again submitted a proposal of funding, this time to a joint investigation into ‘Cultural Learning’ being set up by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Royal Society of Arts.
This time the application was successful. A grant of £150,000 has been awarded to Tees Valley Music Service, as part of one of the largest RCTs ever conducted in UK schools and the only one focused in the North EAst.
First Thing Music will bring music sessions into 50-60 schools in Teesside and the North East and lay the foundations for music to be part of every child’s education.
Much has been achieved since that first hand-shake, but the exciting thing is that we are only at the beginning….”
– Lindsay Ibbotson