REF2021 23Z_ICS_A: Removing barriers to musical participation in schools – a social justice issue.

    Impact: Societal impacts

    Description of impact

    The work of Birmingham Music Education Research Group (BMERG) has made a vital contribution to removing barriers to accessing music education for children and young people from all socio-economic backgrounds and abilities. This is a significant issue for social justice in music education. BMERG’s research has contributed to the reform of music curricula in schools, including the introduction of modern genres such as grime and hip-hop, and has influenced the government’s decision to continue to fund Whole Class Ensemble Tuition (WCET), which in 2018/19 provided £75 million for Music Education Hubs to help fund music lessons for 700,000 children, many of whom would not otherwise have had access to musical teaching and learning.

    Details of Impact.
    BMERG research has helped remove barriers of disability, class, income, and cultural capital to enable musical participation beyond the classical tradition, encompassing all styles and genres of music. It has influenced the teaching of music to 100,000s of pupils from primary to A-level across the UK and informed music education policy at Arts Council England and the Department for Education. BMERG assessment techniques are used around the world.

    Modernising music curricula in secondary schools

    Exchanging Notes challenged existing conceptualisations of music curricula in secondary schools by questioning the hegemonic dominance of Western Classical Music. Working with 46 music leaders, 23 music teachers, and 974 children and young people, it reimagined curricula to encompass youth voice as an integral component. A high profile example of this was the suggestion that the grime artist Stormzy should be part of the curriculum. This gave rise to the controversial Stormzy vs. Mozart debate resulting in extensive coverage in the national press. This research directed public perceptions of the possibilities of music education. Media coverage included: ITV’s Good Morning Britain, with viewing figures of 1.5 Million, and 85 different newspapers, including the Daily Mail and the Guardian [S01]. The research showed improved median attendance for this at-risk group, raised to 97% by the end of the project, compared with a national median of 95.8%. Likewise above average attainers in this cohort rose from 14.79% at the outset to 24.65% by the end, a rise of nearly 10%; both of these statistics represent a significant result for this cohort.

    The CEO of Youth Music [S02] which funded Exchanging Notes said the programme “demonstrated that music in schools has the potential to re-engage young people in education, develop their confidence, resilience and self-belief, and create a more positive attitude to learning”. It illustrated what a reimagined, innovative music curriculum in secondary schools could look like”. Youth Music are using the results of BMERG’s research to work with schools and music organisations [S02] to address curriculum opportunities across the country.

    Enhancing music teaching skills

    Listen, Imagine, Compose is now a nationwide CPD programme working with over 300 practitioners and teachers, who have returned to their schools to effect curriculum change, reaching over 9,000 secondary aged students each academic year. LIC provides a direct pathway of BMERG research into the everyday composing experience of young people across the UK, facilitating their educational musical development. The separate LIC Masters degree run by BCU with the organisation Sound and Music (SaM) [S07], has worked with 21 teachers to improve and expand their skills and knowledge within this highly specialised field of music education. LIC is the only research-led Masters programme in composing in schools in the country, and is world-leading. One of the students, a Head of Music in a London school explained how the course has changed their practice: “ has revitalised my teaching and understanding of composing in the classroom. It has challenged me to think about my own practice and develop a varied range of strategies to use in the classroom in light of current research” [S07]. As the chief Ofsted HMI for music observed: “Listen Imagine Compose has played a significant part in improving the musical and educational understanding of professional musicians, teachers and academics” [S08].

    Influencing practice in music education pedagogy

    WCET is a £75 million per annum national programme of music tuition that is central to the government’s National Plan for Music Education. The principal providers of WCET are 120 nationwide Music Education Hubs (MEHs). They draw heavily on BMERG research to inform their effectiveness and delivery, and, importantly, to provide a common language for discussion and debate. In 2017/18 the music education hubs worked with 91.4% of primary schools delivering WCET to 706,873 pupils, representing 9.08% of the entire pupil population at the time. The distinct models of teaching and learning within WCET identified by BMERG (music education starts with the instrument and Music education takes place via the instrument) [R03] have significantly affected both the conceptualisations of how this programme is taught, and, importantly, provide a language for it to be talked about. For example, our research was used to create success criteria for a new WCET progression strategy by Leicestershire MEH. In addition to these performance measures, our research impacted perceptions of musical progression in this MEH, as a result of which, new WCET targets were developed. This led to strategic operations to reach 39,907 children, almost doubling the number of pupils in comparison with the previous year. The Head of Leicester-Shire Schools Music Service [S03] said, “Music educational research (BMERG) at BCU has influenced key milestones of the music service for its future work, including prioritising and resourcing of WCET interactions with schools and children’s musical development.”

    Informing national policy for music education [S04]

    The Department for Education has consulted BMERG research and the research team directly with regards to provision and future developments. Nationally, the annual Key Data on Music Education Hubs reports produced by BMERG [R04] have been used by the DfE and by government ministers in formulating school music policy. For example, the Minister of State (Education) cited material from the report when replying to a query in 2019 on the take up of music GCSE [S04] and it has also featured in a House of Lords debate on music education in 2018 [S04].

    The Music Commission was a panel of experts tasked in 2017 with overseeing a national inquiry into how to better sustain and support progress in making and learning music. It drew heavily on the BMERG definition of progress, citing the research directly in its report [S03]. Our foundational definition, separating the concepts of progression in learning, (in other words developmental attainment from progression routes), was important in the Music Commission report and is contributing significantly to national debates and new understandings in this arena.

    Music and disabled children

    BMERG’s research with OHMI has raised awareness of the issue of disability and inclusion in schools with regards to teaching and learning. As a direct result of our OHMI research, ACE is now working to embed provision for disabled youngsters across all aspects of WCET and beyond. For example, BMERG research is cited in the ACE Midlands Music Research Consultation (2019) [S03], which addresses challenges to Midlands music-making, including the creative case for diversity. The Minister of State (Education), when discussing OHMI in a speech at the Music and Drama Expo in London (2017), said to teachers, “I urge you to find out more about their [BMERG’s] work and how it could help your pupils” [S08]. BMERG’s OHMI research has been critical in raising awareness and leading discourse within the field. For example, OHMI has advocated using BMERG research in a wide variety of contexts. The Assistant Manager for OHMI [S08] commented that, “We have used your report in representations to Government to influence changes in thinking…80–90% of MEHs are aware of the findings of the report…and significant percentages of schools across the country are now aware of the scope of our work because of our presentations of the findings of your report.”

    Improving access to music assessment equality in the classroom

    BMERG has a long history of researching assessment of musical learning for all pupils in school classrooms. Fautley’s research into assessment, which presents a new way of grading attainment and tracking progress in school music lessons, combined with significant manageability aspects, is the first tool of practical utility for secondary school music teachers [S05]; by enabling assessment of musical work by all pupils in schools, the social justice element of recognising attainment across the board is recognised. Fautley’s 2010 book [R06] on the subject, which forms part of the underpinning research for this case study has been sold all over the world throughout the REF period, has been cited 179 times, but more importantly has impacted pedagogy and assessment throughout the globe. For example, in Singapore [S05], the ministry of education purchased a copy for all classroom teachers attending compulsory CPD on the topic in 2018. In Chile, where Fautley advised the government ministry of education in a consultancy capacity, there is ongoing work using his assessment materials for music education. Assessment guidance documents designed for teachers [R07] have been downloaded and viewed 1,151 times, and are used in schools nationally and internationally, as well as by music hubs and in ITE.

    BMERG’s work researching A-level music provision has had considerable impact upon public awareness, and has been widely cited in mainstream media [S06]. This work has shown that dwindling numbers of pupils taking A-level music could have a significantly detrimental effect on the pipeline for music professionals. In terms of social justice it shows a marked inequality in the availability of provision, with middle class and more affluent areas far more likely to be offering the subject than schools located in postcode areas of deprivation.
    Impact date20102019
    Category of impactSocietal impacts