Music education: An evaluation of In Harmony

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The In Harmony project has received £3 million in government funding to bring music opportunities to primary pupils in six disadvantaged areas. Dorothy Lepkowska looks at a new evaluation of the scheme’s impact so far

Music is said to be a great leveller, through which children and young people find expression, creativity and joy. But opportunities must be available for all children to experience it, regardless of social disadvantage, parental income or ability.

With that in mind, In Harmony was founded as a programme to offer structured music tuition and orchestral and ensemble music-making opportunities to children in six disadvantaged areas – starting with Liverpool and Lambeth in 2008 and with Nottingham, Telford and Stoke, Newcastle and Leeds in 2013.

In Harmony was funded by the Department for Education and Arts Council England to the tune of more than £3 million so far, and each area led its own version of the programme according to local needs and resources.

The aims of the programme are to inspire and transform the lives of children, offering opportunities that might not otherwise have been available to youngsters from disadvantaged families. Pupils are immersed in musical activities, playing instruments several times a week from an early age in school or community-based activities under the guidance of high-quality music educators. They are also involved in orchestral and high-profile performance opportunities.

Over the years the scheme has become well-established in the areas it serves and by 2016 involved around 2,500 pupils. By September 2016, 13 primary schools, two secondary schools and two nurseries/family centres were engaged with In Harmony, with an additional 14 schools in Nottingham operating at a less intensive level. Expansion to out-of-school provision, neighbouring schools and secondary school transition work means that In Harmony is reaching substantially more children than before, a new report, Evaluation of In Harmony, published by the National Foundation for Educational Research. The NFER evaluation of the scheme is for the three years up to 2015 and looks in particular at its impact on pupils, both academically and socially, as well as the implications for families.

It found, not surprisingly, that the strongest impact was related to music education. The attitudes of children who had participated in the scheme, which devoted between three and four hours a week to musical activities, were more positive towards music than their peers in a comparison group who had not taken part. The longer the child had been involved, the greater their self-reported musical outcomes. In particular, the programme was enhancing their musicianship, technical skills and love of music.

One headteacher said: “The programme is able to deliver a quality that we just wouldn’t be able to do without the professionals – the technical language, the playing, the musical knowledge, the musical skill, playing with an orchestra, playing in an ensemble, the teaching expertise, all of the things we wouldn’t be able to deliver at whole-class level.

“Our children leave in year 6 with a very sophisticated musical knowledge and skill base. In a musical sense the impact is tremendous and the progress that the children make is tremendous.”

Some parents noticed that the skills picked up as part of the programme transferred to other parts of a child’s life. One said: “My daughter has a lot of respect for her instrument – it’s not a toy. It’s given her a sense of pride and responsibility. I’ve noticed she treats things differently at home as well – she recognises the cost and value of things.”

For some children, involvement had led to increased confidence and better communication, though when the two groups were compared there was little difference in academic attainment and attendance generally. However, the programme was broadening horizons as one teaching assistant observed: “In Harmony is a fantastic opportunity that I feel these children would never get (otherwise). Certain children are stuck in (the locality) but I feel In Harmony has opened their eyes to the bigger, wider world ... and it let them know that they can go and play the trumpet or be a doctor when they’re older.”

While the scheme targeted children in disadvantaged areas, some of which had multicultural populations, where involvement in the arts was generally low and many participants were eligible for free school meals, there were some variations in engagement.

Girls were found to have more positive attitudes towards music than boys and were more likely to participate in ensembles and tuition which took place after school.

Similarly, children with special needs were under-represented in extra-curricular activities across the programme as a whole, though they benefited from lessons and events taking place during school time. The study found this was in keeping with patterns reported by the Music Education Hubs generally and were not confined to the In Harmony programme.

Researchers also found a wider social impact of the In Harmony scheme. Schools reported that engagement with parents had improved, in particular through performances, and that parents were proud and encouraging of their children’s progress and musical development. For some families it had been their first experience of visiting cultural venues or listening to different types of music. Parents had opportunities to engage with other parents, and their children with pupils of other ages and from different schools.

In Liverpool, for example, families displayed “unqualified and active support of their children and the project on a daily basis” and said In Harmony had transformed their children’s lives by teaching them new skills and offering opportunities. In Telford and Stoke the scheme had offered accessibility and inclusivity for pupils with additional needs.

The report found that “the programme provided alternative opportunities for self-expression and social communication for children who find verbal expression challenging ... this included the structure and predictability of orchestral music and the individual attention provided by In Harmony staff, who helped children with SEN to find a positive role in the ensemble and integrate socially”.

However, researchers warned against an assumption that parental aspirations started from a low base. This was not necessarily the case, but it was acknowledged that the scheme offered opportunities that might not otherwise have been realised.

While the programme was found to be “popular and inspiring” and worthy of further funding on “musical and social grounds”, the cost per primary child was high and would rise as children progressed to secondary education and as more primary pupils were admitted.

The researchers recommended that pupils’ outcomes should be monitored as they move through their education to see whether the public investment had paid off. It also suggested that different models of funding and delivery be investigated to expand the scheme to more schools and to enable pupils to participate for longer.

In at least one of the areas, Pupil Premium money – government funding allocated to schools for every child on free school meals to narrow the attainment gap – was used in part to support provision. The report also suggested schools and providers of music services engage more with the 20 per cent of children who admitted they didn’t like playing an instrument or singing in class.

Similarly, more work was needed to find out why boys and children with special needs were engaging less with the programme outside of school – possibly through identifying and sharing good practice of inclusive participation where this was evident. Furthermore, good in-service training for music educators will be important to support further development or expansion of the In Harmony programme.

The report said there was a need for a career structure to “develop high-quality versatile music educators dedicated to improving social justice through working with children from deprived areas. They need to access to relevant, high-quality opportunities for professional learning and development”.

Although the report found no quantitative evidence for the scheme affecting the wider wellbeing and learning of children, the longer-term effects may not yet be apparent, it said. But there was scope for In Harmony to identify and share best practice in relation to pedagogy and inclusion, both in how the programme works nationally and in conjunction with outside agencies and sectors, “in the interest of achieving a higher standard of music education for all”.

Among its conclusions, the report said: “In Harmony appears to be making a difference to children’s musical outcomes. It is a popular programme among schools and parents who are convinced of its contribution and social outcomes for children attending schools in disadvantaged areas.”

  • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education journalist.

Further information

The NFER report Evaluation of In Harmony can be found at www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/ACII04

Research Insights

This article was published as part of Headteacher Update’s NFER Research Insights series. Free pdfs of all the Research Insights best practice and advisory articles can be downloaded from the supplements page of this website: www.headteacher-update.com/supplements/


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