Ground-breaking initiative challenges UK’s music education crisis

Today (13th Sept) Bristol Music Trust launches an ambitious education programme set to impact 1000’s of children across the city.

The Earthsong Programme an initiative between Bristol Music Trust and the Earthsong Foundation will create opportunities for over 4500 young people  in Bristol to access music education.  The initiative has been made possible thanks to an extraordinary philanthropic donation of just under £400 000, the largest single donation to a music education hub in the UK.  The wider aspiration is that the project will have a UK-wide impact, changing the national understanding of the power of music education.

Currently, Whole Class Ensemble Tuition (WCET) is regarded as the first access route to music education for nearly all children in England as part of the National Plan for Music Education. Although WCET has been shown to be a popular way to engage children, the number of children progressing beyond this early stage is low particularly for schools in challenging areas and in schools with a high proportion of children with English as an additional language.

Born out of the belief that every child should be given an equitable learning environment, the Earthsong Programme was developed to start as a whole class singing programme for children in upper KS1.  Critically, it creates a level playing-field by using the child’s own instrument, the voice, to teach and embed musicianship skills ready for WCET in KS2.

Stage two of the programme expands upon their WCET development by providing instruments and lessons through Key Stage 2 (Year 4 to 6) to improve on the learning of Key Stage 1.

Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West said:

“I know first-hand from a lifetime of music just what joy it brings. It’s good for mental health, for learning, but most of all for the sheer enjoyment it brings to listen and to create. Every child should have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and I’m thrilled that Bristol Music Trust and Earthsong are bringing this life-enhancing opportunity to thousands more of Bristol’s children and showing national leadership.”

– Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West

An initial pilot for the Earthsong Programme called Start With Singing ran in 2018 at Minerva Primary Academy in Bristol and the results demonstrated a rise in participating students overall attainment across core subjects at Key Stage 1, with up to a 26 per cent increase in pupil’s performance in STEM activities, including reading, writing and maths. The pilot also showed an increase in personal enjoyment, confidence as well as other social and cultural benefits.

Louise Mitchell Chief Executive of Bristol Music Trust says:

“Today we join our voices to the many research bodies around the world that say if you give a child a musical education you give them a better future. This programme will add to this knowledge as we will follow this initial cohort of children to assess and further prove the huge impacts of the gift of music in education. As a tool to inspire, to give confidence, to aid creativity and improve feelings of self-worth.”

– Louise Mitchell, Chief Executive of Bristol Music Trust

Phil Castang, Director of Creative Learning and Engagement, Bristol Music Trust commented:

“Using WCET as a means to reach every child can be effective but for schools in challenging areas it’s not working. These schools tend to be the most squeezed in terms of resources and often operate on the basis of a single musical activity at any one time.

“Behavioural issues and language then act as a barrier to meaningful progress. Without progress comes a sense of failure and even negativity towards music making and schools can also easily fall into the mind-set that progress doesn’t matter as it’s just about having a go on an instrument.

“The Earthsong Programme will challenge this by showing what a difference quality access to music education makes to a pupil’s wider development.”

– Phil Castang, dir. Creative Learning and Engagement

The schools taking part in the programme are:

Ashley Down Federation Schools
Ashton Vale
Bridge Farm
Brunel Field Primary School
Cabot Primary
Evergreen Primary Academy
Fonthill Primary
Horfield CEVC Primary School
Minerva Primary Academy
Parson Street Primary
St. Mary Redcliffe CEVC Primary School
St. Patricks Catholic Primary
Stoke Park Schools

What are the elements of the Earthsong Programme?

The Earthsong Programme is made up of four areas.

Start with Singing

Introduces the elements of music to Year 2 (Key Stage 1) pupils in a whole class environment, earlier than the Department of Education’s WCET programme. Pupils explore the technical aspects such as pitch, timbre and rhythm alongside enjoying performance, breathing and the physicality of singing preparing the pupils for whole class instrumental sessions.

Supported Places

Instrumental music lessons in groups of 3 (for up to 30 minutes) are provided to children in Key Stage 2 in Years 4, 5 and 6 as a progression from WCET.

The aim is to encourage as many children as possible to learn an instrument and enable the continued growth of musical and personal development. The musical instrument choices focus on guitar, violin, woodwind, brass and percussion with instruments provided through a hire scheme.

Annual Celebration

All children taking part in the programme across the city will be invited to take part in an annual celebration, featuring masterclasses and performances for young people, their families and teachers.

Continued Evaluation

A longitudinal study will track the development of the young people and their achievements in this and in other parts of their schooling life.
The programme has been made possible after the Earthsong Foundation approached Bristol Music Trust with the offer of an extraordinary private donation of just under £400,000 to develop the programme.

This programme is funded by the newly formed Earthsong Foundation.

Founders Suze and Sebastian Pole say:

“We are passionate about giving all children the opportunity to have a lifelong love of music making. We are thrilled to be working with Bristol Music Trust to bring this programme to fruition. We have found the Trust a willing partner in our desire to change the national understanding of the transformative power of music education, using impact-based research as our standard to make the case nationally.”

– Suze and Sebastian Pole, Founders of Earthsong Foundation

The Earthsong Programme officially launches on Friday 13 September with a celebratory event at Brunel Field Primary School. The initiative will then be rolled out in 12 schools across Bristol throughout the 2019-20 academic year.

Bristol Music Trust already works with 130 schools and youth groups and supports 30,000 young people per year across the Bristol area including 2,500 from deprived backgrounds, with special educational needs and disabilities, and in care.