Visitors to the national Music Education Expo event in London on 12 March 2015 were encouraged by initial results from Youth Music's action research project ‘Exchanging Notes’. Six months in, findings suggest that music teachers in schools and music leaders normally working in out-of-school settings are hopeful that a new collaborative approach might have a lasting effect on pupils’ wider educational and lifelong learning strategies.
Introducing a presentation session about the project, Music Education Council Chair, Dick Hallam, emphasised the need for of all those working in the sector to work collectively in order to do the best job possible. Matt Griffiths, Youth Music’s Executive Director, outlined the background to Exchanging Notes, which followed an Institute of Education report commissioned by Youth Music suggesting that partnership-working between practitioners from in-school and out-of-school settings was a positive and valuable process. The recognisable strengths in different methods of delivery had the potential to yield beneficial results for young pupils in challenging circumstances.
Carol Reid, Programme Director, Youth Music, added that Exchanging Notes was set up as a sustainable action research project over a four year period to allow for a full evaluation of the outcomes by researchers from Birmingham City University. With Youth Music’s investment of £1.4m, 10 Exchanging Notes projects are taking place around the country, focusing on how specific pedagogies developed as a result of this collaborative approach could be effective in engaging young people at risk.
Michelle Nineham, Vice- Principal of Bodmin College, Cornwall described the setting for her school’s Exchanging Notes project: high levels of deprivation with some students coming from family backgrounds involving violence, poverty and mental health issues. She emphasised the importance of collaboration between CYMAZ Music, Youth Services and the school’s management and music department in ensuring proper budgeting, monitoring and evaluation of the project.
Benji Vincent, Head of Music at Bodmin College set out the proposed delivery programme over three terms. Autumn term involved taster sessions with students choosing instruments and learning how to play them. Out-ofschool activities included a singing project and the formation of a Samba band, with a target of performing at the end of term. Spring term involves CYMAZ Music practitioners mentoring students and developing their melodic and rhythm notation skills with an emphasis on learning hooks and riffs. The end of term goal was a CD project featuring pupils’ own compositions. The Summer term will see instrumental tuition being taken further and composition skills being developed with the students’ band performing around Cornwall, including for Bodmin’s Heritage Day. They will record a music video at some of the iconic locations they visit, including the Eden Project.
Dr Victoria Kinsella from Birmingham City University presented some initial findings based on surveys and baseline interviews. Data gathered from the adults delivering the programme suggested that, in terms of personal development, they hope the project will help young participants to adopt new learning approaches and construct an identity.
Project leaders are also hoping that the educational benefits for the young pupils taking part will include transferable learning skills, cultural understanding and lifelong learning strategies. Their possible concerns about the project include managing relationships between practitioners, retention of pupils and expectations regarding outcomes. The importance of making time for reflective practice was also emphasised. The potential for learner choice and engagement as well as the development of new teaching strategies were seen as some of the strengths of the collaborative approach.
Concluding the session, Matt Griffiths emphasised the value of the long-term nature of the Exchanging Notes programme, with a goal to replicate it further should the outcomes be positive.