Music the key to improving school results, not maths

Girl playing the guitar

A primary school in Bradford is attributing its newfound SATS success to the fact that it is giving all children up to six hours of music a week, according to a recent report in The Guardian. With music and arts continually being squeezed out of the school curriculum to make way for the academic subjects seen by some as the panacea to SATS success, this news is literally music to many teachers’ ears.

At Feversham Primary Academy, head teacher Naveed Idrees, has embedded drama, art and music into every part of the school day. The results are proving remarkable. The school’s surrounding area is one of Bradford’s most deprived neighbourhoods, and 99 per cent of the school’s children speak English as an additional language. Inside the school at least 30 different languages are spoken, but music is proving a great unifier.

All children at the school are given at least 2 hours of music a week, including two 30-minute music lessons, and an hour assembly consisting of the appearance of a guest musician and group singing. Songs are heavily incorporated into all other areas of the children’s learning, such as singing times tables, or singing songs relating to history.

All areas of music are covered, from the Beatles, to current pop songs, Muslim worship songs and Christian music too. Initial resistance from a small number of parents about the religious origin of some of the music soon disappeared once they saw the progress their children were making. Not only has the school’s attendance increased to 98 per cent, teacher morale has improved significantly and local families want their children to come to the once-failing school.

Headteacher, Idrees, came to the school in 2013 when the school was in special measures. There was immense pressure for results. The turnaround in the school’s approach came after 11-year old boy on the other side of the city killed himself due to bullying. Feversham piloted a project in the school to help deal with peer pressure, failure, and dealing with negativity. The project focused on game-playing while listening to music.

The school’s approach is based on the Kodály method, which is based on teaching, learning and understanding through music. Children learn about rhythm and movement in a way that helps reading, writing, maths and memory. There’s a wealth of reasons for incorporating music into school learning. Music expands kids’ vocabulary, crosses cultural divides, provides a safe space to conquer fears, is relaxing, teaches teamwork and builds imagination.

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