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First year of Youth Music's Exchanging Notes programme brings increased engagement

On Friday we published the interim evaluation of Youth Music's Exchanging Notes programme, designed to foster collaboration between classroom teachers and community music leaders, and to increase young people's engagement. Below is a press release highlighting the key findings, along with a link to the evaluation report.


Youth Music has this week published an interim evaluation of its ‘Exchanging Notes’ initiative by Birmingham City University. Exchanging Notes is a four-year action research programme pioneering ten new partnerships between schools and music education providers who normally work in out-of-school settings. Youth Music has invested £1.2m in the project which aims to establish if this collaborative approach could bring additional benefits for young people at risk of low attainment, disengagement or educational exclusion.

Standard of music delivery and collaborative environment improving educational achievement

The results from the first year of the programme indicate that the multi-agency approach has improved the quality and standards of music delivery. Many of the projects have brought together music leaders, teachers, social workers, carers, designated behaviour support teachers, school senior leadership team members, parents, personnel from music providers and music services in meetings in order to join up provision. These relationships have improved the young students’ achievement and engagement in their education, addressed their needs more appropriately and enabled early identification of issues which need intervention.

The improvements in achievement and engagement have also been encouraged by music leaders building trusting and collaborative environments together with students. These environments have additionally impacted positively on students’ self-confidence and behaviour, expanded their musical repertoire and enabled them to become more creative musicians.

The report suggests that teachers and music leaders have also noted an increase in social development and emotional wellbeing among the young people involved, although the authors note that more analysis needs to be done in this area over the next three years of Exchanging Notes.

Matt Griffiths, Youth Music’s CEO said:

“We’re really pleased with these early findings from Birmingham City University which appear to show that this new collaborative approach is having a positive effect on pupils’ engagement in education. It’s clear too that the sharing of approaches to learning and practice by teachers and music leaders is of benefit to both and I hope to see some very interesting ways of working collaboratively emerging over the coming years.”

Teaching practice

Youth Music’s Exchanging Notes programme also encourages the exchange of ideas, practice and understanding of effective music teaching techniques between music teachers and community practitioners. This has led to some interesting findings with clear differences in approaches to planning and assessment.

Within school cultures, planning is the foundation of a teacher’s work whereas for many of the music providers working in non-formal settings, linking a long-term overview to the national curriculum is a new process. Some music providers suggested that they had benefited from observing and taking part in this.

Many projects have found that building in time for reflection-on-action has proven to be constructive. These conversations and reflections help adapt planning and inform a critical awareness of various teaching approaches. They have also enabled both music leaders and teachers to develop practice, explore teaching methods and expand learning.

Assessment proving to be contentious

The Exchanging Notes research found that assessment of pupils’ results has proved to be contentious with individuals involved in the programme having differing views of music’s purpose. Some wanted to measure success in terms of exam grades and formal assessment, while others favoured a wider assessment taking into account social, emotional and wellbeing factors alongside musical skills, knowledge and understanding. New approaches to assessment are under consideration.

Youth Music’s Quality Framework found to be a useful tool

In conjunction with the individual projects, Birmingham City University has been using an adapted form of Youth Music’s Quality Framework Do, Review, Improve as an evaluation tool. The framework uses evidence from projects supported by Youth Music over the years to set out key ingredients of a successful music-making session. One aim of the Exchanging Notes evaluation was to test the validity of the framework as a tool for increasing educational engagement of young people. Overall Do, Review, Improve was found to be a useful evaluation and planning tool, a helpful guide to focus music leaders and teachers on pedagogy and practice, and a catalyst to generate critical understanding of teaching and learning.

The research identified some key areas of successful practice linked to the Quality Framework. It found that young people are offered the opportunity to work with a range of materials and equipment and that the duration of contact time and depth of engagement are appropriately matched to the needs of the young people.

Sessions were found to have an atmosphere of collective learning where students and staff support each other to develop and excel. A community of practice is developing between music leaders, teachers and young people.

The research also reports that activities were designed and delivered in a manner appropriate to the musical and learning needs of pupils, although it suggests that more can be done to improve shared knowledge of suitable progression routes for young people between teachers and music leaders.

Enjoyment of learning music

Researchers found that young people themselves noted the differences between traditional in-school lessons and Exchanging Notes sessions. These differences included fewer rules and a less formal atmosphere, more options to develop individual practice, more choice, time for reflection and creative play. Some felt better able to express themselves in the less formal setting and enjoyed new approaches such as visiting local recording facilities.  

With learning extended outside of school into youth clubs and extra-curricular music activities, many young people from Exchanging Notes have performed for wider community audiences.

Download the full version of the interim results here.