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Tees Valley Music Service helps RSA investigate risk to arts in UK schools

The RSA's Learning About Culture project will run for two and a half years and is the largest study of its kind ever undertaken in the UK

The RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufacture and Commerce) is carrying out one of the largest ever studies of the value of arts and culture education and has chosen Tees Valley Music Service’s (TVMS) ‘First Thing Music’ scheme as one of five to evaluate.

The five trials in the RSA’s Learning About Culture investigation will gather evidence of the impact of promising arts-based learning projects on outcomes such as reading, skills, confidence and creativity. The other four projects cover communication skills, literacy, illustration, writing and journalism.

The TVMS project trains teachers to use the Kodály method of using songs and games to teach music at the start of each day.

Running since 2018, First Thing Music is a national scheme in which TVMS is a key delivery partner. Developed by TVMS with Lindsay Ibbotson and Lucinda Geoghegan, Creative Learning Director for the National Youth Choir of Scotland and Chair of the British Kodály Academy Education Committee, the project began as a randomised control trial in the Year Once classes of 60 primary schools across the North East of England. It has now spread out across a number of music hubs around the country.

Learning About Culture is a two and a half year project involving 8,500 children in 400 state schools and is the largest study of its kind ever undertaken in the UK. The TVMS part of the study will involve 1800 pupils across 80 schools.

The study has two key aims: to build a stronger evidence base for cultural learning and to improve the use of evidence about what works in cultural learning, not to pass league tables to prove success but to improve practices for the betterment of schools and the students.

The results of the trials will be published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) as part of the Toolkit of Research, which will show school leaders to consider which of these projects might apply to their needs and what they cost.

The study chose First Thing Music as one of its five study groups in response to the EEF’s Arts Education literature review, which saw the Kodály method as showing positive indicators for developing communication and coordination skills. It also liked TVMS’s use of Kodály’s music approaches, encouraging young children to start their day with musical exercises, using signs, games, clapping, reading musical symbols, rhythmic notation and singing.   

As the study prospectus says, ‘An entitlement to participation in culture goes beyond a right to self-expression – it is a fundamental component of a just society; one that ensures that everyone can contribute to how we understand one another. School is the place where many children get most of their education about arts and culture – as creators, audiences or a blend of the two. However, in recent years there has been a decline in the provision of arts and cultural education in England’s schools. The RSA’s work in education seeks to empower schools to avoid any pressure to narrow or hollow-out their offer, while maintaining their commitment to improving outcomes for children. Learning About Culture seeks to make sure that schools and their cultural sector partners have the best information available to help them continue to provide and improve their cultural learning provision.’

Read the Programme Prospectus on the RSA website