Developing successful music partnerships


Malcolm Arnold Academy makes effective use of external musical partnerships. Michelle Reading, head of music, explains how they have achieved success with their provision.

When Ofsted released its recent report into music partnerships in schools, we read its findings with great interest.

In short, Ofsted found that in the majority of its specialist inspections, musical partnerships did not help to secure genuine and lasting improvement to schools’ music offerings (Music in Schools: Sound partnerships, Ofsted, October 2012).

The report also raised a concern that is a key focus of my department: students who came from less privileged backgrounds are often not given the chance to experience high quality, long-term music provision. In many instances, this was due to the burden of costs for music lessons and instruments.

Our school had not always got it right. Since becoming Malcolm Arnold Academy, converting from the predecessor school in 2010, we have learnt some valuable lessons about how to make music partnerships work. At the time of conversion, the music department faced several challenges.

Numerous music partnerships were in place, but although they had been started with the best of intentions, they were not working effectively. External pressures, financial issues, new initiatives within the school and a lack of student engagement resulted in 53 per cent of students attaining A* to C GCSE grades, and students had not been instilled with a love of music.

Furthermore, partnerships seemed to benefit only certain groups of students, with too few measures in place to ensure that students were given the opportunity to excel across the board.

We wanted to organise partnerships that inspired students, enriched the curriculum and raised grades. We devised an approach with several strands to put our aims into practice.

Co-ordinating partnerships

The most important aim for us was to co-ordinate our selected partnerships to give all our students equal opportunities. For example, we set an objective early on to create partnerships that would both inspire a passion for classical music in the entire student body, and give every student the opportunity to build on this interest, regardless of background or aptitude.

We developed links with the Royal College of Music SPARKS programme to give students the kind of access to live classical music performances they had not had before. To complement this, we worked with Oxford Philomusica, a professional symphony orchestra with specialist experience in making classical music accessible and understandable to young people.

Using two partnerships working hand-in-hand to focus on a single outcome was successful in inspiring a passion for classical music across our student body. It was critical, however, to follow this up by providing opportunities for students to put their interests into practice. 

We ensure that students without access to funding for individual music lessons are still able to flourish musically. Our partnership with Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Trust means we can provide music lessons to students at heavily subsidised rates. Linking inspiration to follow-up like this has produced positive results. In 2010/11, 17 students took part in individual music lessons while this academic year, the number has risen to 46.

Linking to the curriculum

We did not want our partnerships to give students purely extra-curricular opportunities. We also wanted the academy’s partnerships to enrich the students’ curriculum and give them better examination results.

We worked with the Royal College of Music to run GCSE composition workshops with year 11 students. These were geared towards the outcomes required in their coursework study, helping to improve their composition skills prior to exam submission.

Matthew, one of our year 11 students, was struggling with GCSE composition in particular. The Royal College of Music project enabled him to complete his work by focusing him on clear deadlines. The result was that Matthew achieved a good GCSE result and went on to study music as a 6th-former at Malcolm Arnold.

Monitoring systems

We ensure that each partnership is a partnership in the true sense of the word. We see them as an opportunity for a collaborative process, harnessing true expertise at the same time as gearing events and programmes towards individual needs.

Our partners’ power to inspire, combined with our knowledge of each student, is a powerful combination. For each partnership, we implement a plan to monitor and evaluate any schemes and projects continually, from start to finish. From the outset, there is comprehensive communication between Malcolm Arnold Academy and the partner. We set core aims, tangible deliverables and hold evaluation meetings. This helps maintain momentum and ensure that there is a mutually agreed end goal.

Support and develop staff 

Partnership working should not just be about the benefits to our students. Through our sponsor, the David Ross Education Trust, staff at Malcolm Arnold have had some unique opportunities and access to some world class musicians. 

Engaging our music staff in a meaningful way is vital to ensure musical partnerships resonate long after individual events are over. We work with our partners to offer CPD schemes for our staff, so that each teacher is able to develop their individual expertise, share it with their colleagues, and pass tangible benefits on to our students.

The results

All these practices have had measurable success. Our GCSE results have improved dramatically, from 53 per cent A* to C in 2010 to 72 per cent A* to C in 2012. In fact, 28 per cent more students have opted to study GCSE music over the past two years. Over the same period, the academy has seen a huge increase in the number of students taking Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Trust lessons, with a 76 per cent increase in 2011 and a 22 per cent increase in 2012.  

We now have the knowledge and resources to offer AS and BTEC Level 3 courses to our 6th form. The number of viable music ensembles in the academy has also shot up, with a 350 per cent increase in 2011 and a 22 per cent increase in 2012. All this shows that our partnerships are not only helping to improve attainment, but also inspiring students to pursue a love of music.

Despite our recent success, we still see room for improvement. We want to increase further the numbers of students involved in learning a musical instrument and co-curricular activities, as well as getting our students out into the community to perform. Another priority is to increase the number of students doing music GCSE and A levels, and raise pass rates.

We see musical partnerships as playing a key role in improving our music provision in the future, as long as we continue to use them effectively.

  • Michelle Reading is head of music at Malcolm Arnold Academy in Northampton, which is part of the David Ross Education Trust.

CAPTION: Sound advice: Students at Malcolm Arnold Academy benefit from the school’s range of musical partnerships


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