Rebecca Pizzey

Editorial assistant

Q&A: Lindsay Ibbotson

8:00, 19th December 2017

Lindsay Ibbotson is founder of First Thing Music, a structured music education programme based on the Kodály approach developed in association with Tees Valley Music Service. The project will see 1,800 five- to six-year-olds in 60 schools learning the basics of music with trained practitioners over the coming academic year. She spoke to Rebecca Pizzey

Tell me about First Thing Music. What has your involvement been, and how has it been executed?
I’ve been working on it on my own since February 2015, trying to put together a project to answer the call for evidence to justify and demonstrate the importance of music in the classroom. I was aware that there were a lot of anecdotes about how much children love music, but nothing to validate its effectiveness.

I initially met up with Susan Robertson, manager of Tees Valley Music Service, and we decided to try something in the North East. I got into five schools in Stockton and set up a small study, where I worked with half of the cohort for four weeks, every day. Unfortunately we didn’t gather any baseline assessment material, but I then went into two schools of those five and continued to work with them over the year by myself, going in four days a week for 15 minutes a day, and this time I properly randomised and controlled it. Half of the Reception-age cohort were working with me and the other half were doing what they normally did. After a term, we found that there was very little obvious impact, but after two terms, we de-randomised the children and put them all back in together – and it was then that we saw some really interesting results. The main impact was on behaviour, and developing confidence – even with children speaking English as an additional language.

On the strength of that beginning project, I put in an application to the Education Endowment Fund which was backed up by TVMS as well as Lucinda Geoghegan and Zoe Greenhalgh from the British Kodály Academy. I spent last year applying to various other funding bodies, and the Royal Society of Arts came in on it as well: they were looking for cultural projects specifically with a background in randomised control studying.

Delivering this structured music education programme to 1,800 five- to six-year-olds across 60 schools sounds hugely ambitious. How will you manage that?
We will be recruiting music practitioners who have a background in primary music education, over the spring. They will be able to work with a whole class, and will help to mentor and deliver CPD. Each of the six practitioners will take on ten schools, and they will deliver daily sessions for four weeks, spending two in one school and two in another, going in every day and giving the teachers a chance to get on the floor with their class and be part of the experience. That’s the key to all of this – it’s about getting used to what it feels like to be part of a musical activity. Once the everyday input from the music practitioners is done after the four weeks, they will continue to go into the schools once a week to give the teachers a top up, some more material, to iron out any problems that are going on, and generally see them through the academic year. Added to that, there will be a series of afternoon training sessions every half term.

What sorts of barriers do you think primary teachers face that stop them from getting stuck into the basics of music teaching? How do you engage them and work past those barriers?
I’ve been doing this for over a decade, and what’s come up time and again is that teachers are keen to do music, but they don’t feel they have the practical experience. They’re nervous. So we need to show them how simple and straightforward this is; the idea really is that it’s ten minutes a day – it can be just one song that has an activity around it.

What are your hopes for the project?
That all primary school teachers will have enough confidence to deliver music at a high standard, because it really is essential for all children. We’ve got to have the horse before the cart. If you’ve got a child awake and responding and feeling synchronised with the group, then you’ve got much more chance of attaching the cart of attainment to them, and for them to have the energy to pull it away.

First Thing Music is currently recruiting early years music practitioners for June 2018 to July 2019. Applicants must be willing to deliver and support the delivery of daily music sessions with Year 1 pupils in up to ten primary schools, to eventually be taken over by the class teachers. Interviews are on 23 March 2018 and training on 6, 7 and 27 June, with a further session on 5 September. To apply, contact Lindsay Ibbotson at ibbotsonftm@tvms.org.uk or 07904 976385.

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