Evolving Pathways – Educational Journeys
"Robert spent last term singing along quietly, not musically taking part majorly. He was experiencing bullying at school and was quite open about if he’d had a bad day experiencing it before the session…In the Summer holiday one-off session it was clear that in a song writing session Robert had a lot to get off his chest about being bullied. At the start of this term Robert told us the bully had moved class. Though throughout the term Robert was up and down with how he was feeling at school, he began to take part a lot more within our sessions. He decided he would try playing drums for one session, and for another bass. Both times he picked up the instruments quickly and concentrated on parts he was taught as we went through the session. This was a clear change from last term and an achievement for him." - Zoe Konez, Rhythmix Music Tutor
Most of the Music in Mind participants were aged 11 to 18 years, meaning that there is a statutory requirement for them to be enrolled in some kind of formal education. However, it is clear from the feedback from young people, tutors and centre staff that some of the young people attending the sessions had issues with, or at, school. The reported issues included feeling under-confident in school, expressing their inability to cope, expressing their inability to speak up and explain what they might be feeling, being anxious for a variety of reasons, to making and keeping friends, and also feelings of being bullied.
Whilst most of the young people attending Music in Mind projects were enrolled in local schools, the work also ran alongside the Education Unit at Chalkhill, where young people in the residential part of the hospital worked with tutors on a variety of subjects including Music.
Overview of the focus of the case study
Within the projects, music had a dual role – the sessions offered participants a way to develop their musical interests and skills and they also offered a framework for development in other areas of their lives. Specifically, with reference to educational journeys Music in Mind sought to do the following:Engage young people in positive activities.
It is difficult to entirely separate out musical, social, personal and educational development in many cases, however the focus of this section of the report is on educational development and educational outcomes and therefore the examples used to illustrate specific points are chosen because of their relationship to educational pathways.
Challenges with engaging in regular education
Throughout the project, tutors became aware of many young people who have a difficult time in formal education, particularly due to anxiety manifesting in multiple ways, and the feeling that they are being bullied. For some of the young people engaged in the projects, regular attendance and engagement in learning at school were noted to be challenging. Where trained support workers from the centres regularly attended the sessions, there are examples of them being able to ‘pick up’ the issues and work with some of the young people on these. In these cases, the interface between the music and the clinical support was brought together. This collaborative model was occasionally positively commented upon by healthcare professionals, parents and young people in relation to the music helping with adherence to general education. This is seemingly because the positive feelings from the music sessions also positively impacted upon some other areas of the participants’ lives.Tackling issues around education through the music sessions
Through the varied approaches to music making within the sessions - including, for example, playing together in bands, peer teaching, lyric writing, rapping and song writing - issues around education and other anxieties emerged and were considered.Linking the music sessions to learning outside of the project
There are some examples of the participants bringing their work from outside of the project into the sessions for the tutor to help with. One example includes a participant needing to create a soundscape and this being written and recorded by the whole group. Other cited examples include young people who were taking formal instrumental tuition outside of the group and asked tutors to specifically help with certain aspects of practical and theoretical work. Examples have also been given of young people engaged in Music in Mind passing graded music instrument exams and theory exams during their time with the projects. Whilst these were taken outside of the project, it is the case that some young people specifically mentioned feeling anxious and nervous about the exams so it is most certainly an achievement to have gone through with the exams and successfully passed.Meeting musical expectations
Meeting musical expectations and being successful were important to the young people. There were many examples of gratitude towards the tutors, expressing thanks for encouraging and helping them to play instruments, work together, perform (particularly overcoming nerves) and express themselves through the creation and recording of their own music.Pathways to Further and Higher Education
There are some examples of young people re-connecting with formal education as a result of taking part in these projects. Two of these appear below as ‘spotlights’. In both of these examples, the young people concerned and their parents credit this success to their engagement with with Music in Mind projects.
Georgia, now aged 19, first became involved with Rhythmix during a stay at Chalkhill. She describes the Music in Mind project there as “really good fun” and notes how she developed as a musician initially through “playing covers in a band – I was usually the vocalist”. Georgia also developed her song writing skills, contributing to “songs we would all write together. We worked out what everyone’s strengths and weaknesses were and we all contributed different bits”.
On leaving Chalkhill, Georgia and her parents were very keen to continue to continue the work with Rhythmix and were instrumental in securing a centre and helping Rhythmix set up a project in West Sussex in conjunction with the CAMHS service which ran for one year, with Georgia continuing to make much progress musically, socially and emotionally. This continuity of the music was an important transition for Georgia from Chalkhill and back into her own community.
Educationally, Georgia credits her work with Rhythmix through Music in Mind with influencing her chosen path of study, noting that: “Working with Rhythmix has impacted on me because it has given me confidence and enabled me to express myself musically, and also to develop core skill using new music technologies to help me with sound design projects...Before I went to Chalkhill I used to do catering, then I changed to business. Now I’m at college doing technical theatre. In September I’m going be going to university in London to do the Theatre Technologies BA for three years. Sometimes you have to try everything before you find what you like!”
Georgia also continues to play and write her own music whenever she has time, and credits her work with Music in Mind for giving her the confidence to continue to develop as a person through volunteering in her local community.
17-year old Abbie was an in-patient at Chalkhill for a number of months. Her experiences of formal education had not been positive and she had significant anxiety issues manifesting in regular panic attacks. Abbie initially tried to attend the group music sessions at Chalkhill but found it too stressful working with, and particularly singing in front of, other people. However it was clear to the tutor that she had been very interested in music and particularly singing and song writing. It was clear to the tutor and Chalkhill staff that the song writing gave her a very powerful means to express herself about the issues she was facing, the feelings and emotions she was experiencing, and this was also recognised by the staff at the centre. For the final three months of her stay at Chalkhill, Abbie worked individually with the Rhythmix tutor and had very positive experiences writing and recording her own songs. As she came towards the end of her stay, Abbie became anxious that something she found useful and inspiring would no longer be supported. On leaving Chalkhill, Abbie was directed to a project in Brighton run by AudioActive (funded by Youth Music) where she could continue working with the same tutor. Abbie went on to write and record a further three songs and, with the encouragement of key staff at Chalkhill, the tutor from Rhythmix centre and the staff from AudioActive, she used the material to put together a portfolio. Using this as evidence of her potential, Abbie successfully applied for and subsequently took up a place on a Level 3 Performance and Production course in Brighton.
Examining young people’s progress and development through the lens of their educational journeys shows some compelling evidence of the integral relationship between different aspects of their lives, the challenges faced in multiple situations and the possibilities for targeted therapy to be used in conjunction with music help facilitate better educational experiences. It is difficult to gain a longitudinal picture after specific projects end but this could be a focus of future research into this area to consider longer-term impact (whilst also acknowledging that causal relationships are extremely challenging to show).
Regular engagement with the projects appears to have made some participants more self-determined (Deci and Ryan, 1985) , at least within this particular social situation. The examples of Abbie and Georgia indicate that high levels of self-determination have been successfully maintained and transferred into other areas of their lives beyond the project, helping to provide a springboard into study at Further and Higher Education levels. However, both were fully engaged in projects where the clinical support was integral to the music sessions for most of the time they were participating and both credit this joined-up approach with being important to their successes.
Both of the ‘spotlight’ examples relate to education within the creative arts, with a significant overlap with areas of music education. It is not clear whether working closely with a music tutor to which they could relate impacted upon this, although it is clear that Georgia was not considering studying a creative subject involving music before becoming involved in the projects. Both young people acknowledge their admiration for the tutors and there is perhaps some element of the projects helping young people to see their future possible selves in a positive light and providing scaffolding to help achieve this, if they have high enough levels of self-determination beyond the safe space of the project.
Both of the ‘spotlight’ examples show strong transitional experiences from Chalkhill into new musical situations, with continued support musically and emotionally. This highlights to importance of continuity, support and signposting to appropriate further suitable opportunities for engagement where the young people have a familiar and tangible link between the situation in which they thrived and become familiar and their new setting. These examples highlight a strong case for such work not just to be a ‘one-off’, an instead, to be linked through an expansive network with other suitable opportunities. Music Education Hubs may have an important role to play here.
There are definitely ways in which this kind of work can link back into work in school, particularly in music, as shown through the ‘soundscape’ example above. There is potential for the work produced in these sessions to feed into formal school qualifications such as GCSE, NCFE, Rock School Music Practitioner work. Additionally, there may be a case for considering qualifications within the project, if appropriate and long term (‘Arts Award’ was considered as part of these projects but it should be noted that this is centred around ‘participation’ rather than ‘qualification’). Many of the young people involved in these projects are keen on music and some have already achieved high levels of attainment outside of the programme, so this may be something for consideration in the future on a case-by-case basis if a particular individual is motivated do so.