The Times: “Power of violin helps transform problem school”


The MIA were delighted to read about an inner-city secondary school that transformed behaviour and results after giving every new student a violin and three years of music lessons. This article by The Times shows the hugely positive outcome that putting music at the heart of a school can have…

Here is the article originally featured in The Times written by Nicola Woolcock, Education Correspondent.

An inner-city secondary school that transformed behaviour and results after giving every new student a violin and three years of music lessons could have its success replicated across the country.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Nicola Benedetti are patrons of the scheme, which is being taken beyond London for the first time and eventually aims to reach every school in England.

Jenny Smith, head of Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow, east London, which has run the scheme for five years, said: “The school is unrecognisable from where it was in 2014. We are celebrating the best results the school has ever had. Music is thriving and it is infectious. Music is absolutely at the heart of the school, and not an add-on.”

Truda White, a head teacher who founded the Music in Secondary Schools Trust to help turn around her struggling school, said that producing top-class musicians was not the main goal. Children learnt to co-operate, concentrate, sit still and cherished their instruments so much that if a fight broke out in the playground they would carefully put them down first before joining in, she said.

Ms White was in charge of a challenging school in Islington, north London, for 12 years. She secured funding from a charity to introduce classical music lessons to pupils “equal to the best in the country”. The school’s Ofsted rating was raised outstanding under her watch.

She said: “Music wasn’t optional, it was part of the core programme. If they forgot their instrument they were in trouble.”

People warned her that children would damage, lose or sell the instruments but the vast majority were protective of them and some said they loved their violins “like a baby”.

After Ms White retired as head teacher, the trust was set up with the help of Lloyd Webber. She added: “Music is transformative, playing in an orchestra teaches teamwork, resilience and interdependence. I wanted them to learn that, unlike the lesson from celebrity culture, you get there through work.”

Deronne White, 22, is a fourth-year student at the Royal College of Music, playing classical flute. He grew up in a single-parent family in Hackney, east London. Free music lessons were introduced at his school when he was 12 and less than three years later he achieved a grade eight with distinction.

He said: “I think music has kept me safe. I was so focused on playing the flute. It was and still is my absolute passion. My mum knows it’s been my salvation and has kept me out of any trouble.”

It would cost about £400 million for every child in England to benefit from the scheme. Ms White acknowledged that one difficulty with extending it was a lack of teachers.

So far more than 8,000 children aged 11 to 14 have benefited from the free weekly group music tuition and instruments. The main sponsors include the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust and the Dame Alice Owen Foundation.

Arts organisations have railed against the reduction in music and drama in many schools. Critics blame budget cuts and the pressure of government performance targets, which are based on pupil’s grades in core subjects.