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Case Study
  • Categories: Education & learning through the arts

The Music Works

The arts play an important role in enriching young people’s educational experiences. Exposure to the arts can unlock potential in young people, helping them to engage with school and learning. The Arts-based Learning Fund supports pupils to thrive through engagement with high quality, arts-based learning. We are particularly interested in supporting pupils who experience systemic inequality and disadvantage to progress in their learning. We focus our effort on funding partnership working between arts organisations and formal education settings.

The Music Works is a Gloucestershire charity working to transform young people’s lives through music. Formed in 2004, the charity specialises in supporting people in challenging circumstances to reach their full potential in music, learning and in life. There is a focus on young people excluded from school, and members of demographic groups traditionally under-represented in the music industry, including disabled people and people from minoritised groups. The Music Works is a young person led organisation. Four young adult trustees sit on the board, and a youth advisory group helps shape the charity’s programmes, activities and strategy. The Music Works has centres with studio space in Gloucester and the Forest of Dean, as well as working in schools and other community locations. In a typical year it works with over 4,000 young people.

Young person and music leader making music. Photo: Ben O’Sullivan, The Music Works.

The Music Works is underpinned by the idea that music can be transformative, and a recognition that traditional music education may not engage some young people. They provide opportunities for young people to develop creativity and life skills, make friends and have fun. For example, the Making It programme targets young people at risk of offending.

One participant says: “I’d be in a cell without Making It. I was overwhelmed by how positively the programme impacted my personal life and my achievements and the recognition I had from people.”

In addition, the charity helps people to navigate their own routes into the music industry. A young man mentored by The Music Works completed an Arts Award, then studied music at sixth form college and is now doing a degree in popular music at Manchester.

Paul Hamlyn Foundation (PHF) awarded The Music Works a two-year Arts-based Learning Fund grant in 2021. The money is being used to research and develop music education in alternative provision settings, and they have a model for continuing it beyond the grant period.

The charity’s Education Director Ben O’Sullivan says: “With the PHF grant we are working with three schools across Gloucestershire and around 100 young people to research, develop and establish a sense of entitlement to music education for young people who are excluded, and a sustainable model which schools can continue beyond the grant, and a workforce ready to deliver it.”

Ben reports that the project is having an impact on both delivery and strategic thinking: “It’s brought back to the table schools who have really struggled to engage, particularly during lockdown.” In an initial project evaluation, some of the young people involved report feeling engaged with the process of writing, recording and performing types of music they are actually interested in. This is in contrast to how music is traditionally taught in school, where, one student said, you are “studying different types of music instead of actually doing it”.

A Year 8 student, after his first studio visit and mentoring session, commented: “Today was so good. I’ve never had a lesson before, but I would rather be making my own beat than learning to play music that someone is making me play.”