Institute of Education
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How good music teaching can support children's literacy

Empowering teachers with the skills to use music in the classroom can boost not only music skills in children, but also helps to improve aspects of literacy, particularly reading.

The New London Orchestra's flagship education project Literacy through Music is aiming to improve primary school teachers' confidence and skills in using music in the classroom, and provide them with methods and activities that they can use to support literacy development.

The scheme, now in its second full year, is being run by the New London Orchestra, which provided in-service training (Inset) for teachers. Sessions involving the teaching of music and literacy activities took place in 30 primary schools in the London Borough of Newham, involving around 650 teachers during 2011- 2012.

The previous (first) year's scheme evaluation (available at had found that the children taking part in the scheme had significantly improved their reading abilities compared to those in control groups. This positive finding led to the NLO organising the professional development programme that built on the evaluation of the first year.

Literacy through Music is made possible through a donation to the New London Orchestra from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

Researchers from the Institute of Education carried out a thorough evaluation of the latest phase of the programme by surveying the teachers who took part.

Professor Graham Welch, who led the research, said:

"The New London Orchestra's Literacy through Music project is demonstrating the power of music to enhance the quality of children's learning in other areas of development. A key design feature is the close partnership and teamwork exhibited by NLO musicians, teachers and teaching assistants. The outcomes of the initiative are very positive".

The researchers found that the training had led to a significant shift in the teachers' understanding of how music activities could be used to support literacy. By the end of the programme, two-thirds of teachers had used music-based activities to support other aspects of learning, including literacy, and said they would now them use them on a daily basis.

The programme is also having a positive impact on the participants' confidence and enjoyment in teaching music – the numbers who did so doubled, as did the number who considered themselves to be musicians as a result of the training.

Teachers were very positive. One participant said:

"The Insets (In-Service Training sessions) were brilliant, and as a non-musician, were incredibly useful. I will definitely use all of the games and activities that we used to enhance my teaching."

These results suggest that programmes such as this could be used around the country to motivate and excite teachers and their pupils, the researchers conclude.

Christine Whatford CBE, a trustee of the New London Orchestra and a former Director of Education of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, said: "Results from the NLO's Literacy through Music programme continue to be pleasing. It is rewarding to know that Literacy through Music is having a real and measurable impact."        

Editor's Notes:

For more information please contact the IOE press office: Diane Hofkins, 020 7911 5423, or James Russell, 020 7911 5556,

The Institute of Education is a college of the University of London that specialises in education and related areas of social science and professional practice. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise two-thirds of the Institute's research activity was judged to be internationally significant and over a third was judged to be "world leading". The Institute was recognised by Ofsted in 2010 for its "high quality" initial teacher training programmes that inspire its students "to want to be outstanding teachers". The IOE is a member of the 1994 Group, which brings together 12 internationally renowned, research-intensive universities.

The New London Orchestra celebrates its 25th birthday in 2013. It is the orchestra-in-residence at Stratford Circus arts centre in Newham. The NLO has made over 20 recordings, mostly for the Hyperion label. Its Young Persons Concert Series is currently in its eighth season at the Foundling Museum in London WC1, and provides recital opportunities for young soloists. Its flagship education programme is the unique Literacy through Music programme, taking place in primary schools Newham.

A Research Evaluation of the New London Orchestra "Literacy through Music" Programme, Teacher Inset provision by Jo Saunders, Graham Welch and Evangelos Himonides was carried out by iMerc, the International Music Education Research Centre, based at the IOE. Download the report and the summary here:

The IOE's research evaluation included pre- and post-intervention questionnaires (completed by participants during the first and last INSET sessions). Results of the research indicate that:

  • the percentage of participants who considered themselves to be 'musicians' more than doubled as a result of the NLO Programme (from 14.8% to 30.2%);
  • there was a doubling of the proportion of participants who reported themselves to be 'confident' in teaching music to their pupils (up from 25.7% to 53.1%);
  • nearly two-thirds of participants (59.5%) felt that they enjoyed teaching music (up from 30.6% at the beginning);
  • there was a shift from a minority (31.9%) to a majority (54.9%) who felt confident enough to lead singing with their pupils by the end of the programme;
  • the proportion of participants who understood how music activities could support aspects of literacy rose from two-third (64.5%) to nearly all (89.3%);
  • there was also evidence of a cultural shift in the application of this understanding to customary teaching practices; by the end of the programme, two-thirds of teachers had used music-based activities to support other aspects of learning, including literacy (up from 43% to 63.9%); and two-thirds (66.3%) would now use them on a daily basis (compared with 48.6% at the beginning;
  • three-quarters of participants (77.7%) reported that NLO Programme activities would be useful in their classes, particularly those activities most clearly linked to literacy-based learning objectives.

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