The future of Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow, East-London, was extremely uncertain for a while, and it even was on the brink of shutting down entirely.
The community school was about to be closed and their school performance rating in the UK (called the Ofsted rating) was poor.
Essentially, the school was running on its final breath – until one brilliant idea changed everything.
They gave every new student at the school a free music instrument, which was usually a violin.
Pupils can also choose a viola or flute, but it’s clear that the violin is the most popular option. Aside from the instrument itself, the students are also being mentored on their musical performance at the school over the course of three years.
It turns out that giving the pupils a music instrument and some structure and mentoring greatly enhances their school results. This claim is backed by numerous qualitative scientific studies, which state that music lessons can increase cognitive abilities for younger children, leading to improved academic performance. In some cases, the difference is actually incredibly significant.
However, due to recent budget cuts in the country, music has slowly disappeared from the academic world.
The funding of arts isn’t what it used to be, and schools tend to focus more purely on academic performance. Despite the fact that government funding and support was minimal, the Frederick Bremer School did manage to give every new pupil an instrument.
Well-known composer Andrew Lloyd Webber played an important role in this, as he donated no less than $1.63 million dollars and counting via his foundation to schools in the country. Thanks to his generosity, over 6,000 kids are now provided with free music lessons.
“What the government should be grasping is that every penny you spend on music – not to turn people into musicians, but music as an empowering force in schools – comes back to you tenfold,” the composer told Classic FM.
After they implemented the violin system, the school’s rating raised to ‘outstanding’.
Even though the connection will definitely be hard to make for some, giving all of these children their own instrument made a huge difference for the school – and even saved it from being closed altogether.
“I went to the school, and in many cases, a violin was the first thing that these kids had actually owned. The music literally turned the school around, and within four years they got their first scholarship to Oxford,” Webber added.
Ever since the music program has started, the school has been thriving.
“The school is unrecognizable from where it was in 2014. We are celebrating the best results the school has ever had,” headteacher Jenny Smith said to The Times.
And it’s clear that music is now an essential aspect and embodiment of the school.
“Music is thriving and it is infectious. Music is absolutely at the heart of the school, and not an add-on.”
“This scheme proves if you bring music into schools – nothing to do with turning them into professional musicians – but it helps on every level from behaviour through to academic level of achievement and actually self-esteem because music is an empowering force for all kids,” Webber later added.
Other schools around the globe have been inspired by the idea and are now doing the exact same.
For example, in Nashville, public schools can participate in a “Keep the Music Playing” program where music labs are built in schools and students are provided with free instruments. There’s a similar program active in Venezuela as well.
From a school that was about to be closed – to a thriving academic place where creativity is rewarded and students excel. And it’s all because pupils got their own violin and musical training!
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