Durham Johnston is an 11-18 mixed comprehensive school


To strengthen the musical culture of the school and to better integrate the various aspects of Music provision to strengthen participation and better support all students.


The council-supported Durham Music Service (DMS) is freely available in primary schools so pupils from incredibly diverse backgrounds begin their musical journey there. However, by the time pupils are transitioning from KS3 to KS4 those who are continuing to learn an instrument or opting for GCSE Music are most commonly those from more affluent homes, with the support of high-achieving parents. Pupils who may not have the financial or emotional support from home to continue successfully with their musical experience, tended to have given up their music lessons at the stressful time of transition from KS2 to KS3.


Year 1

Data was gathered and current provision of DMS music lessons was evaluated, including a number of small case studies of students entitled to free school meals. These identified ways in which extra support was needed; rarely financial support, but usually nurturing and encouraging strategies to show pupils (and parents) that care and interest was being shown. For example, one very vulnerable pupil had individual violin lessons arranged as the group lesson might prove too intimidating, and when the time came for her to take an exam, it was done internally by the Head of Music rather than externally, which still gave her a sense of achievement.

Year 2

A parent/carer practice training evening was held to engage the support of parents by showing them how they could support their child’s practice (48 attendees). The evening was a great success and several parents spoke about the difficulties younger pupils have with juggling timetables and catching up on classwork when they return to lessons.

Financial circumstances meant that the ‘voluntary contribution’ towards music lessons became compulsory; however, a parent survey showed that the majority of parents do not see music as an expensive hobby and happily no pupil has given up their DMS lessons citing cost as a reason.

Year 3

To build links with feeder primary schools, primary musicians were invited to a Music Transition Day. In planning for this, it became further apparent how diverse pupils’ backgrounds and situations were. The aims of this day were to help musicians better integrate into KS3, allowing them to meet staff and one another and encourage a sense of community. It also gave the opportunity to identify any pupils who were at risk of giving up their instrument in the transition period and encourage them to continue, providing extra support where necessary. 40 pupils attended this day.


Pupil and parent surveys – these were conducted during Y1 as data was gathered and then, more fully, after the ‘practice training evening’ in Y2.

Numbers of pupils continuing with instrumental lessons and participating in the extra-curricular activities on offer – the numbers of pupils in Junior Orchestra seems to have increased as a direct consequence of the ‘Music Transition Day’ and, according to conversations with the pupils, this day made it easier for them to settle in and more likely to join the group, as they had played together and were familiar with the school routines. Only three pupils have given up lessons this year, and these did so before they even began at Durham Johnston, and none of whom had attended the ‘Music Transition Day’. No pupils have given up since then, compared with three to five a term in previous years.


The challenge of this ‘project’ is that in order for it to be successful, it cannot remain a ‘project’ but must become systemic in our yearly cycle. Increasing focus on DMS lessons in school has led to greater communication and collaboration with DMS colleagues and this helps to integrate the lessons with the work of the department as a whole. Sending information regarding DMS lessons with the school’s ‘transition packs’ has given the work of the Music department a high profile and sends a clear message that it is expected that children continue their lessons into KS3.


Based on our findings, it seems that finance and ‘peer pressure’ are rarely limiting factors for pupils to continue with their music lessons. The few pupils who have given up their lessons this year have cited increased workload and academic pressure, and our anecdotal evidence would suggest that willingness of the parents to support and encourage music making is vital.


Jessica Holmes, j.holmes@durhamjohnston.org.uk