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Fresh Ideas for Music – Notes from ROH Bridge

Last month MWC’s Artistic Director Maria Thomas shared her thoughts from the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education. This month she takes inspiration from the ROH Bridge’s annual conference, The Thriving Child

Maria Thomas
Maria Thomas

On the 28thJune, the ROH Bridge held their annual conference, The Thriving Child. This year, back at the Royal Opera House following the renovation of the Linbury Theatre, the conference was streamed across the country with people joining from the Lowry in Salford, West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds, the Midlands Art Centre in Birmingham, the Curve Theatre in Leicester and Ocean Studios in Portsmouth. 

Many speakers linked the topic of The Thriving Child to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which was agreed 30 years ago. Key to the discussion was Article 31 which states:

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”

The day began with delegates being welcomed by Alex Beard, CEO of the Royal Opera House before host for the day, Kirsty Wark took charge of proceedings. The day was split into four topics for discussion, the first being, “What affects the ability of children and young people to live, play and learn in 2019 in the UK?”.

Image: jrbelice

The first speaker, Dr Kitty Stewart, Associate Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics and Political Science, gave a very clear view on what impacts young people’s ability to live, play and learn, with family income and investment in support services being key. Dr Stewart shared figures from the National Audit Office demonstrating the cuts to local authority services in England from 2010-11 to 2016-17 showing -50% cut to the Sure Start programme, -66% cut to services for young people, -41% to Arts development and support, -33% to library services and -49% to youth justice. She linked these figures to models that demonstrate the impact of these factors on children and families.

The second talk was entitled Beyond the Secret Garden and was given by Darren Chetty, a teacher, writer and researcher. Chetty raised another central issue for young people accessing the arts – the lack of diversity in children’s literature. He highlighted that 1% of children’s books have a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) main character and only 4% have any BAME characters at all. He told delegates of an experience he had as a teacher where a young BAME person in his primary class wrote about his family in a writing assignment and was told by a classmate, “Stories are about white people.” He raised the point that in education, there is often discussion of “pupil voice,” but he feels it is important to also highlight “teacher ear” to ensure educators are listening to young people. He recommended http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/ as a source for books for young people.

The final speaker in the first session was Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology at London School of Economics and Political Science. Her discussion focussed on young people thriving online and suggested that offline, parents and teachers offer children and young people “scaffolded freedom,” giving them a chance to have freedom within a safe setting. However, she suggested that many parents and teachers feel they do not have the skills to do this online which may lead to them being restrictive in terms of access online for young people, or that young people are continually warned of the dangers online and so self-censor.

The theme for Session 2 was The lived experience of children and young people, and as is traditional at ROH Bridge conferences, we heard from young people. The first was a fabulous performance by the Palace Young Company from Watford Palace Theatre entitled, “We’re Waiting ….” which highlighted areas of concern for young people such as climate change, from advertising, social media, exams and Brexit.

The second part showcased the good practice of Gifted Young Generation based at The Grand Healthy Living Centre in Gravesend. We heard from four young people aged 16 – 18 who run a podcast called Thrive. The teenagers discussed how support from The Grand had given them a voice and helped them to grow in confidence.

The last session before lunch was a general discussion, hosted by Kirsty Wark, about how educators can support young people to thrive.

After lunch, Session 3 focussed on the question, “What role do the arts, creativity and cultural learning play in enabling children and young people to thrive?” The first talk was by Baroness Kidron, Commissioner of the Durham Commission on Creativity and Education, Filmmaker, member of the House of Lords and children’s rights campaigner. She shared some of the findings from the recent Durham Commission on Creativity and Education which will be published in September.

The second section was a discussion between Adam Annand, Associate Director and Speech Bubble lead at London Bubble and Dominic Wyse, Professor of Early Childhood and Primary Education at University College London. Adam discussed the work London Bubble do through their Speech Bubbles work, a national primary school drama intervention supporting children’s communication skills, confidence and wellbeing. For more on this watch the video below:

Adam raised the link between how feel and how we communicate. Professor Wyse suggested that it would be good to take the National Curriculum for Music and replace the word “Music” with “English” to move to a more playful approach to teaching language. The speakers discussed the importance of evaluating work to prove its worth and access funding, with Adam leaving delegates with the question: “How do we evaluate the twinkle in the eye of the child?”

The final speaker in Session 3 was Professor Pat Thomson, Professor of Education at University of Nottingham & Convenor of the Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy. Her talk was entitled Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement: Arts education for cultural citizenship, and she shared her research in to how teachers use their experience of working with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Tate in developing classroom pedagogies.

The research worked with 30 schools and 1,442 students and highlighted that their findings found the importance of school support in introducing young people to the Arts. The project also showed that students who had worked with these organisations through schools were more likely to become audiences and more likely to become participants in the Arts than the national average. Professor Thomson also highlighted that all children and young people are active cultural citizens, and she likened this to children and young people coming to schools with individual cultural back-packs which hold all their previous cultural experiences. She suggested that educators need to help young people unpack these bags and share these experiences. She also highlighted the importance of “Arts Broker Teachers” who embody what it means to be culturally involved, who talk to their students about their cultural life outside school. She also stressed that her research showed a clear mutual respect between cultural organisations and teachers which enabled them to work together.

In the audience discussion, Janet Robertson, CEO of Action for Children’s Arts, introduced the Arts Back-pack which is currently in a feasibility stage. This is a project which, if implemented, will ensure that every primary school child in the UK has at least five cultural experiences in the school year. It has been proposed to government ministers, representatives from Arts Council England and key individuals within the sector as a way to combat the diminishing role that arts subjects play in schools across the UK. For more information see https://www.childrensarts.org.uk

Having started the day with depressing figures on the cuts to funding for young people, the formal part of day ended on a high with powerful Keynote speaker Akala, Hip hop artist, historian, writer and social entrepreneur sharing his experiences and lessons learnt through these life experiences. He particularly stressed the cost of expulsion to society. His advice to educators is:

  • Be brutally honest with young people
  • Be conscious of your own bias
  • Realise your brilliance … And impact

As is always key at these events, evaluation was needed at the end of day, but the ROH Bridge team gave delegates the chance to approach this slightly differently with young people hosting a number of areas for delegates to reflect on their experience including the “Washing line of Fresh Ideas.”

For more discussion from the conference see #ThrivingChild on Twitter


If you would like to know more about the Music Workshop Company or to book one of our bespoke creative experiences, contact Maria today.

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