Supporting musical progression for children from very dissadvantaged communities participating in the English 'In Harmony' program


  • Susan Hallam Emerita Professor of Education and Music Psychology | UCL Institute of Education | United Kingdom
  • Susanne Burns Independent Researcher and Consultant | United Kingdom


The six In Harmony programs in England, supported by the UK government, differ according to local context and need. The core program is compulsory for children in participating primary schools and takes place during school time. Extra-curricular voluntary musical activities are also offered while the children are at primary school and for those who have transferred to secondary school. This research explored the challenges faced by the children in continuing with their musical activities when they left primary school and it was no longer compulsory to continue attending the program. Programs provided written details of the way their project operated. Focus group interviews were conducted with young people (28 children) and parents (26). Individual interviews were carried out with each head of program, 20 members of teaching staff, four primary headteachers and seventeen young people. Motivation to continue to engage with music included having a love of music, a strong musical identity, friends involved in music making, positive beliefs about musical potential and confidence to resist negative peer pressure. Staff in the programs were highly committed, providing transport, maintaining personal contact through transfer to secondary school and developing strong positive relationships with young people. Performance opportunities, courses in the school holidays, parental support, the involvement of professional musicians, the commitment of primary head teachers, and excellent relationships with partner and progression organisations were all important. Parents were concerned about the costs of their children being involved beyond primary school, while the programs faced a range of challenges including the number of secondary schools the children attended; having a critical mass for extra-curricular activities; ensuring appropriate age and expertise mix; location and size of accommodation; funding; engaging parents; cultural and religious beliefs; maintaining momentum; and setting up and maintaining partnerships. Even when opportunities to continue with music beyond primary school were available for young people, they did not always take them up. It was their commitment to music which was key to their engagement in the long term.