A school transformed itself by giving every student a violin

9 October 2020, 11:17

Frederick Bremer School gives every new pupil a violin
Frederick Bremer School gives every new pupil a violin. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Every new pupil at this forward-thinking East London school is given a violin and free music lessons. Now, the headteacher wants the scheme to be replicated across the country.

A community school in Walthamstow has transformed itself by putting music at its heart.

Every new pupil who enters Frederick Bremer School in Year 7 learns to play the violin, viola or flute during music lessons.

The scheme, of which Andrew Lloyd Webber and Nicola Benedetti are patrons, is now being taken out of London for the first time and aims to reach every school in England.

Headteacher Jenny Smith, who has run the music programme for five years, told The Times: “The school is unrecognisable from where it was in 2014. We are celebrating the best results the school has ever had.

“Music is thriving and it is infectious. Music is absolutely at the heart of the school, and not an add-on.”

Read more: Leonard Bernstein’s powerful words on music education >

Playing in an orchestra teaches teamwork, says retired head teacher
Playing in an orchestra teaches teamwork, says retired head teacher. Picture: Getty

Truda White, a head teacher who founded the Music in Secondary Schools Trust, used it to help turn around her struggling school in Islington.

She secured funding from a charity to introduce classical music lessons to pupils “equal to the best in the country”, and the school’s Ofsted rating was soon raised to outstanding.

The main goal of the Trust, White tells The Times, is not to produce top-class musicians. “Children learnt to co-operate, concentrate, sit still and cherished their instruments so much that if a fight broke out in the playground, they would carefully put them down first before joining in,” the paper quotes her as saying.

Read more: Nicola Benedetti: ‘Music teaching is vital to a child’s education’ >

“Music wasn’t optional, it was part of the core programme,” she continued. “If [the children] forgot their instrument they were in trouble.”

After Ms White retired as head teacher, the trust was set up with the help of Lord Lloyd-Webber. She added: “Music is transformative, playing in an orchestra teaches teamwork, resilience and interdependence. I wanted them to learn that, unlike the lesson from celebrity culture, you get there through work.”

Lord Lloyd-Webber attends the 'Music In Secondary Schools Trust 5th Anniversary Concert'
Lord Lloyd-Webber attends the 'Music In Secondary Schools Trust 5th Anniversary Concert'. Picture: Getty

Speaking at Cheltenham Literature Festival recently, Lloyd Webber criticised government cuts to school arts and music budgets, calling them “the stupidest thing that could ever have happened”.

The composer went on to speak about Frederick Bremer School, which he said was about to be closed before the new music scheme was brought in.

“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.

“And I thought this is amazing and I got in touch with the headmistress there and she now runs something called the Music in Secondary Schools Trust.

“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.”