Youth Music: Exchanging Notes

Can getting young people involved in musical activities help those at risk of low attainment or exclusion? The Exchanging Notes project set out to find this out, and look at how the quality of music teaching could be improved to make it more effective.


Researchers at Birmingham City University were appointed to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of Youth Music’s four-year Exchanging Notes programme. Youth Music is a national charity investing in music-making projects for children and young people experiencing challenging circumstances. Exchanging Notes was a four-year action research programme pioneering new partnerships between schools and music education providers who normally work in out-of-school settings. The programme, funded by Youth Music, began in September 2014 and finished early 2019. Seven projects have been funded over the four years with grants totalling £1,195,308. The projects included:

  1. Kinetika Bloco
  2. The Barbican Centre Trust
  3. SoCo Music Project
  4. Drake Music
  5. Brighter Sound
  6. Accent Warrington and Halton Music Education Hub
  7. Derbyshire Music Education Hub

Each partnership worked with young people at risk of low attainment, disengagement or educational exclusion to see whether participation in regular music-making activities can enable achievement of musical, educational and wider outcomes.

Aim of research

The central aim of the research was to ensure that young people at risk of low attainment, disengagement or educational exclusion achieve the best musical, educational and wider outcomes through participation in a pioneering music education project, and to develop new models of effective partnership-working between schools and out-of-school music providers.

With this in mind the project had five intended outcomes: 

  • To improve the quality and standards of music delivery for children and young people.         
  • To embed learning and effective practice in host and share practice beyond the project. 
  • To develop the educational practice of schools, non-formal music organisations, teachers and practitioners through an action research model
  • To evidence the impact of the Exchanging Notes projects on educational and broader developmental outcomes for young people
  • To test the validity of a Youth Music pedagogical Quality Framework as a tool for increasing educational engagement of young people.

Method of research

Over the four the researchers have gathered a range of data to explore the aims of the project. This includes in-depth qualitative research with music leaders, teachers and young people through interviews, focus groups and observations of sessions using Youth Music’s Quality Framework, as well as quantitative data collection in the form of engagement scales and perception surveys. We have also collated the young people’s school assessment and attainment data to track progress and progression over the four years.


The final evaluation report is due on the 22nd May 2019. This report will focus on the overall outcomes of Exchanging Notes, drawing together findings from the multiple qualitative and quantitative datasets. However the year three report highlighted these key findings:

  • The development of communicative partnerships was central to young people’s musical and educational development, including music leaders, teachers, social workers, carers, designated behaviour teachers, school senior leadership teams, parents, music provider personnel, and local Music Education Hub leaders.
  • Effective Exchanging Notes sessions focused on learning, developed communication, and foster creativity.
  • Joined-up planning between teachers and music leaders, where the development of a shared ethos is created, was significant for learning and teaching.
  • The engagement of senior leadership teams was critical to shared practice, visibility of projects in the wider school community, and value of music in the curriculum.
  •  A Continued Professional Development (CPD) model was employed by a number of the projects. These projects engaged the teaching community locally (in-school), and are now beginning to share practice within the region through Music Education Hubs and link schools.
  • There is evidence that the educational practices of the range of stakeholders and organisations has developed, and that the action research model has been important in supporting organisations and individuals to critically reflect
  • Throughout Exchanging Notes, music providers and schools have considered new planning mechanisms where both formal and non-formal approaches are considered and implemented.


Exchanging Notes Report

Media work

News coverage:

In this podcast, led by Adam Cookson from Youth Music, key project partners discuss the ingredients for an effective partnership; the impact Exchanging Notes had on young people, practitioners and schools; and recommendations for the future, including some ideas about how best to refresh the Key Stage 3 Music Curriculum. 

The podcast features Kim Johnson from Derbyshire County Council, Sam Mumford from Drum Works, Helen Briner from The Warren School in Barking & Dagenham, and Victoria Kinsella from Birmingham City University.