Music ‘key to better literacy’ at free school

A NEW free school believes that teaching music to children as young as four is helping to improve their literacy and boost their confidence in a scheme mirroring education in New York’s Bronx district.

Dixons Music Primary in Bradford, which is the first of its kind in the country, offers specialist tuition to children in its reception class who have been given the chance to play keyboards, bells and djembe African drums as part of their education.

The music specialism was chosen to repeat the success of charter schools in the Bronx in New York where every pupils learns a musical instrument. It was one of two co-located free schools which opened in September in Bradford which are being led by one of the city’s most successful secondaries – Dixons City Academy.

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Dixons Academies Group now runs four schools in the city and has plans to expand further with the vision of opening another hub of local schools in a different town or city.

Dixons Music Primary and Dixons Trinity Academy – a new secondary school – are based in a former nurses’ training centre close to the city’s university and college. The site is currently undergoing a £9m redevelopment programme which is set to be completed at the start of the next academic year.

Dixons Music Primary has opened with just four members of staff and a reception class of 30 pupils. However, it also brings in five specialist music teachers to work with the children during the week.

From this September it will expand to a two-form entry taking on 60 pupils a year in reception. It also plans to take on a specialist music teacher as it expands.

Dixons Trinity opened with 112 year seven students and is already oversubscribed.

The two schools will eventually have more than 1,100 pupils on the site as they expand year-on-year with 720 based at Dixons Trinity and 420 at the Music Primary.

Nick Weller, the executive principal of the academies group, said part of the reason for wanting to open a new secondary was because Dixons City Academy was so oversubscribed with 1,200 applications from across Bradford for 165 places in year seven.

Parents who missed out on a place for their child at Dixons City last September were offered a place at Dixons Trinity instead which many accepted. However, Mr Weller said the plan was to establish Dixons Trinity as a popular school in its own right.

All Dixons schools have a city-wide intake and use a fair banding admissions system which Mr Weller said ensures that the pupils it accepts reflect the spread of ability of those who are applying. Pupils take a test and are split into ability bands.

“If 20 per cent of pupils are in the bottom band then 20 per cent of places will go to children of this ability,” Mr Weller added.

He told the Yorkshire Post the city wide intake had also helped give Dixons an ethnic balance of pupils in a city where many secondary schools are mono-ethnic with pupils predominantly from either white or Pakistani backgrounds.

Mr Weller added: “Music and performing arts at the primary school are a bigger draw among white, black and Indian communities and will therefore help us to maintain something of an ethnic balance in the middle of Bradford.”

Dixons Music Primary is giving children in its first reception class the chance to learn fingering on the keyboard and plays instruments such as drums and bells.

Teachers use a colour coding system with different instruments to help them learn notes. As pupils move up through the school they will get the chance to try other instruments, such as the saxophone.

The school has the target of getting 100 per cent of its pupils to achieve level four results or better in their standard assessment tests in maths and English.

Head of school Michelle Long said teaching pupils music was already having an impact.

She said pupils’ literacy skills had improved sharply compared to other subjects and to the progress she had seen in other schools during her career.

The school believes that learning about pitch and rhythm will help a pupil’s reading and writing while getting the chance to learn musical instruments at such a young age is boosting their confidence.

She said that as a specialist music school it was giving 10 per cent of its places to pupils who show an aptitude for music during an audition for places.