I'm now well into my second leg of the journey in Finland. Having spent the first nine days or so in Helsinki, I've now moved much further north to a city called Jyvasklyla - not disimilar in size to somewhere like Lichfield.
Finland is somewhere that feels very homely and very safe. It's been an enlightening journey so far; a journey that has taught me many things! For example, did you know that there are 89 Music Institutes scattered across Finland that are part funded by the government? Ordinary schools usually provide 1-2 lessons of music per week, but these music institutes provide an extension to the school day (which ends early at 1 or 2pm). The funding received from the state and municipalities signifies that music is held in high regard here.
Then there are 'music play schools'. Attending these is the one most popular activity for pre-school children - again, supported by the government. Funding per pupil generally works out at 57% from the state, 25% municipality and 18% fees from parents. There is no equivalant to this system in the UK.
Finland's population is around 10% of the UK's. Around 67,000 Finnish children attend music schools, with about 36% of these attending Early Childhood Music classes (age 0-7years). Research here in Finland shows that a musical education, that starts with singing, makes a huge difference to how the brain works and learns.
In my last blog I mentioned the word 'trust'. This is a big thing here - and although there is a core curriculum for both music institutes and ordinary schools, teachers are given the flexiblity to deliver lessons that are based on the child's needs. It's incredibly child-centred. This means that the child's motivation to learn is high - it's not simply that they are being told what they need to know. The reason teachers are able to be so flexible is because they are free from much of the 'red tape' that chokes many of our own UK teachers. Some primary school children as young as 8, can apply to attend 'extended music classes' - which form part of an ordinary primary school, not a specialist one - where they develop their musicianship further, alongside other topics.
There are no tests and no inspections in Finland - but every teacher music have a masters degree to be able to teach. It's difficult to get in to! The UK government places so much importance on testing and inspections that teaching has moved away from the child in many ways in order to tick boxes and reach targets. The UK spends £40M on the SATs tests evry year - and an astonishing £207M every year on school inspections. Imagine how that money could be distributed to schools in areas that really need it, like music education.
Lastly, the Finnish approach demonstrates that fact that everyone is seen as equal: there are no unecessary barriers. All children call all teachers by their first name, including the head teacher; there is no school uniform; all children (and staff) take off their shoes on entering the classroom and there are regular breaks to allow children to stay focused. It's interesting that all of the above seems to work well here - there is a lot of respect for one another in an environment that makes learning fun and where kids are motivated. Titles and hierarchy seem unimportant. People have roles, yes, but respect isn't expected; it's earned!
By the time you read this, I'll have been in Finland for five days. It kind of feels longer. It's certainly been a packed few days so far!
One thing that has struck me about Finland is that, although the weather has so far been a bit like the UK, it seems an altogether very efficient place to live - at least, it is in Helsinki. The public transport is very reliable, so much so that one weekly ticket can get you on any train, tram, bus or underground ride. And no one checks that you even have a ticket - they just trust that you have. Which neatly brings me onto this very point. Trust.
Although my remit is to look at music education through singing (though it's more than this) and the effect that this has on the children here, one thing has struck me. All teachers in Finland, whatever they teach, are respected highly and are trusted to get on with their job. There are no inspections and so no teacher pressure. This lack of pressure then transfers down to the pupils: there's no testing here, no league tables or any regimented timetabling, which means the children learn freely. Music is seen as an important part of this. It certainly isn't marginalised or seen as an 'add-on', as it is in the UK.
Discussions with teachers and music education experts have been an inspiration and so refreshing. The system of 97 Finnish music schools, or 'institutes', is also fascinating. The short school day means that pupils are encouraged to take up hobbies like music and pursue this extension of their school day. School finishes at 1pm or 2pm, allowing time to build these pursuits into the schedule.
Before moving north to Jyvaskyla on 15th September, I'll be visiting some choirs and also ordinary primary music classes to see how they work. I can't wait to continue this journey!
After months of planning it's finally here! My Churchill Fellowship begins at the end of this week, when I fly out to Finland. I'll be stopping at Helsinki, Espoo and Jyvaskyla looking at choirs, schools and instititions that deliver top quality music education. After a short return to the UK on 23rd September, I'll then fly out to America and Canada where I'll be visiting the Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir, the Kodaly Centre at Oakland University, Indianapolis Children's Choir, Anima Singers, Chicago Children's Choir, Toronto Children's Chorus and Hamilton Children's Choir.
I can't wait to learn from these various organisations and schools to see the effect high quality music education has on children, be in schools themselves or in the community. What can the UK learn from this? Should we really be cutting one of the most important subjects a child can learn? How do we stop it being for only those who can afford it?
I have mix of emotions right now. Excitement, yes - this is is something of a lifetime opportunity, and one that will extend into the future after my return. I'm also a bit nervous about the whole thing - and also tinged with sadness: my dad's illness is hard to comprehend, so being away for some time will not be easy. I know I have both my parents' suppport and hope that this trip will provide plenty of positive opportunities for them too.
Thank you to everyone who has given to my Just Giving page. So far it's raised £1500 for MND Association!
You can still give here if you're able.
It's been a while since my last blog, partly because it was such a busy end of term. I've managed to enjoy some rest time - and get plans into action for my upcoming travel fellowship, which is quickly approaching. One month to go!
All flights are booked and I'm booking/arrangning accomodation right now. This is the exciting bit - though it's also daunting too. My first stop will be Helsinki, flying out to Finland's capital on 6th September. I'll stay in Finland until 23rd September, also be visiting places such as Espoo and Jyvaskyla, where I'll be meeting choirs, schools and music educators. It'll be fascinating to see how music is used in the Finnish education system and how musical opportunities are provided for in the community too.
Finland has one of the best education systems in the world, and yet they do far less testing than we do. They also place more importance on creativity like music (there are 100 government subsidised music schools across the country) compared to the UK so I'm really looking forward to seeing how this all works.
Once I've been to Finland I'll be off to America and Canada to look at some amazing choral organsations that have a huge impact on schools, communities and many young lives. There's so much to be learnt from they way they do things 'across the pond', so I'm very much looking forward to meeting these choral communities.
Finally for now, my dad has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease this year - something that came as a big shock. in fact, I almost contemplated postponing my trip - but dad wouldn't hear of it. At least it will give him something positive to focus on whilst I'm away - and in return I'm raising money for the MND association in conjunction with my fellowship. You can find out more on my 'just giving' page.
Since I last wrote a blog on here, a few things have changed! I decided that, whilst planning the general order of my travel stops, I should also double check the days when I would like to visit specific choirs/rehearsals/schools. Clearly some are only available to visit on certain days of the week, depending on where I am at the time!
Having looked at the day-to-day visits it became increasingly clear that, due to the way I'd planned to start in California and work my way east, it proved difficult to fit everything in. So instead I tried it back to front, starting in Finland first and working my way west. What a difference this has made! Suddenly my itinerary seems to fit together better this way.
Starting in Finland, I'll be visiting excellent young choirs such as Vox Aurea and Tapiola. I shall also be visiting the Sibelius Academy and Sibelius High School in Helsinki. After this, I intend to travel to the city of Jyvaskyla (north of Helsinki), where I will observe classes at the Polytechnical School Of Music, the Conservatorium Music School and extended primary and high school music classes. I'm fascinated in finding out how and why the Fins give music a much higher status that we do in the UK. Their education system is world class too, with much more emphasis on creativity, so I wonder how this greater creative emphasis affects pupil learning and general development?
In my next blog, I'd like to just focus on my project outline and the objectives I'd like to meet when I return to the UK!
Time seems to fly by so quickly these days! We're already at the end of the first week of the Easter Holidays - and whilst it's good to have a break from the busy schedule, it's given me time to really start putting together my itinerary for my Churchill Fellowship.
I'm planning to start my travels in California, where I will meet with the Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir (who visited the UK in 2017). I'll also get to visit the Kodaly Centre at the university, and more of this method of teaching in action at some schools. I'll then move on to the Indianapolis Children's Choir (who see an amazing 2500 young people each week!) & Anima Singers (Chicago), before traveling to Canada to visit the Hamilton Children's Choir. All of these organisations provide an outstanding choral education with truly inspirational leadership - something that makes a massive impact on their communities, change lives and shapes them for the future.
I'll then travel to Finland to find out how they embed music within their school system - and how their 100-strong, government-subsidised musical schools create a thirst for creativity. Their approach to eduaction is vastly different from the UK - not only do they start school later and have a shorter school day, they raise the profile of music and fund it to a much greater level. Oh, and their education sytem is world class because of this! I will visit schools, colleges, universities and choirs to see for myself them impact music has.
I can't wait to learn from and be inspired by all of this. In my next blog I want to focus on each of my planned stops a little more, and I'll share by project objectives!
Planning for my Churchill Fellowship is starting to take shape, but there's still a long way to go. I'm actually quite daunted by it all, yet excited at the same time.
Last Tuesday (12th March) was a seminar for all new fellows - this was held in London and was a superb opportunity to meet and mingle with other new fellows. Some were in my category, others were not, but it was fascinating to hear of their plans. It was also brilliant to meet others who have compeleted their travels and projects - and hear how their experiences and new knowledge opened so many new doors for them.
There were also other little surprises and goodies: we were each given a large, hard-back book on Sir Winston Churchill to read - it is, after all, because of him that these fellowships happen - as well as a pack of very professional business cards!
The day was over in a flash and I was back on the train homeward bound. But I've already made lots of new contacts, picked up plenty of tips and received good advice from all sorts of people. On with the planning process then...
I am thrilled to announce that I have been awarded a Churchill Fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT). I am amongst 150 other luck people in the UK who has been granted this honour! My project is entitled: Harnessing the power of singing and its effect on learning.
Education in the UK, and more specifically music education, is on a cliff edge right now. If something doesn't change sometime soon the future of music in this country is in serious doubt. Music is possibly the most poweful subject in the curriculum and yet time and time again, I'm seeing that music provision is patchy. Often, it's only those that can afford it that get it. Some primary schools so little or no music at all - yet the power of singing is easy to use and embed in our schools, if it's given a chance.
The WCMT funds citizens from all over the UK to travel the world, researching innovitive solutions to today's pressing problems. On returning to the UK, they are expected to share their global insights locally and nationally, with colleagues, professions, organisations and communities.
My journey will take me to America, Canada and Finland to look at the very best musical practices, and how embedding it in their education system or community makes a difference to how their young people learn and develop life skills.
I shall be updating my blog on a regualar basis on the lead up to my 6-week travels, which will take place during the autumn of 2019. I'm nervous and daunted at the same time - but I can't wait to get my plans started!