First Thing Music

First Thing Music is a programme inspired by the Kodály method of music instruction, providing a structured, sequential music curriculum of increasing progression. The intervention was designed to be delivered by teachers, with support from specialist music practitioners (external to the school) to classes of Year 1 pupils (aged 5-6) for 15 minutes at the start of each school day for 1 academic year.

accessibility

Key Stage 1

Key stage

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Literacy

Subject

EEF Summary

This evaluation is part of a round of funding between the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Royal Society of Arts to test the impact of different cultural learning strategies in English schools entitled ‘Learning about Culture’. These projects have been independently evaluated by a collaboration between the UCL Institute of Education and the Behavioural Insights Team who have also produced an overarching report to draw together learning from all five trials within the round. Wider research on the impact of music education on attainment has shown some promise, but few previous studies in this area have used rigorous experimental methods.

Pupils in the First Thing Music intervention group made the equivalent of one month’s additional progress in reading, on average, compared to pupils in the control group. This is our best estimate of impact which has a low to moderate security rating. However, as with any study, there is uncertainty around the result: the possible impact of this programme ranges from no additional progress to positive effects of three additional months of progress. Pupils in the First Thing Music intervention group achieved lower scores in an assessment of social skills than pupils in the control group at the end of the trial, though the difference in scores was small and there is some uncertainty around this result. There was no evidence that the First Thing Music intervention had an impact on creative self-efficacy (pupils’ confidence in their own creative abilities).

These findings provide tentative evidence to support the hypothesis that some forms of music education can contribute to improvements in children’s reading attainment. Further research is needed to strengthen the evidence-base for this and to improve understanding of how music education relates to reading skills development. Interestingly, the average effect of the programme on pupils’ reading attainment in classes where teachers had attended at least 4 of the 6 training sessions and delivered at least 80% of the possible music sessions was twice as large as for the intervention group as a whole. This finding should be interpreted with caution, as it is based on a small sub-sample of the most engaged classrooms that may have been different in other ways from the classes that had lower engagement. It could, however, indicate that higher engagement with the First Thing Music programme could lead to greater gains in reading attainment.

At this time, EEF does not have plans to conduct further trials of the First Thing Music intervention. 

Research Results

Reading (Year 1)

+1
Months' Progress
Evidence Strength

Reading (Year 1, FSM)

0
Months' Progress
Evidence Strength

Were the schools in the trial similar to my school?

  • There were 64 schools involved in the trial.
  • All participating schools were in the North East region of England.
  • Priority was given to two-form entry schools and schools with an average or above average percentage of pupils eligible for Free School Meals. Despite this, the percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals participating in this study was lower than the national average.
  • This study included a higher percentage of schools in urban areas and schools with outstanding Ofsted ratings than the national average.

Could I implement this in my school?

  • First Thing Music sessions require minimal equipment. Teachers are provided with a Resource Booklet, which contains a written introduction to the Kodály-based approach, as well as songs, rhymes and games. Some schools reported that lack of access to instruments was a challenge for delivery, however, the programme is intended to be deliverable without access to instruments.
  • Sessions should ideally be delivered ‘first thing’ in the morning, however, some teachers found this difficult to timetable or found that the sessions overran into the next lesson of the school day.
  • Teacher training consists of one full day session and 5 afternoon sessions.
  • The programme is commercially available in the North East of England through the Tees Valley Music Service.
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Teachers

Delivered by

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Whole Class

Participant group

date_range

1 Year

Intervention length

How much will it cost?

The average cost to schools of First Thing Music for one class of 25 pupils was around £230, or £52 per pupil per year when averaged over three years.

£

£52

Cost per pupil

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2

No. of Teachers/TAs

today

3 Days

Training time per staff member

Evaluation info

Schools

64

Pupils

3004

Key Stage

Key Stage 1

Start date

July 2017

End date

December 2019

Type of trial

Efficacy Trial

Evaluation Conclusions

  1. Pupils in the First Thing Music (FTM) intervention group made the equivalent of one month’s additional progress in reading, on average, compared to pupils in the control group. This is our best estimate of impact which has a low to moderate security rating. However, as with any study, there is uncertainty around the result: the possible impact of this programme ranges from no additional progress to positive effects of three additional months of progress.

  2. Pupils in the FTM intervention group achieved lower scores in an assessment of social skills than pupils in the control group at the end of the trial, though the difference in scores was small and there is some uncertainty around this result. There was no evidence from the impact evaluation that the FTM intervention had an impact on creative self-efficacy.

  3. Only 40 percent of teachers in the intervention group delivered at least 80 percent of the possible music sessions and attended at least four of the six training sessions. The impact of the programme on reading attainment was higher, on average, in classrooms where this threshold for training and delivery was met.

  4. Around half of the teachers (54 percent) delivered the programme ‘first thing’ as planned, while other teachers moved the sessions to later in the day. Timetabling difficulties, such as the sessions overrunning, were a barrier to delivery in the morning.

  5. Teachers perceived the programme to have had a positive impact on pupils’ musical skills, social skills, creativity and self-regulation, but more than half of those surveyed felt that the programme was unlikely to impact reading attainment.


  1. Updated: 8th September, 2021

    Printable project summary

    1 MB pdf - EEF-first-thing-music.pdf

  2. Updated: 21st November, 2018

    Evaluation Protocol

    1 MB pdf - First_Thing_Music_protocol_1.pdf

  3. Updated: 5th February, 2019

    Statistical Analysis Plan

    442 KB pdf - First_Thing_Music_SAP_19.01.11_final.pdf

  4. Updated: 21st June, 2019

    Evaluation Protocol (amended)

    907 KB pdf - First_Thing_Music_Trial_Protocol_20190606_updated_v3_final.pdf

  5. Updated: 21st June, 2019

    Statistical Analysis Plan (amended)

    444 KB pdf - First_Thing_Music_SAP_20190424_final_v2.pdf

  6. Updated: 7th September, 2021

    First Thing Music - Final report

    2 MB pdf - First_Thing_Music_Evaluation_Report_Final.pdf

Full project description

First Thing Music (FTM) is a programme inspired by the Kodály method of music instruction, which provides a structured, sequential music curriculum of increasing progression. The intervention was designed to be delivered by teachers, with support from specialist music practitioners (external to the school), to classes of Year 1 pupils (aged 5–6) for 15 minutes at the start of each school day for one academic year. The programme was developed by the Tees Valley Music Service.

This evaluation tested the efficacy of FTM through a two-arm clustered randomised controlled trial, including 3004 pupils from 64 schools. The trial measured the impact of the project on pupils’ reading attainment, creative self-efficacy (confidence in one’s own creative abilities) and social skills. In addition, survey data was collected from all schools, and case studies involving interviews and classroom observations were collected from six schools. This evaluation was jointly funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). The trial started in June 2018 and ended in July 2019.