Early years music sessions boost development of children with complex needs

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New research has found that targeted music lessons for under-fives in deprived areas help to close the gap, particularly for children with complex needs.


An evaluation of the Sounds of Intent programme found it had wide ranging benefits for deprived children

The findings come from a three-year study, which involved Oxfordshire-based music charity Soundabout delivering music-making sessions for young children in areas of high deprivation between 2015 and 2018.

The ten-week music programme, Sounds of Intent (Sol-EY), ran from 27 children’s centres across England and other ‘local hubs’ specialising in provision for children with complex needs.

The programme was supported by a grant from charity Youth Music.

A total of 216 children accessed the sessions, 16 per cent of which had complex needs such as profound and multiple learning difficulties.

The content of sessions varied depending on the needs and interests of the children and their families.

Soundabout assessed the children’s musical development using a standard of ‘age-related expectations’.

They found that children were behind their musical ‘age-related expectations’.

In the reactive domain, which involves listening and responding to music, they was a delay of six months. In the proactive domain, which required the child to make music alone, they were nine months behind. For the interactive domain - engaging in music, there was a delay of nine- and- a- half months.

An evaluation of the programme by the University of Roehampton, which was launched on Monday at the House of Lords, found that following the 10-week programme, children’s delayed development was reduced or eliminated – in the reactive domain.

More specifically, the sessions led to improvements in children’s capacity to manage their feelings and behaviour, boosted their self-confidence and heightened their ability to listen and pay attention.

The greatest impact was on children with complex needs. By the end of the course, the children moved on average from a six-month music developmental level to one of an 18- month-old. For the proactive and interactive domains, they moved from a six-month developmental level to one of 12 months.



Chief executive of Soundabout Clare Cook called the findings ‘highly significant’ for everyone concerned with the education and care of young children with development delay.

She said, ‘These findings show what we have always suspected – that music can make a real difference to these children’s lives. The legacy of this fully inclusive early years project is powerful evidence that every child in the UK (and beyond) should have the right to access to music, both for its own sake, and to support their wider development.’

Professor Adam Ockelford, chair of Trustees of Soundabout, who led the evaluation of the programme, said, ‘This project and others supported by Youth Music show that music should have far greater emphasis in the Early Years Foundation Stage. Music really is brain food that can nurture children’s development and wellbeing in a way that nothing else can.’

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