The sound of music in Islington schools pic1 - © flickr: nathanrussell Full view

The sound of music in Islington schools

Every third child in Islington between 5 and 18 is now involved in some sort of musical activity, thanks to the Islington Music Education Hub. We met the people behind the initiative

The Islington Music Education Hub is a collection of organisations working in the local area to bring better music education to children and young people. One of 123 such hubs across England, it is led by Arts First in Islington and was set up in 2012 as a community interest company by Len Cunningham and Nathan Theodoulou, to implement targets set in the National Plan for Music education.


Ofsted issued a report last year that acknowledged the work done by the hubs for music education and building local partnerships, but mainly criticised them for failing to reach more than a minority of pupils.

The size of the borough is what matters, according to Cunningham, when it comes to measuring the extent of engagement. “In Islington we are two miles long and two miles wide,” he says. “We’ve got 45 primary and eight secondary schools as well as some special schools and Pupil Referral Units (PRU’s) in the borough. In some others hubs, they might have ten times that.

Len Cunningham, Arts First. Picture © Arts First
Len Cunningham, Arts First. Picture © Arts First

“In Islington we have worked and engaged with every single one at different levels and set some goals,” he adds.

Following this approach, about 6,000 Islington pupils are now learning an instrument or sing in a choir or an orchestra.

Arts First works with 40 private tutors teaching more than ten different instruments including recorder, violin, viola and cello.

Apart from engagement with schools, Ofsted also criticised music hubs for the lack of basic knowledge provided for children under 14.

Cunningham, who has spent the last 30 years as a teacher and education inspector for Islington, says that the biggest obstacle is the structure of secondary education, which prevents some pupils to choose from visual art, music or drama for their GCSEs.

“We address that by helping schools conduct really good strong schemes of work and try to get every element that goes into schools: visiting tutors, concerts and professional musicians – all sorts of things that support the curriculum, therefore supporting the children’s musical understanding.”

As Islington is among the worst boroughs for education in London, the hub’s activities aims to help children by managing musical instruments around the borough and providing extra hours for those who are committed to music.

Nathan Theodoulou, Arts First. Picture © Arts First
Nathan Theodoulou, Arts First. Picture © Arts First

Nathan Theodoulou, a former musician and the other manager of the hub, says: “If we charge them, probably 3/4 will not come even if we say two lessons a month. You obviously got some parts of Islington where parents have wealth, but that is a minority. Only one out of ten kids could afford to pay for extra classes.”

But financial help is not the only way hubs can help students enchanted by music. Public performances of different kinds bring Islington to life and set goals for the young musicians.

The most spectacular performance so far took place at Royal Albert Hall, when the hub put 600 singers in front of an audience from all over London. “The parents are not used to this kind of thing and when Islington was mentioned in the announcement, the roof came out of the building,” Theodoulou says.

“It was completely new experience for many families and that can only bring me enormous joy; to think that I have been an instrument working in a team to make that happen,” adds Cunnigham.

The Little Flautistis – the new talents of Islington

But the ambitions of the hub are still growing: Danielle Jalowiecka and Nathan Theodoulou have recently established a small group of 12 recorder players, called the Little Flautistis, who are given free classes after school every week.

The Flautistis come from six different schools and were chosen from the best young recorder players in Islington who showed advanced recorder skills and commitment.

  •  Watch the Little Flautistis perform at Union Chapel

video by Arts First

The young musicians are also encouraged to compose music themselves with the help of Arts First, which provide them with bigger instruments and a chance to demonstrate their potential at concerts.

Danielle Jalowiecka, a teacher of the Little Flautistis. Picture © Arts First
Danielle Jalowiecka, a teacher of the Little Flautistis. Picture © Arts First

Two of the Little Flautistis are also laureates of The Mayor of London’s Fund for Young Musicians, a charity which supports young musicians from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“With those particular kids, the Little Flautistis, I get goosebumps, because they hear it and do it without any questions,” says Jalowiecka, who is a renowned recorder player and a member of the quartet iFlautisti.

“They are giving you new ideas, it makes your job even more wonderful than it was before, because you can suddenly take a step back and leave them with music, leave them to be trusted with it and they come and do something really excellent.”


For more information contact Arts First.

Follow Zhuliyana Boyanova on Twitter: @zrboyanova

Written by Zhuliyana Boyanova

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