Mental health and wellbeing column: Take everyone with you

Rachel Landon
Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Our fourth and final column partner for the 2022/23 academic year is MiSST. Here, the team introduces the charity's new Wellbeing Programme and overarching ethos.

 MiSST student, Kadisha
MiSST student, Kadisha

Courtesy MiSST

'Engagement in the arts changes lives. The positive impact of the arts on health, social mobility and wellbeing are now irrefutable.’ Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber

It is for this precise reason that the Music in Secondary Schools Trust (MiSST) exists. MiSST is passionate about helping the young people of today – and particularly those in disadvantaged areas and schools – to engage meaningfully with the arts and form an unbreakable bond with classical music that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

At MiSST we start this journey by ensuring that every Key Stage 3 student in our 26 partner schools receives a free classical instrument. MiSST students walk around town with violins on their backs and flutes on their shoulders like it's their PE kit: everyone is the same; no one is teased for choosing to play the cello (or being able to afford it!). Our students are aware of the financial and cultural value of what they are being given – they cherish what's in the case and embrace the challenges and responsibilities it brings.

Increasing self-confidence

Student's hard work and perseverance during our Foundation Curriculum – The Andrew Lloyd Webber Programme (ALWP) – itself leads to satisfaction, success and opportunity. The latest survey of our pupils has shown a 10 per cent increase in students’ self-confidence after completing the ALWP. But it's through our Programmes of Excellence that we aim to dramatically improve these outcomes.

Our flagship Excellence Programme has always been our Saturday Music School – a youth orchestra formed of some of our most proficient students. Conceived in 2016, the Saturday School – free to all – has grown considerably over the last six years, both in terms of student numbers and the opportunities available. During the COVID-19 lockdowns it became starkly evident of the positive impact programmes such as this have on our students’ mental health and wellbeing.

So many students were grateful and relieved to attend virtual Saturday Music Schools during the long and empty weeks at home. Yet, at the very same time, those students were missing being part of their ‘team’. They were missing the satisfaction of being part of one of the largest, most unique teams that there is – a full orchestra. It is a team full of captains, leaders and motivators, committed to a common goal; a climate where ambition, achievement, empowerment and opportunity thrive.

Armed with techniques

This September marks the beginning of our 10th anniversary year and the launch of the MiSST Music Academy. The MiSST Music Academy will build on the success of the Saturday School by becoming a junior conservatoire, always free of charge to students. We will be introducing a myriad of extra provision, including a regular choir and training orchestra, instrumental lessons and exams, composition drop-in clinics and workshops, Music GCSE classes, and endangered instruments programmes. (Find out more on p.34).

Another significant addition to our Saturday provision will be our new Wellbeing Programme. Following a successful pilot and delivery of our ‘.b’ mindfulness course last year, it will now be offered to any of our students who would like to explore its benefits. Alongside this, short courses in yoga and the Alexander Technique will also be trialled this year as part of our three-module programme. This is designed to give students several techniques to aid their progression as musicians, help them to deal with the challenges and stresses of adolescent life and to give them a toolbox of wellbeing techniques that they can draw on as they enter adulthood. As one mindfulness student said: ‘I learnt many new ways to cope with performance anxiety and can see it continuing to be helpful in the future.’

Our MiSST Symphony Orchestra (formerly known as the Saturday Music School Orchestra) always plays a significant role in our annual concerts, with previous events at the London Palladium, Barbican Centre, Cadogan Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall. We look forward to them making new memories and achieving new heights at our 10th Anniversary Concert at Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 24 April 2023.

Key takeaways

  • Take all pupils with you in some way on your musical journey – the involvement of the critical mass will allow positive (musical) peer pressure to dominate the school culture.
  • Accentuate the tangible feeling of belonging – to an orchestra, or to a choir – and actively scan participants to ensure everybody is actively included within the team.
  • Once a safe space has been successfully created, think about the wider wellbeing provision you can offer which may add value to pupils’ personal, social, and emotional wellbeing.