DISPLAYING ITEMS BY TAG: MUSIC

Music education often doesn’t reflect the reality of how young people are engaging with music in their spare time. 97% of young people listen to music every week; and two-thirds say they’re regularly making music. Despite this, around 93% of students in KS3 don’t choose music as a GCSE. These statistics say that classroom music isn’t resonating with many young musical people. We need to look for new ways to open the door and bring a more diverse range of genres into the classroom.

Ofsted is currently consulting on its proposed new inspection framework – the draft was published on 16th January with the consultation running until 5th April. The draft framework includes some strong indications that music and creativity will be firmly back on the radar of Ofsted inspectors from September this year. If schools want to achieve Good or Outstanding ratings, they are going to have to teach the full curriculum, right through years 3 – 6 at key stage 2 and throughout years 7 – 9 at key stage 3.

Take a moment to think about an ideal school environment.

You might imagine a calm, well-operating and friendly, happy school, where: 

  • children feel welcome, safe and secure
  • children arrive focused, enthused and ready to learn
  • learning challenges are met with determination, optimism and self-belief
  • there is a strong sense of teamwork in each class and across the school among staff and pupils alike
  • children and staff take pride in their school
  • children with additional needs are supported and included
  • parents, carers and the wider school community feel part of the school and are positive about its achievements and ethos.

Embedding regular singing into school life is a way of ensuring that these attributes develop over time. At Sing Up we have seen countless examples and collected many case studies where the school community themselves believe that singing that has transformed their school.  

Looking at it the other way around, it is uncommon to find schools where these ‘ideal’ factors are present and where there is no school commitment to singing, music or another art-form.  

A singing school is a place not just where singing happens regularly, but where singing is right in the middle of school life rather than on the periphery. It is a school where singing is an everyday activity for all children. It is a place where the whole school community knows and can describe the imact singing has in their school. 

But changing or developing a school’s culture first requires a change in beliefs and attitudes. Then a renewed focus on music can begin. 

For children and their parents 

Children and young people are typically more inclined to engage with an activity they enjoy and can see a purpose to – they want to know, what’s the point? So, to truly engage children we could help them further to see the lasting value of pursuing singing and music.  

Chorus America’s Choral Impact Study documented the connection between choral singing participation and children’s attainment in the classroom. The study found that children who sing in a choir tend to get significantly better grades than their classmates who don’t take part in choir. A real driver for children of today, who are under high levels of pressure to achieve, could be the fact that taking part in music can have a lasting positive impact on their success in life, whichever career path they wish to follow. 

If children understand the continued value of participation in singing and have access to quality provision they’ll quickly become your best advocates for music. 

For teachers and school leaders 

There is frequently a lot of impassioned discussion about whether the reasons for encouraging and supporting children to sing regularly are fundamentally intrinsic or extrinsic. I would argue that they are both, and that the extrinsic and intrinsic benefits are deeply connected to one another.  

Extrinsic benefits might include things like: 

  • A memory and learning aid 
  • Improved reading and language skills
  • Better teamwork and collaboration
  • Fostering creative thinking and problem-solving skills
  • An increase in self-esteem and confidence 
  • Health benefits – neurological and respiratory benefits as well as psychological ones

While intrinsic benefits might include: 

  • Learning musicianship skills
  • Becoming a better singer
  • Enjoying an expressive and creative experience for its own sake

The creative arts – music in particular — are known to have a powerful positive impact on a school environment and on learning outcomes for pupils. And of the musical activities that you can embed in your school most readily and inexpensively, singing is the most accessible of all, and the most adaptable and versatile. Becoming a singing school motivates the school community to work together towards a common goal while taking part in an activity that everyone can do and enjoy. 

The quality of the artistic output itself of course cannot and should not be completely disregarded. But as children and young people have a varied natural ability; diverse cultural references and backgrounds; and relative privilege or deprivation, it can be unhelpful to set firm benchmarks of the level they should be able to achieve in their singing or music-making.  

What is important is the journey. That you begin in one place, able to do certain things, and then progress to a point where you can do those things better and learn to tackle new challenges with enjoyment and a sense of achievement, rather than anxiety and pressure. 

Members of school staff can’t be left out of the picture either. Pretty much all of the best singing schools have some sort of staff singing. The benefits of singing with your co-workers are enormous; it helps you bond, boosts your confidence as a vocal leader, and helps to give all staff the confidence to sing in the classroom. 

For all of us – singing is for life! 

Singing regularly in a group is beneficial at all stages of your life. Possibly the best evidence for this is that successful people from all industries take time out of their busy days to sing as part of an amateur choir. They’ll spend hours every week rehearsing and will even use precious annual leave time for concert days.  

I was fortunate to sing with a wonderful school choir in my teenage years which, clearly, has had a major impact on my career and life-choices! Singing is both a fantastic escape and requires intense focus, which can ease away any stresses from the working day. Mobile technologies and an always-on mentality mean that it’s all too easy to end up working through your evenings, and to not take time out; a choir gives you a ready-made community to spend time with. The bond of singers in a choir is an extraordinary one and friendships made within a choir can be a gift for networking.  

Let’s give children opportunities to sing regularly from early years onwards – then not only are we potentially preparing musicians and singers for the future, we are giving them a source of enjoyment, connections, health, and wellbeing for life.  

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As I’ve only just dipped my toe into school leadership, I was surprised at just how difficult it has been this year. Simply managing your class, or leading a subject, is a full time, stressful job all year round. Throw the demands of leading a core subject - or the day-to-day demands of managing a school - into the mix, and ‘stressful’ doesn’t describe it. Thankfully, there’s a great, highly-accessible resource to hand: music.

How exactly can music can inspire leaders? To find out, we first need to discuss how it can make a difficult job easier. I am a musician and play a number of instruments. Playing an instrument, even when you have lots of experience, requires your full and complete concentration. Playing the piano, as I do, requires you to engage so many different elements of your body, both physical and mental that any other thought goes quickly out of the window.

That sheer level of concentration is how I destress. The only place where thoughts of school go fully out of my mind is sat at a piano stool. Any school leader, or teacher for that matter, needs something that completely frees their mind of school - be it exercise, meditation, and so on. This is definitely a vocation rather than a job; you simply can’t walk away at 3.30. However - and this is vital - you MUST be able to compartmentalise in order to survive.

The other way that music helps me with wellbeing is singing. I sing in a community choir once a week. Whilst the levels of concentration are different, this is another oasis in a busy week, one which frees my mind from thoughts of school. Music, and singing in particular, has so many physical and mental benefits.

A review by Chanda and Levitin (2013) highlighted the positive impact of simply listening to music in a variety of ways. The review showed that listening to music releases dopamine and oxytocin in the brain, whilst also increasing the body’s immunity by supporting the production of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that works through the mucous system. One of the studies reviewed also found that listening to music resulted in a decrease in cortisol, the ‘stress’ hormone.

Singing has also been found to have major physical impacts upon the body, particularly the respiratory system (Vickhoff, 2013). Singing, especially in a group, produces a coupling of heart rate variability to respiration, a process called respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). Singing produces slow, regular and deep respiration, which in turn triggers RSA. RSA is a benefit of activities such as yoga and tai chi, so singing can be seen as an alternative to these, as well as having other physical and emotional benefits.

So music is good for you. Listening to music and singing along, whether in an organised way with a choir or simply in the shower, or in the car, on the way to work, can have a positive impact on your body - both mentally and physically. Music can provide a moment of calm in a busy, stressful day. It can help to clear your mind, allowing you to de-stress.

So where does the school leader inspiration come in? Well, if all the things above work, then you are better able to do your job. If your whole outlook has changed, if you are calmer and your body is tuned and able to function, then you will do your job better. I could write a whole article on how music inspires me and others, but first we need bodies and minds that are healthy and able to work. Listen to music, sing along (well or otherwise) and arrive at work with an opportunity to have a positive impact on the children in your care. This year, the doctor subscribes a burst of ABBA, Queen or Ed Sheeran on your journey into work (possibly not on public transport...).

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Preparing students for the future is a hot topic right now, and with good reason. According to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children starting school today will go on to do jobs that don’t exist yet. For those of us who work in education, this presents a rather troubling dilemma: if we don’t know half of what they’ll be doing, what are we supposed to teach them?

Research shows that if parents engage with their child’s education, the attainment of the child will increase by 15%, no matter what the social background of their family.” (Oxford School Improvement, The Pupil Premium)

At St Andrew’s CoE School in Croydon, we are passionate about building strength, resilience and confidence in every student, in order to give them the best chance of success and fulfilment in life.

When it comes to traditional subjects - the ones that have been taught and used effectively for centuries without the use of technology - the co-existence of old and selective use of the new seems to be the best way to innovate the curriculum. As we get to grips with the ‘new’ GCSEs and learn more about the workings of the mind and memory, check tests, dual coding, factual recall and retrieval practise are all making a comeback.

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head for what seems like days? The same words and melody looping over and over again? While it might be frustrating, your brain is actually doing some really amazing things as you recall Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance for the hundredth time that day. When a song gets stuck in your head it may have something to do with our involuntary memory, which encodes music in many different ways, helping us to remember a tune we’ve only heard once at our niece’s 11th birthday party. It’s a powerful concept; try applying this to an educational setting, and we can achieve considerable results.

Don’t let your school get stuck in a developmental rut. In the latest IMS Guide - available here - these four disruptive educators share their top tips for doing things a little differently.

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