What music means at St Thomas…
Music is the creative art of sound. It is a universal language which can be used to express our feelings, shape identities and describe and respond to the world around us. Everyone is musical and when given the opportunity and encouragement, everyone has the capacity to perform, compose, listen, respond to and appreciate music in its many different forms.
Music at St Thomas...
Music is a key part of our school life. There is singing and music around the school each and every day and we put a lot of emphasis on performance, building the children’s confidence and enjoyment.
Our aim is that the children experience a balance of composing, performing and appreciating music.
Lessons for the children from Early Years to Year 6 involve a variety of instruments as well as their voices. Music enables the children to express themselves through sound and gives an opportunity to perform in groups.
It is our intent that every child should leave our school with a strong positive musical identity and positive individual and collective experiences of music; sowing the seeds for a lifelong love of, and participation in, music with all its attendant benefits.
Nurturing a strong music identity and love of music in our children
It is our intent that every child should leave our school with a strong positive musical identity and positive individual and collective experiences of music; sowing the seeds for a lifelong love of, and participation in, music with all its attendant benefits.
Active music-making opportunities in school and with others
Implicit in this statement is the intent that all our children will have the opportunity to actively make music in a variety of different ways, be it alone or in collaboration, across a wide range of musical genres during the school week, whether in:
- class music lessons with the school’s music specialist
- in their normal classroom with their class teacher and support staff
- through different musical ensembles inside and outside of school, led by the school’s music specialist and support staff
- or for some, as a learning support intervention with the school’s music specialist.
It is also our intent that children should make music with children from other schools and/or other members of the community and professional musicians wherever possible.
Previous examples have included our participation in the Scratch Youth Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall, community operas with Surrey Arts, choral and orchestral participation in the Guildford Schools Network Music Festival, competitive entries into the Godalming Music Festival and other internal music workshops with professional folk musicians and choral singers among others.
Active participation in liturgical music
As we are a Catholic school, it is our intention that children should also actively explore liturgical music through hymn singing, hymn writing, leading and participation in our musical worships, Masses and prayer services in school and in church.
An ambitious, innovative and inclusive curriculum
To achieve these intentions, we provide for, and go beyond, the requirements of the National Curriculum. Our curriculum aims echo those recently published in the Model Music Curriculum, Ofsted’s Research Review of Music Education Ofsted Research Review and more broadly, in the new National Plan for Music Education. Led by our Music Lead, a highly qualified primary music specialist, we draw on best practice and resources in music education across the widest range of diverse musical genres, to ensure equal access and opportunity for every child.
Twice weekly Music lessons and daily singing with First Thing Music
Music is a subject worthy of study in its own right. We are also fully aware however, of the wider benefits music can bring to children’s learning and personal development and wellbeing. After a review last year of our provision we decided we wanted to actively increase the amount of daily singing in the general classroom.
Singing is our first instrument and the gateway to musical learning for all our children. We are also aware of the potential disadvantage of having a music specialist teacher, which whilst positive, can run the risk that the specialist becomes a single point of access to musical learning and worse, potentially a single point of failure. If the specialist leaves or is unavailable, their musical knowledge and skills go with them. So the musical development of our staff is now also a key part of our intent going forward so that everyone is able to lead music and singing in particular in our school by increased confidence, knowledge and skills. Even in our positive school, this requires a change in school culture and general classroom practice.
To this end, we have doubled the number of weekly music lessons in EYFS and Key Stage 1 led by our Music Lead with the support of the First Thing Music daily singing and teacher training programme. One music session happens in the general classroom with teachers and support staff joining in, with all the adults learning simple singing games alongside the children and the Music Lead, with the explicit aim that staff become confident to lead singing and singing games in the classroom on a daily basis. The children’s second music session is the normal class music lesson led by the Music Lead with support staff. In this way the aim is not only does this increase the opportunity for the children’s musical learning with the Music Lead, they also benefit from daily singing with their class teachers and support staff, who in turn are hopefully increasing in their musical confidence, knowledge and skills, supported by simple resources they can use at the start of every day for 5-10 minutes.
Contributing to research-led evidence about the wider benefits of music and ITT in music
This form of in-class training and support forms part of our participation in an action research project with First Thing Music, a music education and teacher training programme, which seeks to encourage 10-15 minutes of singing at the start of every day. The research study explores the impact of this Kodaly-inspired music approach on the Prime Areas of Learning, and investigates educators’ and children’s experiences and attitudes towards the programme and their participation.
Going forward, we have started to share our practice and experience with other schools in the Xavier Trust and beyond, and hope to contribute to the limited research literature in this area. Our Executive Head teacher was recently invited to join the Project Lead of First Thing Music at the Westminster Education Forum in 2022 where the future of music education was under discussion.
An ambitious Music Development Plan for our school and Outreach and Support to other schools
Our specialist music teacher is now a trainer for the First Thing Music network, training EYFS teachers in our neighbouring school, once a week. This is in addition to her school role and reflects our desire to enable other schools to benefit from our experience and support their staff in developing daily singing in their schools.
We are keen to become a Lead School in the Surrey Music Hub and we are devising a Music Development Plan to achieve this and further develop our school music education provision and in-school teacher training and expectations.
Music is a vital and integral part of the STOC curriculum, reflecting our strong desire to educate the whole child. Our music curriculum and extra-curricular provision is ambitious and innovative. It aims to provide children with the highest standard of musical learning experiences in ways that appeal to all children and which will inspire them not just musically, but also support them more widely in their personal, emotional and social development, via an accessible and individual means of self-expression through which they can develop their own creative potential. It is gratifying to see much of our existing aims, thinking and provision recently being promoted within the Model Music Curriculum (MMC), Ofsted’s recent Research Review for Music and more widely, in the new National Plan for Music Education.
Children have weekly class music lessons, taught by a highly qualified primary music specialist (Music Lead) who is trained in the Kodaly pedagogical approach and has a practice-based doctoral research interest in the use of music as an intervention to support individual learning needs.
Children in EYFS and Key Stage 1 have twice weekly music sessions of 30 minutes led by the Music Lead. The first session is held in class with class teachers and TAs participating in simple singing games, as part of our involvement with the First Thing Music research project with Lindsay Ibbotson, Project Lead and Research Fellow and Professor Beng Huat See, both from the University of Durham’s Department of Education. The research project is investigating the impact of musical learning on the Prime Areas of children’s Learning, as seen from the teacher’s and child perspective, and evaluating the online and in-person teacher CPD provided for our Year 1 teachers. More information about the research project can be found here: https://firstthingmusic.co.uk Our First Thing Music sessions, led by the school’s specialist music teacher, act as an in-class training session for classroom teachers and TAs with the aim that these songs will then be used every day at the start of the day, hence the title: First Thing Music. The second music session is led by the Music Lead as a normal class music lesson. Both sessions are underpinned by the Kodaly approach to music education.
Children in Key Stage 2 have a 40-minute class music lesson each week with the school’s specialist music teacher. Children in Lower Key Stage 2 continue to follow the Jolly Music programme used in EYFS and Key Stage 1 with children in Upper Key Stage 2 following the NYCoS Going for Bronze Scheme by the National Youth Choirs of Scotland (NYCOS), among other resources for instrumental learning etc.
This musicianship-based learning is supplemented with whole class instrumental learning opportunities in recorder, ukulele and djembe at various points within upper Key Stage 2. In addition, all children in Year 4 learn a string instrument (violin, viola, cello) through our String Programme provided by Southern Pro Musica. This takes place during curriculum time and is in addition to their weekly music lesson. All children throughout the school also have opportunities for listening, composition and improvisation during the school year in their class music lessons, as well as the opportunity to learn songs and explore music that links to their class topic or whole school themes or events.
We are looking to develop children’s use of music technology. One child in Year 3 created their own performance from a looping app on their personal iPad which was featured in our Summer Concert. We now have a Music Tech club which meets three times a week after school in which 45 children have the chance to compose a score to accompany a short film. Our Autumn Concert showcased two of the children’s composition and film for the first time, adding a new dimension to our termly concerts which we intend to repeat. We hope to organise a music tech workshop for our Year 6 children with the Music Department of one of our Secondary schools within the Xavier Trust. We are also looking at DJ lessons as part of our instrumental teaching provision.
We already use digital resources for performance and composition, such as those provided by Sing Up and Musical Futures for example, and regularly use online child-led liturgical resources in Praise Worships. During the pandemic, children participated in recording sessions using GarageBand to produce video performances for our participation in the inaugural Godalming Music Digital School Choirs’ Festival, as well as our online school digital concerts and year group performances. These performances were included in our first digital Summer Concert videos, in which every child was able to perform. These are available to view on our school website.
Working in collaboration with the SENCo and Inclusion Team, the Music Lead also runs small targeted musical intervention groups as needed, where learning occurs through fun musical games and activities, tailored to meet specific individual needs. In the last two years we have organised a Musical Nurture Group for children in Year 1 to support them in their social development and friendships, while another Year 1 group focussed on individual speech and language and communication issues, through simple rhythmic games and action songs to support their temporal processing and social cognition.
As a Catholic school, music forms an integral part of our daily collective and class worship and liturgy. Children learn a variety of hymns, ranging from traditional hymns and carols through to modern hymns and worship songs, some written especially for children, such as those provided by OneLife Music. Previously, we have worked with a Catholic hymn writer, Andy Severyn, who led a hymn writing session with our Year 6 children, using their ukulele learning to set their own prayers to music using four chords. These hymns were then sung by the whole school led by the different Year 6 teams in our collective worship. A Worship Team then evolved from this workshop who led our Collective Worship every Monday morning.
The school is known for its strong performing arts provision. Pre-pandemic, all children participated in year group or key stage performances and musicals, be it in year group prayer services, class assemblies, Nativities, the Year 5 and 6 Advent Services, the Year 5 Passion Play or the Year 6 Leaver’s Musical. In addition, Year 4 have explored the art of dramatic singing and opera, creating and performing a mini opera based on the Royal Opera House Explore and Create Programme for Carmen. This year we will be staging Hansel and Gretl or The Magic Flute. We continued to provide these opportunities to children where possible during the pandemic, recording class and year group performances for parents and families to watch at home.
We have a lively extra-curricular music provision with two un-auditioned choirs (Junior and Senior Singing Squad – for over 80 Key Stage 1 and 2 children after school) and the STOC Concert Band. The latter is open to all children from Year 2. Parts are adapted to enable beginners to join in and for all types of notation. These ensembles and Music Tech Club offer all children the chance to deepen their musical experience and learning and apply their knowledge and skills developed in the classroom and vice versa.
Pre-pandemic we also had a Staff Choir and Ukulele Club which have only been curtailed by the need to have staggered arrival times and lunchtimes during and after the pandemic. During lockdown these activities and performances went online and/or were videoed for parental viewing. We also added online family and staff choirs during lockdown to help support children and staff who were learning and working at home which helped to keep everyone connected during long periods of isolation.
Pre-pandemic we had a termly music concert at which these various ensembles performed alongside soloists from Year 1 upwards. Our Summer Concert was held as a series of class concerts which were filmed and are available to watch on our school website. We are now delighted to be welcoming families back to live performances with an audience. In the Autumn term 2022, we held our first termly music concert since lockdown. Over 80 children performed in front of an audience of nearly 200 people. These termly concerts provide a fantastic opportunity to see children’s musical progression across the year groups and over time as they perform from term to term or year to year. For those learning instruments this is especially important as we celebrate their hard work and achievement that is often hidden, occurring at home or in the exam room. It gives our younger children role models to look up to and aspire to, and sometimes even it is the other way around, particularly as our youngest children are so keen and able, thanks to the increased opportunities they have for music making this past year.
Our curriculum and extra-curricular provision are designed to positively impact on our key aims which are:
- to give all children the opportunity to equip themselves with the musical skills and knowledge to support children’s musical progression over the long term and ensure key technical, constructive, and expressive musical learning and understanding are fully embedded.
- To foster a strong musical identity in our children through singing and instrumental performance such that all children consider themselves to be musical.
- And in so doing encourage a life-long love of music.
Our Curriculum and Extra-Curricular and/or Extension activities are carefully planned to enable all children to achieve at whatever age or ability and make musical progress in line with the aims of the National Curriculum and the new Model Music Curriculum using the technical, constructive and expressive pillars of musical progression suggested by Ofsted as a guide. The Kodaly mastery approach in its 3Ps of Preparation, Practise and Presentation ensures children develop a strong practical musical experience and understanding of the key concepts and skills involved in performance, listening and composition such that they know how to manipulate their musical knowledge and understanding creatively and expressively. Our Music Development Plan looks to the future in our assessment and review of our musical curriculum provision as well as the resources and staffing needed to achieve our curriculum goals and desired impact across the whole school; and more widely by sharing practice and supporting teacher training with other schools in the Xavier Trust and beyond.
Measuring the impact however is harder to do in music than in other subjects as progress is not always linear, can be transitory, occurring in the moment and where, to the less experienced eye, the learning intention and its impact may be hidden in the disguise of what looks to be just a musical game. Crucially, musical progression also takes place over the long term and as outlined previously as a spiral of progression where children revisit key concepts over a number of years, in increasing complexity to ensure mastery and deep understanding. It is therefore fortunate that the music specialist is able to plan for and oversee the children’s musical development holistically across the whole school with the support of the Head Teacher and Senior Leadership Team.
The impact of our provision can be seen on a daily level in class, occurring individually, whether it is something as simple as a child beaming at having led the class or walking in time to the music for the first time; or collectively, playing an instrument or singing with others, starting together, keeping in time and finishing together, or singing in unison or in harmony in class, worship or in a concert. Music has the potential to make a significant impact on a child’s cognitive, social and personal development and opportunity for self-expression. Our Music curriculum is designed with this wider goal in mind but our musical interventions make this learning more explicit in the design of individually tailored programmes.
It is for these reasons that we view assessment in music not as a paper exercise but as something that is designed with children’s musical progression and needs first and foremost in mind. We are glad to see this approach being championed by Mark Phillips, previously HMI for Music, and now his successor Christopher Stevens. We encourage children to become reflective learners and musicians, talking about their learning in age-appropriate ways. Older children are asked to write about their learning in their Music Portfolios, often revealing hidden learning, personal to that child. This child-led feedback also helps to shape and inform our curriculum provision going forward.
MEASURING ASSESSMENT, PROGRESS AND OUTCOMES
Ofsted uses three pillars as a curriculum guide to ensuring good musical understanding and progression:
- to improve children’s technical ability to produce sound and read music in its different forms;
- to develop their constructive understanding of the inter-related elements of music and understanding of the building blocks for composition
- and to develop their creative understanding of musical meaning, context and aural awareness which will affect their ability to respond expressively.
This musical development occurs over the long term but is evident, informed and shaped by learning, teaching and assessment in the short, medium and long term.
Most Assessment for Learning occurs during class music lessons and is formative, with regular daily or weekly opportunities for the music specialist to observe and assess learning and children’s readiness to move on to the next stage of the 3 Ps of the Kodaly approach. Children are given plenty of opportunity to prepare subconsciously for a key concept such as beat, by playing singing games with actions which follow the beat. Children are then able to practise their awareness of beat with increasingly complex actions until the majority of the class are confident, for example, walking in time with the beat at different speeds; and only then is the concept named and the children are told this is beat. The children already intuitively know what it is to move to a steady beat but until the concept is named as beat they may not be able to name it as such. However, they will have a deep understanding of the concept of beat which will underpin the next concept of rhythm, which again starts with games that focus on children’s unconscious awareness and understanding of rhythm by playing pat-a-cake singing games that gradually tune the children’s ears and bodies into the way the words go and later the term rhythm. By starting with what the child can do, every step is designed to help the child succeed. In line with a mastery approach, children only move on to the next concept when the majority show that they have mastery, e.g. can move in time with the beat, with ongoing reference and support for those still finding the beat, alongside the preparation of the new concept through fun musical play and action singing games.
From Reception, children are being prepared unconsciously for the concept of pitch through numerous opportunities for singing even though this concept may not be named until Year 2. Pitch is a concept which is only made explicit after beat and rhythm are fully grasped. The preparation period for pitch may therefore be much longer than for beat and rhythm. Children are encouraged to sing to the class as a leader and a list is kept of children’s singing which is assessed over time to give individual children the relevant support to find their Singing Voice. At the end of each year a summative assessment is made of every child’s singing voice, again through observation of children singing as leaders or turn taking in a game. Children are deemed to have found their Singing Voice if they can match the pitch of the Music Lead correctly. If children cannot do this yet then they are assessed as developing their Singing Voice. It is important to remember it can take children some time to find their singing voice, up to the age of 7, even with the correct support.
It is our stated aim therefore that every child should have found their Singing Voice by the end of Year 2 and this progress is tracked every year in Key Stage 1 as this is a major contributor to a strong musical identity and an essential pre-requisite for the more formal musical learning that follows in Key Stage 2. This forms the basis of the annual musical report for all children in EYFS and Key Stage 2. This sound before symbol approach advocated by George Odam ensures children have a strong experiential musical understanding of musical concepts before they are presented as abstract symbols on the stave.
As outlined in the previous section on musical development, children in Year 3 move gradually and again experientially towards the stave, through jumping up and down floor staves and singing solfa names while using a hand stave. Children learn about the intervallic relationship between different pitches through singing and learning to sight read and sight sing using solfa and later rhythmic solfa. This knowledge is then applied to the recorder and one, two and three line staves, before note names are introduced on a 5-line stave. With our investment in double music sessions in EYFS and KS1, we expect this transition to occur earlier in Year 2 from next year and not as it currently is in Year 3 and Year 4, such is the progression in these lower years this year.
This strong musical foundation means children are more than ready to start more formal instrumental learning in class or in individual lessons. Notably, all children can and do achieve this foundation in ways rarely seen using other musical pedagogical approaches. As a consequence, children have more cognitive space to grapple with the technical aspects of making a good sound on the recorder and mastering fingering or reading from the stave, because they have already mastered and made automatic other key musical concepts such as note reading or rhythm reading that can overwhelm a child when learning a new piece, to the detriment of other necessary skills.
As children move into Year 4, they are increasingly better prepared for the more formal approach of the String Programme, providing children with more time to master the considerable technical aspects of playing a string instrument. Year 5 and 6 explore different ways of reading music through ukuleles and djembe, with chord, tab and grid notation. They explore more advanced musical concepts such as metre through age-appropriate singing games, find out about different musical genres and applying their musical understanding to song or rap writing. Listening with a critical ear becomes more advanced with children writing about what they hear using musical vocabulary and drawing on their contextual knowledge developed over time through topic related musical learning.
Across all year groups, children’s progress is tracked termly by the Music Lead against musical learning objectives for that term. These summative assessments are recorded on Target Tracker as Working Towards, Working At and Going Deeper expectations for that term. This assessment may also includes children’s participation in music clubs and concerts, where children are able to develop and demonstrate potentially more advanced musical skills, knowledge and interest. This summative assessment is an ‘in the round’ assessment of the child musically at that particular moment in time and different patterns of achievement over the year do emerge. That said it does provide a good indicator of those children who tend to be regularly working above expectations and those who need additional support. Progress is also captured in videoed performances which appear regularly on our school website.
Alongside this termly summative report, children receive an annual report in Music which includes a numbered grade for effort and achievement. Space is given for the Music Lead to add additional comments where performance has been at a greater depth or requires improvement.
Children have the opportunity to self-mark their written work in their Music Portfolios which are also marked by the Music Lead. These Music Portfolios travel with the children through their time at school and provide a record over the long term of their written musical work, particularly in focussed listening, drawing graphic scores, or writing rhythm patterns and composition. Children enjoy looking back on work they did in previous years and seeing a snapshot of their musical progression for themselves.
MUSIC DEVELOPMENT PLAN
In response to the new National Plan for Music Education, we have conducted an audit of our music provision using the Music Teachers Association Template. We have started to write our Musical Development Plan which reflects our broader desire to share practice within our Trust and beyond; and contribute to research and importantly, to teacher training in music, via initial teacher training and in-school teacher training. A lack of musical confidence, knowledge and time are the key factors inhibiting music provision in many schools. As part of the First Thing Music Programme we have been working with and visited by Professor Rebecca Berkley, Leader of the only remaining ITT teacher training programme in music at the University of Reading. We are proud of our achievements to date and the range of professional musicians and music educators who support us in that work. We are keen to grasp the opportunities the new National Plan for Music Education offers particularly in working more closely with the team at the Surrey Music Hub.