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How to be a singing school

How to be a singing school

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Bring a little music into the everyday life of your class – even if that means freestyling the register...

Most of us will have memories of singing in assembly, and many of us will still be able to tackle All Things Bright and Beautiful with gusto when required to at a wedding. However, while you probably agree that singing in schools is a good thing, you might not be sure exactly how to go about it. The DfE’s 2012 national plan for music education sets the expectation that all children should sing regularly. But how do you achieve this? How do you become a ‘singing school’?

All aboard

No man is an island, and no music co-ordinator can organise a singing strategy alone. If staff or SLT are unsure about including more singing in the school day, there are many research studies to point them towards. Singing has been proven to have mental and physical health benefits, to develop social and teamwork skills, and can even have an impact on literacy and other academic areas. Once staff can see the value of it, it becomes much easier to implement regular singing in your school. That, by the way, includes staff singing along in assembly to set a good example, or at least miming if they are really uncomfortable about it.

Start small

Any successful project manager will tell you that you need to start with an end goal in mind and then work backwards to plan your journey towards it. Maybe you would like to have a fantastic school choir, perform an annual musical, or set up a community singing group involving pupils, parents and staff? Whatever your goal, keep it in mind at the start of your singing school journey, and plan small steps towards achieving it, so that you know what you are aiming for and how you’re going to get there. You may also like to include non-singing goals related to your main school improvement plan; if you can find an area of crossover where your main school targets could be addressed through singing (such as the research areas listed above), this will keep staff focused and stop singing falling by the wayside.

All together now

The easiest way to ensure that every child sings regularly is to organise whole school activities, such as singing assemblies. Many schools think you need a pianist on the staff to achieve this, but there are so many fantastic resources out there now that all you need is an interactive whiteboard with speakers, and your session can virtually run itself. Singing assemblies can be great for getting everyone enthused, but due to the numbers involved it is hard to reliably progress individual students’ singing skills. The aim should always be to sing in smaller groups as well as in whole school situations, so that all pupils can be helped to succeed. You might also consider separating KS1 and KS2 assemblies so that you can tailor the repertoire to the age group.

Establish your repertoire

A great way to squeeze some singing into your day without eating into curriculum time is to use ‘routine songs’. These could be anything from a song you sing while lining up, to singing the register instead of saying it. The benefit of this approach is that the songs can be learnt in assembly, then the class teacher can just ask one of the children to start them off if they don’t want to sing themselves.

Topic singing

Schools have always been really good at using topic songs to support learning. The danger here is that the focus is the topic, not the singing, so if you are taking this approach then do make sure that you make the singing as good as it can be.

Support group

Many staff may be terrified at the prospect of singing in front of anyone, let alone a group of children whose respect they are hoping to gain. Your local music education hub or service may be able to supply some specialist training sessions for your staff to take the fear out of singing.

Big singing

Don’t keep your singing voices to yourselves – there are a range of opportunities across the UK for schools to get out and about. From singing at a local care home or supermarket, to joining a local or national ‘big sing’ event, there are plenty of ways for you to take your singing to the next level. If external events are tricky for your school, you could join in with Sing Up Day or hold your own event from the comfort of your school hall.

With a little bit of planning and enthusiasm, any school can become a singing school. All you need is the right tools and supportive staff – soon you won’t remember a time when you didn’t sing!

Where to find singing support

The annual Singing Strategy Symposium takes place in Birmingham on 10th November 2017. The event attracts teachers from all over the UK to share ideas for getting pupils singing. musiceducationsolutions.co.uk

If you need some help starting a singing programme in your school, contact the Voices Foundation. It offers a training scheme and resource pack to encourage all staff to sing with their classes for ten minutes a day. voices.org.uk

If you’re looking for a way to involve pupils in singing without adding to their teachers’ workloads, investigate the Singing Playgrounds project, delivered by Ex Cathedra. This initiative trains older pupils as singing leaders who then organise singing games in the playground with younger pupils. excathedra.co.uk

Boost your own singing or conducting skill with Sing for Pleasure (singforpleasure.org.uk ) and the Association of British Choral Directors (abcd.org.uk).  Both run excellent training programmes and one-off events.

There are also plenty of free singing technique demonstration videos on YouTube – try the ones on the Music Education Solutions channel, which have been designed specifically for teachers.

For repertoire and resource ideas check out Sing Up (singup.org) and Out of the Ark (outoftheark.co.uk). For free resources have a look at the Friday Afternoons project provided by Snape Maltings (outoftheark.co.uk).

If sheet music and books are more your thing, the Singing Sherlock series (Chester Music) and the Voiceworks series (Oxford) are well worth a look. 

Dr Elizabeth Stafford is director of Music Education Solutions and senior lecturer in professional studies at Leeds College of Music. Teach Primary readers can get 25% off tickets for the Singing Strategy Symposium before 31st July. Quote the code TEACHPRIMARY25 at the website listed below. @drlizstafford, musiceducationsolutions.co.uk

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