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Why schools need to tune into music

Meredith Elliott, Teacher at Kensington Primary School, on why schools should turn up the volume on music

Posted by Alex Diggins | July 20, 2018 | Teaching

Hans Christian Andersen said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” I believe this is the case in the classroom.

Our school, Kensington Primary School is an outstanding school, based in an area with high rates of poverty, where English isn't the main language for a large number of our children. Not every student arrives at school ready to sit down and start reading and writing.  As teachers our challenge is to find ways to inspire every child.

The real magic of music is that it speaks to students regardless of their interests or language barriers

Improving outcomes

Last September, 18% of our students were working below age expectation. We believed that by taking a more creative approach to teaching we could reduce this number.

It’s proven that music and drama can bring many benefits to children from breath control, improving speaking and listening, refining inference and presentation skills.

Yet, the real magic of music is that it speaks to students regardless of their interests or language barriers.  Many of the skills involved in music are also found in literacy.  Music helps to improve reading fluency, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, comprehension and expression.

It also supports numeracy through counting, rhythm, scales, intervals, patterns, symbols and time signatures.

With music, a child with limited reading abilities can still learn about history, science or geography.  We find lyrics and melody help bring text to life and make it relevant for today’s children.

An opportunity at the Tower of London

Nowhere is this more evident than at the Tower of London, where once a year, Historic Royal Palaces  - an independent charity which cares for the iconic fortress - partners with the musical charity, Water City Music and invites 60 schools to perform at the Music at the Tower festival. As part of the week-long event, our school’s choir was asked to perform pieces that had a connection to the Tower’s history with other schools, musicians and in front of thousands of tourists.

Despite living not far from the Tower, many of our students would never have the chance to visit it if it wasn’t for this event.  Indeed, many of our families didn’t connect the Tower’s history to their own heritage at all.  But the Music at the Tower event changes all that, it brings people together and connects them to a place. 

In the weeks leading up to the event, our pupils learnt songs linked to the theme of ‘Palace, Prison, Fortress’. This enabled them to experience new music and poetry as well as to practise and develop confidence for performing in front of a crowd.  Discovering more about the Tower and its historical significance, built up a real sense of excitement and occasion for the children.

When you see music connect with a child, you can’t help but want to find ways to keep it playing in schools despite cuts to music lessons

We were able to draw parallels with the Tower’s history and current news events through the examples of famous historical prisoners who had been persecuted for their values and beliefs.  This helped bring the significance of the Tower into focus for the youngest generation of Londoners who could see a connection with contemporary events.

A lasting impact

The most surprising element was the lasting impact the festival and performing outside of the school environment had on the children. We saw an increase in motivation and achievement in the classroom.

When you see music connect with a child, you can’t help but want to find ways to keep it playing in schools despite cuts to music lessons.

Our initiative to incorporate more music and drama has had a direct link to school improvement, with the number of students working below age expectation at our school reducing to 12% - a 4% drop. 

Every day we see how music inspires children, so we will be continuing to turn up the volume on music and will be sending more students to the Tower next year.

For more information on the Tower of London visit their website. 

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