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Teacher Development Fund fills the gap in development opportunities for teachers in singing

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Noelle Gilbert: Grants Manager

Noelle Gilbert, Grants Manager, visits Hotspur Primary School – a Teacher Development Fund grantee.

On a sunny winter’s day, I arrived at Hotspur Primary School in Newcastle, along with several nervous-looking teachers.  We were all there for a CPDL (Continuing Professional Development and Learning) session – in singing! I was soon to discover why there was an atmosphere of excitement tinged with anxiety in the room…

Education and learning through the arts is a priority for Paul Hamlyn Foundation (PHF). In April 2016, we launched the Teacher Development Fund (TDF) which aims to build teachers’ skills, knowledge and confidence to use the arts and arts-based approaches to teaching and learning in primary schools. To start with, we funded seven pilot projects across the UK – this will enable us to better understand the context for teacher CPDL in different UK regions and nations. Learning from these projects will also help us target future funding as effectively as possible.

The Concordia project in Newcastle is one of these seven projects.  It is led by the head teacher of Hotspur Primary School, Miles Wallis-Clarke.  He is passionate about singing and over the past ten years he has developed the use of singing in his own school and in partner schools in the Ouseburn Learning Trust.

He is convinced that schools without singing lack soul, and that singing has the potential to transform schools, creating a more positive, vibrant learning environment. It provides an important foundation for developing children’s musicianship, contributes to health and wellbeing, strengthens their ability to work together, and can be used to stimulate, inspire or reinforce different areas of learning, (e.g. literacy, maths, history). Teachers usually love it too.

This project involves a 5-day vocal leadership training course for staff from 17 local Newcastle primary schools – and one in Hexham.  Despite being held on Fridays and Saturdays, the course was oversubscribed. Staff (teachers, support staff and head teachers) were really keen to participate, which is not always the case for CPDL. Miles, along with four other colleagues, will also provide mentoring support to enable head teachers to integrate singing across the curriculum in each of the 18 schools. Children and staff will have the opportunity to work with the Scottish National Opera and the project culminates with a performance at the Sage Gateshead. Miles said,

“Twice in my career I’ve been into schools that had no singing at all and I joke that they were like barren deserts, but they really were. Singing is used to start the year, end the year and it’s used for celebration. It’s used to connect to history and geography, and to express emotions. The positive impact extends well beyond making children better at singing, into developing pupils’ social skills and creating a cohesive and fun school environment.”

The day was led by two excellent trainers from Sing for Pleasure, and naturally, began with a song.  The session was very practical, with an emphasis on breathing, posture, relaxation and having fun! This session focused specifically on how to mark the beat in a song and different kinds of beat patterns. This was more difficult than it looked.

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Teachers taking part in CPLD training. Credit: Hanif Leylabi.

The group then split into two, and I realised why everyone was feeling quite nervous.  Each participant had prepared a song to teach to their colleagues.  They had to sing it through on their own first (without instrumental accompaniment!) – a difficult task in itself – then teach it to us, marking the beat, going over difficult sections, ensuring we got the notes and phrasing right.  This really took some courage, but their colleagues were extremely supportive.  Each person was given feedback and invited to identify any areas for improvement.  The trainers were clear and encouraging, but also challenging where necessary.  Throughout the day, they modelled how to work with children, interspersing the training with suggestions for how to use techniques and songs in the classroom.  After lunch, each group worked on rounds and harmonies, then came together at the end for a final rousing song.

I spoke to some of the teachers about the training and there was a real sense that they had come away with new skills. Mel from West Jesmond Primary School told me: “It’s been really beneficial, I’ve got a lot out of it, and it’s been interesting hearing from other schools, and how they do things there. Learning the techniques has really built my confidence.” Karen, also from West Jesmond Primary School, added: “It makes you want to go into the classroom and teach, and you really see the difference in the children. It helps with their social skills, coordination, and they just really enjoy it.”

I was joined on this visit by Professor Maurice Galton, one of the TDF advisors. While he took extensive notes, I joined in with the singing – which was much more enjoyable. At the end of the day, it was clear that participants were proud of their achievements, and ready to take on teaching a new song to their pupils.

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