School readiness through musicianship

Published: 16 November 2021 

Colleagues from Essex Music Education Hub, Chelmsford Teaching Schools Alliance and London Music Masters share some of the challenges of delivering an EYFS programme during the pandemic and the opportunities that arose to rethink and reshape the project in response to the emerging context.

In response to an issue identified by Chelmsford Teaching Schools Alliance (CTSA) around young children’s readiness for school, Targeting School Readiness through Musicianship was developed in collaboration with Essex Music Education Hub (EMEH) to explore whether music could fast-track children’s development in certain areas of the curriculum. We wanted to see if, by upskilling EYFS teachers who were non-music specialists, children who were not meeting age-related expectations in PSED (Personal, Social & Emotional Development) and CLD (Communication & Language Development) at the beginning of the year could demonstrate some expected behaviours by the end.

Beginning in September 2019, activity took place in schools using an existing music curriculum developed by London Music Masters for EYFS children, delivered on alternate weeks by EMEH music tutors and the classroom teacher. Then Covid hit! The Government instigated the first lockdown and all of the participating schools either closed to most children or stopped allowing visitors in. The project was put on hold.

However, this enforced break gave us an opportunity to re-think the project. Whilst we had seen impacts on children during the first two terms, we had not really seen impact on teachers’ skills. The usual dynamic of the music tutor delivering activity for the children whilst the teacher looked on proved hard to shift, and the teachers lacked the confidence, and therefore were reluctant, to deliver the songs and musical activities themselves. They were focusing more on the children’s development than their own.

Tracy Goodway, Strategic Lead for CTSA, believes: Key learning in the first phase was definitely in relation to the lack of confidence the teachers had in delivering what they saw as a very specialist’ area of the curriculum – even amongst the most extrovert of the group.”

After a period of reflection and discussion amongst the project team, during which we revisited our initial areas of enquiry, we realised we needed to tighten the methodology around understanding effective continuing professional development and learning (CPDL). We re-calibrated the programme so that there was a greater emphasis on training the teachers, supported by physical resources, frequent short continuing professional development (CPD) and reflection sessions, and clearly stated expectations around shared delivery with the music tutors.

Although September 2020 saw the start of this new version of the programme and tutors were back in schools, by January 2021 all of the participating schools had moved to online teaching and the music tutors were out again. Another re-calibration. The music tutors learnt to create and deliver music sessions via video, some live and some pre-recorded, and we delivered all our CPD and reflection activity via Zoom.

It is always good to stay open to unintended learning’ in any research project. Being forced to switch to video-led support showed us how valuable this approach could be for developing teacher confidence as they could practise’ new skills in their own space and at their own pace.”

Tracy Goodway, Strategic Lead for CTSA 

By July 2021, although we had been working on the programme for two years we were effectively only at the end of our first year of real delivery. Teachers’ skills and confidence had been developed, but only within their own classroom, and ensuring the work would continue and be embedded across the school still had to happen. Through considering each of the schools and the different ways they had engaged with the programme, we recognised that the most effective way to sustain the work was to encourage each school to identify their own focus for the final year. What needed to happen in their school to ensure the work continued post-funding? What were their specific conditions and priorities?

Our original plan had been to use the existing methodology and activity with the Year 1 teachers in each school, but our experience of pausing, reflecting and responding – letting go of what wasn’t working and planning something different, gave us the confidence to know we could be more flexible than that. We asked the head teacher of each school to meet with us individually, to discuss their needs for this final year and work with us to co-construct the right programme for them; one which would take account of their individual school priorities and provide outcomes specific to their situation. Interestingly, all of the schools do want the project to upskill their Year 1 teaching staff, but they have also asked for support in adapting their existing curricula to include this particular way of music-making. This wasn’t in our original plan, so a third re-calibration. We are confident we can make this happen even if we’re not sure exactly how yet: the tutors involved are fabulous musicians but they are not curriculum specialists. Watch this space.