Singing is good for us, singing in a choir is even better for us, add a little dance and we have a whole list of attributes from health, well-being, engagement, motivation, achievement to attainment. “Singing is an important contributor to the development of transferable skills across the curriculum' says Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive Education Scotland.
So while we all probably agree that singing in schools is a good thing, you might not be sure exactly how to go about it. So how do we bring a little music into school and into the everyday life of your class?
Most of us have memories of singing in assembly, and many of us will still be able to tackle a rendition of a Burns song every January and/or the occasional christmas carol, however, we may have some reservations about building a singing strategy for our school. But it can be done and the Glee Challenge can provide a basis and a focus for singing in the your school.
While we may all know the benefits of singing there doesn't appear to be much recognition given to those schools who already benefit, unlike the flags for eco friendly schools, enterprising schools and active schools there doesn't appear to be that much for singing. Last year, The Frisson Foundation via its Primary School Glee Challenge launched its Singing School initiative to reward schools who embraced the contribution of singing at the core of what they do as evidenced by their participation in the Glee Challenge. However, the award isn't solely for schools in the Glee Challenge and can be achieved through other means and yes you can be a singing school without a badge to say so. Schools have always sang and performed so what is the difference? What is a singing school? How do you achieve this? How do you become a ‘singing school’?
One issue facing most schools is who is going to do it. 'So and so, runs the choir and they're not in again until next week is quite a common response when we phone schools', and one of the most common reasons for not returning, over 90% of our schools come back each year, is that the music or choir teacher is no longer at the school. In a singing school song is a core part of school life and singing is everyone's responsibility and is as much a part of school as numeracy or literacy. If staff or the senior team are unsure about including more singing in the school day, there are numerous research studies that show that 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 (still need to convince the doubters have a look at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-45483930) 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 with Glee
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. Glee provides an ideal focus for song and dance in the school, it provides a clear performance goal which your children can identify with and which will bring them, their carers and parents and teachers together. In Glee's case not from just your own school but from other schools enhancing the whole learning experience for every child and a wide range of non-singing goals e.g. being active audience members. Alternatively, you may wish to have a 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 link Glee or your singing project to your main school improvement plan, showing how Glee may help meet your main school targets, one of our schools discusses how Glee helps them address the poverty attainment gap. While this may take a little work it will help to embed song in your school and hopefully help staff focused and stop singing falling by the wayside.
All together now
One of the attractions of having a Glee choir is it's accessibility, there are no barriers, the music is known to the children as is the X factor/Britain's Got Talent format. However, it's easy to get lost in the performance part of the Challenge. At it's core is the idea of bringing singing back to schools so you can use the choir to promote singing in your school. Have the choir perform at whole school assemblies, have singing assemblies, or events but also make sure there are opportunities for other school children to sing, dance and join in. Many schools think you need all sorts of resources but you don't all you need is a screen projector, internet and 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. Sing in smaller groups as well as in whole school situations, so that all pupils can be helped to succeed, some of our larger schools have mini-glee groups, mid glee groups with the main glee group for p5-p7.
Establish your repertoire
As you probably know the Glee Challenge requires two songs , one of which is the set song, so these tracks may provide a starting point. However, spending 3-4 months singing just two songs will try everyone's patience so introduce new songs, 'gleeify' christmas songs or sing the previous year's Glee songs . Ask the children what they would like to sing bearing in mind the lyrics, which may not always be suitable, and the suitability of the song for childrens' voices.
A singing school is not just about the Glee choir. 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. One of our schools adopted the Glee set song as the school song so everyone could sing the song and feel part of the whole Glee experience.
Schools have always been really good at using topic songs to support learning, not just schools I personally remember being taught inverse matrices at University to the tune of 'Somewhere over the rainbow'. While the focus is the topic,not the singing, the idea that song can be part of the natural learning process is a powerful one. It provides another source of variety in the classroom, help breakdown shyness about singing and helps establish singing and music in your school.
The Glee Challenge is about building a framework to celebrate the work that has taken place in our Glee schools, bringing children, parents and teachers together. So don’t keep your singing voices to yourselves – there are a range of opportunities for schools to get out and about from singing at a local care home, supermarket, shopping malls, local singing events, festivals and of course the Glee Challenge itself. The key is to provide the opportunity to perform and ideally see others perform.
Be sure to tell the world - use social media, photographic permissions etc sorted, e-zines, newsletters and local press to highlight what you are doing. For those in the Glee Challenge display your Singing School Certificates with pride, two continuous years in the Glee Challenge will give you a bronze award, four years a silver award, six years - gold award. Why - because it demonstrates a commitment to song and dance in your school. It will be possible to apply for a singing school award from 2019 without being in the Glee Challenge so long as your school can demonstrate that it meets a number of set criteria.
It all looks a little bit daunting, for many of us singing in front of anyone, never mind your primary school children, fills us with trepidation. But it ain't that bad, children love the idea and they are not that fussed whether you can sing or not, after all it's about them. Let the children lead it, more of that later, and focus on fun. It's a journey so embark on it with your children share the fun and the experience, singing and dancing are accessible for all and the rewards and return are fantastic.
It still feels a little too much well we can help. Participation in the Glee Challenge guarantees at least 1 workshop with your choir conducted by a professional coach free of charge, it also provides access to a free CPD workshop and a free resource bank which is launching this week. We are also putting together a choir leader award, although that developement is in it's early days. For those not in the Glee Challenge there may be resources available within their own high school cluster or music region, other such as NYCOS, Out of the Ark and many others and let's not forget the vast amount of other resources on the internet.
There is one other valuable resource that may be staring you in the face - your children. Many children will be attending dance classes or other music initiatives. So, why not harness their knowledge and energy to help promote the message and develop your Glee choir. We will soon see the launch of our Gleebadours project which will train older pupils in school to be song and dance leaders whose role will be to organise singing and dancing activities across the school, in the playground, at assemblies and more. These children will not only be a ambassadors for the school they will hopefully provide you with a valuable resource.
Because it's worth it.
As with most things being a singing school will take a little bit of planning and enthusiasm. The Glee Challenge, however, provides a focus for not only getting started but for continuing with singing for years to come. The following quote from one of the teachers in our schools perhaps captures the essence of what we are trying to do.
’I love my job! Glee Club is possibly the most fun thing I have ever done. The children are so happy and engaged!’’
Bill Breckenridge CFCIPD, MEd, Co-Founder/Director of the Frisson Foundation and Senior External Verifier and International Verifier in Management Skills and Studies at SQA.
The idea for this item is based around an article, 'How to be a singing school', which appeared in the Primary Times in July 2017 written by Dr Elizabeth Stafford , director of Music Education Solutions and senior lecturer in professional studies at Leeds College of Music