The sound of success - using music to develop literacy skills

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children musicians

Music is a high priority at Rhydypenau Primary School where schemes of work focus on singing, playing, composing and appraising. Pupils regularly explore a range of instruments, which helps their wellbeing, team work and resilience. With careful planning, music is also used to achieve high standards in literacy through writing lyrics and turning poetry into song. The quality of pupils’ writing at the school has been acknowledged through several awards and national competitions. The wide range of musical experiences allows many opportunities for pupils to become engaged in their learning.

Number of pupils: 531
Age range: 3-11
Date of inspection: March 2018

Context and background to the effective or innovative practice

Rhydypenau Primary is a Pioneer School where music is given a high priority.  The school has identified its teacher planning, preparation and assessment time as a means to deliver excellence in music provision.  In terms of budget, funds are allocated to employ an experienced teacher who is a music specialist.  The subject has its own classroom, which is well-resourced with a wide range of instruments.  This allows for consistency and progression week in and week out, enabling pupils to make effective links between music, literacy and numeracy.  Extra-curricular choirs and songwriting clubs further add to the musical opportunities available to all.  The school’s orchestra is one of the largest of any primary school in Wales.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

The school sees music as a vital part in a child’s development.  A detailed scheme of work focuses on the four main strands (singing, playing, composing and appraising).  Pupils regularly explore a range of instruments, such as learning to play ukuleles and guitars, and link their composing with the digital competency framework through music composition software.  Pupils benefit in terms of their wellbeing, team work and resilience and, with careful planning, music is also used in Rhydypenau to deliver high standards in literacy.

Pupils have experience of linking their writing skills to the music curriculum, such as by creating ‘raps’ associated with Fairtrade, composing Blues verses and original songs for assemblies. Music is used effectively to develop oracy skills; pupils listen to compositions and speak for a specific purpose, appraising what they have heard using technical musical vocabulary.

Every term the school holds a community concert, taking pupils to perform at venues such as the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama.  These performances provide a valuable focus for class lessons and clubs.  Regular visits to the local care home and library give further opportunities for pupils to share their talents, developing their confidence and strengthening community links.  Visits from former pupils and members of ‘Goldies Cymru’ also serve to inspire learners in their work.

Staff work closely as an Expressive Arts team, with a recent collaboration enabling a group of Year 6 pupils to create a poem about Martin Luther King.  This poem was turned into a song.  The song was passed to the school choir and their performance was recorded.  This recording was then used by dance club to choreograph a dance – all developed from the initial piece of creative writing with teachers and pupils working together.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

The quality of children’s writing has been acknowleged through awards won in national competitions such as Show Racism the Red Card Wales, and invitations to perform at prestigious venues such as The Senedd.  The wide range of musical experiences allows many opportunities for pupils to become engaged in their learning.  Showcasing original compositions during community concerts provides challenge for more able learners as they know quality work created in class can be performed on stage in front of parents and peers.  This clear link also pushes more able musicians during composing tasks, where they are encouraged to lead and support others, reaching their potential by often creating sophisticated solo pieces within ensemble work.

How have you shared your good practice?

The music teacher is an ‘Arts Champion’ for the region and regularly goes into schools throughout South Wales to provide workshops linking literacy and music.  Pupils’ work is regularly shared via Twitter (#rpsmusic2018).  A network of neighbouring music co-ordinators has been set up, aimed at sharing resources and ideas, and supporting non-specialist professionals.  The school would welcome interest from anyone wishing to attend.