Catherine Andrews shares the results of using Sing Up in her schools.
Tell us a bit about how you have integrated singing into your school.
In just under 2 years, singing has become an integral part of every child’s school day. Children are able to access singing at all different levels throughout the week.
The whole school learns a new song weekly in Singing Assembly. Every year group has class singing lessons and class teachers use songs in their lessons to introduce new topics. Nearly 200 children participate in weekly choir practices and 40 children have group singing lessons. There are also 25 young singing leaders who lead playground singing. The children have opportunities throughout the year to perform to different sized audiences in a variety of venues.
How important is singing to you and your school, and why?
The press recently has been full of stories of the incredible power of singing; from increasing confidence and self-esteem to improving academic ability and even claims that it can cure cancer. With the pressures that children, teachers and parents are placed under, singing, it appears is the perfect antidote to today’s academic demands.
But there’s so much more to it than that. The children and adults that I teach often talk about that ‘goosebump’ feeling that they experience when they sing; when everyone breathes together and sings as one voice. It’s impossible not to feel uplifted and joyful. This is why I sing.
Why use Sing Up?
I wouldn’t be able to do my job without Sing Up – I really wouldn’t. I am a classically trained singer and when I started teaching singing here and taking the choir, I was really sniffy about using anything with backing tracks. I just thought it would just be nasty synthesized music and it would just put the kids off and be like singing karaoke until I came across Sing Up. The backing tracks are so brilliant and the song choices are fantastic. I don’t think I could get through a day without it, to be honest.
The kids love the backing tracks and the fact that you can hear a big band in one piece and you can hear rap played really well in another song and so they are exposed to all these genres of music that are played really well that they can sing along to. So I just think it’s awesome and I really wouldn’t be able to do my job as well as I do without it. I’m not a brilliant pianist so it just means that I can do so much more. Although I do also use a keyboard, using the backing tracks allows me to completely engage with the children rather than trying to crash my way through an accompaniment! Sing Up has completely transformed my teaching.
What are your favourite songs on the Sing Up site?
I particularly like the warm-up songs that are in several parts. Ken and Barbie’s beatbox groove is a fabulous warm-up song and gets any reluctant singer going – it also has the hardest tongue twister I have ever come across! I started teaching this only to upper year groups but children in the lower years were desperate to learn it too. In fact, several Year 1 children perfected the tongue twister quicker than any of the older children. Let’s start to sing is similar.
I feel that I’ve only really scratched the surface of the songs available on Sing Up. I have different favourites for different occasions and choirs. My favourite assembly songs are the ones that are anthemic and have repetitive powerful choruses such as We are the champions, Raise my voice and my absolute favourite One and a million. These all have incredible backing tracks too.
The children at school love singing pop songs. Some of their favourites are Rockstar, Skyfall, The world’s greatest, and the boys particularly like Count on me especially with ukulele accompaniment. There are some wonderful songs that tell stories, too – Roller Ghoster and Interwoven tapestry are both perfect for actions, and there some superb versions of songs from musicals.
What impact has singing had on your whole school community?
Singing has had a profound effect on the whole school community. I can’t think of any other activity that brings the whole school together so closely.
I make sure that the Infants’ School (which is in a separate building) learn some of the same songs as the Juniors. Our Year 2 children are invited to join the Junior Choir in the summer term which helps them with the transition to a new school. I have even had new Year 3 children standing up in front of the whole junior school helping me with actions!
I also encourage children to teach the songs to their parents. In fact, the parents and teachers were so inspired by the children’s’ singing that they persuaded me to set up a Community Choir which now has 70 members. I also run a Youth Choir for the children who have moved to Secondary School but still want to be part of the Highfield singing community.
Are there any stories that come to mind where you’ve seen singing really help specific pupils?
I’ve seen so many – it’s been really quite amazing. I would say there are several children, including one who was so frightened in Year 3 that she wouldn’t sing on her own even though she’s got an amazing voice. By the end of Year 3, she was nearly able to sing on her own and now she’s one of the most confident children. But there have been so many children who wouldn’t even speak to their teachers who have then joined choir and gained confidence.
I’ve also had parents say to me ‘Oh, my child’s reading has improved so much since they started choir’ but I think it’s mainly confidence and that’s the most important thing you can give a child. I feel if they can have that experience at this age, that when they become teenagers and become really self-conscious, they can refer back to something in their memory and say ‘I stood in front of 500 people and sang that solo, and I might be finding life a bit difficult right now but at least I’ve done that’ and that might help.
Given that you use the International Primary Curriculum (IPC), how does singing fit with that and how has Sing Up helped you?
The central ethos of the IPC – to explore individual identity, different perspectives and societies – is something that many songs have as their subject matter. More specifically, Sing Up has songs that perfectly fit the topics. The IPC also emphasises an interdisciplinary approach to learning. Singing a song about a new subject can spark a child’s curiosity and give them the confidence to explore the topic in more depth.