Singing in Schools

Catherine Hatcher

How can singing bring a sense of belonging and advance child development outcomes in schools?

Bringing more singing to your school

There are many benefits to singing in school. First and foremost, singing is very accessible and practically universal. Almost every child has a voice, there are no equipment costs, and you can sing anywhere. School leaders have been interested in the positive implications of singing; choir performances and school shows are often the events that parents look forward to the most.

Beyond its accessibility, research shows that singing and engagement with music can have distinct benefits for children's learning, development, and personal skills. Like drama in schools, utilising the arts effectively brings with it wider positive implications for education. Enabling children to utilise their voices more effectively is a positive activity in schools. Neil Mercer's work on Oracy has helped us understand the importance of the spoken word. In this article, we will explore how school teachers can utilise singing in a school setting to form part of a balanced education.

Why is singing in schools so important?

  • Many of the brain functions used when taking part in music activities are also utilised by children to achieve key developmental milestones. Speech and music, for example, have several shared processing systems. Musical experiences can impact language perception, which in turn affects learning to read.(1)  In fact, engaging with music may enhance cognitive functions that are key to children's learning, such as planning, working memory, inhibition, and flexibility.(2)
  • Studies have found that children who participate in music activities perform better in English, Maths and Science, regardless of their socioeconomic background and previous academic record. In some cases, the difference between children who do and do not participate in music activity can equate to several months' academic progress.(3)
  • Children who participate in long-term musical programmes have also been found to show higher empathy than similar children who do not.(4)  
  • Through music activity, children can share emotions and express themselves. Musical activities therefore create opportunities for children to be heard, and they may consequently improve children's self-esteem and confidence to express themselves in non-musical ways too.(5)
  • Music also provides educators, parents, and guardians with an additional form of communication. Adults can quickly and powerfully communicate instructions or set a mood by giving a musical signal or singing a particular song. As a result, they can use music to help children regulate their behaviour, calm their emotions, prepare to start or finish a specific activity, or coordinate a collective effort to achieve a task more efficiently. This can result in a more productive use of time, improved focus, and increased learning.(6)

Primary schools using singing to promote child development
Primary schools using singing to promote child development

How do you facilitate effective singing in schools?

Facilitating singing in school can be daunting. You may feel that you're not a music specialist, have limited musical skills or knowledge, or are not confident to lead singing with your pupils. 

If so, you are not alone! At Voices Foundation, we meet many school staff who feel apprehensive about using their voice to sing with pupils. Singing can feel exposing and highly personal, and if you've had negative experiences with singing previously, this can affect your confidence

"When we first discussed the idea of the Singing Schools programme, there was a lot of resistance. [Staff were] very hesitant because of their own subject knowledge and their own history of singing – I personally remember my first day in secondary school being asked to sing by the teacher which was painful – those experiences live with people.” Senior Leader 

“I was told I couldn't sing at primary school, that's been with me ever since.” Teacher 

Voices Foundation supports schools to become Singing Schools where all staff have the confidence and skills to lead effective music lessons and activities.

Here are our top tips for facilitating effective singing in your school:

  • Adopt a whole-school approach

Adopting a whole-school approach to singing helps to support staff confidence. This can create a supportive culture of ‘we’re in this together’, help to normalise singing as something that all staff can all take part in, and result in teachers feeling less isolated when tackling barriers to singing.

“Some staff have been a bit scared starting the programme. What the staff have done so far is take it on wholeheartedly. They are all having a go.” Teacher

"The whole school approach has been really useful, and the fact we’ve had continued and consistent training, team teaching with the practitioners, and whole school events. All of that is making it feel like this is a space for everyone to get involved in." Teacher

  •  Practice regularly, little and often

Delivering music activity regularly can help to keep anxieties at bay and serve as a consistent reminder that you are able to lead music in your classrooms. We recommend aiming for 5-10 minutes every day. For example, why not try singing good morning to each child and asking them to sing back? Or you could sing a song during transition time to help your children prepare for the next activity. Or see if you can find a song that helps children to embed the learning that have been doing in another curriculum area.

“Now it is done daily in the classes, slowly the staff are coming to enjoy that time.” Teacher

  • Focus on your pupils

Teachers often tell us that their pupils are not judgemental and aren't interested in the quality of their teacher's singing voice! Instead, what's really important to them is being able to take part and have fun. Focusing on your pupils and seeing singing from their perspective can help you to feel less concerned about your own technical ability.

“It’s not about how good a singer you are, it’s about understanding how to show it to the pupils.” Teacher

“I love singing, even though I can't sing in tune, and enjoy the joy and happiness it brings to the classroom. Pupils are able to remember things better through song/rhyme.” Teacher

  •  Collaborate with a musical organisation or practitioner who can support you

Finally, we recommend seeking external support from a specialist music organisation that can guide and assist your learning. One of the biggest challenges around leading singing in school is having the confidence to do it! So we would encourage you to find support from an organisation with staff who can understand and appreciate the diversity of musical experiences among the staff in your school, and where applicable, consider and empathise with the challenges that staff may face. We would also recommend thinking about the depth of support that you and your staff might need. If you are feeling confident to lead singing in your school already but would appreciate some new ideas, then there are some great online resources. If you wish you felt more confident about music and singing, or want to improve your skills or musical knowledge, then nothing beats having someone in the room with you. Voices Foundation’s practitioners work side-by-side with teachers in their classrooms in a flexible way to meet every individual’s needs. They provide hands-on support, advice and guidance in real time, leaving school staff feeling comfortable and empowered to lead singing and music activity with pupils in a way that they may not have previously thought possible!

“Confidence has been a personal barrier, however the Voices programme and the collaborative work with practitioners in both choral and musicianship teaching has significantly helped improve my own practice and skills, giving me a lot more confidence to lead sessions.”  Teacher

Benefits of music in schools
Benefits of music in schools

Become a Singing School with Voices Foundation

Voices Foundation is on a mission to inspire schools to use their voices and sing. Our CPD programmes empower staff and help schools to become Singing Schools that provide children with access to enriching and inspiring music education. 

We work directly with Primary Schools, Secondary Schools and Multi-Academy Trusts, as well as partnering with Music Education Hubs to provide training, resources, guidance, and strategic support. Our partnerships are highly collaborative, devising and implementing singing strategies, developing hub and school workforces, and building hub-wide capacity for music and singing in schools.

To find out more, e-mail vf@voices.org.uk.

 

References

(1) Hallam, S., (2010). The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. International Journal of Music Education 28, 269–289. 

(2) Dumont, E., et al. (2017). Music Interventions and Child Development: A Critical Review and Further Directions. Frontiers in Psychology 8.

(3)  Guhn, M., Emerson, S. D., & Gouzouasis, P. (2020). A population-level analysis of associations between school music participation and academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 112(2), 308-328.  

(4) Rabinowitch, T.-C., Cross, I., & Burnard, P., (2013). Long-term musical group interaction has a positive influence on empathy in children. Psychology of Music 41, 484–498.

(5) Mak, H., & Fancourt, D. (2019). Arts engagement and self-esteem in children: results from a propensity score matching analysis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1449, 36–45. 

(6) Blasco-Magraner J., et al. (2021). Effects of the Educational Use of Music on 3- to 12-Year-Old Children's Emotional Development: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18(7), 3668.