Sandy Thornton

Influenced by a singing workshop by vocal leader Nav Arles through his company MDBrunch, we created the first Suffolk and Norfolk SCITT FEST, a musical learning extravaganza for our trainees which saw the entire ITT core content threaded throughout the sessions.

What started as a singing workshop grew into so much more. After initial contact with MDBrunch, a connection to Snape Maltings Concert Hall and Britten Pears was made, giving us access to expert support, organisation, ongoing professional development, teaching resources and an amazing venue (the English National Opera were there the same day).

After further discussion, links with Suffolk and Norfolk Music Hubs opened opportunities for exploring instruments, lesson planning and cross-curricular links. The final piece in the puzzle was Emily Barden (songwriter, composer and performer), an ambassador working with Britten Pears, who was brought in for composition and song writing.

Research evidences the benefit of bringing more music into the classroom, and therefore the importance of training and supporting teachers to deliver this.

For example, a study from Wan et al (2010), From music making to speaking: engaging the mirror neuron system in autism, shows that because music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain, it can stimulate cognitive functioning and may be used for remediation of some speech and language skill”. And in the University British Columbia study (2019), Music students perform better in school than non-musical peers, Professor Peter Gouzouasis said: “The students who learned to play a musical instrument in elementary and continued playing in high school not only score significantly higher, but were about one academic year ahead of their non-music peers with regard to their English, mathematics and science skills, as measured by their exam grades, regardless of their socioeconomic background, ethnicity, prior learning in mathematics and English, and gender.”

So, how did the Suffolk and Norfolk SCITT FEST work, and what were the benefits/impact?

The day itself

The invitation for participation was not only for trainees, but also offered to their mentors and personal tutors. It was felt that this would be a great opportunity for shared learning, quality CPD, team building and to make school links with Britten Pears Arts for ongoing support.

The day began with Nav addressing over 100 participants. Without saying a word for several minutes, he commanded the whole of the room and held them in his hand; skilfully introducing and guiding them into an active, collaborative, vocal warm-up. This was behaviour management, high expectations and modelling at its best, followed by guided practice.

The trainees were then split into groups for workshops. The 45-minute workshops spread throughout the day offered:

  • Lesson planning
  • Linking music across the curriculum
  • Instruments
  • Composition and song writing
  • Singing

These sessions were led by experts in their field giving the chance for ongoing links to be made. High expectations and behaviour management were modelled effortlessly and inhaled by the trainees who were completely engaged, whilst at the same time making the implicit explicit. This was learning at its best – receiving clear, consistent, and effective messages.

From start to finish explanations were forthcoming on how to adapt breaking down content, whilst maintaining expectation for all, being inclusive, as well as adding challenge. This was further enriched with how to assess and feedback, verbally and nonverbally, giving time to rehearse and practise these skills. In terms of subject knowledge this was an opportunity to revisit the music curriculum as well as forge cross-curricular links to other subjects. The day was very much ‘low threat, high challenge’.

The day’s finale brought all participants back together for an interactive singing session. The room came alive to the sound of four-part harmony effortlessly put together by leaders Nav and Emily. The sound was not only amazing, the smiles on people’s faces and obvious infectious enjoyment can be seen in the video taken. This supports research by Voices Now (2017) that singing in choirs strengthens working relationships, promotes happiness, mental wellbeing, and general therapeutic physical health.

Benefits and impact

The teaching profession can be tough, and post-Covid good health is a priority, especially if you consider research from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry (2017) which states for every £1 invested in the arts, £4-11 cost savings are made across the National Health Service and Social Care.  So the benefits of a day such as SCITT FEST could have a profound effect on lives in the future.

From looking at reviews and feedback of the day, participants felt they benefitted from:

  • Improved wellbeing
  • Deeper subject knowledge
  • Classroom practice
  • Greater confidence
  • Behaviour management
  • Lesson planning
  • Uplifting feeling
  • Links with Centre of Excellence for ongoing CPD/resources

Extra outcomes for the day included wellbeing, the opportunity to share positive experiences, boosting self-confidence, collaboration and the chance to bring all the trainees together in one venue. There cannot fail but to be an impact on children in the classroom, and evidence from trainee reflections shows that it already is.

The whole day was an inspirational model of how exciting, meaningful and deep learning can look like in our schools. It was truly inspiring.

This quote from a trainee sums it up:

“SCITT FEST was my absolutely favourite day of my training. Nav was inspirational and I have used so many ideas and techniques that I learnt from him in my teaching”.

I wholeheartedly recommend Nav to others.

Sandy Thornton is a Senior Trainer at Suffolk and Norfolk SCITT.



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