PrimaryReading.pngFor a while now I’ve been trying to find out what other Year 5 teachers read to their pupils. Teachers of twitter often post pictures and short reviews of the books they’ve been reading in class and I always find the recommendations useful. Teachers very rarely pass a bookshop without picking up a book, in my case they’re quite often for school but I do treat myself now and then. Teachers love books and have the enthusiasm to pass on that love for reading.

One of the best posts I’ve seen on twitter in the last couple of months was from Ashley Booth (@MrBoothY6) who complied a list called ‘100 books to read before you leave Y6’. A brilliant idea and I’ve noticed that a number of teachers have gone on to create displays based on the list. A fantastic way to inspire teachers and ultimately children.

There are a number of lists out there suggesting the books children should read and when they should read them. Quite a lot of these lists aren’t written by teachers and most of the time they’re out of date. I’d like to find out the texts that teachers are choosing to read in their classrooms in 2017. Books used for guided reading, ‘end of the day’ books or books used in English/Literacy lessons. I know we can’t restrict books to one age group – I’ll always enjoy the Gruffalo – I’m interested in the texts that other teachers are using, I’m frightened I might have missed an opportunity. Rather than just finding out about books for Year 5 children, I thought it was worth asking teachers from Nursery to Year 6.

So, I’ve created a short form for teachers to fill so that I can collate a list of books used in each year group:


I would love to have as many responses as possible to create a helpful list. Once the results have been collected I’ll share them. Thanks in advance and spread the word!



Why is half term so important?

A number of people often jokingly say to me “Oh, you’re on holiday again aren’t you? I’d love the holidays you teachers get”. Yes, the holidays are great, especially the six weeks in summer. I wonder how many teachers out there actually spend the whole six weeks relaxing? How many teachers spend seven or fourteen days completely work free during half term? Not many, I’m sure.

I’ve got to be honest it’s only very recently that I have taken full advantage of the holidays. I spent the equivalent of 1 day working over the Christmas holidays in December 2016. Compared to the last couple of years this is an achievement. In the past I’ve spent around five or more days working over Christmas and three or four days in half terms preparing for the next six or seven weeks of work ahead. Working during the holidays was becoming really frustrating, I wasn’t getting a break and the quality of my work probably wasn’t that good – the motivation had gone, I was tired. Holiday needed.

December 2016

Before I finished for the Christmas holidays I put in a few extra hours after school and continued working in my classroom until about 6-7pm. Long days at school are tiring but it was all in aid of reducing my Christmas workload. Displays were up, my room was tidy, plans were printed and resources were organised for the first day back in January. I normally left curriculum plans, maps and long term planning for the holidays but I’d managed to get them all typed up and printed. Looking back, I don’t know why I haven’t been so organised in the past but you know what it’s like in that last week of term with the Christmas party, show and carol service, you go home as soon as possible and just need a break. I’ve changed my ways. I needed to win back my holidays.

One of the other reasons I’ve worked so much during the holidays is guilt – sad, I know. During term time I’m at school no later than 7:30am and I leave around 5:00pm, if there’s something I need to do that night I get it done, often using another hour or two at home. Teaching is one of the few professions that has a start and finishing time that is completely ignored by those in the job. It’s almost impossible to get everything done in the hours we’re contracted to work so we end up working at home at night or in the holidays. There have been times when I’ve been at home during half term and I’ve felt that I need to do some work, I find myself saying “There must be something I can be doing” (I do go out of the house by the way, I visit places, friends, family, etc. I’m talking about those one or two days in the holidays where I’m at home). Anyway, the thing is, there IS always something that you can be doing, you could work all the way through the summer holidays if you really wanted to.  This isn’t healthy nor is it ‘right’.

Christmas holidays should be a time for relaxing, spending time with family and friends, catching up on Corrie and watching episode after episode of Wallace and Gromit on GOLD. I restricted myself to one day of work and felt so much better for it. I worked for two morning over Christmas and went back to school fresh faced and ready to go. Not working over Christmas did me the world of good.

Fast forward…

Today is the Sunday before Spring 2. I’ve spent the last week skiing in Austria and seriously don’t know how I’m going to get through the next week without an Apple Strudel. Perhaps, I’ll put in a word with our cook at school. I’ve had a great week on ‘holiday’ (If anyone ever tells you they’re going on a ski holiday, they are not going on holiday. Skiing is not a holiday, it’s a 24/7 workout. You get a bed at the end of each day to recover and be ready for the next day – I love it though).

I haven’t done any work since the Friday we broke up. Again, I made sure my classroom was ready for Spring 2 and that all my paper work was up to date. I’m organised and haven’t needed to do any work.  I’ve rested and I feel ready to go back, most importantly, I’m looking forward to going back to school. I’m motivated and prepared – a much better feeling than at the end of previous holidays and half terms where I’ve had work hanging over me.

Half term holidays are important. Have a break, recharge, leave the guilt behind and don’t make any excuses.

Countdown. Cyclists. Community.

I was in Manchester earlier this week catching up with Swifty (one of my mates from Uni). We didn’t go with any plans but came back with plenty of stories to tell. We eventually ended up heading to Media City, Salford to watch ‘Countdown’. I’ve always been interested in TV and I like to find out what happens behind the scenes – how it works, etc. It doesn’t really matter which programme it is. We found out where we needed to be and then we sat outside in ‘The Plazza’, while we waited Laura Trott and Jason Kenny happened to walk by. We said a quick hello and managed to get a picture with them, they were both really friendly. We couldn’t believe our luck. I’ll be showing off this picture for a while yet.

Me, Laura Trott, Jason Kenny and Swifty

Anyway, we went into the studio where Countdown was filmed and the warm-up act came on to the set and told us how the afternoon would work. He kept referring to two members of the audience, which at this point we assumed he knew. “Everybody is welcome; we’re a family here” he said. It turns out that he did know the men, as did the rest of the regular presenters from the show. The two men explained that they were unable to work; one of them was visually impaired and had a guide dog with him, the other man sat at the front in his wheelchair. We eventually found out that the two men were regular audience members, they actually watch the show being filmed rather than watching it at home. They know the presenters and the presenters know them. In fact one of the presenters had treats for the guide dog, so did many members of the crew. From my point of view the two gentlemen were part of the team, part of the furniture if you like.

I didn’t expect to find such a ‘community’ in a TV studio. The hosts, crew and warm-up act were so welcoming and friendly towards the audience, especially the two men – I wish I knew their names. I guess this is why they have been going to see the show for so many years, they’ve felt welcomed and a sense of belonging. Something we all need.

When we join clubs or go to community events we expect and hope to be ‘part of a group’, a group with something in common – a shared interest. I’m sure it’s not as easy for some people to feel part of a group or community but it only takes a few people to change that. To help someone find where they belong.

August Baby

I remember getting my SATs results in Year 6; I wasn’t an especially academic pupil in primary school. I just wanted to learn about music, listen to stories and make things from cardboard boxes. My results, as I remember, were poor; I had tried my best as I always did at school. I was never made to feel rubbish or inadequate and I was never told that I was a lower ability pupil. I ambled along in my own little world – not a bad place to visit as I often do. I moved up to secondary school and carried on, still only interested in Music, fact books and making things. Soon subjects like Drama, Design and Technology, ICT and German would be added to my timetable and my interest in these subjects was growing.

When I was in infant school – a very long time ago now – my headmistress once said to my Mum and Dad “He will always be a little bit behind, he’s small, quiet and much younger than some of the other children. Mark will catch up one day”. It’s common knowledge that a lot of August born children sometimes do fall behind but this doesn’t apply to every child. Research suggests that August babies are just not ready to go to school at the same time as their peers and that they are less confident because others are months ahead of them. My headmistress was right, I was quiet (in school) and perhaps I wasn’t as confident as the other children, from what I remember I wasn’t a particularly good reader, maths wasn’t my thing either and I also had a bit of a lisp because I pronounced s like th – thanks to Mark Wilson for sorting that out!

I’ve just Googled ‘August babies’ and the internet is jam packed with headlines like:

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 12.40.37Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 12.40.50Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 12.41.04

Oh heck.

I had always said, even when I was in Year 2, that I wanted to be a teacher. I loved school, I loved my teachers and I just wanted to be like them. I had a chalkboard at home that I used after school and my sister would be my teaching assistant, I’d stand at the front of my bedroom teaching what my teachers taught me only a couple of hours earlier. My sister was less than impressed; it must have done something for her though because she is a teaching assistant now.

At secondary school I just sauntered along, quite happily, again I enjoyed getting to know the teachers – I still keep in touch with a few of them today. I certainly wasn’t getting the results that I would need to go on and be a teacher. I remember the career lessons we had at school, we had to pick something that we wanted to do and a computer would tells us the skills and qualifications we would need. I was quite relaxed about it all though because I was a good few years away from getting any qualifications. This wasn’t the case, my GCSE exams were nearer than I thought.

I was always under the impression that teachers needed to know everything, that they should be a walking, talking, singing, dancing encyclopedia and that they were amazing human beings that never got questions wrong. I thought teachers were the sort of people that would watch the Weakest Link (weekdays after Newsround at 5:30 on BBC 1 – bring back early 2000s TV) and would never fail to answer a question correctly. I sometimes couldn’t get my spellings right and my maths skills were never completely up to scratch. How could I be a teacher?

By the time I got into Year 10 I’d been doing a lot of am-dram productions outside of school and I loved it, I started to think about acting as a career because I had started to loose hope on the teaching front. I had chosen my four GCSE options, Music, Drama, German and ICT. I picked the subjects that I enjoyed, not necessarily the subjects that were going to help me get a job – Mum and Dad agreed that this was the best way to do it. Do what you enjoy!

I focused so much on my Drama work; it was now my favourite and strongest subject. A career in acting. I’d have to move away, I’d need to fight off a lot of competition and I’d always be surrounded by people who were trying to be better than everybody else – could I handle this? Probably not, too wet and not the argumentative sort. At the time, YouTube had more or less just launched. Videos of cats playing pianos and children biting their siblings’ fingers started to appear more and more often. Yes, they were funny but I was more interested in videos of interviews with actors and actresses, old recordings of ‘Parkinson’. Honestly, I must have spent hours watching interviews with David Jason, Rowan Atkinson, Julie Walters, Judi Dench, Michael Cain, etc. They all had similar things to say and they all talked about the struggles of getting into acting. Well, known actors all have something in common, at some point in their lives they have been in the right place at the right time – they were lucky. I didn’t think luck was on my side. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself but I just didn’t think I would make the cut. Besides, I can’t really dance so musicals would be off the cards and I wouldn’t have been popular on Strictly. Stick to am-dram and enjoy it as a hobby. Do it part-time.

So, I’d considered acting and the answer was no. Underneath this idea of becoming a famous actor, there was a little Year 2 inside me that was still saying ‘I want to be a teacher when I grow up’. What did I have to do? Work my ass off!!

I got my first ‘A’ in Drama. Actually, it was the equivalent of an A because we did a B-TEC in Performing Arts alongside our GCSE award. My GCSE results weren’t particularly amazing but at least I didn’t break my own tradition. I still managed to get into 6th form to study the A-levels I had chosen. Now I was seriously close to finishing school and choosing a career. I was still trying to think of alternatives to teaching because I still didn’t believe that I’d be able to do it, I needed something to fall back on.

I should mention that throughout my school days my parents and teachers were all incredibly encouraging and always wanted the best for me but at the end of the day, it wasn’t their name on the exam paper or the coursework that I would be handing in. They all wanted me to get into teaching and they supported me in everyway they could. On A-level results day 7 years ago, it was still touch and go. I’d tried to predict my results but couldn’t, I had no idea what was going to be printed on that slip of paper. A few hours later I received a confirmation of acceptance email from University. I was off to Hogwarts…I can dream can’t I?

Skip to 2016.

What I know now:

  • I will never know everything, nobody ever will, thank goodness for Google.
  • I got more A and B grades at University than ever before (not bragging here)
  • I’m an August baby that caught up.

20th August 2016:

I’m preparing to teach my fifth class. There are two or three children that I’ll teach in September that are August babies, what do I do? I think back to what my parents and teachers did with me – encouraged. I wonder how far through school I’d have got if circumstances were different, if I hadn’t had that encouragement. Teachers do not need to be walking encyclopedias. We don’t need to know everything there is to know and we don’t need degrees coming out of our ears but what we should all have is the ability and the time to encourage others, especially those that perhaps need a little more time to grow and develop.

For the record, August is a great time to have a birthday because I can always guarantee a day off.

Desert Island Discs in the Classroom

I love playing music in the classroom. My speakers are amazing and I love to blast out a bit of music at lunch. Every now and then a little head pops through the door and asks what the music is that’s playing. I don’t listen to a particular style of music so it’s different everyday, quite often I just pick a playlist from Spotify and play that. If I have music playing as my class are coming in I often get asked questions like “Is that the music from…?”, “Who’s singing that?” and “Is that Adele?” etc. Music is everywhere, we hear it in the streets, in cars, restaurants and shops – we can’t escape it, it’s something we can all relate to and talk about.

I’m not a BBC Radio 4 listener, I flick between Radio 2 and Magic but it’s normally Chris Evans in a morning and Simon Mayo on the way home. There is one Radio 4 programme that I’ve occasionally listened to on the iPlayer – Desert Island Discs. Since 1942 actors, actresses, writers, musicians and a whole host of other ‘castaways’ as they’re called, have taken part in the programme. Guests are asked about their life and career, it’s a bit like the talk show that Michael Parkinson presented but with music. Castaways are asked to choose tracks that relate to a moment in their life, sometimes they just play their favourite piece of music. The idea is that they would take these tracks with them if they were cast away on a desert island. You can find out a lot about a person by the music they choose to play.

This got me thinking.

I decided that I was going to use the Desert Island Disc format in the classroom. Last September I asked my new class to think really carefully about three songs that meant something to them. I told them that I was going to interview them over the first few weeks of term and ask them to talk about the music that they had chosen. I spent around 10 minutes on each interview, I did’t play each track in full because it would take too much time but I made sure that children had enough time to explain their choices.

Sometimes I feel as if we don’t get to properly know children in our class until it’s too late. Before we know it July approaches and pupils are ready to move up to their next class. We have so much to cover that our timetables often don’t allow much time for  PSHE, Circle time and Citizenship – subjects/activities that help us understand more about our pupils, subjects that ‘allow’ them to talk about themselves.

The first few interviews went well, they would take place first thing in the morning or just before we started reading our class book at the end of the day. Children loved listening to each other talk about the tracks they had chosen and they found out things about their classmates that they didn’t know. Children kept asking when it was their turn but unfortunately we didn’t get through everyone – time didn’t allow. This September I am determined to get through everyone. It’s a simple and effective transition activity that lasts a few weeks in the first term.

I ask children to select three songs:

  1. The first song or tune they remember
  2. A song that means something to them
  3. Their favourite song in the charts – pupils often have more knowledge of this than I do!

I ask questions about their choices:

  • What made you choose a song like this?
  • Why does this song appeal to you?
  • When did you first come across this song?
  • How does this song link to something in your life? A time? A place? An event?
  • What do you like about this musician?
  • How does the song make you feel when you listen to it?
  • Does the song make you feel happy? sad? emotional?

As well as using the activity to get to know your class it also covers the ‘music appreciation’ strand of the curriculum. You’ll probably find that children pick music from a range of genres and that they are able to evaluate the music they have chosen clearly. There’s a reason that children have picked each track, our job is to get them to explain their choices.

“Pupils should be taught to appreciate and understand a wide range of high-quality live and recorded music drawn from different traditions and from great composers and musicians”

National Curriculum for Music KS1 and KS2. Source: www.gov.uk

The radio presenter in me loves this activity and it’s actually good fun for teachers and pupils. Give it a go, play around with the format and let me know how you get on. Have a listen to Desert Island Discs with Ant and Dec if you need more inspiration:


And finally…my choices:

  1. First song I remember – Theme from Playdays – I liked the jazzy Clarinet
  2. A song that means something to me – Fast Car (Tracy Chapman)  – End of Uni song
  3. Castle on the Hill – Ed Sheeran

What would you choose? Why?


At the end of the day


Suess says it all really.

School finishes at 3:15pm. I normally stand by the door as children leave to speak to parents, I then grab a brew and head back to my room to mark books and sort my classroom out. When I used to watch Disney’s Recess – stay with me – the kids were on the edge of their seats waiting to leave, then all of a sudden they would leap from their seats and charge through the corridors, they couldn’t wait to leave school. I’d like to think that my class are sat on the edge of their seats for a completely different reason,  because  of something I have done near enough everyday since I started teaching – read to my class at the end of each day.

To some reading to a class at the end of the day might seem an obvious thing to do, but for many teachers and schools this isn’t how they end their day. Quite often due to the amount over coverage needed for each subject, reading at the end of the day is overlooked because there isn’t the time. There’s so much to do and so little time.

I remember watching Michael Murporgo talk about this subject a couple of years ago. He said that he wants every school to ‘bring back storytime’. (I can imagine the look of disgust from some of my Year fives if I said to them “Ok, it’s 3 O’clock, story time!”- we call it ‘reading’, ‘story time’ seems a bit babyish, it would do to my Year 5 class). Murporgo spoke so passionately about how important it is to read aloud to children, it gives them the opportunity to think about plots and characters but the chance to chill out and relax too.

Reading aloud is something that all teachers do, obviously, but do we need to read at a set time? No. In Year 5 the novels we read are quite long. Our Power of Reading books link into our English work so I often use a 10 minute chunk of my English lesson to read to my class. Some might think that 10 minutes of reading is enough for one day, I don’t think that it’s  long enough to be honest. As we know there are lots of children that enjoy reading for pleasure, for those that aren’t in a position like that (yet), reading aloud can be very powerful for those that want to listen. I remember my mum reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was about 7 year old, I also remember one of our teachers reading Fantastic Mr Fox when I was in year 4 – no joke, the teacher was called Mrs Chicken. I remember the voices that were used to distinguish the various characters and I remember looking forward to 15 minutes at the end of school listening to a story, a chance to use my imagination without moving.

I mentioned earlier that reading time gives pupils the chance to chill and relax, I don’t mean put their heads down and have a sleep. I think about the increasing amount of work that children in schools have to do now and I think we can proably spare 15 minutes at the end of the day and give them a break!

My class love listening to a book being read to them, they love listening to the voices I do (I enjoy that bit too – it’s the actor in me), they love prediciting what’s going to happen next and they hate it when I purposely slam the book shut on a huge cliffhanger to signal that it’s time to go home. Sometimes I continue reading books that we have been studying in our English lessons but at other times I like to read them something completely separate from their work. At the beginning of this year I read ‘Grandpa’s Great Escape’, which we all really enjoyed – another brilliant book from David Walliams. I’ll also add at this point that I think it’s hugely important for children to see that you (their teacher) enjoy reading books- another powerful way of encouraging reading for pleasure.

To finish off the year I’ve decided to read a classic novel with my class. The classics are sometimes forgotten with the likes of the brilliant Dahl, Walliams, Horowitz, Wilson books, etc. taking over our bookshelves (I mean this in the best way possible). Classics like Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden and Wind in the Willows helped to shape the literary world we have today so why not read a classic? I’ve decided to read The Railway Children, partly because it’s short and I want to finish it before the school year ends – so do my class. That will bring our total number of books read (as a class) to 5, not a huge number but remember the books in Year 5/6 can be quite long.

I don’t really have a conclusion for this piece but what I will say is…

Story time is an essential part of the school day in my classroom. It’s a time for relaxing, winding down, talking about books, discussing plots, debating character motivations, using imagination and most importantly for enjoying books and the world of children’s literature. Try it – 15 minutes at the end of your day.

Life is a Song. Sing it.

I always look forward to leading singing practice on a Tuesday afternoon. Singing has always been a passion of mine, admittedly I’m not the best singer but I can hold a tune and I get a lot out of it. I enjoyed singing at school and could probably list all the songs from the Junior Praise book that we used(Number 50 was my favourite – Give me oil in my lamp). Our music teacher was enthusiastic and played the piano with enough energy to get the whole assembly hall smiling and singing. We had daily assemblies but Friday was special, we always had a ‘Singing Assembly’ in which the whole school would come together and sing.

Singing is a brilliant way of bringing people together. Think back to a concert or performance that you’ve watched, if you’ve been lucky enough to watch Coldplay, Michael Buble, Taylor Swift or S Club 7 (back in the day), etc. you’ll have been stood up waving your arms and singing your heart out, along with 10,000 other people. It’s a collaborative experience and if we give singing a chance we can all enjoy it – even if we can’t sing! Whoever said you need to be able to sing to be a singer?

When I started working at my current school I was pleased to see that we had a ‘slot for singing’. When I became the music leader I had the opportunity to lead singing, suddenly I found myself in the same position as my music teacher from primary school. To this day I still remember thinking to myself ‘I want to do that, I want to play the piano in assembly’ so to me I’m in a very privileged position because it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.

I took on the role of Music subject leader after I had completed my NQT year. That summer I spent an afternoon of my holiday surrounded by sheet music and music books working out what I wanted to teach children to sing in assemblies. I could have picked a list of my favorite songs but it doesn’t work like that. I had to think very carefully about the ability and age range of the children I would be teaching and the sort of music that primary aged children would enjoy. Hymns and Children’s songs have been used in assemblies for generations and some of them are still used today. I wanted to keep the tradition of hymn singing, even though we are not a faith school. We always observe festivals like Christmas and Easter and regularly have members of the clergy in to lead assemblies so with that in mind I think hymns are suitable songs to use in our school setting. When choosing music it is advisable to think carefully about the faiths represented in your school.

So, I added a number of hymns and carols to my ‘Music List’ for the autumn term.

I like to plan the music for each term to make sure that we find the time to practice Christmas carols and songs for special occasions and events. I also like to plan music that is appropriate for significant days that we remember in our assemblies, for example, Harvest, Armistice Day, International Day of Peace and Bonfire Night. It’s also a good idea to find out about special events that are taking place nationwide and worldwide, such as, 2016 Olympics, Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebrations and Euro 2016. It is so important that children listen to and perform different styles of music, you may be the person that ‘opens their ears’ to a brand new genre or style of music.

Anyway, back to the list. Sing Up is a brilliant resource for music and other areas of the curriculum. It’s a great source for music that has already been arranged for young singers and it’s not too difficult for teacher too. The styles of music range from pop to rock, religious to secular and from Broadway to Disney songs, so there is quite a range of music to choose from. If your school is a member of Sing Up then termly magazines are sent out and always include a CD with new songs for the term ahead. A number of these songs end up on my list. Here ends my sales pitch for Sing Up.

Picture the scene, the hall is full of children and teachers and you are up at the front about to teach them all a new song. Many teachers find the prospect of leading a normal assembly daunting never mind a singing assembly, but I try not to think about nerves or ‘getting it wrong’. I suppose it’s an advantage that I’ve been a member of my local amateur dramatics society since I was 10 so I’m not a complete mess when singing or speaking in front of large groups of people. I always start with a warm-up, it sometimes includes clapping or chanting, other times it just involves singing scales and warming up voices. I’ve also use this time to remind pupils about posture when singing, it’s incredibly important to stand straight, push your sholders back, clear your throat and sing out!

Our singing practice lasts around 30 minutes and we’re normally able to learn one or two songs per session. I let the children listen to the song on a CD first and then we learn each line individually. If there’s no CD then I sing the tune (bless their ears) and children repeat the lines after me. They never get a new song after one run through so I always get them to sing the song in the next whole school assembly, then the tune and the lyrics start to sink in, especially if they like the song.

How do we know what sort of music they like? Simple, I always ask children to write a list of songs they would like to sing in assembly, although some suggestions are immediately dismissed, for some reason it didn’t seem appropriate to add ‘Gangnam Style’ to our Autumn list last year. It’s always a good idea to speak to a range of children from different year groups about the music that they want to sing; they might even provide you with some inspiration for your music list.

“Those who wish to sing always find a song”

Swedish Proverb

Singing should always be enjoyable and should be approached with enthusiasm and a large smile. Singing practice should, of course, help children improve their singing and it’s an opportunity to teach them singing techniques but in my opinion, children in primary school need to learn to love singing. Enjoyment should always come first.

“All children should have the chance to learn an instrument”

In 2010 Michael Gove said something that I actually agreed with. He wanted to reform music education in the UK. One of the steps he wanted to take was to get every child playing a musical instrument. As a musician this was music to my ears, excuse the pun, but I’m not sure how far Mr Gove got with his plan…

NEWS ARTICLE: Michael Gove orders a review of music teaching

I’m writing this blog to explain how I got the children at my school playing musical instruments. This process started in June 2014.

When I was in secondary school I had keyboard and saxophone lessons. Playing a musical instrument was the best extra-curricular activity that I took part in at school as there were so many opportunities that came with taking up an instrument. I played in concerts and worked on graded exams. However, I wish that I could have started playing earlier, in primary school.

When I became the music subject leader at school one of my main priorities was to try and get every child to learn and play a musical instrument but with tight budgets and barely any instruments how was I going to do this?


Our Year 3 class already had a set of violins and a music teacher that came in every week to teach the violin for 30 minutes. The school had a class set of djembe drums which were used to teach Y6 African drumming with a teacher from the local music service. We also had an instrument trolley with a few percussion instruments on and 6 xylophones. In order to meet my target we needed to look into buying some more instruments.

I spoke to music subject leaders from other schools and the local music service to see what advice they could give me. This was very useful as it gave me an idea of the instruments and teaching resources that other schools were using.

I knew that this wasn’t going to be easy, I was the only member of staff that played an instrument so one of the other challenges was looking into ways in which I could support staff. Did they feel comfortable teaching musical instruments?

The Big Decision

Two classes were sorted but what were the other classes going to play? Many of the teachers that I spoke to were raving about Ukuleles simply because they are easy to play and are very cheap, not to mention they are most popular instrument sold in music stores across the country. I’d made up my mind, we needed a class set! The only problem was we didn’t have a teacher in the school that could play the Ukulele.

One of the resources that teachers told me about was Charanga Music, I decided to start a free trial and discovered that one of the tools they offered was an online ‘Ukulele course’ for children. The teacher simply needed to display the interactive course/lesson and follow it with the class. I then discovered that Charanga also had a ‘Recorder course’ so a class set of recorders was my next choice. Yes, I know, it’s not the most original instrument for primary school children to learn but it would be easy enough for Y2 to learn and play.

What did we do next?

Now I needed to persuade SM that buying these instruments was a brilliant idea. I came up with a plan that I could present to staff, they seemed happy with it and were willing to give it a go. Finally, we were able to go ahead and purchase the instruments and the charanga music package.

How it looks at the moment: 

I delivered a staff meeting on music at the end June 2014 to help prepare teachers for September, it was an exciting time but it was about to get noisy…

Who plays what?

Year 2 – Learning to play the recorder using the course on charanga music

Year 3 – Play violins with teacher from the music service

Year 4 – Play Ukuleles using the course on charanga music

Year 5 – Play djembe drums with teacher from the music service

Year 6 – Share Ukuleles with Y4 and use the course on charanga music.

It’s great to see that children (and teachers) are enjoying playing the new instruments, I want to continue to build on what we have by holding concerts for parents, but, hold on Mark, one step at a time.

This was a massive step for our school but an investment that I believe will last a long time. What I would like to do now is look out for instruments that Year 1 and Reception could play but first I think it’s important that I review the instrument teaching and learning that has taken place from Year 2 to Year 6.

If you’ve got this far and you teach Reception or Year 1 let me know if your class play a musical instrument.


BETT 2015 – London

Photo 23-01-2015 04 32 14 pmI first heard about BETT when I started my degree just over five years ago. I’ve always wanted to go but haven’t managed it mainly because of the time of year and the distance to London from Cumbria. This year I plucked up the courage to ask my head if I could go and I got the go ahead. It’s quite a long train journey so I travelled down on Thursday night, that way I didn’t loose time on the Friday.

I met one of my Uni mates down there, we’re both Computing subject leaders so it was good to have someone to discuss ideas with. We arrived at the ExCel centre at 10:00am ready for the show to open, what an atmosphere! There were thousands of people, Mike and I both agreed that it was “completely overwhelming”.

We wandered around the stands, which had all been impressively designed, (I think there must have been a big competition to see who could build the most futuristic and elaborate stand, I couldn’t pick a winner though.) It was good to talk to companies that we had both ‘bought into’ to talk about updates and new features but it was as equally interesting seeing the new products out there and the products that we had never heard about before. We didn’t see every stand, I think it would be impossible to see then all in one day anyway.

Photo 23-01-2015 11 28 15 amThe main reason for visiting was to attend the workshops and talks that we’re being held in the mini theatres. I managed to see presentations including: assessing without levels, teaching computing in primary schools and Sir Ken Robinson on Creativity. The sessions were good and I certainly can start to implement some of the inspirational ideas that I have learnt this weekend. For example, Miles Berry spoke about teaching computing across the curriculum and gave us some brilliant ideas to use in the classroom. I know computing should be taught across the curriculum but to be honest I haven’t used it to support other subjects as often as I could have. I need to make a conscious effort to do more of this so I’ll certainly be trying out a few of the suggestions from Miles Berry.

It was great to meet Mark Anderson @ICTEvangalist after one of his talks. He’s got such a contagious passion towards the use of technology in the classroom, truly inspirational and he couldn’t help enough.
Photo 23-01-2015 04 22 35 pmIt was a long day at BETT, I was really looking forward to seeing Ken Robinson speak but as I expected I didn’t manage to get a seat in the arena so I stood at the side. I was around 15 metres away from him and couldn’t hear a thing, no fault of his own, the sound system was awful. I actually ended up moving on and I hope to catch his speech on YouTube. The worlds leading technology conference for education, around 200 people in the audience of the keynote speech and I couldn’t hear the speech – there’s something not quite right there.

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get to the TeachMeet mainly because I was really tired, it was full on. I’ve heard good things though.

BETT was a great experience, now back to the classroom!