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Opinion2nd February 2022

Ensuring every child can enjoy a life enriched by music

Margaret O’Shea, Head of Creative and Extended Curriculum at Ark Schools, spoke at the Music Teachers Association event on Music in Multi-Academy Trusts on Thursday 3 February, 2022. Here, she tells us about the five ingredients that have helped make Ark Music such a success.

“Each week across our schools, over 20,000 students enjoy regular music lessons (using our shared curriculum), 900 take part in school choirs and musical groups and over 100 professional artists share their expertise with Ark teachers and inspire our pupils. We’re delighted to report an 80% increase in the uptake of GCSE music across our schools in the last five years, compared to a 17% decrease nationally.

“Music is at the heart of our schools and we know that it is an essential part of how our students grow and develop. Whether it’s through whole school singing, ensemble playing, experimenting with the creative process or the love of listening to friends performing, the sheer joy of music making can feed the soul of a school community.

“Here are some of the key ingredients underpinning our success:

1. An unrelenting belief in the power of music…

….And an uncompromising approach to timetabling: Curriculum music is a non-negotiable in our schools. Lessons range between 30 minutes for our youngest primary pupils, 1 hour a week for those aged seven to eleven and at least 50 minutes, weekly, for the first three years of secondary.

Starting from Nursery upwards, children engage with the fundamentals of music through song and play, this broadens to include instrumental learning for those aged seven to eleven, and then musical theory, composition techniques and performance at secondary. We are enriching all our students’ lives while preparing a growing number for success at GCSE and vocational qualifications.

Ark Music

Ark Music Teacher

2. Investment in our teachers and our network of musicians

Our teachers and an incredible group of freelance professional musicians underpin our programme.

Unsurprisingly, many of our primary teachers have little or no musical background so we provide training to equip them to teach our music curriculum. An integral part of this is one-to-one regular support from professional artists in our 100-strong network who coach teachers to give them the confidence and skills to teach creative music lessons. At secondary, busy music teachers can sometimes miss-out on subject specific training and professional networks once they qualify. Our secondary music programme offers every music teacher regular training, 1:1 coaching, support and guidance at every step. We have an incredibly high retention rate of secondary music teachers and are really proud of that.

3. Opportunity for all to take it beyond the classroom

Every Ark student has the chance to participate in extra-curricular music activities which are designed to motivate, inspire and provide a platform for creativity.

Whether it’s as part of a choir, production clubs, drumming circles or more selective orchestras or choirs, every student has an outlet for their musical inclination.

Ark Music Class

Ark Music Trumpeter

4. Celebration through high-profile performances

As well as a programme of events that is co-curated with our students, we also offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to perform.

This year, we’re excited to be taking our senior choir to the World Choir Games in Korea, otherwise known as the Olympics of singing; it will be an experience out students will never forget.

In years past, we’ve run large-scale singing days and high-profile performance opportunities such as gala concerts at the Barbican. These events instil music as a key characteristic of our network and of each school; one that everyone cherishes .

5. Everyone’s music belongs

The professional artists we work with represent a breadth of musical styles, backgrounds and specialist skills. They expose our teachers, and students through delivering expert lessons, to music they may not have come across before. And they demonstrate our fundamental commitment to diversity and inclusion. All our students know that any music, and any musician, has a home in our programme.

Ark Music Bassist

“We’re acutely aware of the toll that the past two years has taken on our students. We’ve seen a 77% increase in mental health concerns in our setting. This just makes our music programme all the more important, as a means to offer a fully rounded school life that brings joy, creativity and wellbeing.”