Children need music in the “Jungle”


I went to Calais this half term. I wasn’t entirely sure if the songs and games I had planned would be of any use so I was prepared to work in the warehouse rather then teach if need be. I had been told that the children were not ready for formal lessons and that concentration was a problem. They were entirely ready for singing however. I worked my way through the Voice Foundations 65 songs from around the world. “Hello, how are you”,  “Chest, chest, knee, toe” “Hickety Tickety” “Clap your Hands” “Little Sally Saucer”were all firm favourites. The regular class teacher was so keen to learn the songs as she saw the kids concentrate and sing out for longer periods of time than usual. The kids loved the ribbons I had brought along and we used those with the the monster stomp warm up – “With an up and a down” We sat down and listened to Carnival of the animals on the little mini rig speaker I had brought along and the kids blew bubbles and swayed their ribbons in time. The kazoos were a huge hit. We created our our version of the Star Wars theme tune.

We sang our way through a huge number of African call and response songs. “Funje Alafia” being the most popular as the kids loved the actions the best.

When we sat down again to do some drawings of the music my iPhone randomly played the Sing Up song, “Good to be me”. The children jiggled around to it so I decided to teach it with a few actions. I can honestly say that hearing the kids sing this has been the highlight of my teaching career.

Not only did the songs and  clapping games provide some pleasure for the children but their eagerness to learn meant that they were practising their English.

I then worked with the teacher on number and English language exercises that could be sung. It was astonishing that by singing it they seemed able to concentrate for longer.

Of course it is important that we sort out decent shelter, food and safe routes out of the jungle as our top priority – see Care for Calais for details on how to help.

But that said, these children deserve to have access to music education and it would be pitifully easy to arrange. I am planning to collect:

  • a couple of mini-rig speakers
  • Voices Foundations “65 songs” books for teachers
  • Ribbon sticks
  • basket of percussion instruments for small hands
  • couple of MP3 players loaded with sing up songs and music

Music Ed Expo is coming up soon. Any exhibitors, teachers, music organisation willing to make a donation? We could easily create a few crates with resources and teaching materials for the teachers who are volunteering.IMG_9221

Email me at if you can help.


Going to school in the Jungle

Lambeth teacher Sara Tomlinson has helped set up a primary classroom in the school  in the refugee camp at Calais. Not only has she collected and brought over the resources she has organised over 40 London teachers to go over during halfterm to teach. Sara has single handedly sorted out logistics and made this happen by sheer willpower and determination. At this point I want to write , “we need more people like Sara” but actually I think it is more accurate to say that we need more of us to become  proactive like Sara and start to make things happen. You can follow Sara on twitter: @teachertomo and read her blog here

I’m going over today so that I can spend Wednesday teaching some songs and music games. I know that primary music lessons aren’t top of any refugees wishlist but given that families are trapped in this no mans land with no end in sight maybe it will break up the monotony?

I’m taking kazoos, ribbon wands, bubbles and some puppets. I plan to use songs from Voices Foundation 65 songs, some Sing Up favourites and playground games kids have taught me over the years.

Also hope to help out in the warehouse.

Taking along middle son who is planning to make a film about life in the camp.

The French authorities are planning to start dismantling the camp but no one knows when exactly.




PGCE audio clips from Friday 14th January

Terrific session on Friday. Well done to all the students. Below are some of the audio clips I was able to capture. Apologies to those groups I didn’t manage to record. I really wished that I had recorded the Samba performances. Both groups did brilliantly and the simple rhythms we used have so much potential.

The clips below are intended to be an aide memoire to help you remember what we did. Who knows, you may even want to revisit these ideas to use when you are next in class.

I had a wonderful day – both groups were an absolute pleasure to teach. Your enthusiasm and concentration meant we were able to cover a great deal of ground and the 4 hours simple whizzed away!

First up is a backing track that you can use with Che Che Kule

Next up”Wacca,wacca”

Ooh a layla is a Polynesian song that has lots of potential

Finally from the morning group – a “get well soon” message for one of their group.

The afternoon kicked off with an excellent djembe presentation

This next clip takes 4 simple rhythms and arranges them in a specific structure structure

Yodelling emotions

A is for advocacy 

A is for advocacy.

Back in 2005 I was on a mission to improve the quality of school dinners. Children were being fed nutritionally poor junk food that was NOT as described on menus sent home to parents. The local authority was not holding the contractor responsible for supplying school meals to account and as a result the kids were getting substandard food. The meat was of a shamefully low quality, (the cheap reformed variety that was sprayed off the animal carcass) and there was often no fruit or vegetables on offer. As well as tasting bad the food was exceedingly unhealthy.

Some of the people who campaigned alongside me argued that we should advocate for better school dinners for children on the grounds that if the children ate healthier school dinners they would be smarter/better behaved/easier to manage. This line of arguing left me completely unmoved. Whilst all those points might be true they were not the reason I was campaigning against poor quality school meals. I wanted the council to reject poor quality school meals because it is unethical for a school to give shamefully poor quality food to kids in their care. The parents had a right to expect the local authority would ensure that the children got the school food as promised on the published menus. It seems ludicrous to only offer decent food if you can prove it has an ‘improving’ effect on the kids.

So why am I digging up old history? Well my last blogpost on primary school music provoked a discussion on ‘advocacy’. It’s a bit of a bug bear for me. There seems to be an endless stream of organisations, celebrities and politicians who wax lyrical about the ‘power’ of music education to make kids smarter/happier/better. Some of it borders on the offensive – along the lines of “think of the poor empty children who don’t know any better”, whilst the majority is very well meaning but has no impact. Don’t get me wrong – I strongly believe that EVERY child is entitled to a rich, diverse music education and that learning a musical instrument is incredibly beneficial with its impacts going far beyond just competency at technical playing skills. But frankly, who doesn’t? Seriously, is there a single Headteacher, parent or local authority that HASN’T heard the advocacy argument?

Does anyone seriously think that yet another statement from a celebrity musician or national organisation advocating better music education will change anything? Certainly the powers that be will not be moved by it.

I think that John Finney puts it brilliantly, “They are singing our tune to their words”. Read his blog here, as he explains it more effectively than me!

I think advocacy is a waste of precious resources and avoids facing the main issues. We need to hold this government to account and to tell the truth about music education. Obsession with exam results and league tables is squeezing the life out of school music. Failure to fund hubs so that they can provide free instrument hire and tuition to all children who can’t afford it will mean that orchestral instruments remain the preserve of the rich.

Our school dinner war ended in decisive victory. The old contractor was kicked out, the council committed to building a proper kitchen in every single primary school, we devised a set of minimum nutrition standards that predated the government ones and school food became good enough for adults to eat. That didn’t happen because we persuaded the council that academic standards would rise and playground behaviour would improve. That happened because enough parents and governors cared enough to take action. They collected evidence, wrote letters, demonstrated until they persuaded the council it was easier to do the right thing and improve school dinners than it was to deal with disgruntled parents and bad press. If you are interested you can read more here

So in place of advocacy how about we try some of the following:
– All music orgs demanding that ALL school teachers get decent music education seminars.
– All professional musicians who benefitted from free school music lessons/tuition to read out statements of support for school music education at any concert with a politician in the audience.
– A moratorium on any music education ‘event’ that does NOT consist of at least 75% of the participants being current active music teachers.
– Music education TeachMeets funded by national music education organisations. Cheap but extremely effective.

– “Play First” scheme that see’s musicians from publicly funded music groups twinning with state schools to support music education.

Meanwhile, I shall keep on keeping on. It’s possible to light a candle whilst still cursing the darkness.

A to Z of primary school music

I have been inspired by Dr Martin Fautley’s A to Z to compile my very own.

A is for advocacy. Can we stop it please? It doesn’t work.
B is for blogs. A school music blog is a brilliant performance opportunity for kids. Allows music teachers to differentiate, introduces children to new music, chance to get feedback on kids compositions and performances. I am so grateful to wonderful music educators Ally Daubney David Ashworth & John Finney for regularly leaving comments for my young musicians. 

C is for Charanga. Easy to be sniffy about it but is getting lots of non specialist primary teachers to teach music. Also for culture. Everybody has one – it just might be different to the schools. Also for Carnival of the Animals.

D is for djembe. I wish I had a set of 30. Never taught a class that didn’t beg to play djembe. Also for Dalacroze. Bouncing balls, throwing beanbags, waving scarves are brilliant at helping kids get below the skin of a piece of music.

E is for ear. Learning by it.

F is for film music. Such a shame it is often ignored in primary school. In my experience children are incredibly skilled at reading film music. We can use those conventions to help children explore features of the music.

G is for GarageBand. Smart instruments are great for allowing kids to create their own backing tracks.

H is for hubs. Under funded, have little leverage with schools but by and large doing their damnedest to support music teachers. 

I is for iPad. Every class should have one. (See GarageBand) it’s a video, audio recorder, a musical instrument & a visual metronome 

J is for joy. Not 24/7 but if you don’t have at least one moment of sheer joy teaching music a day something is wrong. 

K is for Kodaly. Genius way to teach music to children.

L is for listening. To each other, to the performers, to the teacher, to the music. Can’t have music without listeners.

M is for Musical Futures. I’m not sure exactly how they will work in primary but I have leant so much from them. Their training is superb & their staff are wonderful. 

N is for notation. A small part of music education that we turn into a fetish. Sound before symbol.

O is for Organisations. No more. We have enough thank you. 

P is for performance, Peter & the Wolf & getting physical. 

Q is for quirky. Most music teachers have their own. 

R is for recorders. They still have a place in the music room. 

S is for Sing up. I think that Sing Up has been the most successful government initiative I’ve actually seen in 25 years of teaching. It has got schools singing. Shame it is no longer free.

T is for Twitter. Without Twitter my music education would be sorely lacking. I am so grateful to the following tweeters : Alison Daubney, David Ashworth, Gary Spruce, Johnathon Savage, Jane Werry, Shelley Ambury, Anna Gower, John Finney, John Merriman, Martin Fautley  & Phillip Flood.  They have undoubtedly helped me raise my game and introduced me to authors and research I’d have otherwise missed.

U is for ukuele. You do know David Ashworth is kidding right?! 

V is for Voices Foundation – brilliant introduction to Kodaly. I can highly recommend their 5 day training course. 

W is for wider opps. 30 kids, 30 instruments 1 tutor 1 teacher. So much hinges on the tutor. It can be brilliant but there needs to be a better way to evaluate. 

X is for xylophone – Dr Fautley is right – we don’t have nearly enough

Y is for YouTube. Genius idea. Rich source of music 

Z is for zero hours contract. How on earth are we supposed to ensure good quality instrumental lessons when tutors are so badly paid ? 

Assembly about refugees


Paddington Bears story


“Living Like a Refugee”

You left your country
to seek refuge
in another man’s land
You left your country
to seek refuge
in another man’s land

You will be confronted
by strange dialects
You will be fed
with unusual diets

You got to sleep
in a tarpaulin house
which is so hard
You got to sleep
on a tarpaulin mat
which is so cold

Living like a refugee
is not easy
Living like a refugee
is not easy
Living like a refugee
is not easy
Living like a refugee
is not easy.
~ Lyrics to “Living Like a Refugee” by Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars


Britain to take an extra 20,000 refugees

Manars story


kindness of strangers