60 young people in Cambridgeshire stay behind after school every week to sing, compose music and play instruments. Lin Hetherington tells the story.

Photo of school children singing

Traditionally, when children move from primary to secondary school there is a decline in interest in extra-curricular arts activities. But Harvey Goodman, Head of Music at St Peter’s School in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, has succeeded in attracting 60 pupils aged 11 to 17 to come every week to a two-hour long after-school music club.

We asked them what they like and enjoy – which songs they love to sing and which instruments they may be interested in playing

“Getting them involved is no easy feat,” says Goodman, “and most of the children in this school have not done any music out of school when they arrive”.

Secrets for success

So, what are the secrets to his success? Goodman’s solution is three-fold: “First, we invite children in Year 6 at our local primary schools to come into St Peter’s School for music sessions. It means our performing arts centre is a place where they already feel at home when they start here.” Goodman also ensures all parents receive a letter explaining what the music club is and what the benefits are.

Second, Goodman has gone to great pains to make the sessions free. The school provides a teacher and the county’s music service Cambridgeshire Music funds another.

Third, Goodman says it’s important to tap into the students’ interests. “We asked them what they like and enjoy – which songs they love to sing and which instruments they may be interested in playing. It’s also important to allow them to work in the social groups they want to work in.”

Goodman established the music club following a series of free one-on-one music lessons in the summer term of 2016. The lessons were funded by MusicNet East, a three-year strategic partnership between Cambridgeshire Music, Essex Music Education Hub, Hertfordshire Music Service and national children’s charity Youth Music.

Skills development

Goodman’s passion for his subject is obvious. A former songwriter and music producer, he gives up much of his spare time to develop music lessons tailored to the young people who attend the club.

He believes music has the power to transform academic and emotional development. “Research has shown that learning and playing music is useful in developing skills in other areas such as maths and languages. The brain starts to develop in quite unique ways.”

Goodman further explained: “For those who suffer from shyness or nervousness or perhaps have recently arrived in the UK, these obstacles melt away when they are given the support and encouragement to make music with a group of other children. At a fundamental level, it raises their confidence. It builds their sociability and they make emotional connections both with each other and the music. This all improves their communication skills considerably.”

The music club has particularly helped some of the pupils who are following an alternative curriculum, as it offers a complementary pathway into a career in music or music technology.

Enriching their lives

During the two-hour session held after school every Thursday, the children and young people begin with one hour singing together in the community choir. During the second hour the pupils can choose one of several different activities: a steel pan band, music technology club, keyboard club, dance group or GCSE/A level coursework preparation.

Goodman and another teacher from the school run the sessions, alongside a further teacher provided by Cambridgeshire Music. Goodman says: “I am passionate about the impact of this – the cost of us paying for one teacher is so small compared to the number of children whose lives we are enriching.”

These efforts culminated in a celebratory concert in November called ‘25 years of music at St Peter’s’, during which one of Goodman’s former pupils, house music singer Kyla, arrived fresh from the American Music Awards in Los Angeles to sing with the choir to end the evening.

Case study

Nicole, 12, had taken part in no extra-curricular music until the St Peter’s Music Club was set up. “Nobody in my family is musical but when I heard about the club I was interested. Music club is where for two hours each week I can be free of any worries. I just love singing the beautiful tunes in the choir – I can get all my feelings out.

“I then do an hour of composition on the piano and music technology with my friends. It’s really fun as I have met new friends who like to do the same things as me. It stretches my brain as I try not to sing the wrong notes. I’d like to be a singer or a pop star when I’m older.”

Lin Hetherington is Deputy Head of Cambridgeshire Music.

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