"Go Fish" how a Primary School in Sheffield are planning their 20/21 music offer


Dear reader,

Have you slept yet? I dearly hope so. Please continue to dedicate time to yourself; your family/loved ones; your thoughts and… breathe.

What a shift we’ve had in education this year. Congratulations to each and every one of us working in education: we’ve all had our roles to play in this and I applaud you all for making it through.

But we must not abate. Like me, you will probably have slept enough by now and are mentally fast-forwarding to our, context-specific, educational Gettysburg addresses come September. For me, this includes,

“That this {school} shall have a new birth of {music} – and that {music} of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the {curriculum.}”

Because we #candomusic.

I like a quote. So here’s one I feel relevant to my next steps, particularly for music:

“Les jeux sont fait.”

For my learned colleagues, you may take the above idiom/quote to mean, ‘the game is made.’ A literal approach.  You may take it back to Caesarean roots (the die is cast).  You may interpret Sartre’s film-noir version, which suggests that, the ‘chips are down.’

For me, it became relevant when I was playing ‘Go Fish’ with my children in a soggy tent, in a soggy field, on our annual ‘character-building’ holiday. I must admit, after this year, I did lament a holiday that didn’t build character by proxy. It was my version of a holiday-noir.

Anyway, if you don’t know ‘Go-Fish,’ look it up. It’s fun. Though it’s not the game I’m going to analyse…

…My youngest’s hands still can’t hold his hand of cards as we might imagine: fanned like a peacock’s feathers and dexterously plucking the best choice out. They’re (hands) too small.  He has to sort them first; lay them down - sometimes face-up - to the giggles of his siblings.  Once he’s (understandably) faffed for a bit, we’re ready.

After I’ve also dealt with the impatience of his older siblings, whilst barking: “Don’t touch the side of the tent!” we start to play as the persistent ‘drips’ dampen our DNA.  As well as my own hand, I also play his. I have to – he’s learning. I make conscious choices not to play my cards to disadvantage his chances, despite knowing exactly what he has. We whisper strategy, or suggestions, whilst his siblings cream the rewards of inexperience and I try and level the playing field by taking back some of theirs on his behalf.

Once he became more confident, he chose independence of play. After losing a few times, he became disgruntled and didn’t want to play any further games. I tried, and succeeded, in encouraging him by saying, ‘it doesn’t matter what cards you’ve been dealt, we can still learn how to play, we can still have fun’ and (though not in this language) we can still evoke strategy with what we have. And that was my Damascene moment… I wonder if Lincoln played ‘Go Fish?’

We #candomusic even though my game is made; my dice has been cast. They have been dealt by our hard working local Public Health officials, DfE guidance, other Local Authority input and the Academy Trust. This is not a negative. Far from it. And my son taught me the lesson….

I don’t wish to get into the ‘yeah but..; no but..; what if buts..?’ of the risk assessment contents at all. Save that debate for another time. I have been given parameters and I can learn, like my son, to evoke strategy with what I have been given and learn, whilst having fun, despite not necessarily winning straight away.

I am not an expert in health nor the transmission of viruses: I will defer to those (above) who know best. I’m certainly not playing capriciously with the lives of pupils; staff; parents and the wider community.

But I am an education leader who has spent his life working with some of the finest, most hard working colleagues, and a leader who wants to ensure that pupils receive a rich and diverse curriculum. A curriculum that builds upon layers of subject knowledge and skills to become firm sediments of learning.  A programme of study that tackles social inequalities; a narrative that realises ambition and aspiration and for my community and reflects that rich and diverse population for whom we serve.

I happen to believe - and am passionate that - music is the tidal current that takes us across this firm bedrock of learning to achieve these aims. And as such, I will refer back to my (personal/musical) Gettysburg address… complete with B.B French’s hymn in the background.

So, like my son, I’m going to show you my hand. These are my specific units, in the risk assessment, from which I must both learn, deploy strategy and hopefully have some fun along the way. NB – these risk assessment specifics to music still stands at the time of writing this (14/08/20) but it could change. And if it does, I refer you back to my mantra.

Schools may continue with music lessons providing the following measures are in place:-

  • Each pupil has their own individual instrument, the instrument is wiped down before and after use with an approved product / wipe
  • The instrument is stored securely in a case with the pupils name on
  • Pupils are regularly reminded not to use other pupil’s instruments
  • Small groups of children can partake in a music lesson – but they must remain in their protective bubbles
  • The lessons can be provided by zoom / online conference call
  • If the music teacher visits the School – he/she must maintain social distancing at all times and adhere to all hygiene protocols that the School has in place.

Schools should note that there may be an additional risk of infection in environments where children or others are singing, chanting, playing wind or brass instruments or shouting. This applies even if individuals are at a distance.

Schools should consider how to reduce the risk, particularly when pupils are playing instruments or singing in small groups such as in music lessons by, for example, physical distancing and playing outside wherever possible, limiting group sizes to no more than 15, positioning pupils back-to-back or side-to-side, avoiding sharing of instruments, and ensuring good ventilation.  Singing; wind and brass should not take place in larger groups such as choirs, ensembles and assemblies. More DfE guidance will be published shortly.

Some of you will have different conditions; some with different specifics. These are mine. So let’s not compare the favourability of conditions – let’s place our respective deck of cards, upright, and learn and support one another.

At our school, we employ the services of the Sheffield Music Hub. A hugely proactive organisation led by Ian Naylor. We have a vocal/singing coach, Pete Taylor. We also have a clarinet teacher, Gillian Hume. I’m going to share my hand with them too. They are the experts. If I learn from the experience of others, then as a school we’re in with a chance of winning.

Please, dear reader, take comfort from the fact that it’s ok not to get something right straight away. I’ve come to a positive place with this concept over the years. Though it’s taken a while as my mentors would tell you. One once said to me that Oscar Wilde wrote to Bosie (chronicled in his essay, De Profundis) and forgave him (Bosie) for not achieving his degree. He did however find it inexcusable that Bosie never acquired the ability to play gracefully with ideas.

And I think that’s an important part of the next steps for us all: we need to play gracefully with ideas - with one another - within safe parameters of course.  

Where I’m at, at the moment.

  1. We’re a community school. Serendipity played a part in the form of an email which arrived in my inbox. It allowed me to forge links, over the summer, with a local, historical site that will allow the pupils to sing and play music in their grounds amongst the ruins of a Tudor turret. Can you find anywhere in your local area? Outside of school? A park; playground; wood; industrial unit; car park – anything!
    This will give the pupils a purpose. Remember, and forgive me if this sounds patronising, we speak a lot of reading; writing and calculating for a purpose – playing music for a purpose is crucial also and if we can’t have ‘live’ audiences (assemblies/ensembles etc) at the moment, then we can create our own purposeful environments.
    Think community; think purpose. This ‘hits’ the outdoor playing/singing criteria along with other important educational links.

  2. The operational duties (risk assessment) of keeping instruments/using instruments etc is fine. We can sort that.

  3. Pete has mapped (and is continuing to map) songs/music to other curricular areas and teacher development has been important to find opportunities to sing in other curricular areas – this will continue. With caveats…see below.

  4. Timetabling is/will be crucial. Daily music for all. But….the bit that I’m playing with – not yet gracefully - and working on (two weeks is a long time in education) is, ‘Groups of (no more than) 15…’

This will require some thought; planning; focus. Inclusion in music (for the people; by the people) is hugely important to me. So, I’ll metaphorically continue to sit in my tent, with my educational family and ask them to help me: show them my cards.


Risk assessment(s) will change and new decks will be presented. And when they do, my (poker) ‘go fish’ face will be adopted because we #CanDoMusic.

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