Rebuilding on strong foundations at Ripley St Thomas CE Academy, Lancaster - Dr Phil Allcock
We have had a strong foundation of music-making and a thriving music community here at Ripley St Thomas for many years. It has been incredibly difficult to witness the impact of the pandemic on the musical life of the school over the last eighteen months and frustrating that so many opportunities for pupils to grow as individuals, as well as to develop musically, have had to be curtailed. As the pandemic continued, it became clear that the task would be one of rebuilding rather than merely restarting.
During this time our focus has been to review our approach and provision so that when the musical life of the school could return in its entirety it would do so even stronger than before. We have completely revamped our Key Stage 3 curriculum and bespoke KS3 workbooks, utilising design as well as curriculum expertise within the department to provide pupils with the best possible music education.
There have been several opportunities during the last eighteen months to consider different ways and approaches to support our pupils' development. We have developed substantially our online resources, with instructional videos and additional learning resources to supplement and enhance our in-person provision. Our virtual learning environment pages offer a comprehensive range of interactive materials to support and challenge pupils throughout their seven years at Ripley. It has been pleasing to hear how much pupils, particularly our GCSE and A Level musicians, value these resources. Whilst it has taken time to develop this provision, the work has now been done and the investment will benefit pupils for years to come.
As a result of changing restrictions, it was necessary to adapt and deliver some curriculum content out of order last year. Of course, this had implications for sequencing and delivery which had to be addressed at the time. However, the lasting positive from this issue has been the strengthening of sequencing and retrieval practice throughout the curriculum. I am hopeful that our busy schedule of concert and theatre trips, music tours and exchanges, and partnership projects with external organisations can return soon.
It has not only been the pupils that have benefitted from certain innovations. The increased use of technology, such as when creating and setting homework tasks, has led to greater parental engagement and more meaningful conversations at parents evenings. It seems that end of term music quizzes and playlists, for example, have been appreciated by more than just the pupils! By sharing the creation of these tasks across the department, we have been able to manage staff workload effectively whilst enhancing our curriculum.
Greater integration of curricular, co-curricular, and peripatetic music provision will be another area of development for the new academic year. In terms of ensembles, we now have a three-strand progression pathway which connects peripatetic expertise with curricular and co-curricular music-making. As pupils develop a rudimentary understanding of their instrument, they begin attending tailored groups for their instrument. For singers, this takes the form of junior boys’ and girls’ choirs. The support for changing voices that this approach affords is evident in the levels of participation as well as the musical outcomes. During rehearsals pupils are developing their technical ability alongside ensemble performance skills. The rehearsals are led by classroom and peripatetic staff who use their expertise to tailor the repertoire to strengthen work undertaken in one-to-one peripatetic lessons. Beginners play (or sing) alongside more experienced musicians who they will one day emulate, emphasising the cycle of development and sense of community that music brings to a school. Once pupils feel more confident they can join larger, mixed instrument/voice ensembles such as orchestra, school band, and upper school choir. All of these ensembles are open access and available to all year groups. In order to tackle advanced repertoire we then have a number of auditioned ensembles. These include the Chapel Choir (which leads a fortnightly evensong in our school chapel as well as singing at churches and cathedrals further afield) and the jazz band (performing at jazz festivals and civic engagements in the local area and beyond). Again, these groups are open to all ages.
As we return to something more closely resembling normality, there are some challenges that continue; namely, removing barriers to pupils participating in music. Here at Ripley we are passionate about ensuring that our music provision is high quality and accessible for all: elite, not elitist. We emphasise to pupils that if there are barriers to them participating, particularly in relation to money, then that is our problem to worry about and solve, not theirs. I am grateful for the support of my senior leadership team, governors, and colleagues to enable barriers to be removed and for the achievements of our pupils to be celebrated across the school. Their support and encouragement are yet another sign of how powerful a musical culture and community can be; it extends far beyond the walls of the music department and permeates everything that we do here. For that very reason, as a school we use the term 'co-curricular' rather than 'extra-curricular'; these opportunities are just as important as classroom learning to pupil development. Furthermore, we do not confine our discussion of achievements to specific subjects; it is perfectly normal for a pupil to take part in music and succeed! This normalises participation in music, sport, and a whole host of other co-curricular endeavours and amplifies rather than detracts from the celebration of pupil achievements.
It has been wonderful to see our new Year 7 pupils arriving at Ripley St Thomas and our older pupils returning. Their enthusiasm and energy is, er…infectious, and I am looking forward to the musical life of the school going from strength to strength.
As we all rebuild the musical life of our schools, it is important that we work together and share ways of moving forward. Please do get in touch if I can help in any way, and good luck for the new academic year.
Dr Phil Allcock
Head of Academic Music
Ripley St Thomas CE Academy, Lancaster