Ysgol Tudno and Ensemble Cymru are developing innovative practice within the Expressive Arts through a collaborative professional-enquiry approach, they are increasing engagement by being responsive to pupils’ needs and interests and they are building relationships between the school and the wider community.
An Independent Report by Nia Richards (Tybed)
Effective community schools make thoughtful use of school assets to improve the lives of children and families in the local community. They work in partnership with local groups and organisations in enterprising and creative ways. They seek to address gaps in local sport, cultural or care provision.Estyn, 20201
Experiences in this Area can provide inspiration and motivation as it brings learners into contact with creative processes. This means providing learners with opportunities such as visits to theatres and galleries and bringing the expertise of external practitioners into the classroom.Education Wales, 20202.
On behalf of the children, teachers, musicians, composers and music practitioners, Ensemble Cymru wishes to thank all those who continue to give so generously to bring us together to learn from, and inspire each other. In particular, we’d like to thank Ensemble Cymru’s supporters including individuals who gave to the Big Give Christmas Appeal in 2018, the Arts Council of Wales, the Lottery and Welsh Government as part of the Creative Collaborations Programme.
Inspired by a project in Germany in 2015 where a philharmonic orchestra took up residency in a local comprehensive school, Ensemble Cymru partnered with Ysgol Tudno in early 2020 with the aim of establishing a residency over a sustained period. They aimed to use Kodaly and Dalcroze approaches as a way of introducing chamber music to young children and as a team become embedded within school life and build bridges into the community.
Year 5 (age 9-10)
The work of the professional musicians has mainly focussed on Year 5, and the practitioner in music pedagogy has run weekly sessions for all the Foundation Stage children, and the children attending the pre-school group. There have also been opportunities for all the pupils in the school to interact with the professional chamber musicians, composer, and practitioner as they have gradually immersed into the school community.
‘I played them a simple French folk tune which they then clapped to and spotted dynamics and tempo. Also played a tarantella and they were interactive with their responses to the tempo and dynamics. Lots of great questions and talking about different composers and other famous pieces of cello music’.Ensemble Cymru, 2020
In line with Curriculum for Wales guidance for the Expressive Arts, Ensemble Cymru in partnership with the school are addressing knowledge, skills, and capacities in their work. The pupils have been introduced to a variety of instruments such as the cello, clarinet, harp and piano and composers including Beethoven and Bach. Capacities include curiosity, critical thinking, developing imagination and the senses; this is resulting in high-engagement and an appreciation of music as a way of communicating ideas and emotions.
‘They were very imaginative with their ideas. I’m very pleased that many of the children are pro-active in the session with their questions and observations. It really felt that we were all feeding off each other at times.Ensemble Cymru, 2020
Responding to learners needs and interests
The Ensemble Cymru team together with the lead teacher are using a professional-enquiry approach in planning the work. They have an objective to reach, an end of project performance, but the work is open-ended which allows the team to respond to the learners needs and interests. As the pupils’ understanding and knowledge progresses or their curiosity is piqued, the team can adapt to encourage and support the learners. Often, this approach has allowed them to make connections with other areas of the curriculum, for instance Year 5 decided that two pieces should be about Gelert and the team seized on the prospect of exploring Welsh culture and traditions as part of the project.
‘Continuing with the Llywelyn and Gelert story, this time the two characters, Gelert and wolf fighting each other; “thunder and lightning when they see each other”. Fast, loud, exciting, and dramatic. Loud; big; glissandos using nails; cello: plucking strings near tuning pegs as raindrops or wolf tiptoeing’.Ensemble Cymru, 2020
Year 1 (age 5-6)
In another session, this time with Year 1, Ensemble Cymru were able to make connections with the weather. The pupils were asked to consider whether they thought the music (Winter) is storm-like or whether they could identify other types of weather in the piece, they identified thunder, lightning, and the sun. They also recognised changes in dynamics from loud to quiet.
‘The Headteacher requested a second performance after asking the children some questions about what they had heard. A lot of the younger children thought that the “boingy” harp noises were really funny’. Ensemble Cymru, 2020
5 ways to well-being
Physical movement and wellbeing have also been key features of the project, with the 5 ways to wellbeing model being used by the team as a planning tool. Sessions with the Foundation Stage pupils begin with short circle-time activities to create a positive climate and build trust. The pupils are encouraged to move to the music, in one session they were asked to listen carefully to the piano piece then allow their feet to copy what the music does. The children were able to consider the tempo and respond with slow steps, walking or running.
This learner-centred approach is further developed in an innovative manner with the Year 5 pupils commissioning music based on a theme of their choice, they decided to choose the theme of ‘animals’. Also, the School Council have been given a central role as project governors and evaluators, giving them active responsibility with the support from school staff and Ensemble Cymru.
It is in this combination of planning within the area of learning, the inclusion of cross-cutting themes, the focus on knowledge, skills and experience that ensures this work is addressing the four purposes in an authentic and meaningful way.
Continuous feedback and planning through technology
The team have been able to do this effectively through strong collaboration and regular communication which has included reflective practice. To work around everyone is schedules they have utilised Microsoft Teams as a platform for continuous dialogue, feedback, and planning. Therefore, this has allowed everyone involved to work iteratively, having a rough plan of where they want to go but the flexibility to change direction if elements are not working or if the pupils need a different strategy.
The school as a community
The team met with parents, guardians, and carers early in the project to discuss the work, to ensure they felt included in this part of their child’s education and understood the longer-term aims. The team have also engaged with all members of the school’s community including the lunch-time staff.
In the Spring the project was disrupted due to Covid-19 therefore, unfortunately the community relationship building was brought to a halt. However, in October the team were able to restart the work albeit in a different way. Ensemble Cymru are not able to physically resume their residency but they have started to work with the pupils again through virtual sessions on online platforms. As part of the professional-enquiry approach they are gathering evidence of impact to inform the final evaluation and their ongoing professional learning.
Blue-print for innovative partnerships
In addition, school staff who have worked closely with the Ensemble Cymru team have been able to use this work as evidence of meeting the professional standards as it addresses all five elements, pedagogy, leadership, collaboration, innovation and professional learning. Therefore, this case study presents a blue-print for innovative and high-quality school and cultural partnerships that not only respond to the requirements of the new curriculum and professional standards but makes the future vision of education in Wales – sing!
About Ysgol Tudno
Ysgol Tudno is a primary school in Llandudno, with 208 pupils on roll. They are eager to develop their Expressive Arts curriculum as they are aware that many pupils do not have access to this area of learning and experience outside their formal education. The school also view an arts-rich curriculum as an essential factor in increasing engagement and improving wellbeing.
About Ensemble Cymru
Ensemble Cymru is the leading chamber music performing group in Wales with core membership of 16 instrumentalists and singers. Established as a charity in 2002, its mission is to champion Wales’ heritage and contemporary chamber music culture alongside chamber music from across the world to audiences in Wales and internationally.
Tybed is a not-for-profit enterprise based in North Wales aiming to rethink education through innovation and partnerships. Since its inception in May 2020, they have worked with a range of international organisations including UNESCO, HundrED, IDEO and Amazing People Schools. They have also been working with House of Imagination to continue the conversation instigated by UNESCO’s consultation on the ‘Futures of Education’ and designing online professional learning opportunities.
Tybed was founded by Nia Richards. Nia was the Regional Lead for the Welsh Government and Arts Council of Wales national creative learning programme from 2015 to 2020. Highlights of her role include working with over 150 primary, secondary, and special education school across the region to develop creative and expansive approaches to the curriculum. She also initiated, brokered, and designed a national leadership programme with the National Academy for Educational Leadership (NAEL).
She has 13 years’ experience as a secondary and further education head of subject and teacher, an MA in Practitioner Research and she is a member and coordinator for the International Professional Development Association. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Academy for the Arts.
Latest paper: Richards, N. & Hadaway, S. (2020) Inter-professionalism between teachers and creative practitioners: Risk, exploration, and professional identity – learning in situ and the impact on practice. Practice: Contemporary Issues in Practitioner Education. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/25783858.2020.1834824
Twitter: @NiaRichards1 @TybedWales