Music in the Curriculum

Key Points

  • A whole school term-long project with song at its heart
  • Each year-group’s song is the starting-point for the term’s curriculum – culminating in performance


What were your reasons for doing this development work?

To see how far music could penetrate into other parts of school, and how curriculum topics could be brought into the music room. We used a school-led approach to integrate music into the whole curriculum, provide CPD for staff and involve everyone fully in music-making. Every child, Reception to Year Six, was involved.

Who were the identified target learners?

Every child, but especially children who find language difficult. Singing can provide another route to expression and understanding.

What specific curriculum area did you intend to have impact on?

Music, and the whole curriculum.

How were you intending to improve pupil learning?

  • By using song as the heart of each year-group’s topic
  • By making the song their own, creating own verses expressing their learning
  • Through whole school engagement for a term, strengthening the sense of communal learning
  • Culminating in a day of celebration and performance

What were your success criteria?

  • That music would be integrated into the curriculum of every year group
  • That class teachers would build on their confidence in teaching music, not only the perceived ‘skill of music-making’ but the sense of rhyme, rhythm, and tune.
  • That children would engage with, enjoy and develop their song, reinforcing learning across the curriculum as well as their musical skills and appreciation


What did you do - what teaching approaches did you use?

The starting point was The Full English – a project of the English Folk Song and Dance Society, based at Cecil Sharpe House. We were a pilot primary school. They provide an online resource of folk songs, searchable by key word, region/area, etc, with words and music or words only.

Each year-group of two classes was taught a song that was then embedded into their curriculum through developing the lyrics to express their learning. The original songs were:
Reception – Skip to my Lou
Y1 – Herring’s Head
Y2 – How many miles to London Town
Y3 – We are the Romans
Y4 – Fie Man Fie!
Y5 – Shenandoah
Y6 – Away Santianna! sea shanty

It was a whole term project, and involved all the staff teaching and non-teaching. I provided INSET for class teachers on relating curriculum themes to songs. Each year group had a song and tried to draw as many topic based questions from it. (eg Reception had Scarborough Fair, and thought of herb-growing, measuring, cooking, where is Scarborough?, how different to here? etc)

We had professional local musicians in for a day. They spent 45 minutes with each year group, singing the song to them, dancing and playing, and enthusing the children with their song. After two weeks each class had learnt their song in music lessons, learning the rhythm, beat and tune. Country dancing gave a kinaesthetic dimension to learning. The musicians then came back to lead the idea of changing the lyrics of the songs. They worked with groups of 5 pupils (6 groups in each class) which led to 12 new verses. Each song changed through the term as the children added more – the song was a constant in their thinking about their learning in class. New verses were composed, the ideas coming from the children, during their half-hour music lessons. They practised their songs and each year group made recordings of them during November.

Because it was a whole-school project, it became a talking point with everyone – ‘What is your song? How does it go?’ Children were using music terminology as a matter of course. Year One children visited Morrisons and bought a herring, which they later dissected, and also hunted down the various items that had been incorporated into their lyrics (eg herring’s belly – plasma telly).  The Year Six children who developed a rap in their song became celebrities. Year Six developed their sea shanty song through the topic of Coastal Erosion – incorporating the specific vocabulary and language of the processes into their lyrics. Taking part in a raft-building venture, they used the rhythm of the sea shanty to coordinate their movements.

Everything came together at the end of term in a performance. We hired a big hall and each year group performed their song. It was good to have an end goal to work towards and parents valued the experience.

The following summer, the choir went to Birmingham Town Hall and performed at the EFSS Full English Festival.
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What specific teaching resources did you use?

The Full English – English Folk Song and Dance Society.  Review – See pages 8 and 14 for Primrose Hill information

What CPD experiences, materials, research and expertise have you drawn on?

  • I am a music specialist (and Camden SLE) so I used my expertise.
  • The EDFSS Full English resource. All the original songs are on there.

Outcomes and Impact

What has been the impact on pupil learning?

We noticed the children retained their learning more. Their parents said their children kept singing the song at home, adding to it as they learnt more the weeks went by. Children would come to me and say, ‘We’ve been singing the song, now we want to put this into the next verse.’

That music would be integrated into the curriculum of every year group

That children would engage with, enjoy and develop their song, reinforcing learning across the curriculum as well as their musical skills and appreciation

What has been the impact on teaching?

Our success criterion, that class teachers would build on their confidence in teaching music, has happened – teachers come to borrow drums to use in their teaching, for example. In a school working as a music specialist, it has been effective for me to work with class teachers and their wider curriculum, rather than my music lessons being discrete sessions. I keep a very open dialogue with teachers about what is going on in class and how the children are doing.

What has been the impact on school organisation and leadership?

The organisation of a whole-school curriculum project.

Evidence of impact on school organisation and leadership

Arts Mark Gold – this process shows where gaps and strengths are.

What is the crucial thing that made the difference?

  • Whole school involvement from headteacher, teaching and non-teaching staff – all knew the songs. It engendered the feeling you get on Sports Day – but for the whole term
  • The willingness of teachers to meet the challenge of linking music to the curriculum. They pushed their knowledge and experience of the topic into a much broader context.

What would your next steps be?

We did a similar thing this year but not on such a scale, to keep the whole-school ethos and importance of the end-point of musical performance.

Sharing Practice

If another individual or school was attempting to replicate this work, where should they start?

  1. If it is to be whole-school, get the SLT on board.
  2. Start with a curriculum map. Circle the main focuses of the term: challenging things that need encouragement, that learners can really get into.
  3. Find a song to match it. YouTube is a great resource to search for your topic. Or ask your music specialist in school/borough/county for ideas for a song. The EDFSS Full English resource is free to use
  4. Base teaching around the song. (eg for World War One, It’s a long way to Tipperary, learn about big band music, swing, dancing, immigration)

What would be the essential elements to include?

  • Start with a wow! event – invite a musician in to introduce the song and get the children engaged. (As SLE music for Camden, I can do this)
  • As a school find a day (or week) where everyone focuses on their song for the day. At the end of the day/week each class/year presents their song or a verse of it to the rest of the school.
  • Rewrite the song, add verses, as curriculum learning progresses. Focus on tune, rhythm, rhyme, poetry. Absorb new terminology – singing wakes up both sides of the brain.
  • Find an exciting end point, such as a recording (there are companies who would record and produce CDs), or a performance, or an open day with parents joining in activities and learning a bit of the song, ending with a performance and tea and cakes.
  • Published
    28 September 2015
  • Author
    Katie Butler
  • School
    Primrose Hill
  • Whom to Contact

    To discuss this case study, please contact us via email

Rating / Stats

This will work in my school

We did this in our school and it worked

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School website - links to recordings news pages

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