The tale of Geordies singing on the banks of the Tyne and an Ofsted inspector


Great music education is a partnership between classroom teachers, specialist teachers, professional performers and a host of other organisations, including those from the arts, charity and voluntary sectors. (National Plan for Music Education)

The development and implementation of a singing strategy is a core responsibility for Music Education Hubs. It needs to be delivered in partnership with schools themselves. It would not work otherwise. This is a simple account of one hub’s journey.  There will be scores of others, all equally valid.  The big point I want to make is the importance of effective partnership working. Music Education Hubs are in a good position to broker musical partnerships on behalf of schools.

In January I attended Music Mark’s spring conference.  I was impressed by a contribution from Ofsted’s Senior HMI for London, Mark Phillips.  This was a timely reminder that good music in schools is almost always an outcome of efective partnership working.  He offered a number of practical musical challenges to schools and hubs one of which was: “In a year’s time, will the class that currently sings in unison be able to sing securely in two independent parts?” 

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Here was our response ………..

In late February, 400 young people from fourteen primary schools across the hub prepared a half hour programme of contemporary songs. Sage Gateshead’s Big Sing Song Book and backing CDs were an invaluable resource. The book includes some terrific arrangements of well-known and well-loved songs, such as the Big Yellow Taxi, in two parts.  The Sage Gateshead undertook the organisation and provided some outstanding musical leadership for the event.

Hub funding supported a system of vocal coaches who helped out, free of charge, in the individual schools.  The final performance was delivered as a “Spring Sing” held on the concourse of the Sage Gateshead overlooking the river Tyne.  Parents, carers, relatives, friends, members of the public and the Mayors of each borough all enjoyed a fabulous performance.

In consequence of this event, the hub now has a pool of choral coaches who can support local primary schools with their own choirs.  This gives me the opportunity to show how good things have a tendency to spin out of from the original good idea. 

Blaydon West Primary School needed a choir to support the unveiling of a mural in Blaydon Shopping Centre. The mural (fifteen metres long) depicts the story of the famous Geordie anthem “The Blaydon Races”. Over a period of a month the hub helped the school to form and prepare a brand new school choir.  

A workshop team visited the school, children learned traditional Geordie songs, artwork was displayed in the local library and the final performance was delivered in the spring sunshine, with the help of a community Brass Band. All of this was funded by the shopping centre management company. As I am writing this, the choir from Blaydon West have just been invited to sing for the inauguration of the new Mayor of Gateshead.  I am sure they will be singing in two parts, which was part of the original challenge.

Have you counted the number of partners that were needed to help the singing strategy along?  In other words good music making is always the outcome of good partnerships: between performers and audiences, schools and music hubs, music hubs and large music organisations such as The Sage, families and local communities. It always has been and it always will be. Happy partnership working!

Henry Edwards 

Gateshead and South Tyneside Music Education Hub