Getting the Balance Right – Exams, Mental Health & Curriculum

Stressful exams. Mental health crises. Curricula unfit for modern life. Music relieves stress, improves wellbeing, re-balances academics.

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Music can play such a vital role in pupil experience. Use it to help children manage exam stress, encourage stronger mental health and create broader, more innovative learning pathways - great goals for 21st century learners.

 

And…thank you children. 

That is time. 

Pencils down please.

Your exam is now concluded.

 

With the final school term well underway and assessment season firmly behind, many are eager for the long holidays to come. 

Pupils are encouraged to…”put down their pens and enjoy the break before results are released later this summer. Teachers, too, can take the chance to reflect upon their hard work and achievements this academic year.” EAL 

But for the thousands of teachers and students who undertook SATs this year, what a truly challenging exam season it was.

Are Y6 ready for the next step? Download your checklist here.

Challenging Assessments, “Hardest Exams Ever”

This year’s SATs presented the most difficult testing environment many students had ever faced – with news of primary students exiting exams in tears widely circulating.

”Hundreds of parents and teachers have complained online that the reading exam for 10 and 11-year-olds was too difficult and a head teachers’ union said staff also struggled ‘to understand the questions’”. ECH

Designed to measure students’ English and maths skills in Year 2 and again in Year 6, SATs are administered by the Department for Education. SATs are meant to reveal progression over time, identifying pupil strengths and any potential weaknesses, particularly as they head into secondary school.

However, “[NAHT] members have told us that the choice of texts was not accessible for the wide range of experiences and backgrounds children have and the difficulty was beyond previous tests, leaving children upset, and with even staff struggling to understand the questions.” ECH

In response, the DfE acknowledged that while the exams are meant to be “challenging,” that “[s]chools should always encourage pupils to do their best but preparing for primary assessments should not be at the expense of children’s wellbeing.”

Unfortunately, many parents felt the DfE advice was out of lockstep with their children’s experiences on the day.

Educational consultant and qualified primary teacher, Beth Southern, remarked on her own son’s SATs:

“I have been told yesterday’s test was dense, packed with difficult vocabulary, idiomatic language and a huge amount of inference was needed to complete it.

“It’s awful that we assess a child’s entire primary school reading ability on a single hour-long test that was way too complex for 10 to 11-year-olds to comprehend.” ECH

A student is closely examining a math worksheet focused on calculating perimeters. The worksheet includes various problems where the perimeter is given, and the student must find the measure of the unknown side of different shapes. The student appears to be engaged in solving the problems, with a pen in hand ready to write down the answers.
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Our Children’s Mental Health at Stake

Moreover, the impact of testing seems to last far beyond the exam setting – with pupil’s long-term positive mental health caught in the balance.

“Across the board, this year’s school pupils are the most ‘anxious and stressed out’ exam cohort ever seen, according to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).” HUF

In another well-documented example:

Kerry Forrester, a head teacher at a Cheshire primary school, [wrote] to her local MP expressing concern about the “negative impact” of the exams on the “mental health and wellbeing” of her pupils.

In a letter she shared on Twitter, Ms Forrester said this year has seen “the most negative impact on our children that we have ever experienced”.

“Tears flowed from our most capable readers and stress levels rose amongst all others,” she said, adding that “this was the most challenging reading test I have seen in my 29 years as a teacher”. ECH

We are right to be concerned. 

Mental health data suggests our young people are at increasingly at risk of poor mental health – despite some post-pandemic bounceback.

Government recently issued a comprehensive report entitled “State of the nation 2022: children and young people’s wellbeing.” 

In that report, children’s wellbeing and mental health were looked at from a number of different perspectives, including some longitudinal metrics used to collate data points over time.

Are Y6 ready for the next step? Download your checklist here.

“Some measures indicate recovery to pre-pandemic levels. These include happiness, life satisfaction, feeling life is worthwhile, and participation in extra-curricular activities and physical activities.

However, some measures, such as levels of likely mental disorder for school age children, have remained elevated but stable, while other measures, including anxiousness for older young people, have worsened.” GOV

UK Curriculum Out of Step with Modern Times

  • Robotics lessons in primary school.
  • VR headsets for learning geography, chemistry and biology.
  • Focus on problem-solving, teamwork and entrepreneurship. 
  • Equal emphasis on creativity and wellbeing – as on grades.

These are the global measures best in class education systems are taking to create leaders for our future.

From Estonia to the Netherlands, Singapore to Finland, children are learning differently – and according to the OECD…they’re learning better.

Here in the UK it’s a somewhat different matter.

According to the Times Education Commission – which delivered a 12-point treatise in 2022 setting out recommendations for a new approach to encourage life-long learning across Britain:

The education system is not delivering what the economy needs, what parents want or what pupils deserve. The way people shop, work, travel, bank and watch television has changed utterly over the past decade but schools have failed to keep pace. TIM

A school leader from Cornwall summed up the mood of the evidence presented to The Times Education Commission over the course of its year-long inquiry.

 “We’re preparing children for a world that doesn’t exist.” TIM

Are Y6 ready for the next step? Download your checklist here.

Amassing evidence from more than 600 experts across fields including business, the arts and education, The Times Education Commission detailed the measures it deemed necessary to “transform education and unleash the potential of every child,” including new thinking around:

  • Electives Premium – This should be offered for all schools to be spent on activities including drama, music, dance and sport and a National Citizen Service experience for every pupil, with volunteering and outdoor pursuits expeditions to ensure that the co-curricular activities enjoyed by the most advantaged become available to all.
  • Significant Boost to Early Years Funding – The extra funding should be targeted at the most vulnerable. A unique pupil number would be given to every child from birth, to level the playing field before they get to school. Every primary school should have a library.
  • Wellbeing at the heart of education – A counsellor should be placed in every school and an annual wellbeing survey of pupils carried out to encourage schools to actively build resilience rather than just support students once problems have arisen. TIM
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A music teacher, holding a ukulele, is engaging with young students in a classroom setting. The teacher is gesturing with his hand, possibly explaining a concept or giving instructions, while the students, wearing school uniforms, are attentively listening. Behind them, an upright piano suggests a hands-on music lesson is underway, fostering a creative and educational atmosphere.

Music Education: Bringing All The Strands Together

The benefits of music education are manifold.

Learning music supports young people’s wellbeing and mental health, boosts their academic performance and has a direct impact on pupils’ decisions to continue in formal education – broadening their future career opportunities, as well as overall life outcomes. 

This means that music education has a fundamental role to play in solving the three key issues cited above, namely exam stress, mental health and curriculum innovation. Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Amid the stress and pressure of exam season, music can guide our minds to a place of calm and serenity, enhancing our wellbeing and transforming stress into inspiration. – BERT ROUTLEDGE, Director of Small Group & 1:1

 

Tackling Exam Stress

Stress can manifest in physical, mental and emotional ways and affect behaviour. If it’s impacting your [students], they might struggle with:

  • An upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Being irritable
  • Low mood
  • Lack of communication HUF

At Sing Education, we fundamentally understand how important emotional wellbeing is to developing healthy minds, bodies and spirits – that’s why we build joy, fun and wellbeing directly into our music curriculum. 

Sing Education lessons always contain active music making, engaging pupils throughout with the use of singing games, percussion, rhymes, rhythm activities and more. 

Our lessons draw on the Kodály approach and we readily incorporate folk-based material, multisensory learning, props and flashcards. This is to develop a deep understanding and knowledge of music, of musical principles, so it’s not just games for games’ sake. 

 

Improving Mental Health & Wellbeing

“There are many health benefits to singing. Singing releases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, which help boost your mood; encourages a greater awareness of breathing, helping to release anxiety; and provides a platform to express yourself.” TRIN

Every child has a voice.

That’s not just a motto. 

That’s our ethos.

The singing voice is our primary instrument. It is one of the first ways we communicate. It has the added benefit of being free, portable and infinitely malleable. For these reasons, voice is the cornerstone of Sing Education’s approach to teaching. Through the voice pupils are able to access all areas of musicianship.

Plus we invest in extensive and ongoing training for our music specialists so they can confidently deliver our very unique brand of high-energy music education which directly supports joyful expression in the classroom.

With Sing Education’s classroom, instrumental and clubs provision, pupils receive first-class music instruction that builds skills, confidence and wellbeing. 

Are Y6 ready for the next step? Download your checklist here.

Broadening Academic Horizons

A well-rounded, tech savvy, entrepreneurial life-long learner.

These are the aims for 21st century education.

And it starts with bringing innovation into the classroom.

Sir James Dyson, the inventor, told the [Times] commission that the economy would continue to flatline without a greater focus on creativity, originality and innovation in education. 

“Children are creative. They love building and making things. But as they get closer to GCSEs and A-levels all that is squashed out of them,” he said. “It’s all about rote-learning, not using your imagination. The system doesn’t measure creativity; it measures what you can remember of other people’s facts.” TIM

Sing Education couldn’t agree more. 

Our tuition model emphasises self-expression, creativity and innovation – and is always evolving as we incorporate the best new learnings from academia, career musicians and our large schools network.

While we rely on certain core principles – such as those found in the Kodály method – we’re constantly scanning the environment for new, creative ways to teach music, to develop our staff and to embed high standards for music in the schools with which we work. 

For example, we have regular contact with the Department for Education professionals who are instituting the national plan for music education. 

In a similar vein, we have recently been invited to speak on a panel inputting into the plan, making sure that the new plan is accessible and inclusive for SEND children. 

We are active listeners as well and use our deep ties to the country’s best conservatoires and music performance programmes to build networks within academia.

Choosing Sing Education as Your Music Education Partner

Discover Sing Education’s unique approach to bringing high-quality music education to primary schools across Greater London, Kent and Yorkshire. 

  • Build learning around the first instrument – the voice. 
  • Keep lessons active, fun and high-energy. 
  • Add teaching which reinforces good behaviour and pupil wellbeing. 
  • Lastly, place music at the heart of the curriculum. 

This is our formula. It’s simple but effective.

Currently more than 60 schools and over 16,000 children rely on us for our excellent, consistent and full-service music delivery. We not only offer whole school curricular music but also instrumental tuition, singing assemblies and termly performances, as well as extracurricular clubs and choirs. 

From recruitment to resources, staff management to payroll, timetabling to PPA cover, we are your partners for the journey.

To learn more about Sing Education, including how our curricular provision, 1:1 and small group instrumental lessons plus at home music learning resources contribute to a well-rounded music programme, please visit www.singeducation.co.uk/schools

For even more info, practical tips and guidance, click below to download your FREE CHECKLIST “Are your Year 6 students ready for the next step?”

Are Y6 ready for the next step? Download your checklist here.

About Us

Founded in 2014 and serving more than 16,000 children each week, Sing Education is a first class provider of primary school music education. Focusing on high-quality, singing-led tuition, we deliver a complete solution for schools which includes teacher recruitment, training and management, bespoke curricular resources and educational consultancy services. 

Through music lessons, singing assemblies, choirs, after school clubs and instrumental tuition, Sing Education works with students from Nursery right through to Year 6. Our core philosophy is that “Every Child Has A Voice,” and, as educators active in the classroom, our directors and teachers know firsthand how much young learners benefit from exciting, rewarding music education. 

Sing Education currently partners with schools throughout Greater London and Kent, as well as Yorkshire and the Humber. 

Not yet on the list? Please enquire about our expansion plans for additional areas we will serve during the upcoming academic year.

www.singeducation.co.uk/schools

#SingEducation #HubsAndSpokes #InsideMusicEd

 

Sources:

  • Exam Stress Is Rife In Kids This Year. Here Are The Signs To Look Out For Huffington Post HUF
  • It’s time we reinvented the classroom — here’s how The Times TIM
  1. Government defends ‘challenging’ Sats reading paper following complaints Northern Echo ECH
  2. Supporting mental health and wellbeing through musical learning Trinity College Dublin TRIN
  3. How we’re helping look after the mental health of children and young people Education Hub GOV

Top marks for school progress Around Ealing EAL

A classroom comes alive with a group of attentive primary school students sitting on the floor, encircling a teacher who is engaging them with a hands-on activity. The teacher, dressed in a bright coral blazer, gestures expressively, fostering a dynamic learning environment. The children, in green uniforms, appear focused and curious, contributing to the interactive educational experience. A poster in the background reads "We Are All Learning Leaders," reinforcing the collaborative atmosphere.

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