A school transformation

Our journey with James Rennie School in Cumbria started in what now feels like a different age, September 2018, when we started a conversation with Kerry, the Assistant Head, about training for the staff team. She and Kris, the Head Teacher, had realised that music could be used to improve children’s engagement across the school, but that the staff needed some training to boost skills and confidence. We therefore organised a full day of workshops in January 2019 as part of their whole staff training day, which was followed up by a day of workshops in classrooms. Both were a tremendous success. Our musicians, Joe Harrison-Greaves and Ros Hawley, were blown away by the enthusiasm and willingness to learn by staff from all classrooms; everyone from nursery to sixth form was clamouring for more.

Given the eagerness to learn, a five-day mini residency was quickly set up for early in the summer term. Our five-day projects are structured to enable progression: we usually work with four classes and see them every day for the duration of the project. This works very well, but at James Rennie the teachers were so enthused that they all wanted input in their classrooms as soon as possible. So we quickly scheduled another five-day project for early in the autumn term.

By this time it was very obvious to us, and to the school leadership team, that a more intense staff development project would be the way to proceed, as there was such an appetite to learn. This was due to begin in September 2020, so to keep up momentum and help select the staff who would go on to become Jessie’s Fund ‘ambassadors’ we delivered a third five-day project in Spring 2020.

That was one of the last projects we delivered in person prior to the pandemic taking hold, and our plans for the staff development project were delayed by a year. In the interim the school and parent body made good use of our lockdown video sessions – they were used both in school and by families when educating their children at home. We’re delighted that the videos continue to be used in school: they have become firm favourites for many of the children and staff.

Having finally got the staff development project underway in September 2021, we are thrilled at the response. The staff are like sponges, taking on all the ideas given in sessions with musicians Joe and Martha, and trying out new skills between visits. The momentum the project has built is tremendous, with teachers and teaching assistants from across the school really getting on board. In the summer term the school are planning to hold a musical celebration week, with events and opportunities for participation for all students. We are really excited about the event, but also delighted that the school’s commitment and enthusiasm to use music to connect with the pupils continues to grow.

Assistant Head Teacher Kerry Dunbobbin told us ‘Staff are massively excited by Jessie’s Fund’s input, and their confidence to ‘use’ music, not just ‘deliver’ music is huge. Staff see the positive impact this has had on all pupils regardless of their age, needs or ability. Music is happening all the time around James Rennie School.’
One of the class teachers, a Jessie’s Fund ambassador, is Mary Glendinning, who said ‘Jessie’s Fund has brought a distinct change to our school environment, from the corridors to the classroom. Musical ‘voice’ can be heard filtering through each learning area and into our communal spaces. Simple instruments, singing, clapping and laughter can be heard, small groups nestled together engaging in circular songs or individuals exchanging intensive interactions through simple percussion, resonance or vocal exchange. Inconsistencies in delivery have become consistencies across the school, with music underpinning everything that we do.’

“Jessie’s Fund has massively impacted our school from the very first day they came to deliver staff training. Music is now an integral part of every pupil’s timetable – not just ‘music lessons.'”