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Six cathedrals to join programme that promotes singing opportunities at state schools

27 February 2023

Sheffield, Derby, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and York have been chosen

RC diocese of Leeds

Children from Christ the King RC Primary School, Bramley, take part in a warm-up activity during a singing lesson

Children from Christ the King RC Primary School, Bramley, take part in a warm-up activity during a singing lesson

SIX cathedrals have been invited to join the National Schools Singing Programme (NSSP), dedicated to widening opportunities for children in state schools to engage with music.

The cathedrals of Sheffield, Derby, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and York have been chosen for their diversity and their capacity to reach some of the most music-deprived areas of the country. Their inclusion in the programme, funded by the Hamish Ogston Foundation, means that it will now reach an expected total of 20,000 children in more than 200 state schools every week.

The NSSP was launched in 2021, with £4 million of funding from the Foundation, which supports heritage, health, and music initiatives. It employs choral directors to deliver whole-class singing sessions in state schools every week, and has developed a model that is operated in the Roman Catholic dioceses of Leeds, Nottingham, and Liverpool.

Crucially, the singing sessions are not an extra-curricular activity. They take place in curriculum time; so that all pupils have equal access and opportunity, and the programme meets the requirements of the new model music curriculum in schools: the National Plan for Music Education.

“Schools have to have music, and with churches’ expertise in choral music, we thought, why not work with the very best?” the director of music for the diocese of Leeds, and consultant to the NSSP, Ben Saunders, said. “The world looks at us in envy for our choral tradition, and the Anglican Church has historically been prominent in children’s choirs.

“Cathedrals historically have this commitment to music, developing it and enhancing the base in the state schools. They have always been centres of education, patrons of the arts, and, particularly from a Christian point of view, champions of the poorest and most disenfranchised.”

Seed funding takes away the financial risk for the recipients, enabling the programme to keep going and to expand. The hope and expectation is that singing during school hours will lead to the formation of after-school choirs, or to children joining existing choirs.

Simon Toyne, music director for the Hamish Ogston Foundation, and former president of the Music Teachers Association, said: “In every school in the country, you will find children with great voices. The importance of NSSP is enabling those voices to be nurtured, trained, and developed by expert choral directors, empowering them to sing in well-run school choirs, and connecting them to their local cathedral choir.

“The British choral tradition is unique in championing young people to make music at the highest level — it respects young people as professionals — but there is a danger that it is only accessed by those who already know about it. Our shared aim is to enable every child in the country to participate in this remarkable living tradition.”

The six Anglican cathedrals have all expressed enthusiasm for the programme. The director of music at Newcastle, Ian Roberts, said: “Through our work at Newcastle Cathedral, we seek to change the lives of children and young people. We stand at the heart of a city which has seen a dramatic rise in child poverty over recent years.

“We have strived for many years to enable young people from across all socio-economic backgrounds to benefit from the free musical education that we have to offer. I’m delighted that through the National Schools Singing Programme we are gaining the tools, the support, and the confidence to work in partnership with schools across the region to make this a reality for much greater numbers of children.”

The Dean of Derby, the Very Revd Peter Robinson, said: “We are delighted to have been successful with our application to be one of six pilot Anglican cathedrals as part of their National Schools Singing programme. This gives us the means to expand our music-in-schools initiative, which is a key part of our strategy and direction for learning and partnerships. We are immensely grateful to the Hamish Ogston foundation for funding this programme.”

Leicester Cathedral was the first to establish an independent girls’ top line in 1974. Its own school singing programme, set up in 2012, has enabled children from an ever wider range of backgrounds to reach the standard required to join the cathedral choirs, which now reflect better both the socio-economic and ethnic diversity of the UK’s first plural city.

All these activities had been seriously curtailed by the pandemic, the director of music, Dr Christopher Ouvry-Johns, said, and the extra periods of lockdown to which the city had been subjected meant that its recovery had proceeded more slowly.

“We are very grateful to the Hamish Ogston Foundation, whose seed funding will expedite the planned expansion of our programme, and we much look forward to sharing our expertise and benefiting from that of others through the networks created by the NSSP,” he said.

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