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Fort Royal Community Primary School

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Using Music as a SEN Tool at Fort Royal School


“Music is a unique form of communication that can change the way pupils feel, think and act. Music forms part of an individual’s identity and positive interaction with music can develop pupils’ competence as learners and increase their self-esteem. Music brings together intellect and feeling and enables personal expression, reflection, and emotional development. As an integral part of culture, past and present, music helps pupils understand themselves, relate to others and develop their cultural understanding, forging important links between home, school, and the wider world. “Music education encourages active involvement in different forms of music-making, both individual and communal, helping to develop a sense of group identity and togetherness. Music can influence pupils’ development in and out of school by fostering personal development and maturity, creating a sense of achievement and self-worth, and increasing pupils’ ability to work with others in a group context. “Music learning develops pupils’ critical skills: their ability to listen, to appreciate a wide variety of music, and to make judgements about musical quality. It also increases self-discipline, creativity, aesthetic sensitivity, and fulfilment.”

National Curriculum, QCA, 2009


We all have unique connections and associations with music. Music is present from the beginnings of life in our earliest mother-infant vocalising interactions. Music has the power to bring about similar physical and emotional responses in different people at the same time. It is capable of both intensifying a certain emotion and coordinating the way in which a group of people should move together (we’ve all done the Macarena at some stage). Music can express, articulate, and channel feelings that cannot be put into words, bypassing the need for language, and it is this part of music that is invaluable, particularly when working with pre-verbal or non-verbal pupils.


Active music-making allows each child to engage in a way that is right for them. For children with SEN, this offers an unrivalled opportunity for self-expression and communication. The variety of themes and activities in our simple Music curriculum, create an exciting context for developing key skills, learning about the world, and having lots of fun. Music at Fort Royal is incorporated into topic, literacy, and maths curriculum. Each class within the key stage receives regular music lessons every other half term, those lessons are linked directly to the topic themes and are delivered by our specialist music practitioner specialising in cello. Apart from those sessions pupils engage in short, twenty minutes long musical activities every other week, also run by our music practitioner.


How can music help SEN children in the classroom?


  1.  Physical


At Fort Royal, music is an effective tool to encourage children to move, whether freely or by following a specific rhythm. This can be achieved through dancing or playing an instrument. Whenever pupils are focusing on singing within the Music EA curriculum, they attend whole key stage singing sessions on weekly basis every other half term.


Even simple beats and small movements, such as clicking fingers or stamping feet, can help children to see a connection between the music and the natural rhythm of their bodies. For example, if they can connect to their heartbeats and footsteps, then they’ll find it easier to identify other sounds that are around them. Our Music sessions are designed to meet the needs of all our pupils. We offer enrichment sessions in choir, keyboard lessons, recorder lessons, drumming, and ukulele.


Keyboard Group


Keyboard learning is facilitated in small groups of 4 weekly for students in Key Stage 2. Lessons include physical warm-ups and group learning on short pieces of music and also give opportunities to practice with headphones and explore the keyboard creatively. Keyboard lessons use figure notes, an alternative colour-orientated notation system which is now owned and resourced through Drake Music Scotland. Figure notes was created at the Resonaari school in Finland by music educators Kaarlo Uusitalo and Markku Kaikkonen. Initially designed to enable those with learning disabilities to play music, it has since developed into a tool to help anybody get started. (From www.figurenotes.org)


Ukulele Group


Ukulele learning is facilitated in medium size groups (6-10) for students in Key Stage 2. Students will gain a good understanding of the ukulele and learn to sing songs whilst playing chords. Ukulele group also involves composing through song writing.


KS1 Creative Ensemble


A small group of students explore playing in differentiated music session with others outside the classroom. This group explores a range of small tuned and untuned percussion. There is an emphasis on non-verbal singing and for students to become more familiar with playing a certain instrument within the group over consecutive weeks. Creativity is nurtured through themes and through making original music, a foundational skill for composition work. Nicola McAteer- Community Music Practitioner (November 2023)


KS2 Creative Ensemble


A small group of students plays music with others not in their class. This group explores a range of small tuned/untuned percussion, along with singing. Students will be encouraged to play a certain instrument over consecutive weeks whilst working on a new original music piece. This ensemble has an emphasis on composing new music with peers.




An inclusive singing group for singers and signers of all abilities. The choir explores a wide range of musical genres and original repertoire chosen by both music practitioner and the choir members.


By making these connections and continuing to build on their rhythmic skills, Fort Royal pupils can improve their confidence, their coordination, and their balance as well as develop their fine motor skills, which will help them to eat, write, and talk.


*Our gifted and talented pupils from EYFS and KS1 attend sessions designed for KS2 students;


2. Cognitive


Most of us find that music can stimulate a certain response or emotion. Music can motivate us, and it can also relax us, and it is just as effective with SEN children. At Fort Royal School we teach children sign-along language through musical assemblies and creative musical sessions in the classrooms or outdoors.


A lot of song lyrics are repetitive which is ideal when trying to help students to improve their memory. Additionally, when students are learning a new topic, a song with a familiar melody could be altered and the lyrics replaced with words related to that topic.


Songs can also be used to help students identify the time of a day and when certain tasks need to be done. For example, a certain piece of music could be played, or a song can be sung to signal to students that it’s the end of the day and that they need to begin tidying their desks.

Most classes at Fort Royal will incorporate music during sensory morning circle and at the end of the day too. We are well equipped in musical instruments that are used for sensory Literacy and Maths or topic work.


Overall, music can help SEN children improve their attention span, which helps them to focus in the classroom and to remember what they’ve been taught.

3. Emotional


As previously mentioned, music can stimulate certain emotions, making us experience happiness, sadness, or maybe just a feeling of calmness. Because of this, music can be an effective tool to help students express themselves. In our PSHECC planning we use links to the musical sessions designed to support pupils’ wellbeing in the classroom.


A lot of SEN students struggle to understand their emotions, which then can affect their behaviour and ability to communicate. So, by incorporating music into our lessons, pupils can learn to recognise their emotions and understand why they are experiencing them.


To assist with this learning, musical games are being played. There are variety of games to use indoors and outdoors. For example, children can stamp like an angry elephant when they hear the sound of a loud, fast drumbeat, or they can gallop like a happy reindeer when they hear the sound of jingling bells.


Through games such as the above, our pupils can also learn how to control their emotions.


4. Social


Music can be enjoyed alone or within a group; it is an effective way to bring people together. So, with this in mind, we encourage our children to sing and play instruments solo, or in their own time, as well as within small groups in school. Our pupils have a unique opportunity to engage in annual arts week that offers variety of musical workshops to meet the needs of all the students at Fort Royal.


Additionally, working to create music with other children helps to improve their listening skills as well as their ability to focus and remember.



Music out and about


Asking children to identify the pattern of sounds is an excellent way of developing aural memory. Our brain’s plasticity - its capacity to adapt - peaks in childhood. Young brains are primed to change in response to experiences encountered, and this is hugely beneficial for children with SEN.

Through activities involving repetitive musical patterns, their ability to process sounds can certainly be improved.


Using Outdoor Musical Playground Equipment during playtimes, topic lessons and other relevant activities to play simple, 3 or 4 beat rhythms gives opportunity to stimulate, Play, Learn, Laugh and Succeed.