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Sandwell keyboard specialist, Wendy Callagham (centre) and other staff working with a Y3 Yamaha WO keyboard class

Although Uplands has been

up with SYM staff and some of the local primary headteachers for an update on progress. What appears to be so remarkable about this project is that it has expanded from three schools participating in year one (2007- 2008) with just 120 KS2 children receiving keyboard lessons, to what is now a staggering 600-plus children, from 11 primary schools in 2009-2010, with further expansion planned for September 2010.

Original partners

One of the original partners was Tividale Community Primary School – with a two-form intake and 460 currently on the roll – whose head, Les Young, was a very staunch WO supporter back in 2008. Les and his deputy, Emma Burnell, were just as enthusiastic about WO this time around and had expanded WO so that all KS2 children can now enjoy the benefits – Y3 on violin; Y4, the trumpet; Y5 have keyboard lessons (Yamaha programme) and Y6 now study guitar. Emma was keen to emphasise that the broad range of benefits identified after the first year of the project are still intact and include improvements in the students’ general attitude to learning, as well as enhanced social skills, better behaviour and an increased enthusiasm for music. She also noted a positive impact on parents too. There is now a really vibrant music making community at this school and with Y3 to Y6 participating in WO the impact is very strong. 60 students in Y5 are continuing their keyboard studies with the Yamaha/Sandwell partnership and the school would have no hesitation in recommending the project to all interested parties.


Another new partner in the project is King George V Primary School in West Bromwich, a one- form entry school of about 230 children. The Yamaha keyboard partnership with SYM is in its second year here and currently it is the Y3 pupils who benefit from the programme. I was able to see a Y3 class in action – ably led by Sandwell keyboard specialist, Wendy Callagan, and assisted by the class teacher, Leanne Rowe, and a classroom assistant. I saw exactly the same level of enthusiasm, engagement and positivity from the students and teachers here as I had originally observed with the first three schools which began the project back in 2008. The headteacher, Alison Matthews, was equally positive and her only slightly negative comment was her regret at not being able to fund a second or third year for her students. Uplands Manor Primary School in Smethwick, West Midlands, is a 700-pupil, three-form entry primary school which has joined the programme. Headteacher, Sue Gormley, proudly showed me to the classroom that has been specifically dedicated to house the Yamaha keyboards and where Y4 and Y6 students receive a weekly lesson with Sandwell keyboard specialist, Sue Catchpole. I was able to catch a Y6

keyboard class being put through its paces and very impressive it was too! Obviously you would expect Y6 students to learn at a faster pace than those in earlier years but what was really so impressive was the sheer confidence in their performances, which included some very nifty hands-together playing.

associated with WO for several years I discovered, by speaking to Y6 class teacher, Mrs Douglass, that this is the first year keyboard has been introduced there, and that she was shocked at how much progress her class had made during the year. It was very refreshing, she said, to see that a completely mixed ability group of students, including some special needs children, could participate and be totally engaged in the proceedings.

Sue is keen to expand the WO further, including an after-hours club and extend this to the wider community.

Getting it right

Now at this point the reader may well think that this project is being presented as a complete success with no negative aspects at all. This is not the intention and as with all initiatives there were some growing pains and some refining measures

that were put in place to iron out potential wrinkles. However the partnership

between Yamaha Music Schools and Sandwell Youth Music does appear to be continuing to work well and this is in no short measure due to the keyboard specialists that deliver the programme under the watchful eye of Sheila Bailey, the acting head of service. Whatever the final outcome of

the wider opportunities programme which no doubt will fall squarely into the hands of the politicians to decide, there is no doubt in my mind that the positives of the scheme far outweigh any negatives. For the time being and for at least one further year of expansion we at Yamaha Music Schools would like to say a special thank-you to Sheila Bailey (acting head of service at Sandwell) and teachers Wendy Callagan and Sue Catchpole for their continued focus and dedication in delivering this project. Thanks also to the dedicated heads and staff of the Sandwell primary schools.


As a final check and review of the project after almost three years of operation I asked keyboard teachers Wendy Callagan and Sue Catchpole to comment.

Wendy Callagan

‘The keyboard is a great instrument to teach and most pupils pick it up quite easily.

I also find that lots of pupils enjoy the lessons and a large majority soon want to own their own keyboard and even dream of playing keyboard in a band one day. The Yamaha ‘Play For Keeps’ keyboard programme allows students to play the music of The Beatles, Enya, Bob Marley, even Beethoven! The practical implications of turning a classroom into a music room is an ongoing challenge but it’s well worth it when you hear a pupil say, “Wow, I’d forgotten it was keyboards today – great!” Our partnership with Yamaha has certainly strengthened our delivery of WO in Sandwell.’

Sue Catchpole

‘As a classically trained pianist I confess to being originally rather scathing about the very idea of keyboards, until I was suddenly thrown in at the deep end, having been asked to take over from my sick colleague. I had a one-day crash course from Yamaha and a great deal of support from Wendy. I struggled through that term but by the end of the term I was a convert! With the range of instrument voices, accompaniment styles and chord options available, I am happy to accept that the keyboard is indeed a real instrument, and such a fabulous one for 21st-century children. In the autumn term I was allocated my own schools to start the

‘Play For Keeps’ programme from scratch, with classes of thirty, including some special needs children. Teachers have popped in to listen and exclaimed. “Wow! They are playing real music. We didn’t expect that so soon.”’

Photo: © Nigel Burrows

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