A Background and Case Study
Karen Geoghegan - October 2018

From January to May 2018, I had the pleasure of visiting St John the Baptist Primary School, Fauldhouse, Scotland (UK). Over the course of these visits, I worked with arrange of ages and stages within the school, testing new games written buy students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow for the new online Kodály HUB. This school is an inclusive school, catering for the need of all children, including those with Additional Support Needs. 

Below, I have summarized the following:

  • Inclusion in Scottish schools - what does this mean?
  • Additional Support needs (ASN) figures in Schools
  • The diminishing presence of music education in Scottish Schools
  • St John the Baptist Primary School - a review of my experience within the school when testing the games

Inclusion in Scottish Schools

A Curriculum for Excellence is fully in harmony with the National Priorities … all children and young people should be valued by being included” (Scottish Executive, 2004, p.3).

Since 2010, Scottish schools have followed A Curriculum for Excellence, a progressive curriculum for ages 3 to 18, “intended to help children and young people gain the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century, including skills for learning, life and work” (Education Scotland). Inclusion continues to be a key focus in the Scottish education system today.

What is inclusion within the Scottish education system? Inclusion shares similar common baseline principles with the concept of integration, whereby children with Special Educational Needs (now commonly referred to as Additional Support Needs) can attend mainstream schools alongside children without such needs. However, the concepts of inclusion focuses on removing barriers to learning and maintaining high, quality education for all, tailored to meeting the needs of every child.  Schools must strive to make any necessary adjustments required to remove potential obstacles that may restrict full participation in this mainstream educational setting for these children. There are three categories into which these obstacles may fall - environmental, structural or attitudinal - and all must be considered to create a fully accessible learning environment for children with additional needs. It is also important to generate “a sense of community and belonging” in order to create an inclusive school, allowing these children to feel that they are fully and equally part of school life. 

Any children with Additional Support Needs will go through a process called ‘Staged Intervention’, to identify the extent of their needs. Although it can vary from area to area, there are generally 5 stages at which a child can be placed, and this can of course change through regular review.  An IEP (an Individualised Educational Programme) is then created for every pupil with Additional Support Needs - a written document summarizing the additional steps that will be taken to support the child in reaching their learning goals.

Additional Support Needs (ASN) figures in Scottish schools

ASN figures have increased by 153% in Scottish schools (from 2010 to 2017), an increase described in a paper written by the Scottish parliament Education and Skills Committee (May 2017) as ‘an exponential increase…to a level beyond many people’s expectations”.

Whilst inclusive practice continues to be a requirement in Scottish schools, the additional challenges of the increase in the number of children recognized as having Additional Support Needs are further being hindered by a number of other factors, including:

  • a decline in the number of qualified teachers
  • a decline in trained ASN teachers
  • general cuts in funding in a number of local authorities
  • cuts in per pupil spending (an 11% cut was seen in the year 2015/2016)
  • lack of general resources to accommodate additional support needs

Whilst there have been numerous calls for a reduction in the size of classes including children with additional support needs, the figures are so high that this can often prove difficult in many schools.

The diminishing presence of music education in Scottish Schools

Alongside the complications of the inclusive broad general education system in Scottish schools comes the ever more bleak situation regarding the provision of music education. The role of the general primary music specialist has long disappeared from most schools in Scotland, with only a small number remaining, notably in private schools.  In addition, the provision of instrumental music tuition looks ever more bleak, with many authorizes having cut their provision or now asking parents to pay for instrumental tuition. (West Lothian Council, where this study is based, now require an annual payment of £354 per year to receive instrumental tuition). Although a small charge in comparison to other private tuition, the number of children now taking up an instrument as a beginner or continuing their instrumental music education is expected to decline substantially. Children who receive free school meals (children from a very low income background) and children who are looked-after will have their provision funded by the local council, allowing a proportion of those who cannot afford the charges to continue.  For others, the future of the instrumental music service in Scottish is uncertain and unclear.  It is therefore of even greater importance, in my opinion, to maintain the use of singing as a tool for musical development within school - a tool which can reach out to everyone and is free for all.

St John the Baptist Primary School, Fauldhouse, West Lothian

St John the Baptist Primary School (located in Fauldhouse, West Lothian, Scotland) is in the most deprived decile (10%) in the whole of Scotland, according to the Scottish Index for Multiple Deprivation (2016, This index takes into consideration the following factors (and this area is scored within the most deprived 10% for 4 out of 7 of these subsections)

  • Income
  • Employment
  • Education and Skills
  • Health
  • Housing
  • Geographic Access
  • Crime

Within the whole school from Primary 1 to Primary 7 (approx. age 5-13), 11% of children have additional support needs (20 out of 185 pupils) that require additional support and an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) on a daily basis. During my visits to the schools to test the new songs and games for the Kodály HUB (from January to June 2018), I worked with 4 of the 7 classes in the school. One class, notably, had 8 children within the class who were identified as having Additional Support needs. It should be noted that these additional needs are mostly social, emotional and behavioral needs. The development of such behaviors is often linked to social factors, and this is reflective of the above statistics. Some of the children with what we may refer to as more ‘common place’ additional needs (such as Autism, for example) do not necessarily fall into this category, as their needs may not be great enough currently to require this additional support. Social, emotional and behavioural needs are described by SEBDA as follows:

'SEBD' is an imprecise umbrella term, always difficult to define, although it is quite clear that many children and young people to whom the term is applied have complex and chronic difficulties, which place them at risk of school and wider social exclusion’

The words ‘imprecise’ and ‘complex’ sum up these difficulties and the teachers at this school give their all every day to support the advanced and unclear additional needs of these children. Nonetheless, they are included in all areas of the schools curriculum, and this project was no different - everyone had the opportunity to sing and experience the joy of music through singing games and rhymes.

The children in this school are incredibly responsive and appreciative of any music input they receive. Having had a music specialist in the past, the tradition of music in this school has been maintained as best can be, with non-music specialists sharing their  practice to allow the children to experience music as part of their broad general education. Additionally, like all primary schools in West Lothian Council, this school receives an annual 12-week input for Primary 4 pupils (aged 7-8) from the National Youth Choir of Scotland, allowing the children to experience singing games and develop their basic musical skills (beat, pitch, rhythm).

During my visits to the school to test the material for the new Kodály HUB, the reaction and engagement of the children was overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. Having worked with some of the children before (albeit only for a short 12 week block at the most), I was confident that these children would respond well to the new games and give their all when taking part. Overall, the engagement of the pupils did not disappoint, notably taking into the account the vast range of ages and additional support needs within these classes. It was evident, however, that the additional needs of some children added challenge at times to the lessons.

Commonly, social, emotional and behavioural needs create a sense of difficulty for the children when in social situations, alongside situations where the task may be too difficult (or appear too difficult to achieve without some level of additional effort), out-with the norm of their normal learning or requiring close one-to-one contact with others in the class. The nature of this approach to music education through singing games is of course to sing and learn together in an extremely active, social environment, moving and coordinating with others - creating extra challenges for these children due to the factors mentioned above.

With class teachers in attendance during all lessons, the behavior of some children due to their additional needs was at times difficult. However, over the period of input, it was interesting to see the response and varying participation of the children based upon a number of factors:

  • The type of game being played
  • The use of any resources for the game (sticks, cups, ball)
  • The simplicity/difficulty of the song and game
  • The pupil interaction required for the game
  • The time/part of the lesson

The type of game being played /The use of any resources for the game (sticks, cups, ball)

A ball, drumsticks or cups frequently proved incentive enough to encourage some students who had otherwise become disengaged from the lessons to join in again, without even a mention of the song name. With the majority of children in question being boys (statistically it is more common for boys to display for social, emotional and behavioural difficulties), this was of even greater importance.  

The simplicity/difficulty of the song and game

In the vast majority of lessons linked to the testing of the new songs and games, it was the simple songs, with easier (often repetitive) words and phrases, and likewise simpler games/actions that were most appealing to all children, and notably the children with additional needs. Two songs (which can be found on the HUB) provide examples of this:

1) ‘I Can Bow to You’ - a very simple beat keeping/action game also involving the changing of partner with every repetition. The change of partner had a mixed outcome amongst several children. Some found this incentive enough to participate, knowing that they would have the opportunity to meet at least several partners with whom they could work well with and enjoy the experience of the game. For others, the idea of interacting with at least half of the children in the class in a direct one-to-one facing scenario proved too much, and resulted in children removing themselves from the situation (discussed further below).

2) ‘A Ram Sam Sam’- a simple (seen to the children as perhaps silly) song, involving just 3 simple ball passing actions. In almost all songs involving a ball, children returned to the class and joined in without question. The fact that there were only 3 actions involved provided the ‘chunked-down’ approach often needed to encourage all children to join in, knowing they could learn the actions very quickly without too much extra effort, and the singing of course went hand in hand due to the enjoyment of the game.

Conversely, too difficult a song/game and there was notably a sense of disengagement from both song and game. Two examples of this were:

1) A complex cup passing game (notably also with a complex melody for this class). Within one class, all children who could potentially ‘opt out’ and remove themselves from the lesson due to their additional needs chose to do so. They rejoined for the next game if it more appealing and achievable for them (ie. within their range of possible achievement without extensive extra effort being made). It should be noted that this particular game proved difficult for most of the class, but the others in the class were able to engage with the difficulties and attempt to reach the final goal. For the children with ASN, the overriding thought of not being able to reach this goal came into play and resulted in removal from the game before so called ‘failure’ could become a possibility.

2) A song which was already known to the class (Fuzzy Wuzzy), partnered with a more complex partner clapping game. The added difficulty of the clapping pattern, alongside the expected interaction with other children in the class (discussed further below) proved too much for some children in the group, who again removed themselves so as not to ‘fail’ in the task.  Here, however, the class teacher stepped in to support and with her one-to-one interaction with one child managed to encourage him to join in and continued to support him round the whole circle (imitating the actions beside him). This gave the child enough sense of security to continue in the song and game, knowing he had this support at hand. In the end, he ended up very much enjoying the game.

Where possible, I tried to present the instructions for songs and games in very small, manageable chunks to the class, therefore avoiding an overwhelming amount of information for the class to process. Frequently, this was enough to ease the sense of a game being too difficult to even attempt, although on occasion first reactions to the difficulty of a game were often enough to deter from participation at all.

The pupil interaction required for the game

It was noted that on several occasions, clapping games which required direct pupil interaction with other students caused some children to disengage from the lesson. Conversely, when the teacher was available to participate and support the child, this often proved enough to encourage the child to take part, knowing that they had the support of the teacher to help them through. Furthermore, this helped the children to remain on task and avoid any additional distractions to the children within the learning environment. Given the substantial proportion of social, emotional and behavioral needs within the classes, this scenario can of course be expected. A possible difficulty to trust peers (and teacher alike) could hinder the participation of students in games like these, which require a very direct, human contact approach.

The timing and length of the lesson

The length of the sessions was also of relevance to outcome of the learning. 45 minutes was the average session length, which upon reflection was too long for some pupils with additional needs. However, it should be noted that when a session ended with a ‘favourite’ song, students who had previously chosen to remove themselves from the lesson chose to rejoin the class for this ‘desired’ activity.

Additionally, children with additional needs can often find it difficult to sustain long periods of non-movement. Whilst most of the lessons naturally involved a great deal of movement, the children with ASN often found it challenging to remain focused and attentive during, for example, repetitive guessing games, where the same idea was repeated multiple times, without huge scope for change or movement within the game. Conversely, more active games or games with a ball automatically required more focus and added an element of possible change/unexpectedness, which could prove enough to keep the attention of these children.


Final thoughts

On a recent return to the school to visit the class now receiving their 12-week input through the National Youth Choir of Scotland, I met one child in the corridor - a child who would frequently choose not to take part in the lessons earlier this year. The greeting from this child was one of sheer delight, and was promptly followed by the remark - “I love that Tony Chestnut song we sang”, after which the child began to sing and perform the actions linked to the song - completely unprompted and with such enthusiasm and joy. Another child is receiving extra music input as a ‘reward’ for positive attitude and behavior.  Despite the difficulties encountered and the additional challenges for the children in learning environments such as these when testing the game, for me there is a positive outcome from the experience even if a child has taken part and loved just one song and game. This one experience, as shown above, can prove enough to remain in a child’s thoughts and encourage them not only to sing and play, but to engage with others. With the right approach, I believe that singing games have the power to reach out and enhance the learning and lives of everyone, no matter what barriers may stand in the way.

 Sources and further reading

Allan, J (2013) Inclusion for All? In Bryce, T.G.K, Humes, W.M, Gillies, D. and

Kennedy, A. (Eds.), Scottish Education. Fourth Edition: Referendum (pp. 787-795). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Common Space -

The Scottish Parliament -

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation -

West Lothian Council, 2018 -

Scottish Executive (2004). A Curriculum for Excellence - The Curriculum Review        

Group -

HM Government (2000). Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000-

HM Government (2004). Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 -

Scottish Government (2009). The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Acts 2004 & 2009: Consultation on Changes to the Secondary Legislation and Supporting Children's Learning Code of Practice -

Education Scotland


CEM - Centre for Evaluating and Monitoring, “Working with Difficult Children in Primary Schools

Barnardos -