What do Teachers, Parents and Children think?
"The difference 'Calmer Classrooms' has made in my school is nothing short of phenomenal. The incidence of disruptive behaviour has dropped, students are working more efficiently and teacher's stress levels are much improved"
Sue Bains, Head Teacher, Pensnett School of Technology, Dudley, West Midlands
Can music significantly benefit behaviour in schools? Don't discount the idea until you have listened to what Vo Fletcher has to say on the subject. Fletcher, a composer, television presenter and jazz/ folk musician who has years of experience writing and performing activity songs for young people, has created a body of music called Calmer Classrooms which, he claims, have a marked effect on pupils' sense of well-being. "Children learn and do their best work when they are relaxed," he explains. "But I mean relaxed and alert - not relaxed and sleepy. And my music played quietly in the background gets children into that receptive and creative state."
Claims like this are sure to be met with scepticism. But Fletcher has hard evidence to back up his claims. Having toyed with his ambient music for some years, he recently subjected his compositions to scrutiny from The Psychology Department at Worcester University. In a test of recall, conducted while listening to a range of musical styles, the 23 guinea pigs performed "significantly" better with Vo's music playing for them.
He has also trialled his music at several primary schools and Pensnett School of Technology in Dudley, Birmingham. There, teachers noticed that the children didn't "call out" as often, the classroom ambience improved and everybody worked better when the music was bubbling in the background. "The difference Calmer Classrooms has made is nothing short of phenomenal," says Deputy Headteacher, Sue Bains. "The incidence of disruptive behaviour has dropped, students are working more efficiently and teachers' stress levels are much improved."
The music has proved to be a particularly helpful learning aid for special needs children. At Jane Lane Special School, Walsall, West Midlands, the children, aged between 4-19 who are a key stage below the attainment levels of their contemporaries and have levels of autism and ADHD, have responded well to Fletcher's music. "It's too early to make sweeping statements but we can see the music works. We're now trying to identify how to use it most effectively," says Heather Lomas.
"We're also aware that the music has a calming effect on adults, which is important. So we'll continue to play it in the admin offices."
Nicky Sutcliffe, the Designated Special Provision Manager at Southfield Primary School, Brackley, Northamptonshire, is also using the music. We used the music in the whole school from the beginning of the academic year to improve the atmosphere throughout."
"I'd also like to experiment with the volume of the music. It needs to be played very quietly to be relaxing but it's good music in its own right - each piece has different beats and creates a slightly different mood. "
Fletcher's music are not aimed purely at schools - parents, too, are using at home to calm "stressed-out" children. Cheryl White's 11 year-old son, Lewis, has a draft statement for Aspergers, as well as dyslexic tendencies and some social trauma. Anxiety is at the root of many of his problems: he is very logical but is obsessive about his pet "projects" - notably the elimination of Saddam Hussein. Lewis now particularly enjoys listening to Calmer Classrooms whenever he has a spare minute.
"He calls it his meditation music and it seems to take away all his worries and anxieties," says Cheryl White. "It doesn't so much act as a sedative - it's more a form of temporary relaxation that allows him to get his thoughts in perspective.
"As a measure of the musics' effectiveness, Lewis has had far fewer detentions at school since starting to use the music twice a day. If we ever forget his morning dose of music then his old paranoid mad scientist self resurfaces again.
"The benefit of the evening session is that he's been able to sleep well instead of being up and down all night, plagued by nightmares."
Calmer Classrooms Music can provide schools with benefits such as:
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