Open Schools Orchestra

1st January 2017

Mrs Helen Campbell

Head of School

Mr Adam Taylor


Open Schools Orchestra


Towards the end of the Summer Term 2016 we were approached by Steven Hawker from the Cornwall Music Service Trust about the possibility of us piloting a scheme, which had been running in Bristol for young people with special needs, called Open Schools Orchestra (OSO). This is now a National movement that was established to create opportunities for young people with learning difficulties to work together to create and perform music. Very few special schools have orchestras and ‘Open Up Music’ ( developed strategies that enable people with learning disabilities to access and play musical instruments together with the aim of forming orchestras.


Adam Taylor has attended training from the OSO and Steve made the commitment to come into school this academic year for one day per week to work with Adam to deliver the project to some of our pupils. The project began in the autumn term. We identified pupils who showed an interest in music but who also had either difficulty interacting with others or who had very low self-esteem. The aim was to enable each pupil to develop their music skills but also to become aware of others to the extent that they were able to create and perform music together.


The strategy involves Steve and Adam working with the pupils on a one-to-one basis to observe which instruments interest the pupils. For pupils who become anxious about playing instruments Open Up Music have created amazing apps for ‘i pads’ that enable pupils to create sounds from classical pieces of music which they can put together to create their own pleasing pieces.


By the end of the autumn term all of the pupils involved in the project were creating music either as individuals or as groups. They show cased their achievements in a ‘show and tell’ session to pupils who enjoy making music. It was very informal but the performances were fabulous. Unlikely combinations of pupils joined together to perform pieces of music that they had created based on classical pieces which ran as themes through their work. Pupils showed extreme courage. They all demonstrated a willingness to persevere and to accept each other, to refine their work and to perform complete pieces by relying on each other rather than on the staff.


There have been other memorable moments. Three girls began by working one to one with Adam and Steve on the same piece of music. Gradually they were brought together but this has proved really difficult for them, they were not able to interact or pick up cues from each other. A significant turning point happened when the staff played along with the girls and gradually faded themselves out whilst the girls managed to continued to play. The girls began to show that they realized they were working with each other, they made eye contact, managed to sustain the tune and the timing and without speaking arranged to finish together. This represents significant progress for these girls, not just because they made music but because they interacted with each other.


We have four boys who have jelled together successfully, despite being from different peer groups and having very social abilities, they all have complex learning difficulties and significant problems with communication and interaction. Through their music they show a complete acceptance of each other; they have learnt how to take turns, listen and support each other. They are creating, negotiating and generating ideas together, and like the girls this represents outstanding progress.


It is anticipated that the Pencalenick Orchestra will perform at the Hall for Cornwall later in the year. There may be the opportunity for some of these pupils to join the South West Open Youth Orchestra, which aims to bring more young people with disabilities together.


It will be interesting to see how this work impacts on the young participants in other subjects and social situations. We are really grateful for this opportunity, whilst it is enabling the pupils it is also helping Adam to develop the Music curriculum and the pedagogy.


Pencalenick School and the Cornwall Music Service Trust is grateful for funding from Youth Music, and Cornwall Music Education Hub that has made this project possible, and hopes this will be the first of many such projects in Cornwall.