Category Archives: School Improvement

The Value of Music Education

Me playing the bagpipes at Christmas for the family, aged 10.

I know this isn’t a digital post – in fact, it is a personal one.  I will post a short digital blog tomorrow, but after my various concerts this week I have been reflecting quite considerably on how music has allowed me to get to the position that I am in.

Some of the comments over the week such as ‘please don’t tag my school as I might be bullied’ when doing posts about our learning and ‘my son’s dyslexia is really benefiting from his time in choir’ have made me really want to make this post.

In this blog, amongst other things, I want to share my experience as a young boy learning music; singing with school choirs and mixed choirs, and bullying that came with that; finding out about the National Boys Choir and then progressing through NYCOS to singing across the world with them; before studying at the RSAMD and setting out to be a teacher with a goal to bring music to children.

I don’t normally do personal blogs, but today I really want to just describe my journey into teaching and how music truly shaped who I am today.  I hope that this post inspires you to find avenues for your children – especially boys – into music as I wouldn’t be where I am without it, and I know that I speak for many people and not just myself when I say that.

Why is music important?

Have you ever tried watching a scene from a movie that has had the music cut?

In fact, rather than me talking about it, just ‘enjoy’ the below clip from Jurassic park with no music.

The fact of the matter is that music is part of life, and educating ourselves to appreciate, enjoy and create music is vital.  Many studies can be found that show the scientific and educational value of music – that’s not what I want to look at today though.  Today, I just want to let you all see how music changed my life in the hopes that it will change other lives in the same way.

The Bullies vs Boys

So, I am going to write from the point of view of a boy.  Not only because I am a (sort of grown up) boy, but also because boys are the most likely statistically to be put off from studying music.  In most people’s minds, there’s ‘cool’ or ‘good’ music and there’s ‘uncool’ or ‘bad’ music.  Realistically though, there is just music.  To appreciate one type of music, you should be able to appreciate (even if you don’t like) other types of music.

What I’m trying to say is that to learn music, you have to practice and join a choir or a band or get lessons or experiment.  However, some people may not ‘like’ the type of music that you are learning or studying, and so pick on you for it.  As a child, I studied singing, flute and bagpipes (and dabbled in guitar and piano).  It was my choice, and I wasn’t pushed into it.  However, I nearly stopped many times due to the incredible bullying that I received for it.  I was targeted with homophobic language, physically beaten regularly, and it was more often that I would be addressed as ‘singer boy’ or ‘nerd’ when homophobic language wasn’t being used.  I am only 28 years old just now, so we are not talking many decades ago – in fact, all of this happened within the last 10-15 years.  I was driven to self harm, drink and smoke to try and seem ‘cool’ at that age – and why?  Singing in school choirs, as one of only two boys, in an otherwise girl dominated environment actually nearly stopped me from singing all together.  The other boy did stop.

I am not saying that girls aren’t the target of this sort of hate for studying music, I know that’s not true, but again we need to encourage more boys to develop their creativity.

National Boys Choir

It was just at the time that I was going to stop singing all together – when I was at the lowest point of my young life, in 2002, that a flyer for a new ‘boys only’ choir came to our school.  The National Boys Choir; part of the National Youth Choir Of Scotland.  I liked this idea; a place where I could sing and be myself and make friends with boys that had similar interests.  If you look closely, you might even spot me in the picture – second boy in the back row from the left.

Sure enough, I made my lifelong friends in NBC and later in NYCOS too – friends which I still hold dear, and I was able to get a music scholarship to Lomond School where I got away from the bullies.  My story was lucky in that sense – I kept going.  Many didn’t though, and I know that lots of the boys who came to NBC still had the issue of bullying to contend with and did eventually stop singing.

The National Youth Choir Of Scotland

As I progressed through NBC and NYCOS, I was given so many opportunities.  Firstly, and most importantly was the musical education that I received.  NYCOS use Kodaly methodology to teach music through fun and active games.  You can find out more about the NYCOS approach here.  As well as a first class musical education, I was able to travel literally all over the world singing with the choir.

From touring Germany, Hungary, Central Europe, Chicago and Wyoming; I sang in the Royal Albert Hall, had solos in the Mozart Requiem in the Cathedral in Vienna that Mozart was married.  In Chicago, I was one of the choir who sang in front of 15’000 people for their Independence Day concert.  I’ve worked with world class conductors, and the most inspirational choral director – Christopher Bell.

Even though I was not a professional musician, music had shaped my life, and I took it to the next step when I was accepted into the RSAMD (now RCS) to study on the BMus Singing course.


Even though I was studying music, teaching was where I wanted to go.  I wanted to make a difference and give children the opportunity that I had.  I worked with several choirs, including Coisir nam Balach, the RJs, Helensburgh Dorian Choir and even won some prestigious awards with Govan Gaelic Choir.  However, the choir that has given me the most satisfaction is NYCOS East Dunbartonshire Boys Choir, which I started in 2012.  Giving boys the safe environment to sing that I was blessed with a decade before was huge to me, and I have been so lucky to watch the boys grow and successfully apply for the National Boys Choir, with one this year applying for main NYCOS.

These boys are lucky as I know that they are getting an incredible music education in a world where music is becoming a novelty and very expensive.  With music cuts, I do worry about the future of music.  However, there are places out there for our children.  Others can have the same chance I did.  NYCOS have 14 regional choirs based around Scotland.  You can find them all here.  My one, NYCOS East Dunbartonshire Boys (NYCOS ED), and the NYCOS Perth Boys Choir  (NYCOS PBC) are exclusively for boys, whilst the other twelve are mixed choirs, but all put a huge emphasis on music education as well as being a ‘choir’.

If you have children that you see moving away from music, I couldn’t recommend them enough.

This year NYCOS ED and PBS teamed up and sang in front of approximately 8000 people as part of the Edinburgh Light Night celebration, in addition to performing their own concerts.  As well as that, they have all been developing their musicianship skills on a weekly basis with highly trained and inspirational staff.

My choir is on Twitter and on Facebook, so do check out some of the work that we do.

Final thought

Music changed my life.

I truly believe that without the musical education that I had, I wouldn’t be a teacher.  In fact, I might have never left the school in which I was the target of bullying.  I truly don’t know what would have happened, and I’m not sure I really want to know.

Music saved me and music made me, and even though in school my focus is all things digital, that is because I am in a school that already has a huge focus on music. The opportunities for the children in my school are already great.  Were I in a different school without such a push for music, I know my focus would be on making it a priority.


Creating a School Website for FREE!

Welcome to the ‘Example School Website’!

Today, we are tackling something that I’m asked a lot – how do I create a school website on GlowScot blogs.  It is free and lots of schools are doing it.  For an example of a school website created for free using GlowScot blogs, look no further than my own school’s website.

This week is more of a vlog than blog, as I have created 9 short videos to help you learn how to create your own school website.  Each video is annotated so that you don’t have to listen to my voice!

I do hope that they’re helpful.

Have a great week, and as always please tweet me any feedback/suggestions to @mrfeistsclass


1. Getting Started with Glow Blogs


2. Customising Your Website


3. Adding Pages to Your Website


4. Creating Drop-Down Menus


5. Adding Content to Pages


6. Add a ‘Latest News’ page


7. Adding and Editing Widgets


8. Add Your School Twitter Feed


9. Make Your Website Public

Starting Your own Digital Leaders Team

Starting your own ‘Digital Leaders’ Team

Pupil Council, Eco Committee, JRSO, etc. – schools have so many different forums now for children to be involved in their school community and have their voice. Each of these forums can be transformational to the life and running of the school whilst benefiting learners.  However, if used as an ‘add-on’ or a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, they can also be a monumental waste of time.

I have been fortunate to run a very successful team of digital leaders in Mosspark Primary, known as the Tech Team, and I hope that this article will let you see, not only the benefits of having a Tech Team, but how to set up a digital leaders’ team with a similar model and run it so that it has a measurable impact in raising attainment through digital learning.  Please note that there are so many examples of great digital leaders’ teams out there, and by accessing professional learning networks, such as Twitter, you will be continually inspired in the running of your own digital leaders.  I would also like to point out that there are official programs for children to be involved in, including childnet’s digital leader training program, that will not only train your children, but allow you access to a wealth of resources and a community of other digital leaders.

Getting Started

The main problem with getting started is identifying a member of staff who will take forward the digital leaders’ program within the school.  Ideally, that person will be you – the person reading this – as that person must have the passion to take it forward.  I mentioned other similar ‘committees’ that are held in schools: often are these run by a member of staff that has been ‘given’ it to run.  There are so many examples of great pupil councils and great eco committees that truly have an impact in their school, but similarly there are many examples of those that do not.  If your school is going to invest in a Tech Team, you must make sure that someone is willing and able to commit the time needed.


Identifying children that are not only keen but dedicated is crucial.  We run on a ‘no opt-out’ basis: that is to say, once you’re in, you’re in it for the year.  When I’m pitching the Tech Team to the P5-7s, I make sure that I tell them about the ‘bad’ stuff and skim over the ‘good’ stuff.  Rather than saying ‘we’ll be going on trips to…’ I say you will be giving up a lunch time each week and sometimes class time too.  Rather than saying ‘we’ll be learning about really cool…’ I say ‘we’ll be presenting to classes and assemblies’.  I need to make sure that the children that put themselves forward really want to do it and won’t be put off after joining by the commitment involved.

After pitching the idea, the children complete an application form.  I always like children to be able to see what an application process for a ‘real world job’ would look like.  The application forms should be simple but give a good idea of what the learner thinks they will be able to ‘get out of’ being in the team.  I always set a deadline on applications, and never accept any after the date (no exceptions), again, mirroring the real-world application process and also making sure that the children applying are truly committed.

Finally, I interview all of the children that have completed the application process to try to determine who would benefit the most from being a member of the Tech Team.

I find that either 10 or 15 members in a Team is perfect, as you will see in the ‘duties’ section.


‘Pupil voice’ and ‘children leading learning’ are the two biggest parts of a Tech Team.  The first meeting should be to identify roles within the team.  In the same way that a good pupil council will run with children chairing and leading meetings, a Tech Team should be no different.  In the first meeting, the children learn about the roles of a chair-person, vice-chairperson, secretary and vice-secretary and then vote on the person that they feel would be best to take each role.  This is of course entirely optional but does form a huge part of how my Tech Team runs, as, prior to a monthly meeting, the chairperson, secretary (and sometimes vices) meet with me to set the agenda for the coming main meeting and voice any concerns that have been raised.

Following this initial meeting, we then have two types of meeting:

– Monthly ‘main’ meeting

This meeting is facilitated by the teacher but run by the chairperson and secretary, both of whom are assisted by their respective ‘vice’.  This meeting runs to the agenda set previously, and minutes are taken by the secretary.  The main purpose of the meeting is to outline the schedule for the coming month, decide on the skills to develop over the month, troubleshoot any issues, and look at timetabling of duties.

– Weekly skills development sessions

Weekly skills development sessions are always held at a specified lunch time each week and run for 45 minutes.  The children get a 15-minute early lunch so that they can be there as I feel that 30 minutes is too short.  It does however mean that either I take lunch to the meeting or miss it.

In the monthly meeting, children identify the skills that they want to develop over the month.  I feel that in order for children to truly lead their own learning and have their voice, they should choose what it is that they want to learn and get out of the Tech Team.  Each week, I then train the children in the skill(s) that they have identified – for example, last year, the children said that they wanted to learn about green screen and stop-motion animation for their first month.  This being the case, we learned how to create movies with green screen in one session, learned how to create a stop-motion animation in the second and then learned how to create a stop-motion animation that incorporated green screen in the third.

There will be times that you aren’t confident in teaching the area/skill that the children want to learn about.  In these cases, I would suggest trying to book a STEM ambassador to come out to work with the group, seeking advice on Twitter/other PLN, or using YouTube tutorials to either teach you or to do the teaching for you.  Remember to document any CPD that you do in this way.

The weekly skills development sessions are, in my opinion, the most powerful aspect of a school Tech Team, as they are the time that you will see the biggest difference in your learners.

Events and MS Teams

It is important to note that sometimes you will need to dictate a skills development session; however, try to restrict this to a maximum of one per month.  Say, for example, Safer Internet Day is coming up and your team has been asked to present lessons or an assembly, you may need to give up one session to prepare for it.  Do make sure that the preparation is done in one session only, otherwise your Team will be at risk of becoming a teacher-led experience which almost entirely defeats the purpose of it.  In Mosspark Primary School, our Tech Team have a Microsoft Group that uses Teams to communicate.  I upload a skeleton presentation with title pages, for the children to research and put in the information and any media necessary.  The children get control of the design and transitions of the presentation, and even organise who will say what.  By using Microsoft Teams, it enables the children to communicate via the ‘comments’ section, and in real time collaborate on the same document either in the meeting or after at home.  I set the children a deadline by which the presentation is to be finished and am on hand for the initial meeting and at a few other times that the children can use as a drop-in session.  Otherwise, the children are left to work on their own.  On the deadline, I then review the PowerPoint and feed back to the group on the group chat prior to the assembly or lesson.

I have scheduled a blog post in a fortnight for a more in-depth look at setting up teams, but it is well worth looking into activating your members’ Glow Logins as soon as you set up your own Digital Leaders’ team.


The first change I always make when assisting with an ICT program is ridding the school of class logins.  Frankly, they are a waste of time.  With infant classes and even older classes, why waste valuable lesson time logging out of a previous class’ session, sometimes even having to reboot computers and then logging in.  With younger classes it’s frankly absurd, and in the older classes is just a complete waste of time.  In place of class logins, I always switch to a single school login.  In our school, it is the responsibility of the Tech Team to log on to all of the computers in the ICT suite during registration time on their timetabled day (they let their teacher know that they’re in at 9am, and head straight to the ICT suite).  The reason that I like my team to consist of either 10 or 15 members is due to my being a little OCD about the duties timetable.  Having 10 or 15 members in your team means that you always have either 2 or 3 children timetabled on duties per day, and the duties are thus:

  • 9am: Log on to ICT suite computers and hand out class iPad to each class
  • 2:45pm: Collect in class iPad from each class for charging and secure storage and remind class in ICT suite to log off at the end of the day.

I have found that the children do take their duties very seriously, and it has given some of our children a real sense of responsibility.


The main reason that digital leader teams are formed though is to help raise attainment in digital learning across the school, and for children to really lead learning.  In my mind, leading learning is not simply ‘presenting’ at an assembly or in a lesson – that’s an EXA outcome.  In our school, leading is taking forward learning.

Each term, our staff work with a GCC ‘Improving our Classrooms’ model of moderation, whereby they receive training in an area of digital learning.  Over the course of the term, they then use that aspect of digital learning (e.g. creating movies with iMovie, or coding with with their classes to feed back at the end of the term the impact that it has had.  Often though, after only one training session, all staff aren’t always confident to teach a lesson using a program that they’ve only seen once – which is understandable and will be the same in all establishments.  By having the Tech Team, it means that staff are able to request Tech Team support.

The process for this is threefold:

  • Two or three team members are identified to work with the staff member. These members are picked fairly in order that it’s not always the same children helping, and to ensure that members aren’t missing out on aspects of their other learning.  The members then meet quickly with the staff member to discuss how they can help and find out what the subject is, so that they can prepare.
  • If the Tech Team members are not sure about the area in question, they ask me for a skills development session in that area, otherwise they set a date to go into the class to either teach the lesson (I’d normally support with the planning / running of this), team teach with the class teacher, or support the children and troubleshoot once the teacher has introduced the concept. The choice is entirely what the teacher feels that his/her children would benefit the most from.
  • The Tech Team members feedback to me and the Team about what went well and what they would do differently next time.

The trickiest thing for this process to work is for staff to come onboard with asking children for support.  I’m very fortunate that my colleagues have been fantastic and have really embraced using Tech Team (even for areas that they are comfortable with, but rather as additional support for the children).  This has had such a positive impact on the team members and their confidence but has also really boosted the profile of the Tech Team, and digital learning, within the school.  However, in talking with colleagues from other establishments, often staff have been reluctant to engage with the tech team in this sense, and so they haven’t been getting used well.  It is important though, in setting up a team of digital leaders, that you do monitor how they are being used and encourage staff to invite them in to support with the use of iPads and computers.


I could write so much more about the digital leader teams, as they have truly transformed the way I view the topic of ‘children leading learning’ and have had such an impact in my current school; however, time is pressing for the publish time!

I’d strongly suggest looking at as many examples of good practice as you can to get ideas and inspiration for setting up your own team.  Check out Mosspark Primary and my own Twitter feed for regular digital literacy posts, but especially follow the #MPTechTeam hashtag to see the type of things that the Mosspark Primary School Tech Team have been doing.

I do hope that you’ve found this post helpful.  Please feel free to tweet me about any ideas/suggestions for future posts, and if you have any comments/questions about this one.

Thanks for reading,



N.b. all images used in this post have been of the 2017-18 Mosspark Tech Team.  You can find the original images and more information using #MPTechTeam on Twitter.