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Britney gives pupils a break

Lunchtime is filled with disco divas thanks to a classroom karaoke machine. Adi Bloom reports

"My loneliness is killing me. I must confess, I still believe ..."

Paige Williams is singing her heart out into a large black microphone. As a group of small girls gathers around her, the 10-year-old raises her arms and twirls on the spot.

"... When I'm not with you I lose my mind. Give me a sign. Hit me baby, one more time."

For the children at Penyrheol primary, in Swansea, the hits of Britney Spears are a regular part of the school day.

Over Christmas, headteacher Alison Williams agreed to buy pupils a karaoke machine to use during breaktimes. Now, each lunchtime, they strut, spin and croon their way through a series of pop hits, past and present. Favourites include Britney, J Lo, S Club and songs from the hit movie Grease.

The machine is placed inside a classroom, where two Year 6 pupils act as music monitors. The microphone cord is passed through the window for pupils with aspirations to popstardom to sing and dance along.

"I've always wanted to be a popstar, so this will help me," said Paige.

"Popstars have microphones and so do we. But we wear school uniform and popstars don't wear many clothes."

Her 10-year-old classmate Jade Garner agrees: "It does make us feel like a pop group. But all the infants get in the way when we're showing them the dances. That doesn't happen on Top of the Pops."

The karaoke machine was introduced to Penyrheol as part of an initiative to provide pupils with structured activities during break-times. "Many children find playtime the most challenging part of the day," said Ms Williams. "It's busy and noisy, so it can be quite daunting.

"This can have a significant impact on learning in the afternoon. A lot of lesson-time is spent sorting out problems. But, if they've had a lovely lunchtime, there are no anxieties."

She initially decided to introduce a range of playground toys, including scooters and pogo-sticks, to encourage co-operation and group play.

But the karaoke machine has had the greatest impact. Pupils' confidence and self-esteem have increased, with even older boys willing to join in.

School dinner lady Melanie Devoy has seen a marked difference in behaviour.

"Children are happier now and better-behaved," she said. "It makes my job much easier."

Assorted disco anthems are pumped into the dining hall while pupils eat and Ms Devoy has occasionally been seen to "shake her stuff" over the bangers and mash.

"When we join in, the pupils look at us with a new respect," she said.

"They think we're on the same wavelength so it makes us more approachable."

But Laura Jones, 10, said: "The dinner ladies would be hysterical on Top of the Pops. They wiggle their bottoms and wave their arms and twirl around.

"If you've had a boring playtime, you just feel it's a boring day. But with music, you feel it's a fun day. It's easier to work in the afternoons, and you look forward to coming back into school the next day. It's groovy."

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