Choir joins megastar on his mission to Mars

Pupils sing on track to be beamed back from red planet

Richard Vaughan

Appearing on one of the year's biggest TV talent shows is something most pupils would never forget. Recording a single with a judge from the show is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But the song being beamed back from the surface of Mars is what will write the pupils into the history books.

A group of more than 30 pupils from Oasis Academy Hadley in Enfield, who form the school's gospel choir, have provided backing vocals for a new song by megastar singer-songwriter, which will be transmitted from Mars as part of a mission by Nasa.

The honour was given to the pupils after they appeared on hit show The Voice, for which is a judge. The choir performed live on the BBC programme earlier this year, providing backing vocals for contestant Jaz Ellington. The soul-singing Mr Ellington has been choir leader at the school for two years and asked the group to play a supporting role in his live rendition of The Beatles' Let It Be.

The choir was set up by Oasis Academy Hadley in an attempt to bring about behavioural and educational change through the medium of song - something that clearly struck a chord with In fact, the young vocalists made such an impact on the Black Eyed Peas band member that he asked them to help record his new single the following day.

Phil Raw, the academy's head of music and assistant principal, explained that the star approached them after the show and asked whether they wanted to be "part of something amazing".

" said he had written a song, but he didn't really tell us anything about it because it had to remain really hush-hush," Mr Raw said. "It was only after we recorded the single that we heard it was something to do with Nasa and Mars."

The rapper has since said on Graham Norton's BBC One chat show that he was approached by the US space agency to produce an exclusive song, which will be beamed back to mission control as part of an operation to land a robotic rover the size of a car on the red planet next month.

The 37-year-old has become increasingly involved in education in the US, showing a particular interest in promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. Speaking on The Graham Norton Show last month, he said: "This project with Nasa is to help inspire kids to get involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. My mission is to inspire the youth to care about education."

Mr Raw said's passion for young people really showed during the choir's day in the recording studio. "He does a lot of work in the US in education and he wanted to make the day as inclusive as possible for the students," Mr Raw said. "He gave so much of his time to the kids - he talked to them for an hour and a half and posed for photos."

The unlikely day out in the recording studio has had a galvanising effect on the student choir, which started just three years ago with only a handful of singers. The problem facing Mr Raw now, however, is how to manage his pupils' expectations.

"The number of participants is going up and it's had a really positive impact on the whole school," he said.

"But the problem is that the students think, after appearing on The Voice and recording a single, that this is normal. I have to try to point out to them that maybe this was once in a lifetime."

For now, the pupils will have to make do with performing at London's Royal Festival Hall, one of the world's foremost venues, as part of an annual choral festival.


Oasis Academy Hadley's school choir is not the first to feature in a hit song.

In the 1970s, students from Islington Green School in London sang on Pink Floyd's number one single Another Brick in the Wall.

In 1980, There's No One Quite Like Grandma, sung by St Winifred's School Choir, became Christmas number one.

The fictional pupils from BBC show Grange Hill had a surprise anti-drugs hit with Just Say No in the mid-1980s. It even took them to the US at the invitation of then First Lady Nancy Reagan, who was leading a campaign with the same name.

And Only Boys Aloud, a Welsh all-male choir for 14- to 19-year-olds, finished third in this year's Britain's Got Talent.

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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