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Free music scheme "boosting confidence" of pupils in previously troubled Derry

A unique musical education scheme is giving thousands of primary pupils across the previously troubled city access to free weekly music sessions with specialist tutors.

As part of Derry-Londonderry’s reign as UK City of Culture 2013, more than 7,000 pupils aged between three and eight are taking part in the Musical Pathway to Learning (MPL) programme.

Professional music tutors visit each primary school once a week for a 30 minute session, using songs, games and rhymes to introduce pupils in the city - which was one of the most divided during the Troubles - to a world of music.

Teachers say the programme, based on music education practices from European countries like Finland and Hungary, has had a transformative effect, boosting their confidence, communication and literacy skills. It is bringing people together, they say.

In fact, in an assessment of the first cohort through the programme in April, 100 per cent of the 83 teachers surveyed said it was beneficial to pupils and had helped improve their development.

It is also an excellent professional development opportunity for teachers. So far more than 200 have been trained and given specialist materials to augment their teaching.

Eamonn Devlin, principal of St. Patrick’s Primary School, Derry’s largest primary school with almost 800 pupils, said he is seeing many positive side effects in his pupils.

“It’s something different that the children really enjoy,” he said. "It is stimulating, there are catchy tunes and rhymes, there’s a lot of movement.

“When they go back to the classroom the teachers say they return in a very calm and focused manner, ready to learn. "Their listening and concentration skills have improved markedly.”

The programme has actually been running in schools across Northern Ireland’s Western Education and Library Board since 2008, but schools have had to pay.

But as part of the City of Culture celebrations it is being run for free in Derry’s schools until the end of the year, part of the wider Music Promise programme that includes community music workshops and a stage musical performed by pupils from Derry’s two special schools.

But principals like Mr Devlin would like it to continue.

“I feel it’s a really worthwhile, valuable programme, but to fund it ourselves for the nine classes we currently have would cost around £6,000 a year, and we can’t afford that,” he said.

“I feel strongly it should become an entitlement for schools because it is making a difference and it is something worthwhile.”

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