Turning learning up to 11 at Latitude music festival

24th July 2015 at 01:00
Pupils at its first schools day enjoy beatboxing and the Bard

The day before her school trip, Katie Jenkins was approached by a group of concerned parents. "Where are our children going to be?" they said. "Will they be mixing with drunkards?"

Ms Jenkins laughs. "They hear `festival' and they think certain things," she says. "Living locally, you hear stories. Drunken stories. Thefts. Pickpockets. Intimidating stories."

Last week, the deputy headteacher of Benhall St Mary's Primary School in Saxmundham, Suffolk, took her Year 5 and 6 pupils up the road to spend the day at major music festival Latitude alongside 35,000 revellers.

Latitude celebrated its 10th anniversary this month. To mark the occasion, the festival launched its first ever schools day, opening its fairy-light-bedecked glades and fabric-strewn woodlands to 350 children from 12 primaries in Suffolk and Norfolk.

So, in a cordoned-off area beyond the paddock for spray-painted sheep and the stage where Noel Gallagher and Manic Street Preachers will later be performing, uniformed children take part in a range of activities.

Here, Ms Jenkins' pupils are learning beatboxing. "Say the letter `B' like you would in phonics," the instructor begins.

"Buh," the children reply.

Half an hour later, the entire class is imitating bass drums, cymbals and snare drums. "We're at a festival - want to have a bit of a rave?" the instructor says.

"Creativity in the classroom now is so difficult to fit in," says Ms Jenkins, as the children dance to the instructor's beatbox rhythm. "Beatboxing is something we'd never do in school."

Goblins and weasels

In the next-door tent, pupils from Corton Primary School in Lowestoft are having a go at Have A Go At Shakespeare. A man dressed in hose brings out a pillory (stocks, he informs the children, hold only feet; the pillory holds hands and head). Children take turns standing in it, while the others hurl Shakespearean insults at them.

"Wicked, evil weasel!" they yell. "Vicious, sweaty goblin!" There is a pause. "Where are the tomatoes?" someone asks.

While her pupils are being pilloried, teaching assistant Julia Farthing relaxes on a hay bale. Her headteacher heard about the Latitude schools day while researching tickets for herself. In fact, most Corton staff are one-time festival-goers.

"Coming here previously, you'd veer towards the music," Ms Farthing says. "Now we can't, so you just hear it in the background. But it gives the children an insight into what a music festival is like. A lot of them have no experience of that kind of thing. It can be expensive."

Whereas visiting families need to include at least one adult paying pound;77.50 for a day or pound;192.50 for the weekend, schools pay pound;11 per pupil. Their teachers accompany them for free.

This affordability is a key element of the day, according to Sharon Reuben, Latitude's schools coordinator. "Most of the children have never been here, which really shocked me," she says. "You get a culture of exclusion."

When the idea for the schools day was mooted, Ms Reuben sent for a copy of the primary national curriculum ("A 110-page document," she says. "That was a terrifying day") and looked for activities that would complement it. "If you take a theatre show, something arts-based and something science-based, you start to build up a programme," she says.

As the Shakespeare activity finishes, Ms Farthing shepherds her pupils towards the toilet blocks. "There are no queues," she says. "There used to be just one or two toilets. I don't know what's happened to festivals nowadays."

Fired up for science

Nearby, within listening distance of the waterfront stage, pupils from Wetheringsett Primary School in Ipswich are pouring vinegar and bicarbonate of soda into a papier macirc;ch volcano, in order to simulate an eruption.

"I know Latitude's a music festival," says 11-year-old Jade Hammond, between eruptions. "So I thought it would be more music - listening to bands. But then I thought the school probably wouldn't do that. It would have to be something else."

Her teacher Kelly Hammond, who is also her mother, nods. "I was definitely concerned at first," she says. "Coming on a school trip to a music festival."

Many schools expressed similar fears, Ms Reuben says. By the end of the day, however, several teachers are taking their pupils out of the children's area and over to the main stages to listen to the music.

"We said to them, `Don't take them into cabaret or comedy'," she says. "But, living in this area, you live and breathe Latitude at this time of year. And now they feel a part of it."

`It's not all music'

Eleven-year-old Chloe Utting had not heard of Latitude before coming to the festival's schools day. "I wasn't sure what it was," she says.

She and her fellow pupils at Corton Primary School in Lowestoft were told that they would be going on a school trip to a music festival.

"I expected to be doing activities all based around music," she says. "But, even though it's a music festival, we don't have to do all music. I liked the arts and crafts bit.

"It's actually really fun. I'll possibly ask my family to take me again. But I'm not sure they'd like to come."

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