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At the heart of English folk

Why's learning about English folk music, dance and other arts important for young people?

Ahead of the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s (EFDSS) national showcase conference, From Archives to Action! Making folk arts relevant in schools and beyond we asked children and young people who have participated in The Full English schools programme, as well as a trainee educator and teachers whose classed were involved, how they have found the experience and why exposure to folk arts at a young age is so valuable.

On Wednesday 25 June at Town Hall, Birmingham more than 500 school children and young people from 19 schools across English will showcase folk song, music, dance or drama performances, demonstrating the successful use of folk arts to enhance learning in the school curriculum (key stages 1 – 5).

Frances Watt, Learning Manager for The Full English project, explains why she thinks learning about English traditional folk music, dance and other arts in schools is important:

“When we started The Full English projects with schools and young people we were motivated by the wealth of folk songs, tunes, dances and customs contained in the digital archive collections and keen to encourage creative ways of getting this material back in to the communities it had come from.

“The material is crammed full of stories that can feed the imagination, songs that express a huge breadth of emotions and expressions, music that is both accessible and challenging, dances suitable for all ages, abilities and communities, and details of customs that illustrate some of the rich heritage and culture across the British Isles. All of this is relevant in young people’s lives out of school, and in their wider communities. Within formal education settings, folk material can be used to link lots of different subjects and disciplines together, and provide rich content for topics and themes across a range of ages and abilities.

“These songs and dances are windows into real lives and real experiences.”


Ahead of our national showcase conference, we have spoken to some of the people involved to hear their thoughts about English traditional folk arts:

“I hoped The Full English would be a way of bringing local history alive in a relevant and purposeful way, but it surpassed my expectations. It reached across the curriculum. It improved the standard of imaginative writing. It prompted us to start a community band. And it definitely deepened the children’s love of history.

“Songs are a way of passing on stories, anecdotes, details about what people did and what was important to them. They taught the children about source material, about oral history, about gathering evidence. And the fact that the material came from the local area gave the children a richer understanding of themselves and their place in history, how they fit in. They could see themselves as a link in a chain that stretches back generations. That has given them another strand in their sense of identity and a renewed respect for the community.”
Ben Stephenson, Head of Marton Primary School in Lincolnshire who took part in The Full English project


Thoughts from Sixth Form students at Impington Village College, Cambridge, who took part in The Full English project:

“We do a lot of contemporary dance … and it's good to do something different and learn something else, to have a different perspective on things and to give a bit of variety to what we do.”
Student 1

“In my village, Little Downham, a lot of folk dances have some form there so that made me so much more interested in it.”
Student 2

“When you say folk music I would automatically imagine an old man sitting on his porch playing his guitar, chewing some straw… but it's more than that. You can't fully judge something until you've done it or seen it but you still do in a way. You have your own idea of what it's about, but now I have done it I can judge it and it's good – I really enjoy the music. It's gone from me thinking ‘oh yeah na na na’ to ‘yeah yeah yeah’. It's good.”
Student 3


“I’ve been working at Queensbridge (a senior school in Kings Heath, Birmingham) with 110 year 7’s, their drama, art and music departments and The Full English team of John Kirkpatrick and Amy Douglas. The students’ topic was Canals, allowing us to explore broadside ballads printed in Birmingham and traditional stories, including The Cruel Ships Carpenter, and tunes collected from the West Midlands.

“As a complete contrast I have also been able to work at Allens Croft Primary with Bev and Ray Langton, which was fascinating. We were working with a completely open brief and the number activities they worked through, combining local awareness with curriculum links and source material, was just excellent.

“…the most valuable experience here was … the way [The Full English team] worked together and completely captivated a class of year two’s, giving them the enviable opportunity of a five-week whistle-stop tour of the folk arts."
Beth Gifford, trainee educator on The Full English schools programme


“…The Full English is having a tangible impact on both the curriculum and musical enrichment activities as well as raising the profile of both folk music in general and the new digital online resources.”
Edwin Holmes, Head of Music, Durham Johnston School (secondary)


“I remember playing [playground singing] games like that at school [in Woking, Surrey] but they don’t do it now. Such a shame – it shows you they still love it today. The children have enjoyed it so much!”
Aizmi Iqbal, Bilingual translator and English Language Teacher at St John with St Mark Primary School, Bury, took part in The Full English project


“I really enjoyed doing folk, because you know when you focus on doing more modern stuff and you hear ‘folk dancing’ you don’t really get into it much, but when you actually start doing the practical aspect of it you start getting into it, and I think it’s really cool.”
Pupil from Horizon Community College, Barnsley, who took part in The Full English project


Why do you think it is important for young people to learn about English traditional folk arts?

Tweet us @TheEFDSS using #thefullenglish hashtag

Find out more about the conference
Check out the conference schedule and speakers

The Full English learning programme
Look at a selection of photos from The Full English school projects, so far


What is The Full English?

The Full English is a ground-breaking digital archive of early 20th century English folk arts manuscripts; a nationwide learning programme of workshops, lectures, creative projects with 18 schools, as well as training and community events in all nine English regions; and a commission to folk artist Fay Hield to write new music and arrangements inspired by the collections that make up the digital archive collections.

A grant of £585,400 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £11,000 from the National Folk Music Fund, given in memory of former EFDSS President Ursula Vaughan Williams, and support from The Folklore Society and the English Miscellany Folk Dance Group has made it possible for the world to see these riches online and for thousands of people in England to get involved in an array of projects, giving these remarkable materials back to the communities from where they were originally collected.


National Youth Folk Ensemble

National Youth Folk Ensemble


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