Reviews: Aurora Classroom

Elinor Bishop
Monday, May 1, 2023

'A resource like this is a lifesaver for teachers who have not taught music before,' says reviewer Elinor Bishop.

 A screenshot from Aurora Classroom
A screenshot from Aurora Classroom

As many classroom teachers working in primary schools up and down the country will tell you, teaching music can be a challenge. Generalist teachers who may not be musically trained or even dislike singing or performing in public can find teaching music a real struggle. Planning can be difficult and daunting, and with resources being thin on the ground, there are many challenges to overcome. There are resources out there to teach music in the classroom, but they can be extremely costly, and in some cases not of a quality that would stand up to OFSTED inspection.

Having recently attended a professional development day hosted by Aurora Orchestra at London's Southbank, I'm now aware of a new offer – one to be extremely excited about. Aurora Classroom is an educational resource, launched in September 2022, for primary-aged children (Early Years and KS1, as well as SEND children), that looks to be a real gamechanger. For each different stage, there is a 10-week scheme of work, an activity library and an audio library. One of the first things to strike you is the quality of the resources. These don't only cover what is required by the curriculum but go beyond in terms of using professional players and a respected orchestra.

With so much information and so many options, you might expect it to be a lot of work for the classroom teacher, with the need to go through plans and rehearse every lesson. But this couldn't be further from reality. The resource has videos that allow the teacher to do anything from letting the video play to taking the whole lesson themselves. A resource like this is a lifesaver for teachers who have not taught music before, and it is set up so that teachers who may not be filled with confidence at the start of the 10 weeks, will hopefully be able to take more and more of the class themselves as the weeks go on. The Early Years, KS1 and SEND resources all centre around the Magical Toybox, which acts as a gateway to different pieces of music, activities and sounds to be explored. The videos which run alongside this, as well as being wonderful to listen to, are visually engaging, with lots of different colours and textures.

There are several features which really set Aurora Classroom apart. Every primary teacher will appreciate the frequent reminders to share learning objectives and track pupil progress. Each scheme of work comes with the learning objectives clearly marked into the different categories. For Reception children, the categories are Expressive Arts, Communication and Language, Physical Development, Understanding the World and Personal, Social and Emotional Development. These different categories beautifully demonstrate what Aurora Classroom can do – it is not just musical but cross-curricular learning.

The videos include bits of sign language and the option to turn on subtitles, and are interactive right from the start. This includes body percussion and physical warm-ups. As the videos progress, there are useful vocal warm-ups too, beautifully woven into the story so that these feel like part of a game rather than an exercise to get done.

The quality of the performances is everything you would expect from this kind of orchestra. The music is all played from memory, allowing the musicians in the video to move around and engage more fully in the performance.

What we have seen so far is not everything that Aurora Classroom has to offer, with new resources coming out in July 2023 to follow on from the existing 10-week programme. The professional development day run by Aurora and Southbank is also something of a gift – the event is free, and the workshops provide invaluable tips on every aspect of classroom music teaching, from the practical to the creative. A particularly nice aspect of the day was the freedom with which each musician taught, encouraging teachers to try things their own way, while giving them the building blocks to do so.

Normally, the price of resources like these can be prohibitive. However, Aurora Classroom is available from £180 per year, which feels like extraordinary value. If Aurora Classroom indicates the future of music education in the UK, things are certainly looking up.