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All Aboard in Special Schools

A young girl in a wheelchair plays a synthesizer as part of an All Aboard session in school

All Aboard is our programme of creative opportunities for children and young people with disabilities. Professional artists deliver engaging and accessible sessions in a range of art forms including music, dance, visual art and drama. We deliver sessions in all five Doncaster Special Schools both in class time and as after school clubs, as well as building relationships with families who can then access our weekend, after-school and holiday sessions at The Point, our town centre building.

We are passionate in our belief that all children and young people should experience the same opportunities in life and our creative opportunities are designed to provide essential life skills so that disabled young people can reach their full potential. Our artists are expert in designing bespoke activity that responds to ability level and need, ensuring that all participants are included and responded to within a session, whether they have a learning disability, limited or no movement, Autism or profound and complex physical and medical needs.  

All Aboard After School Clubs

darts artists deliver after-school clubs in special schools across Doncaster. Every child is supported to achieve their own goals and improve their essential life skills. These skills support their transition into adulthood and help them to be real life ready. We deliver a range of creative activities including music/music tech, visual arts, photography, sculpture and poetry. Workshops are specifically designed in response to individual children’s needs and abilities.

For example, six weeks of activity was delivered at Heatherwood School by musician, Moony Wainwright and visual artist, Karen Hall. Sessions always start with the ‘hello’ song, which becomes familiar and encourages interaction of participants; handing round a microphone and choice of instruments to play.

Moony created a bespoke instrument for one young person who has unbound movement and can make sounds but has no speech. A pocket synthesizer was connected to a large drum that vibrated and changed rhythm in response to the boy’s movement. Sequins sprinkled on top of the drum, jumped and shone with the vibrations. The boy was able to manipulate the instrument: he could put his teeth on it, put his arms around it or hit it. This captivated the boy for a full three minutes, which is a record.

Other children were creating sensory projections using glue, food dye and salt so colours popped and exploded around them. The artists get to know the children and create new ways for them to access opportunities that they wouldn’t get anywhere else.

We have seen real progress in the children and young people participating in the programme – they have shown greater ability to make choice through choosing: instruments, whether or not to sing into the microphone, an activity, colours, what/how much material to use e.g. glitter, paint, oil, glue, sequins. One boy who was thought to be non-vocal began making sounds to join in.

We have seen an improvement in children’s ability to listen and improve their musical and creative skills as a result. Confidence and communication skills have also improved significantly with some children who were initially incredibly shy or unwilling to join in becoming lively, confident performers creating complex rhythms or coming up with brilliant song lyrics. 

A boy in a wheelchair creates art with a lady in a red top

We Speak Music

We Speak Music was a project funded by Youth Music as part of our All Aboard programme.

darts’ musicians delivered three years of inspiring sessions in Doncaster’s special schools using music and Makaton as a universal language. (Makaton is the leading language programme for those with communication or learning difficulties. It uses speech, signs and symbols following spoken word order and is a proven way to provide access to music for those with disabilities).

Children and young people with a range of disabilities came together as ensembles, writing their own songs and music to perform and share with peers to a broader audience. Over three years, our musicians honed their approaches to enabling children and young people with specific disabilities to access and enjoy involvement in music – including those with profound and complex needs.

Our musicians collaborated with teachers to build confidence in using music and to increase their skills in Makaton to inspire passion for music and to improve communication. Jointly they developed approaches to engage family members to share in the experience, and improve communication at home. We used Makaton to translate the new songs; in instructions to ensure engagement was enjoyable and in performance narration so audiences could take part in the songs.

What’s been interesting for me and what has been really good is how embedded Makaton is in the music, as it helps us learn new signs and pulls it together in class outside of the music sessions. The children love We Speak Music and it brings them to life. Sing + Sign was fabulous and I was so proud of them. It took us a long time to learn those songs and they put a lot of effort in, so to see them perform was brilliant. - Teacher
I try and make rock and roll accessible to everyone. My sessions are quite noisy and Makaton has really enabled me to open up communication without having to stop the music or having to shout. - Musician
I’ve loved this project and am quite sad it’s stopping because for me, it’s just beginning to dig in. I’ve been able to get embedded in the curriculum and discuss with teachers what they want to cover in sessions. One girl who has a trachea was signing and singing today, which was amazing. She has improved incredibly over the course of sessions. - Musician
Young people performing at darts Sing and Sign event in Doncaster

Sing & Sign

Doncaster’s Special Schools come together each year for Sing & Sign. This is a fantastic massed singing event where pupils sing the original songs that they have created in school as well as their favourite pop hits that they have been rehearsing – all accompanied by a live rock band.

We use Makaton throughout our development of this event so that all pupils can take part in the performance, whatever their level of ability or vocabulary. There is something incredibly special about seeing a whole room full of children, teachers and parents all using Makaton signing together whilst singing loud enough to raise the roof.

There is always a wonderful atmosphere at this fully inclusive event and we are looking forward to welcoming pupils, teachers, friends and family to join us each year at Doncaster College. This project is part of Doncaster Music Education Hub.

Children and young people with disabilities take part in We Speak Music run by darts in Doncaster


Through our All Aboard project, children and young people, their family members and teachers highlighted a need for high quality ‘real life’ opportunities to support the transition into adulthood. They told us:

“Being able to spend time away from my family and make my own choices is a key life skill.”

“I would like to be more involved in my community through making decisions about how to spend free time and take part in activities with my friends.”

“I would like to help in a shop in my local community”

Doncaster’s children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) experience multiple barriers to engagement: the disability itself, levels of communication, others’ perceptions and low confidence as well as limited finances to pay for extra-curricular activity.

Young people attending special schools have a disability, but they do not want to be treated differently – they want to feel happy, confident and safe in all sorts of places with all sorts of people. Confidence does not happen in one place, there is not a magic switch that suddenly is turned on and ‘you are confident’. It is a process of trying something out of your comfort zone, succeeding and moving on. It is getting a knock back and moving on. It is your recovery rate and your ability to use a big bag of skills to know how to handle what comes your way. It is about helping others and feeling valued. Finding what you enjoy and doing it as often as possible.

Our Transitions project enabled young people on the cusp of adulthood to test out new situations in a safe and supported way. They gained essential life skills such as making decisions, having their own voice, saying ‘no’ when they need to and developing strategies to manage everyday barriers. This increased young people’s independence,  resilience, perseverance and persistence, as well as improving their ability to listen to and respect others empathetically.

Drama practitioners developed the project over time, using a consistent approach of support, positive validation, practice and celebration to ensure success. Young people gained the tools to make healthy choices as they move into young adulthood.

Although this was a relatively short project, the impacts were significant. One young person who has speech and communication difficulties, for example, engaged in DJ sessions and drama workshops as well as being part of the team that planned darts’ annual #PointFEST festival. His confidence grew so much that he both DJ’d independently as an artist at the festival and took to the stage and sang in front of a large crowd of people with real confidence.

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