Geordie Symphony School Injects Some STEAM into STEM


A campaign is growing to recognise the vital role of the arts in education and innovation alongside the drive to encourage more young people to study STEM subjects.

We found out how two of Tyneside’s iconic landmarks are working together to put some STEAM into STEM.



Experienced professionals, Tyneside’s most famous young musicians filed in to take their places before their audience.

But, unlike their last performance, with The Royal Northern Sinfonia at the Tyne Theatre, this was a little different.

Today the ‘Geordie Symphony School’ were playing to engineers inside Newcastle’s most famous factory, the Armstrong Works, now home to Reece Group.

The firm has teamed up with SageGateshead to show how the arts and sciences can work together and transform STEM (science, technology, maths and science) into STEAM.

steamgroup1The talented children from Hawthorn Primary School in Elswick were invited to visit the factory for a rare chance to see one of the world’s oldest working traction engines in action.

Mary Margaret, built in 1889, is on loan to the historic factory, founded by Lord Armstrong, from Michael Davison, a keen enthusiast introduced by Beamish museum.

And as a thank you for the visit, the youngsters treated the site’s 400 employees to a performance of their latest composition, the aptly named ‘Tuba Train.’

An image of science and the arts as being incompatible has been held partly responsible for the shortage of young people choosing careers in STEM – especially women.

But Reece Group is keen to emphasise the creativity involved in engineering and supports calls for an A for Arts to be added to STEM, creating STEAM and driving innovation.

Reece Group CEO, Phil Kite, said: “Engineering is a very creative and inventive profession.

“We need to inspire more talented young people to pursue careers in STEM. We hope that the children’s visit to see Mary Margaret and the Armstrong Works will not only encourage them to think more about engineering, but also, show how the arts and science can work together.”

The orchestra made national headlines when the school starred in a BBC documentary about the In Harmony NewcastleGateshead project which is delivered by Sage Gateshead, and aims to change lives through orchestral music.

‘Tuba Train’ was commissioned by BBC Outreach and Corporate Responsibility and composed by Stephen Deazley. Incorporating beat-boxers and hip-hop beats with kazoos, whistles, singing and voice-overs, it’s not a traditional orchestral score and breaks a few orchestral rules.

steamrogerHearing about their new train-inspired piece, engineers at Reece Group hoped that the chance to see a real steam engine in action would inspire the youngsters, aged between eight and 11, with an interest in engineering.

Edward Milner, Head of Music Learning, Sage Gateshead said: “It is wonderful that Reece Group, one of Sage Gateshead’s valued corporate partners, are working with the In Harmony project to highlight the importance of adding the Arts to STEM to make STEAM.

“This STEAM event offers the perfect opportunity to showcase how education, employment and the arts can inspire generations of young people to explore both their creative and their scientific skills.”

Through the Reece Foundation, the Group supports a wide range of programmes to inspire the next generation of engineers. The visit also aims to give the children an insight into the former Vickers factory, founded by Lord Armstrong, which has played such a prominent role in Elswick’s history and is now home to three of the firms’ companies: Pearson Engineering Ltd, Responsive Engineering and Reece Innovation.

Violinist, Emmanuel Ngabali, 10, hopes to combine his love of music with a career in medicine. He said: “It was exciting to come into such a big factory and it is nice to know the engineers appreciated what we produced.

“I will be still playing the violin when I grow up, but I want to be a surgeon.”

steamorchestraHead of Hawthorn Primary School, Judy Cowgill, said: “This is such an exciting opportunity for the children to perform their composition in front of a real working steam engine.

“It was the sounds of trains that inspired the music.

“The Armstrong Works has also played such a prominent role in the West End of Newcastle, that it is also a wonderful chance for the children to learn more about engineering.

“Many of our children come from families where there is second and third generation unemployment and experiences like this are so important for helping them learn about different careers.

“The In Harmony project and learning an instrument has had a massive impact on our children’s lives. We do a lot of work to encourage our children in STEM subjects and I think that it is an exciting idea to show how creativity and engineering are closely linked. Musical instruments are feats of engineering in themselves.”

What is STEAM?

The STEAM movement argues that there is great creativity in the problem-solving of technology and engineering. The arts: visual art, crafts, design, music, drama and dance, can all play a positive role in developing the creative sensibilities required to appreciate STEM.

Universities UK, an organisation that supports the Higher Education Sector, has urged the government to resist “the narrow view that science, technology, engineering and maths subjects represent the exclusive route to economic success” stating “we believe that students aged 14-16 must be able to access the widest possible programme of creative subjects to prepare them to play a part in the knowledge economy.”

In 2014 the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee published the Supporting the Creative Economy report which included a recommendation that: The crucial role of arts subjects in a modern education should be recognised and that arts subjects should be added to the STEM subjects, changing STEM to STEAM. Former Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, added:  “I agree with those who say an A belongs in STEM.”


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