Politicians – party or people?

Seeing so much from Westminster lately I couldn’t help reflecting over my time as a teacher, school leader and director. I have been fortunate to have met many MPs and Councillors.

Mostly local but when labour were in power Graham Allen MP often brought ministers to meet us in Nottingham North. NN is the constituency that historically send the fewest young people to University of all constituencies [Trinity moved from Nottingham North to Nottingham South at a boundary change]. I have always had huge respect for our local MPs – Lilian Greenwood ( whose constituency the school moved into and who always took time to visit her schools) and Alex Norris, sill a school governor and in Nottingham East Nadia Whittome who helped with many projects and programmes and of course my home MP Vernon Coaker although not the present incumbent.

Our own MPs responding very positively to support local heads in the pandemic and taking the trouble to thank them via video or other messages.

Many Conservative education secretaries I’ve met at school conferences (Michael Gove) or through RC heads (Nicky Morgan) or just occasionally a visit to Nottingham (Damian Hinds). Others like Estelle Morris came and spoke at Trinity; Ed Balls listened to our choir when we were invited to sing at the launch of ‘faith in schools’ at the British museum.

Although Nottingham City is a majority Labour I’ve worked with some significant Conservative councillors too including teacher colleagues; some I would count as friends.

So that’s both main parties, local and national, ministers and backbenchers; official business, visits or sometimes campaigning.

To a person they have been polite, thoughtful, and nearly always willing to listen and take time to explain policy or reason. Sometimes I’ve disagreed about their policies including those on education.

The best…. know their ward or constituency very well and keep talking and listening to all their voters (and non voters) whether in power or opposition. They listen to local professionals and many, rather than have a second job are school governors etc , using their time effectively and yes working very hard. They ask good questions and many are extremely good at remembering names and concerns – they are genuinely ‘bothered’ . Of course some have been in power, some have been in opposition

And when in power those who absolutely represent their ward or constituency not just their party are frequently respected and often returned at elections.

Those in opposition willing to recognise helpful policy and to try and nudge and influence on behalf of all of us are respected and yes often returned at elections.

We understand their preference for (and probably their duty for) fulfilling a manifesto but on taking power they change from being single minded party political to thinking and acting for ALL locals. They kind of move on from ‘Party’ to public though with one eye on ‘Party’.

Clearly some never learn and think their job is to run things like they are the only party or people who are right, that they can choose mates and nepotism over sharing fairer representation – diverse views. That they are still campaigning not running government. They ignore public over ‘Party’

Thank you to our local representation when you do ( as you do so often) represent us, thank you for your work on all our behalf, however challenging be it in power or not.

Most of all think of the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, those who struggle who have little power or voice – the neighbour we all should love. And those of you who do – which is a majority on my list – thank you.

Thank you Nottingham

I had only a vague awareness of the Goose Fair Dinner and so to get an invite from my friend and amazing colleague Nigel Cook was a genuine surprise. To then find myself receiving one of four awards was incredibly special. The tribute from Cllr Cheryl Barnard was just lovely and like all those kinds of speeches you wonder how someone can say all the nice things but omit your weaknesses. 

I appreciated the reminder to my commitment which continues for “learning” in science, in the City’s Cultural standing and especially to literacy.

To receive an award of recognition is always special BUT to receive from your peers, from colleagues you have worked with is genuinely the absolute best. I cannot thank the City Council enough – not just some recognition of my time working with them but my time in the City as a teacher and school leader. It was genuinely overwhelming and today, the day after, is slightly more overwhelming as I cannot keep up with the Facebook messages, private messages and Twitter. Yes, you read that right even I can’t keep up with twitter. I don’t feel “Unsung” at all – that stays in my mind with the likes of school receptionists who had to make difficult calls to families about closures or positive tests in a pandemic; to cleaners who went the extra mile and quietly double checked the cleaning; to heads who often worked through the night to make sense of plans and of Gov last minute changes; to fellow NCC officers who went to visit the homes of families in need – the vulnerable those with SEND………I could go on.

So I hope then that this will do – thank you for all the comments/likes/retweets etc It does mean a lot. At the dinner were very many of the genuinely great and good of the City; many of whom I have worked with, many I have learned so much from (I will post on this in due time). Officers, leaders, politicians – and the DNA thread is the double thread of Nottingham and Service – where else do Council leaders go and pick up litter, where else is the voice of the City handed to an incredible young poet Ravelle-Sade Fairman and a young musician Ellei Stainsby where else is service at the vital personal level the ethos – right from those at the top?

Last night I was very proud of Nottingham City, and stood amongst more deserving winners. I was very touched by the recognition and very grateful for the help and support of so many people present there including my wife Jane. As I said when I left the City Council if anything was achieved it was thanks to the team, the shoulder’s of others and TEAM – you know who you are

John Dexter with an audience again
– the thing you lose when you stop teaching

As we left,  one of those City ‘Fathers’ a big character and yes a great servant to the City asked for a photo with Jane and I to send to his daughter who I taught, he asked another  person who is also a very significant prominent and effective local leader if he would oblige.  ‘Of course, how do you know John?” ‘He taught my daughter’. “Well that’s fascinating as he taught my son!”


Job done. QED


If you are interested the picture of Goose fair is by Noel Denholm Davis (1876–1950) painted in 1910 primarily a portrait painter, Davis was born in Nottingham, where he studied at the School of Art for five years in the 1890s and was then at the Royal Academy Schools. He painted  the likes of Sir Jesse Boot; Captain Albert Ball; General William Booth; and he painted the incredible frescoes in the Council house

These are historical names from our City, each a great servant and I’m proud to have worked with many local leaders who continue that tradition. Thank you

Ive now had three amazing send offs……. promise no more

Farewell and Thank you Nottingham City

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”

Back in my days as a science teacher I recall a lesson when I asked if anyone had a £2 coin in their pocket and could read the message around the rim.  The class discovered the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants”.  I was about to discuss the methodology of science, how Newton referred to himself, in a letter responding to Robert Hooke after Hooke wrote to congratulate him on his discoveries and his published scientific paper. “Yes, yes Sir” said one enthusiastic teenager “it’s an Oasis album”.

Wherever the phrase is used, the meaning suggests that creativity, developments, even innovation in science or other areas is often about picking through other people’s ideas and discoveries – that’s what I’ve tried to do across a fragmented and challenging educational landscape.

I have come to the end of my time at NCC this half term and since 2017, have been privileged to work with many “giants” of education, of teaching and learning, governors, and support staff, NCC colleagues, TU and the voluntary sector, heads and CEOs – in Nottingham City and regulators and wider services. Anyone working in schools in recent years has seen the value of unsung giant heroes like the cleaners not only keeping a place clean and tidy but safe from a virus; catering staff working out how to get meals to FSM children in a pandemic or suddenly during a lockdown holiday; reception staff having to ring home (yet again) and explain a class bubble has burst or a pupil, a teacher has tested positive; teachers who have had to replan delivery models, find creative solutions and look out, even more carefully for children and young people; heads who never anticipated reading or writing so many risk assessments alongside leading a school, senior leaders bouncing from issue to issue, discussing health more than teaching; governors wondering what on Earth they volunteered for ! So many “giants” and many amongst NCC staff too; giants trying to ensure clear guidance for safe working; giants trying to help admit a child mid year; giants working out how to help a SEND child unable to get to school or support a vulnerable family; or reach out to those vulnerable unaccompanied asylum seeker children and many just trying to keep a service alive like the swimming services and Councillors under fire from every direction but staying focussed on priorities, even busy MPs stopping by to thank local heads during the height of the pandemic.

I reflect on my four and half years ( since writing “Why be an education Director?” ) and it has been a privilege of seeing and hearing many colleagues in their work and working closely with some Nottingham “giants”. It has seen the LA world try and improve communications and create flexible systems to support schools and academies in the mission for the 48,000 Nottingham children and their families, who we all work hard to serve and educate.  We have tried to be creative and innovative to find and offer opportunities, to listen to partners and try and bring an effective engagement together. There is a great strength in partnership, a great strength in working on the significant areas we have in common. There is an importance to listening to the voice of children and young people ( and their parents and carers) and shaping the offer to raise aspiration, ambition and outcomes in an early help, inclusive City.

Nottingham now has almost 90% of settings good and outstanding and recently a very positive report of SEND across the whole provision in Nottingham City. Those who work hard every day to deliver and raise standards are amongst those giants. During my time the pandemic has been a massive trauma for the workforce and significantly for very many families, touching us all sometimes in hard and very sad ways. Overcoming that deficit and disadvantage will need more ‘standing on the shoulders’ to look for solutions but I have every confidence that working together progress can continue to happen.

Children and young people playing sport, or involved in an outdoor education activity or taking part in a concert, a play, a show, in any communal activity even solving problems in lessons, these pupils each make their contribution but the result is always greater than the parts. This brings an added joy, an uplift and a lesson for cooperation, collaboration, and partnership and that’s a way forward for the wider collaborative work in the City. 

So thank you for making my time in this role so rewarding, for the times of working together to solve problems and find acceptable solutions, for creating an inclusive culture and for being a “giant” in the City. Thank you for your hard work from Early Years, Primary, Secondary, AP, Special and Colleges and my very best wishes for the continued success of your organisation and for you personally.  

I am hoping to blog a few more posts now as I reflect upon 40+ years in education; 26 in classrooms delivering ~ 26,000 Chemistry and Science lessons, as a school leader and head and in helping an LA.        

Walk 13 Chatsworth

Today we go to Chatsworth. Lots of walking in this estate and lots of time spent in the amazing gardens. Many of you in Nottingham and Derbyshire or S Yorkshire will know this place well. We have enjoyed their Christmas extravaganza in the house and also the summer RHS shows ( usually in serious rain and mud).  This though is a walk days starting on the edge of the estate at a BandB and walking up around the Tower and  larger ponds.

We have such familiarity I have few photos but enjoy this walk from January 2019

Walk 6 Hohsaas from Saas Grund in the Valais Alps

Wrap up warm today, after a short bus ride we go from the small village of Saas Grund at 1559m up to Hohsaas at 3101m and trek in the snow. Get proper boots on and a decent coat, maybe your walking poles. To appreciate the scale, look out for the little marks on the photos which are ….people, proper serious climbers. we just walked the peaks. Views are marked by posts with rocks on and a description of the mountain in view, Dom , Mischabel etc and you might be interested a Biblical quote. You’ll be Ok in a sheltered spot to sit in shorts and a t-shirt for a picnic though.

This is one of my most favourite Alpine walks and I will bring you here again to enjoy different views and colours another day. its a place that deserves a second or third trip to enjoy.

 

Walk 3 Ullswater to Place Fell

Shame I said just 10 photos but there we are.

This walk needs the steamer from Glenridding down to Howtown. There is a decent amble back along the lakeside but still has its ups and downs. This autumnal day Mrs D took me up and over the top to Place Fell. But it was a bit late on the top for any decent photos.

Prepare a decent lunch and a couple of flasks for todays walk.

 

 

The Ambition literacy campaign in Nottingham

This was written for the Nottingham City Council campaign and is on the NCC intranet but it might get more publicity for reading out in the open

 

We are encouraging more children to read as part of the council’s new literacy campaign ‘Ambitious for every child’. We know that an early love of books and reading can help children to be more successful in the future. In this blog, our Education Director John Dexter reflects on his early experience of books and the impact it had on his life and teaching career…

The great children’s writer Roald Dahl said of reading: “I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.”

When I was a child, we had very few books at home, only one or two suitable for children, so I read those several times, but my Dad took me to the library every few weeks. I loved those trips, partly being with him, which was rare, and partly as I entered a new world every week:

  • Outer space, imaginary planets, inconceivable journeys, hideouts, far off islands, distant countries, danger…
  • The world of pirates, ancient peoples, Victorians, Romans, firefighters, commanders, heroes, ghosts…
  • Safely in a war zone, a baking hot African country, the freezing ice sheets of Antarctica, the beauty of mountain landscape, the enchanting Far East, the hill stations of India, an adventure with superheroes…

Sometimes escaping, often fantastic, occasionally scary, always learning. But so grateful for the world I entered. It’s not just about learning the basics of reading to access the modern world, it is about being literate, about learning and sharing, enjoying and getting ideas, or having ideas challenged.

As a teacher, you might expect me to say all this but I was never very comfortable with English, let alone English Literature (a subject I failed aged 16). Not until I met with Mr Scholar (great name for a teacher). As I chose to study science, my school insisted we had “extra” English lessons – I almost despaired but probably not as much as Mr Scholar. So we came to an agreement, there was no syllabus, no exam so why didn’t he tell us what he loved to read: fiction, non-fiction, plays poetry… that set me on the road to enjoying reading and that helped me become literate.

When I worked in secondary schools, I am proud of the literacy challenges we put in place: every Wednesday, 25 minutes of silent reading, save those who struggled to read helped by trained sixth form literacy coaches. This routine said:

  1. reading is important enough to have on the secondary curriculum
  2. there is a need for time set aside to read seriously and
  3. promoting discussion between pupils and between staff and pupils about reading, about books, about fiction or non-fiction is healthy
  4. ambitions can be fuelled by literacy

For me that was great, I honestly believed reading was just so undervalued. I once made my Year 11 Science class read aloud for a whole hour lesson. At the end, one student said: “I can’t believe how much I have learnt Sir, it helped me make sense of many of our lessons.” This said something about me, probably, but I just hoped he would read the rest of the book.0_Hoodwinked-book-bench3

I was sooooo enthusiastic to get my own children to read. But here sits a secondary teacher with no idea how to teach reading, so it was the obvious: read to them, read with them, listen to them, tell them stories, find stories, get them to find stories… and I remembered that’s what my Dad did too; he took me to the library and he took books out as well. Adults can model the importance of reading by reading themselves, set aside time, and help choose books or give them as gifts.

I am envious of the wonderful array of books available today, and at reasonable costs, but the Dolly Parton Imagination Library sending 60 books over five years to small children offers a great opportunity to start reading, start imagining, to relax reading and even to find a better balance in life. But most of all to learn and enter the funny, exciting and wonderful world Dahl describes.

Go on, be ambitious and give it a go.

If you wish to support Councillor Mellen’s big read, please do so here.

OR BETTER Still tell us all about a book you loved as a child, or loved reading to your children or grandchildren or would give as a gift?

China > curiosity, culture and challenge

China – a visit thanks to Access China UK and the Nottingham Confucius Institute and Nottingham City Council

An amazing experience, which would have been incredible and fantastic but was made even moreso or as we teacher’s say “EBI” ( even better if) for the fact I went with 9 great Nottingham City colleagues and we had a wonderful Chinese guide and interpreter,  all of whom added the value to make it totally amazing.

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Feifei our interpreter at the Ningbo library

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The Ningbo 10 (ignore the man on the right he wasn’t with us!)

 

 

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You cannot go up the Pearl of Shanghai and look over the biggest City in the world (population 24 million) and not think – this is where the future of the world will be centred and so we need a plan, not a Brexit neither an educational plan but a proper plan.

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China is a long way away – 5750 miles to be precise or exactly 24 hours from me leaving a hotel in Shanghai to arriving at my front door in Nottingham. But it’s also a long distance away culturally and we so enjoyed discovering just touching upon something of its culture.

It’s a country of the highest population 1.4 billion –roughly 24 times the population of the UK and yet the 4th biggest by area which means a lot and I mean a lot of tower block apartments offices and hotels. Shanghai is the biggest City in the world. (24.2 million). We travelled to Ningbo about 4 hours away, including crossing a bridge of 16km to Ningbo, a City the size of London. It’s busy on the roads but those on cycles, motorcycles or even walking seem to just move at random and hey the cars stop and we saw no accidents. Green spaces are precious.

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Red amber green >GO GO GO

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Bicycle check, mobile check, helmet -what? Few cares in the world, hoping everyone else will stop.

We enjoyed wonderful cuisine – not like westernised Chinese food. We ate like royalty with exquisite food brought out for us, vegetable dishes, meat, noodles, all kinds of tastes, flavours and textures but not too much rice, rice comes at the end and you are not really expected to eat it. Oh and we used chopsticks all the time. Meals were very sociable, no distractions and plenty of conversations, and no rush, no TV, little wifi. That’s less cultural and more….common sense.

 

 

We were very well looked after by our guides, interpreters and hosts, who took us to the most interesting of places from tourist spots, to restaurants and of course to ensuring we travelled to time. In China one is never late. They could not have been more helpful, supportive, informative and generous, as were the hotels we stayed in and all the colleagues we met. And there was a thing – I asked one teacher what she hoped for her pupils “to give them every opportunity to learn”. QED the commonality of the vocation.

The culture is well documented but we were shown honour, respect, admiration and treated with huge kindness and generosity by our hosts. I was delighted to be part of a team that did exactly the same for one another on the trip especially when ‘stuff’ happened and they looked out to encourage, share and support even though we hardly knew each other beforehand. Representing different sectors the conversations gave us all further insight and arguably the best of CPD (one early years, two Primary heads one Primary adviser, four middle leaders from Secondary, one partnership lead and me from the LA). Such enthusiasm to ensure “this works” for our children.

 

To be a tourist and see the bund and river at Shanghai as well as to go up to the 263m Pearl of Shanghai were something but also wandering the tourist shops and trying to bargain was fun. A privilege to visit the oldest library in China (Ningbo) founded in 1561 and be welcomed as honoured guests was special. More special for us educators as we value our school library or local library and we value lifelong learning. Nevertheless our visit enabled us to consider just how ignorant we were of Chinese history and culture and the potential in the Far East.

 

What did we miss ? – very little, we had tea, it tasted different but we were ‘tasting’ China. We did not have access to facebook, twitter or google and we had withdrawal but we chatted and we asked questions and discussed education and other matters and we enjoyed the company, well until we hit wifi in a hotel then we caught up on messages via a message/chat system called wechat. We missed traffic jams, we missed litter, we did actually miss a few hours of sleep somewhere along the way. You know something else? We didn’t miss pupils, even English pupils, at that even Nottingham City pupils because we stopped at a service station in this vast country and met 10 pupils from one of our local primary schools – having an incredible time – though perhaps a little tired ( much like us) they were full of the experience.

And so to education and some things I have learned and of course I may be wrong that the whole system looks like this but here are my ponderings :

• Families really value education. Politicians value education. Children value their education. Teachers are highly respected (highest in the world according to this survey). This is a deeply cultural matter and about ethos, respect for schools, for teachers and for learning. We met teachers (sure a small sample but the message overwhelms) full of enthusiasm and diligence, we saw little disruption, and amongst pupils a willingness to work hard and and try your best. There is the extreme high pressures involved in the Gaokao exam but setting that to one side the atmosphere in schools was overwhelmingly positive

Proper resource follows the commitment – beautiful buildings; pride in showing us round. I saw huge sportshall ( possibly 4 full size basketball courts and on the floor above about 30 ping pong tables ( I even played the Principal). Their lecture theatre seated 500. We did not hear any complaint about lack of funding – of course that may be for other reasons, However the conversations reflected on their pride in schools and I was glad to be with a group of Nottingham heads and teachers also proud of their schools. Pay not be better ( not sure really about buying power etc) but most of us would trade a bit for having a culture and pride and a community which hugely respect teachers given consideration and of course good behaviours. [Although my own view is that a vast majority of parents do respect us in the UK – just some politicians and the press don’t always and look where they sit in terms of trust and respect.]

 

• Teachers teach large groups of 40, and whilst they had nice staff areas to work in, with space to share and discuss, to plan they too felt pressures. It maybe around (only) 3 hours a day at the front but they have no technicians or TAs or other adults in classes. Oh and those evenings when pupils are back in school for several hours studying and doing homework, guess who supervises. Heads and teachers take pride in pupils and in their learning. We heard about two schools at the Bureau sharing speeches and we shared about our two, and common features – pride in the opportunities we offer, in the children’s achievements and the aims and ethos in every school and that included to help our children be global citizens. I asked how the head got his children to work hard – “I don’t have to do anything” he said. Just think what all that means for attendance, punctuality behaviour, background disruption, offering opportunities…..

 

• I loved the creativity I saw, in particular pride in traditions, but also in creating new traditions. IMG_2883We saw some amazing artwork, incredible calligraphy, beautiful ceramics, others saw sport and music to an amazing standard. We met artists in residence and I was invited to play a computer at a board game, a computer that literally picked up pieces in response to my move and you guessed it – the programme and the hardware created by ….a pupil from scratch.

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a CRT – a what?

 

I also had a discussion with a Chemistry teacher – he had created something but our interpreter didn’t know the words, we had a small hand held device that translated and he said it was a ‘CRT’ and I said ‘oh a Cathode Ray Tube’ and we whooped! I mentioned Thomson, electrons, Crookes and we needed no interpreter –  science can be such a powerful language in itself but check out these facilities:

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• Willingness to stay and learn and take every opportunity including boarding, yes boarding for the weekdays because half an hour journey home was “too far”. Long days without TV, without Facebook, without mobile devices and perhaps without immediate family because, they all believe in the benefits from social activity and learning. So we saw some pupils who did more hours of homework in a two days than some of our pupils would do in school in a day. Of course there are concerns about resilience and pressure too.

Hospitality and generosity – we took gifts with us for our school and Bureau colleagues and received many back but sometimes individual  pupils wanted to give us something they had done, some  clearly stayed up to make gifts for their visitors.

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MrMcNeill with a beautiful painting made especially for him

I was privileged to pass as one of my gifts the music of Sheku Kanneh Mason ( an ex pupil at my old school) who also kindly wrote me a personal message for the schools which I had translated – that went down really well. ( thank you Sheku). But oh, we had fun – trying out our mandarin, working out currency, bartering, wondering where we were heading when taken by taxi to a school, getting trapped in hotel door (me trying to metaphorically to “open doors”) – looking out for each other and smiling our way through.

 

 

 

• Education bureau officials welcomed our vision for future work with them, they are interested in what we are doing and especially how we measure impact. How we know our City wide plans and also our school plans are being effective, as well as our regulator (ofsted) view. They are keen to foster further links Ningbo > Nottingham and Nottingham > Ningbo. we have lots of ideas from championing exchanges and learning mandarin through to just a better basic understanding of China and our own Chinese community. To be honest they struggled to understand how our system works if it means a local area does not have any control of schools. Welcome to my world!

It is quite an amazement that across the world they are interesting in learning from us.

 

 

 

IMG_3356My colleagues are now busy working out how to manage exchanges, to plan visits with children and to welcome children here to Nottingham. We are looking at how we can work together across the distances and cultures but with an internet and with colleagues here and our own traditions – Nottingham has a University campus in Ningbo which we visited and so there is much to consider and challenge and much remains to be curious about. For me I am committing to try and open more doors with friends in Ningbo – and not these doors.

If music be the food of love – it should be at the heart and soul of a school.

Why music? – aspiration, awe and wonder, incredulity, resilience, emotion, character, spirit, culture, humanity, civility, inspiration, opportunity, participation, perseverance, confidence education educate ….

“Without music, life would be a blank to me.” – Jane Austen

There has been and I suspect always will be much discussion about music in school,  from Ed Sheeran wondering why government does not want it on the curriculum when ‘musicians are “wealthy and pay their tax” ‘ to others like Mylene Klass and Julian Lloyd Webber, famous musicians saddened to see music slipping away from schools.

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Choir and Orchestra at Trinity Prizegiving

So here is the reflections of a science teacher and school leader in a comprehensive in Nottingham who for a while as headteacher did a bit of a Newton and stood on the shoulder’s of previous headteacher giants but appreciated the view, the mission, the importance and the priority beyond “a subject”.

Why teach music?      What?      Why teach anything?

I am a science teacher, 36 years in classrooms doing my bit to inspire my subject: chemistry, science to my pupils and students BUT recognising the bigger picture of what schools do. Contributing to the proper education of children and young people. Sure there is also maths and English and humanities, languages art, design and performance and there is extra curricular in sport and performance. There are the social and character skills of growing up leading to autonomy, independence and ‘mattering’ but leaders, heads CEOs and teaching staff should think big, be ambitious in the curriculum and with the opportunities provided in their school.

BUT 1. We are limited by accountability – progress 8 and attainment 8 and a desire for an EBacc with subjects almost chosen at random it would appear ( why no RE?). Music could wither because it just can.

AND 2. We are limited by resource – notably availability of teachers or costs such as peripatetic staff and frankly music is quite expensive but……read on

in my classroom my pupils did science, usually chemistry  some continued to A level and into HE

  1. Some were exceptionally talented and became > professional scientists
  2. Some needed chemistry in their work and became > medics, vets, pharmacists even physicists and geologists or physics or science teachers
  3. Others were good, could have been scientists but frankly could have been anything and are all manner of precessions and roles
  4. Others were just interested and merely wanted to be scientifically literate.

That’s what I faced in my classroom and taught them to my best ability, trying to get them from group4 to group 1; a challenge I loved.

But aren’t the same arguments true for any subject including music. Image result for the kanneh masons will become professional musicians, some need the music for their profession but almost all pupils love music, spend ages listening to music and being moved by music, or composing or going to concerts……

So beyond the value of studying music beyond that, there are amazing benefits: teamwork, aspiration, hard work, good mental health, peace, joy, comfort…where to start, if music be the food of love play on…..

0913-23At Trinity the curriculum promoted music. Orchestra, singing and instrumental work. Every year 7 learnt a musical instrument, we had music lessons lessons and orchestra on the curriculum. then of course GCSE and Level music, music tech, performance…. we had concerts, lunchtime recitals, liturgies and celebrations with music often at the heart and soul. we brought in our primaries, we visited our primaries, we showcased the school to pupils, to parents and to the community.

In Y9 the whole year gave a concert, yes everyone in  year 9 to all of year 7 and 8. 175 pupils, the biggest mix of ability you could imagine from some above and beyond grade 8 on an instrument to those still wondering exactly what those black dots meant. It was a highlight of the school year. It showed everyone, pupils and staff just what aspiration could mean, it showed when you do your bit, you contribute to an amazing event. Your little part alongside everyone else little part adds up to something bigger than the sum, massively so. It gave a message  “Do that in music and you can do so in sport (they did) in charity giving (they did) and in lessons.” Yes, in lessons if you contribute, join in, you too can increase the learning of the group which includes you, and includes the teacher. Be confident, be civil, find inspiration, become curious, realise reward and success. Did this contribute to an outstanding judgement? Probably.

 

As the Daily Telegraph asked and answered: “Can embracing the Arts help teachers broaden their students’ horizons?” A quick google search shows very many schools that can prove the benefits.

But you don’t build this and our amazing concerts and shows and prize givings overnight. A generation ago (1980s) Trinity school was heading for closure when the head Mr Bonner was appointed. He had a vision, amongst which every pupil would learn music, every pupil play or sing in a concert. One day every pupil in a concert and every every family, friend and relative present to watch. We just about managed it as he retired in 2005. So many pupils over that time headed to conservatoires, or to the royal academy, others became professional musicians others got involved in amateur music or church music or jazz music or music teaching……I can go on. Over that period even I got cross at times, I recall helping him unload some kettle drums, I think they cost a bit less than my entire budget “but john wait until you see the effect on the orchestra” – he was right. It became almost a standing joke that staff were not appointed unless they could teach a bit of music, e.g. an instrument or play in the orchestras. I wondered how I got a job! He appointed genuinely outstanding music staff, hugely dedicated and an incredible music lead. Such incredible talent, creativity and industry alongside the amazing ability to find music to allow a beginner to contribute but a star to shine. Peripatetic staff who could bring young children on, who could encourage them in their instrumental but also to take part in a brass band or a jazz group or a strings group, the chamber orchestra etc. Not only that but singing echoed that – proper choir singing, high standards but also music for the ‘ boys vocal group’.

There is no simple magic this is a long term project and the lessons were incredible but results proved so much QED was never so true. Music needs dedication and hard work (great our pupils learnt about dedication and hard work). The rewards are somewhat unmeasurable, but not unforgettable, pupils part of and integral to, the events many pupils remember – concerts, shows, special prize evening (dominated by musicians). Admiration of friends and family, yes the school s a community and as a Church community fulfilling its ethos, mission and and ambition. I believe music wiped away much bullying (yes we did still have some). After Sheku Kanneh Mason won the BBC young musician of the year in 2016 he returned to school on the Wednesday and as he walked through the gate almost the whole of lower school ran to the fence to cheer and applaud him. One night on bus duty I asked a sixth former how her day had been, incredible sir I’ve been getting into Shostakovich thanks to Sheku.img_1946

We need music in schools, the decisions are for school leaders and governors but also for government to ensure adequate funding and a sense of value and worth, music can’t be ‘the extra’ but it is expensive – staffing costs, peripatetic costs, instrumental costs.

Otherwise our secondaries will drop down to having a few part timers and a small music GCSE, group as few chose it in Y8 ( as more and more schools push options into year 8).

Did my subject benefit from music and performance? It’s a resounding YES from me.

….and here is another school in Bradford which has put music centre stage with amazing results, highlighted in the educational press recently (2018).

As John Rutter says

“It shames us in the UK as a nation. Music education isn’t a frill to be left to the private sector and open only to those who can pay, it’s at the heart of what makes us human and civilised. Any politicians reading this?

Some of our ex students – from groups 1 to 4, professional ones to those who just appreciated the opportunities have commented below. You may not see them without scrolling down especially on a mobile phone. They are well worth a read.