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

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.

 

Friday Period 6 – 10,000 hours or 25 Years -> Greatness?

25thannWe said farewells at the end of term just a few, six colleagues we waved goodbye to BUT we also celebrated three reaching a grand milestone – 25 years. Three highly respected colleagues who just completed 25 years at one school, ours, Trinity.

 

So 25 years ago what was happening – well lots: Labour hated its leader, one Neil Kinnock and the Tories were on a “back to basics” campaign with Mr Major. More important PC world opened its first shop and Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web. So schools themselves look very different today but in a way they don’t – we had great teachers then and we need them now and the tools of the trade might change but the craft and trade do not.

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the WWW

When teachers join any school , experienced or not they are still new and these three join five other colleagues who have also completed their 25 years -thats 8 of us nearly 10% staff. It is a very special achievement and I’m delighted that our governors understand that and reward those colleagues for their commitment. It is not exactly equivalent to a testimonial for a loyal footballer but it is a recognition.

It did make me Unknownthink about Matthew Syed’s book ‘Bounce’ which has been all the  rage in schools, and incidentally well worth a read  – I actually met a headteacher who bought it for the whole of his Y11, then moaned that the girls performance improved but the boys didn’t and then apparently Ofsted had a go at one of their ‘gaps’ getting bigger. Thankfully whether true or anecdotal we are in new Ofsted framework. But back to Syed who seems to say put in 10,000 hours hard work and you get to be really good.  Some have pushed that idea for learners maybe coupled with a bit of growth mindset and Dweck. However it got me thinking about teachers – 25 years must be well over 10,000 hours, nearer 18,000  of teaching in same place and I think he is right these teachers have become experts, really good, both at teaching and at teaching in our school and in leading. People who stay a course like that make the school effective these are the characters in my school who have helped understand the ethos, mission and moral purpose and yet also help create the ethos and therefore also help to sustain the ethos. These are the people colleagues turn to when somebody comes as a new teacher ( well and also old teachers and even older headteachers) and when they wonder ” Is that what happens here? Do they really do that?” for better or worse the answer is known.  The colleagues around say yes that is what we do, it is delivered by an incredible level of consistency. They are without doubt respected by pupils, parents and colleagues. These are the colleagues who have  helped establish traditions, activities which over many years we have evolved and some we changed if they’ve not been effective, some we’ve dropped if they’ve been ineffective. We’ve redone ideas and modified them and we have a rich seam of curricular and  extra curricular whole school activities.  We like new and young teachers, don’t get me wrong, we like their passion, enthusiasm, ideas and approaches and we like to learn and try things out but we also have a bit of an instinct as to what works and what doesn’t. As a church school that includes our whole school events like Masses or liturgies but it includes sports days and swimming galas, music concerts etc it includes prize-giving and it includes a discussion such as ‘should  we run prizegiving this way or that way’. What do we stand for, and how do we live that out? Reliability, longevity, tradition, stability, consistency …outcomes – I think that’s what we get.

Our school has done well in outcomes and it is an outstanding school, it’s also very popular with parents and I could not help thinking the contribution of longstanding wisdom is pretty critical.  High turnover at the top of other organisations including the DfE is what we often see across educational landscapes maybe the lack of longevity brings a lack of stability and contributes to an occasional lack of depth or a frequent lack of understanding and frustrations, maybe even a lack of progress, the fact that the standards are not as high as they should be. My other favourite book Collin’s ‘Good to great’ would lead to a similar conclusion. In my early days (80’s) of teaching you wouldn’t expect any responsibility point or pay increases until a couple of years worth of Y11 exam results were under your belt – prove yourself at the sharp end.gd to g8

Fast turnover might make a business more efficient and it might make a company run better but whether it actually gives better outcomes I don’t know,  but one thing I do know is that these long lasting teachers  hold something very special in their hands because it’s from their hearts, possibly their souls. They have invested a huge amount of time and their life  in the school. It might be why our retainment remains pretty high? We always say to young teachers that rules for discipline are important and they must be applied consistently and clearly, when you’ve got people at school for such a long time, the consistency  is probably second to none. However it is also about accountability for me – whilst I’ve written elsewhere about accountability to governors, to the diocese, to OFSTED, to parents and pupils, there is a greater daily accountability which is to those respected colleagues. As well as being accountable to them for day to day decisions, we have to make the decisions together and these are the supportive conscientious peers, if they make a criticism it is a genuine criticism, it has to be heard because they have given so much of their time energy and yes their life to the work of the school. I just wonder if anybody out there really understands the huge effect of stability and longevity. Our leadership team has now completed 133 years at the school 77 of them in leadership.  I can’t help thinking if something of the success of the school is not down to the fact of the commitments and longevity of those people. I do hope it continues and I do hope stability that we enjoy is something that others can consider in their organisations. Oh and PS we bid farewell to an unsung hero in our office, a secretary retiring – after 27 years with us.

imageTwo years ago I came to teach a lower ability Y10 class, never taught any of them before and as I called the first register I had taught an older sibling or parent of 21 of the 26. When I set them their first homework everyone handed it in save one boy lets call him Ryan –

“Your homework wasn’t done Ryan” Ruan’s shoulders shrug.

“Why not?” said I, “should I ring your older sister?”

“No Sir please not Rebecca”

“Ok your older brother”

“No No. He’ll be very cross ”

“Ok I’ll call on your Mum on my way home. Ryan:”

“Sir ……can I give it you at break”

Gosh the job just got a little easier.


For those in a church school

2 Samuel 14:20 Your servant Joab did this to change the present situation. My lord has wisdom like that of an angel of God—he knows everything that happens in the land.”

Proverbs 4:6 Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.

2 Timothy 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.


Some Questions

Q1 What is the right balance in schools of new ideas and older wisdom?

Q2  Is it possible to avoid complacency in the search for constancy?

Q3 What is your experience of the wisdom of elders?

Q4 A qestion raised after a twitter conversation with Jon Thompson @poachermullen  just how will the profession adapt as it ages and as teachers have to work longer? How do we ensure those wise experienced staff remain enthusiastic and able to do the job? How do we plan for that? Looking after each other? How? Secondments during the career? What do you think?