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.

 

Thursday Period 7 – Celebrating Success. What, reward for doing the job?

imageI was at school when there were extensive discussions about banning the cane. One fairly significant argument was: “well I was never caned at school and it never did me any harm”. The implication being that the cane kept us in good order and thus helped the majority. This blogpost is about rewards, and frankly, I was rarely praised or rewarded at school. Maybe it did or maybe it didn’t do me any harm. I’ll finish my story later. I am definitely not someone who thinks we offer some financial cash rewards for each GCSE ( as a school or as a parent) and will fairly despair if our job of education only seems to get done by offering financial rewards. There is much research showing this is pretty redundant, moreso for many of us, it’s not likely to instil lifelong learning skills and the kind of education we want for the generation .So how do schools celebrate success, in fact what do we mean by success and how to reward excellence? It’s not the winning but the taking part, so do we just reward all who take part or just winners? Then we find it difficult to decide winners, oh hang let’s do nothing to anyone in case someone is offended or upset or overlooked.

Here are my top five of thoughts on rewards

1. The big occasion

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I recall my own school’s prize days in the 70’s, long speeches I never followed, and a day off in lieu granted by the speakers wife usually!. We will shortly hold our school presentation evening, we use the local “Albert Hall ( Nottingham sorry not London). We have an evening with a few short speeches, aimed at the pupils, parents and teachers. We imagehave our honours, about 75 pupils for subjects, for contribution, for effort for battling against the odds and for achievement. Every year will be represented, every ability but sure emphasis rests with the Y13 and Y11 who will be the role models others can aspire to. The pupils who watch can see that they too can ‘make it’ yes they can, they reallimagey can, because these are our pupils from our school who have enjoyed success. The bulk of the evening will be a musical celebration with the best of our orchestras, music groups and choirs. It will be top quality and uplifting for all in a way only music can do. The audience will be staff and parents, grandparents ex students guests. When our previous Head suggested the event, many of us thought it would last a few years but here we are 22 years worth of celebrations on.

imageWe used to celebrate sport that evening too but this made for a very long evening. So we now have a separate sports event on a Friday afternoon in October – local sports stars generously come and help us celebrate. Our competitive teams, our sports stars, our selected pupils and our internal house teams ( swimming gala athletics football, rugby cricket cross country….you know the sort) video clips and some good humour from the imagestaff too. A great event to mark the work of hundreds of pupils and of course PE staff and all those who take teams and go the extra distance literally.

 

2 The extraordinary occasion.

imageNot so long ago we worried that our post 16 students were getting lots of advice, lots of suggestions as to how to improve and messages from me and others to ‘work harder’. We felt the need for a rebalance and introduced an ‘Oscars” – students nominated by staff not just because they were achieving but because they were trying, they had listened and learnt, and they were progressing. A message publicly that we have noticed and we say well done. We repeat these medal awards at the very end of the year on the day they dress up as Y11 and we say farewell. In other year groups we applaud the sports teams weekly, we offer the certificates for getting into a special place.

3 The bread and butter.

Our Y7 to 9 have merits, they have varying degrees of enthusiasm to collect them and I guess the same is true of staff who show varying degrees of enthusiasm to hand them out. Despite the fact we can’t quite create fully workable rules the system works and pupils do work to collect them. They do try and the things we ask them to do are recognised on the bigger stage. Certificates, presentations in assembly and what I do really love, their peer group applaud as they recognise something special themselves. We have only recently introduced rewards in Upper school Y10 and Y11, pupils collect them and after gathering a number complete a card. Once complete this becomes a chance for a bigger reward as we have a draw for some prizes like book tokens, meals etc We recently had a group of Brazilian teachers visit school, a few of our Portuguese speakers helped out showing them around and interpreting in lessons. When I thanked the pupils who did great job, written all over their faces was “Sir any chance of a merit?”. There can be great ways here to involve school councils and the proverbial ‘pupil voice’

4 The regular routines.

In lesson time and form time and extra curricular time there are merits but there are also significant responses. The pupil giving the subject a good go, the one who really tries to learn for a test, the one who listens to what was said at their parents evening , or maybe the one who happily takes the CAFOD box around or the poppies. imageA recent report said ‘lavish praise’ doesn’t work, I think the headline should be ‘false praise’ doesn’t work. It is important in schools to say thank you, well done; to ring home with good news as well as with concerns. It is nice, it’s appropriate and it’s probably important to send and receive a letter from school just to say something slightly out of the ordinary has been noted.

5 The most effective – the informal.

The teacher who notices. Notices the pupils tried, notices there has been improvement, notices that the task was actually quite a big challenge and it was managed. We recently had our swimming gala and the races are hard fought. Some younger pupils filled with enthusiasm volunteered to swim but unknown to us they were not the fastest of ‘fish’ in the pool. How wonderful to hear a whole audience of Y7 to 9 cheer and clap and appreciate the last person home as they gained…just the point, that really was the ‘taking part’ and the PB ( personal best). The “pincer” movement is even more effective, pass the little message to a Head of Year or to a form teacher and let them also pass on gratitude or thanks – watch the smile and see it encourage even more contribution, and effort.

imageA lot of our pupils, whatever we may think, really do lack self confidence, they are growing up in an uncertain world and I have always found it a challenge to convince them they really are good, capable and can aim even higher. Keep an eye out for those five ways.

So to my story of school, at one of those Grammars oft touted as bringing social mobility ( which it did for me but by accident methinks! Top of my class in Y7 I was rewarded with a book, an atlas. In Y8 I didn’t come top, but second and my report said: “Now even Dexter has learnt that there is no substitute for hard work” a phrase I have occasionally used myself. Despite not a single absence, a clutch of decent O Levels and A Levels and a place at a fairly prestigious University; the first in my family to even stay on past 14 let alone get into HE – well just one more book in Y9, and hey the lack of reward never did you any harm Dexter! There is a spectrum of views about rewards, from overdoing them to under-doing them. I still say to all my classes or year groups, don’t expect rewards for doing what I ask or for turning up for school That’s what we expect, but extra efforts, fulfilling parts of the schools ethos, and maintaining persistently high standards should always be recognised.

Rugby world cup winning captain M Johnson

Some questions to consider

Q1 Should we give rewards, or do they offer the wrong incentives?

Q2 It is often them same (few) names who get nominated for rewards and prizes, as they are the best should they keep winning, or how do we share out rewards?

Q3 Are we all winners, or does that make us all losers?

Q4 What ways do you have to reward, celebrate and promote successes?

For those in a church school

Matthew 5:46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

2 Kings 23:21 The king gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”

Proverbs 9:12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Luke 15:23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.

You might like to read other posts from my timetable of teaching – each is set out from lesson in the school week, before or after school or at the weekends, appropriate to the time of day. I have also started a  class lists or “set lists” which was to answer the questions: “why be a teacher?”or “why have other responsibilities in a school?” Shortly I am starting a new area about progress from one role or experience in teaching to another with hints and tips about successfully moving on in the job and your teaching career.