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Dedication hits the right note

With completely different styles, two teachers have managed to scoop one of the top music teaching awards. Miranda Fettes reports

In an unprecedented decision, this year's title of Scottish Instrumental Teacher of the Year has gone to two teachers who will split the pound;2,000 award between them.

It's hard to imagine more different candidates: one, a pipe band leader and peripatetic teacher across eight primary schools and one secondary in Argyll and Bute; the other, a music IT and special needs teacher who works at 15 primary, secondary and special needs schools across North Ayrshire, providing an outreach service for disaffected pupils.

But Argyll and Bute bagpipe teacher Ian McKerral and North Ayrshire music IT and special needs teacher Stuart Brown are both surprised - and delighted - to be winners.

The award, organised by the Heads of Instrumental Teaching in Scotland (HITS) and Yamaha, recognises the dedication and invaluable contribution of more than 700 instrumental teachers working in Scottish comprehensives.

"I certainly didn't expect it," says Mr McKerral. "There was an interview with the judging panel in the afternoon and I thought it went well but there were 22 other finalists who went in for it.

"I work every day at different schools in South Kintyre, teaching chanter and bagpipes. I really enjoy it. It's only recently I became full-time - I still have my own hairdressing business in Campbeltown."

Mr McKerral's 80 charges range in age from nine to 18 - P5 to S6. And while he has been piping for more than 30 years, he has only been in the job for six. One of his main achievements has been setting up the three sections of the Kintyre Schools Pipe Band - juvenile, novice juvenile and beginners.

More than half of his pupils play in the bands.

The novice juvenile section were recently crowned European Champions in Banbridge, County Down, while the juvenile section were runners-up in their category.

Mr McKerral plans to use his pound;1,000 prize for professional development to take a course run by the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association to become an accredited competition judge: "I quite fancy getting into judging."

Iain Ferguson, secretary of the Kintyre Juvenile Pipe Band Association, has two sons who play in the band - Gavin, 16, and Ross, 12, both pupils at Campbeltown Grammar. "Ian's really good with the kids," he says. "They all respect him and get a lot out of it.

"There's no airs and graces with him - he's down to earth. He's got great discipline without being hard and they all respond well to the way he tutors them.

"It's not about his piping ability, although he is an extremely accomplished musician; it's his knack and his dedication. He must put in 10 or 12 hours a week on a voluntary basis with the band, going away on weekend trips."

Mr McKerral was nominated for the award by Niall Brown, headteacher at Dalintober Primary in Campbeltown. "I felt it was time he was recognised, because he's a brilliant music instructor," he says. "He has a natural way with kids and the youngsters respond very well to him. In no time at all, he formed a junior pipe band which subsequently went on to win all the major championships."

Around 16 boys and girls at the school play under Pipe Major McKerral's instruction. "It's his way with kids, his expertise and his commitment - a lot of it's extra-curricular," says Mr Brown. "He thoroughly deserves it."

Meanwhile, in North Ayrshire, Stuart Brown teaches children with additional support needs. "I service every school within North Ayrshire authority - they have to bid for my time," he explains. "It's bridging the barrier between education and social work but it's still education. If I got a call and they said they've got a boy who's not engaging at all and is just sitting about, that would be a priority."

Together, Mr Brown and his pupils produce four or five CDs a year. They work with guitar, keyboard, drums and percussion, bass guitar, trumpet and vocals - "anything that makes a noise" - as well as the computing element, involving digital editing and production.

"I'm using music as the vehicle to help them break down barriers," says Mr Brown. "It's about confidence and self-esteem. The kids change as they walk through the door; they can just be what they want to be. I can bend the curriculum to suit a kid. The X-factor is that the kids like me and get on with me and will do anything for me."

With the prize money he hopes to undertake further professional development within the autistic spectrum, "using music to bridge the different special needs learning barriers".

"One of the judges said it's good that somebody like myself is providing these opportunities," he says. "These shouldn't be opportunities; these are rights. Awards and accolades are nice, but it's not about that."

Mr Brown was nominated for the award by Angela McHardy, headteacher at Stanecastle School in Irvine, which caters for pupils aged five to 18 with mild learning difficulties. "He does tremendous work with the young people," she says. "He really engages them."

Playing in a school band, writing their own material and producing CDs has done wonders for her pupils' confidence and self-esteem, she says.

"We felt he deserved the recognition and traditionally the award has gone to more traditional instrumental teachers - strings, trumpet, that sort of thing. It's something quite different that Stuart does. He caught the judges' imagination."

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