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Gallions School, Newha

(Photograph) - When Gallions Primary opened in 1999, almost all the pupils had failed at previous schools and were disillusioned with education. From the start, the arts played a central role, reinforced by the school's ethos that they "provide a level playing field where all can contribute and will excel".

Headteacher Bernadette Thompson was determined that every child would have the chance to learn a musical instrument; three years later, 90 pupils are learning the violin or cello and they are preparing to perform a symphony specially composed for the school's own chamber orchestra. The lessons are hugely popular, and older pupils run lunchtime practice sessions for younger ones. Bernadette says: "It improves academic performance, helps inculcate habits of hard work and encourages children to do their best."

Sarah Phelps, Year 1 teacher, sees the difference. Six of her pupils started learning the violin two weeks ago: "I can already see a huge improvement in behaviour, and they love the lessons." One child with special needs has started to communicate for the first time.

Bernadette has insisted that teachers also learn to play, so they'll be aware of the work involved. "Teachers are usually seen as experts, so it's important for children to see them starting at the same level." She describes the school's first concert: "They were all shaking from head to toe and it was simply the best thing in the world!"

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