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High hopes in brass band country

(Photograph) - Penistone Springvale Junior and Infants School is situated deep in the heart of brass band country in Barnsley, Yorkshire. Yet until three months ago, its pupils could not even learn the recorder, let alone the trumpet or trombone.

Now, 22 children aged four to 11 are having percussion, flute, clarinet, piano, keyboard and guitar tuition. And they're loving it. More will follow suit in September.

Headteacher Mrs Hilary Smith says: "There's nothing quite like live music and I think it' s changed the atmosphere of the school. Children have started playing their instruments at assembly, so even those who aren't having lessons are sharing the experience."

Emma Parker, 11, is certainly enjoying herself. Along with four other children she's been having percussion lessons since April and has made herself a snare drum using wood wrapped with cloth to practise on at home. Her friend has taken to beating out rhythms on her bed head. "I've always wanted to learn the drums and I've saved enough money now to buy my own kit," Emma enthuses. "When we play together at school we're beginning to sound quite good."

It's all been made possible by Barnsley's Performing Arts Development Service (PADS), which has risen from the ashes of the old, local authority music service and, against all odds seems to be flourishing.

Five years ago, however, things looked very different. Because of budget constraints, the Metropolitan Borough Council was forced to close the music service down and make its 24 peripatetic teachers redundant. one of them was John Grinnell, the former head of brass, now PADS' coordinator of performer development.

"It was absolutely devastating," he recalls. "I was on tour with a band when I heard that the local authority was being capped. 'That's us gone,' I thought, and for a while it seemed I was right."

Everyone assumed that instrumental tuition in schools would cease altogether. Then the Council agreed to fund a new service, with the emphasis on providing curriculum support in music, drama and dance, as well as instrument lessons.

So, on a much reduced budget, and with only twelve full-time staff, including six musicians (now cut to four), PADS came into being in January 1991. Inevitably, tough decisions had to be made and only GCSE pupils, and children who had been receiving free instrumental tuition for more than five years, were able to continue.

Many instruments, once lent free to pupils by the music service, sat sadly in their boxes with no one to play them. But in 1994, PADS decided to introduce tuition fees and instrument hire charges, and the future is already looking up.

Lesley Hepworth, head of PADS, explains: "I don't think anybody believed children should pay, but if it's the only way you can offer them what they want then you've got to do it." So far, parents have proved willing to find the extra money, partly, no doubt, because charges have been kept to a minimum. Pupils pay Pounds 9 an hour. From September, this figure may have to rise, but those in receipt of free school meals will continue to be fully subsidised. Hepworth is convinced more and more youngsters will soon be joining the bandwagon.

Also, PADS plans to introduce service-level agreements. All schools will receive a time allocation enabling them to buy back the support they want at a heavily subsidised rate.

This, says Hepworth, will make the system fairer and ensure schools like Springvale do not miss out, as they did under the old regime when the music service could not reach everyone. "Really we'll be providing a better service because it will be no longer limited to what the local authority can afford. Children will be able to learn what they want. Already, we've had quite a lot of schools like Springvale starting instrumental tuition for the first time. It's very exciting."

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