John Bailey, who works with fellow music co-ordinator Peter Wingate, began playing chart hits as lesson openers eight years ago. He says: "It really kept students interested in the rest of the lesson. Today the music scene is so diverse that the only way to keep up with it is to invite students to bring in their own CDs."
In the rap project with Year 8, John Bailey had the opportunity to help the students learn more about their own music. The project used music and drama to explore issues surrounding drug abuse. It was aimed at a group of disaffected boys and girls who had taken little interest in the wide range of musical activities available. "They didn't see it as cool to be part of extra-curricular groups or concerts," he says. "But because of the focus on rap and the PSHE-related theme, they were really up for it by the time they performed their work."
The main objective was to improve attitudes to learning, but the exercise also aimed to develop musical skills. Students worked in groups to compose songs, learning how to create chord sequences and structured lyrics, and using software to create a professional-quality track.
One of the early tasks was to look at the origins of rap and hip-hop, with John Bailey explaining how the rap movement took off in New York in the 1970s, and charting its course through the gangster-influenced music of the 1990s, to today's radio-friendly releases.
"None of the students knew about the history," he says. "I had been concerned they might be bored, but we had a lot of discussion."
In a PSHE session, pupils explored the implications of drug abuse, and used the messages in their compositions and in a forum theatre run by the drama department. Their songs were recorded on souvenir CDs, and Year 11 students were provided tuition on using mixing decks in preparation for a live performance at an end-of-term concert. The rappers earned rave reviews, says John Bailey, which spurred them on to do more with the technology.
"Rather than going outside at lunch-time, quite a few now come to use the music software."
John Bailey and Peter Wingate offer a similar project at a summer school for Year 6 pupils coming to Ellowes Hall, and the latest plan is to help Year 8 students record their own music videos on DVD. "For pound;1 they can take home the DVD, and they will be able to look back at it and have a giggle," says John Bailey.