Building a success story

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
Will Taylor has created not one, but two music departments from scratch. The first was at Stantonbury Campus, Milton Keynes, where arts was taught as one subject until Taylor's arrival as head of music in 1999. This September he joined Northampton Academy (newly formed after the closure of several Northampton schools) as head of creative, expressive and aesthetic arts.

When he arrived at Stantonbury, one of the country's largest schools, GCSE music was taught only as an after-school club, and of the 75 students who took the exam in 1999, 19 per cent achieved A to C grades.

Will Taylor created a department that staff and pupils could call their own, enlisting the help of peripatetic teachers and feeder primary schools to generate enthusiasm and raise standards. By 2003, 112 students were taking GCSE, with half obtaining A to C grades.

"We had to provide something for everyone," he says. "That starts with a good curriculum, which provides extension activities for anyone to join.

But if you are going to do that, you cannot afford to treat your extra-curricular activities as an add-on. They must be tied into your syllabus, so that if children learn to sing in the choir or play in the band, they can record that as coursework."

One of his first moves was to join forces with the local music service to create a rock school, with peripatetic teachers providing individual drum and guitar lessons after school, and students coming together at the end of each session to play as a band.

"We did some professional development with the peripatetic teachers, who were completely unfamiliar with the assessment procedure for GCSE," he says.

"One of our teachers also spent time in our feeder schools, helping teachers who were not music specialists to deliver the curriculum."

He says that new departments can enlist older students as role models. "In a school where there isn't a lot of music, there might be only four or five students who play well. If you can bring them together into an ensemble to play at assemblies, they can inspire younger pupils to want to take up instruments."

One of the most important lessons he learned at Stantonbury, which is allowing him to make faster progress at his new school, is that a department must earn the trust of pupils. "If I spend the first week showing students what I can do as a musician, they begin to trust me and they will be more willing to work with me and with each other. So here at Northampton I have been doing my party piece. I say: 'Name a song and I will play it on the piano and sing it if I know the words.' The students have had a great time trying to test me."

He says that working towards a performance also helps encourage co-operation. "One Year 7 topic is to learn all the notes on the keyboard.

But that is boring, so I ask students to learn and perform a reggae piece I developed, which happens to use all the notes. They do it as a class performance, in which everyone has a solo. They co-operate because they know there is going to be a finished product that they can be proud of."

He advises any new department to ensure its long-term targets are included in the school's development plan at an early stage. "If music is really going to change the way children think and feel - as it says in the national curriculum - then the music department shouldn't be expected to change the school's culture on its own."

* www.ult.org.uknorthampton.htm

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