Innovative Practice - Working in harmony

16th November 2012 at 00:00
A scheme that offers pupils the chance to teach staff a musical instrument sounds like it's taken off

The background

St Bede's Catholic College in Bristol has a strong music programme and more than 300 pupils either play or are learning to play a musical instrument.

When assistant headteacher Paul Williams said he would like to learn to play an instrument and other members of staff expressed a similar interest, head of music Jessica Lobbett started to think how it could be achieved.

She found a number of pupils who were willing to give up their time to teach staff, and put a notice up in the staffroom.

Lobbett hoped for 20 staff to sign up, but within three weeks 58 people, including teachers, support staff and even the school's receptionists, had agreed to meet the challenge to learn an instrument from scratch.

The project

Lobbett says that the corridors and practice rooms of the music department are now bursting with musically-challenged teachers being taught by musically-talented pupils.

Before school, during break and lunchtimes and after school, a band of 42 dedicated "pupil peris" (as in peripatetic teachers) from Years 9 to 11 greet their "students" for a regular lesson in their chosen instrument, including piano, trombone, trumpet, clarinet, drums and guitar.

Their goal is to reach a competent Grade 1 standard by Christmas, when they will put on and perform in a joint concert.

"My initial hope was that a few willing teachers would put themselves forward to learn and in so doing expose themselves to the same frustrations that are experienced by pupils when embarking on learning something new," Lobbett says.

"I was sure that a small number of pupils would be prepared to take part in the project, but I was astounded to see how many of them were so willing to give generously of their free time."

Tips from the scheme

Try your best to treat the pupils as teachers, because that's the role they have signed up for and that respect will encourage them to keep going.

Don't try to run the scheme if you don't have the instruments. St Bede's was lucky to have a large number of instruments left over from an earlier investment, but the project is still putting a strain on the music department's resources.

Keep it small. Lobbett says that the project has grown more than she expected, and that she would have put a cap on numbers if she had known.

Don't let pupils teach more than one member of staff. It is a tough job and a great deal of concentration is required.

Evidence it works

Lobbett says that the project has brought pupils and staff closer together. It has also helped staff to realise the pressures and demands placed on pupils and, likewise, it has helped pupils to see staff in a different light. So far no one has left the project. "The desire of the staff to be involved in lifelong learning is matched by the pupils' passion to teach the instrument they play," she says.


Approach: Having pupils teach staff how to play musical instruments

Started: September 2012

Leader: Jessica Lobbett, head of the music department


Name: St Bede's Catholic College

Location: Bristol

Pupils: 980

Age Range: 11-18

Intake: Pupils come from all over the Catholic diocese of Clifton, including Bristol and beyond, and encompass a wide range of academic abilities and social backgrounds

Ofsted overall rating: Outstanding (2007).

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