The key to success

30th August 1996 at 01:00
;You don't have to know your crotchets from your quavers to set up a music school. How's the music provision in your school? Is it good, bad, indifferent - or, as in the case of my own school a couple of years ago, virtually non-existent?

I've been headteacher of Hawsker Primary School for six years. Hawsker is a village on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors not far from Whitby and about 18 miles from Scarborough. Soon after starting my headship I was informed by my two long-serving members of staff that peripatetic music tuition was a non-starter, that the "peris" didn't venture out into the wilds around Whitby. They had in fact come as a group twice in 15 years to put on a concert but that was it.

In spite of pleas from myself to County Hall, that remained the case. What was I to do? Apart from a little recorder teaching, there was nothing else Hawsker school was able to offer. Our local vicar was a keen clarinet player; at his suggestion the school bought a single clarinet and he proceeded to teach three or four children over the space of two years. But it still wasn't enough as far as I was concerned. Yet no help was forthcoming from County Hall: "Sorry, we don't come to Whitby."

So, in March 1994, I decided that there was nothing for it but to start my own music school. My eldest son promptly pointed out that I "knew nothing about music". This was very true, but other people I talked to were far more encouraging. A letter to County Hall asking for any support they could offer brought a stinging reply to the effect that I'd "be putting peripatetic staff out of a job". I couldn't quite see how, as none was working in my area.

I decided to carry on. First, I needed some teachers who'd work for very little; they'd be getting Pounds 15 for a two-hour stint. The vicar who'd encouraged me from the start, quickly volunteered his services.

Word of mouth put me in touch with a local classical guitarist who turned out to be more than willing to help launch the idea. Soon after, a card in my local shop advertising violin lessons caught my eye. I rang the number and contacted a local sixth-former, who just happened to be a grade 8 player with a year of A-levels left to do, and she also readily agreed.

Next up was a keyboard-playing friend of mine, a local deputy head who'd played the clubs and holiday camps before becoming a teacher. He completed the teaching line-up. Four instruments were all I was prepared to consider due to lack of space within the school building.

Now, in May, I had the staff, my own school building courtesy of the governing body but no instruments, music or pupils. Out came the Yellow Pages. I contacted every local firm, bank, building society, outlining my idea.

Cheques and polite refusals started to roll in. Eight weeks passed during which I collected nearly Pounds 1,l00. Deals were struck with local music suppliers and instruments both new and second-hand purchased, as were music stands and music.

The local paper reported what was happening and invited children to apply. Within three days, all available places - six for each instrument - were gone. A waiting list was started. Everything was now ready.

The summer holidays flew by and in September 1994 we opened our doors. How does it work? Each child gets 20 minutes individual tuition for Pounds 2.50, which goes to the teacher. Music school makes a little money by renting out instruments at Pounds 5 per term, but basically we're non-profit making. As you'd expect, some children dropped out but our waiting list provided instant replacements.

In summer l995 three of our pupils took first places in the Eskdale Festival of the Arts and a number of others were highly placed. Two have joined the county-run Music Centre in Scarborough and play in a large junior concert band, others will soon be following them.

Now Whitby is to get its own Saturday Music School where the children will get a chance to play as part of an ensemble or concert band. Hawsker Music School still has its part to play, providing the individual tuition the children need - our waiting list doesn't get any shorter.

So, if you're in the position I was a couple of years ago, take heart, things can be made to happen. Just do it your way!

John Barber is headteacher of Hawsker Primary School.

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