Treat pupils like Arctic Monkeys treat their fans, urges top music mogul

21st May 2010 at 01:00
Ex-EMI vice-president says teachers must emulate the music business's digital masterplan in battle for hearts and minds

Teachers need to mimic the way bands like the Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead connect with fans in the internet age as a way of creating more "authentic" relationships with their pupils, a digital media expert has said.

Jeremy Silver believes that schools need to emulate musicians and other creatives who have pioneered ways of compelling fans to pay for their work, even though file-sharing makes it a "free" commodity.

By cutting out big corporate record companies in favour of direct relationships with fans, they are commanding legions of super-dedicated followers, he said.

But Mr Silver, who is deputy chairman of educational think-tank Futurelab, said schools, like big record companies, could struggle to foster these relationships with pupils as they were under pressure to produce good exam results.

An ultra-prescriptive curriculum that does not allow children to carve their own path simply alienates pupils from learning, he said.

School technology, such as learning platforms, is not yet good enough to achieve genuine improvement in relationships between staff and pupils and could even act as a barrier, he added.

Mr Silver is also chief executive of the Featured Artists Coalition, which advises creatives on how to use new technology to create direct relationships with fans. It is co-chaired by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd and David Rowntree of Blur.

"The thing that makes a fan respond is when they feel they have an authentic relationship with the artist," said Mr Silver.

"It is similar with children in schools - they need to feel they have an authentic relationship with the teacher and the curriculum, but this is undermined if it is overly prescriptive.

"Big record companies find it hard to innovate because of the need to report quarterly results to the stock market, and the same is true of schools (which have to report results to Ofsted).

"We have this conundrum and our response has been to shy away from innovation.

"We need to be thinking about how we balance the needs of assessment with allowing children to develop their own skills."

In a speech to the annual conference of the Council of British International Schools, he also criticised the 19th-century concept - still in circulation - that children are "empty vessels to be filled with knowledge".

The high-tech age should encourage pupils to think and explore for themselves, he said.

Mr Silver's speech came as the future hangs in the balance for organisations such as Futurelab, and the education technology quango Becta.

Before the election, Labour said it would axe #163;45 million from its budget, but under the new coalition Government the cuts could be even greater.

Prime Minister David Cameron told delegates at the Tory party conference in Manchester last year that Ed Balls, the then schools secretary, was "blowing hundreds of millions on quangos like the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and Becta".


1995-2000: Worldwide vice-president of new media for EMI Music Group

2000-02: In charge of start-up Uplister Inc, a playlist-sharing music service based in San Francisco

2002-08: CEO of Sibelius Software, a music notation software company

Present: Deputy chairman of education think-tank Futurelab

- Acting chief executive, Featured Artists Coalition, where he advises creatives on improving fanbase via new technology

- Strategic adviser for the music and creative industries, UK Technology Strategy Board.

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