Turntables to timetables: DJ launches free school bid

28th September 2012 at 01:00
Chase and Status star wants to give young musicians a boost

To millions of students he is one half of the drum and bass DJ duo Chase and Status, but to a class of east London teenagers Will Kennard could become "sir" if his bid to open a free school is successful.

The musician, better known as "Status" by his fans, is in advanced talks with the Department for Education to open a free school catering for 16- to 19-year-old students who want to pursue a career in the music industry.

London-based Chase and Status have a string of UK top 40 hits to their name and have worked with some of the biggest names in the business, producing songs for Rihanna, Tinie Tempah and Example.

But rather than submerge himself in the glitz and glamour of life in the entertainment world, Mr Kennard is instead pushing ahead with plans to open a new school in Tower Hamlets, one of the country's most deprived boroughs.

According to the independent St Paul's-educated star, he has long held an ambition to open a school that would give its students the kind of opportunities he had but so many others miss out on. His plans are being supported by the successful Brit School, based in Croydon, and the British Phonographic Industry. The aim is for the school to open its doors in September 2014, under the name of the East London Academy of Music.

The idea, Mr Kennard said, came 10 years ago, after he dropped out of university in Manchester and took up a teaching post at the former North Trafford College.

"I spent two years teaching a BTEC to kids who were like me in wanting to get into the music business," Mr Kennard said. "It was a real eye-opener because they were incredibly talented - more talented than I was - but because of the difficult backgrounds they had, they struggled to make a success out of it.

"I just saw it as a terrible waste of talent. There were kids there who had taught themselves how to play every top 40 hit on the piano, but they didn't know what C major was."

When his own music career took off, he moved back down to London, but his experience teaching in Manchester stayed with him. "I realised that what it came down to was that the opportunities simply weren't available to them as they were to me, coming from a nice middle-class background with a very supportive family behind me," Mr Kennard said.

"They didn't have that to fall back on like I did. I just saw it as unfair and a terrible waste of talent as I felt some of the kids I worked with could easily be the next Pharrell Williams; they were that good."

The chance to realise his vision finally arrived when Michael Gove introduced his flagship free schools policy.

Mr Kennard now leads a group - which includes his brother, Charlie Kennard, and Ed Butcher, both former teachers currently working with Teach First - set up to establish the school, which will provide teenagers with the necessary vocational qualifications as well as the personal development to flourish in a number of different roles within the music business.

Mr Kennard hopes to use his contacts within the industry to help students gain a greater understanding of the business, while undertaking a variety of work-based projects and having the opportunity to engage with employers and individuals from across the music sector.

"Thanks to my career, I can sit down with the heads of major record labels and use that to help young people, rather than just trying to get myself a free pair of trainers or whatever," he said.

Superstar DJs

Chase and Status have been described as the "hottest property" on the dance music scene, having worked with the likes of Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, The Prodigy and Dizzee Rascal.

The London duo is made up of Saul Milton (Chase) and Will Kennard (Status), and was formed in 2003 after the pair met at university in Manchester. Both dropped out of university to concentrate on their music careers.

Their sound stretches across genres, from drum and bass and dubstep to hip hop and grime, making them one of the biggest acts in the country.

Their debut album, More than Alot, was released in 2008 to critical acclaim, while last year's platinum-selling album No More Idols made it to No 2 in the charts. They are expected to release a third studio album later this year.

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