AH: Hello, it’s Anita here, and welcome to this month’s podcast. In this episode I’m talking with Jimmy Rotheram. Jimmy is a Bradford music teacher who was thrust into the spotlight in 2017 when the media got hold of the story of how music contributed to transforming Feversham Primary. The school is in Bradford Moor, which is one of the most financially deprived areas of the UK, and in just a few years it went from being in special measures to having an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating and becoming one of the best primary schools in the country for pupil progress. And much of it was down to giving music a central role in the school. Spots on the BBC’s ‘One Show’ followed, a feature in The Guardian, and lots of other radio, newspaper, and online coverage, which no doubt you’ve seen. And also a nomination for the Global Teacher Prize. Jimmy’s since run training for heads and teachers, given evidence to a House of Lords enquiry on music education, and given talks to music educators all over the UK. So why I thought you’d be interested is that he’s a great example of how one person with a mission and a story can get noticed and listened to, and can really make a massive difference to music and advocacy. So welcome, and thanks for coming on Jimmy, it’s really great to have you here.
JR: It’s a pleasure to be here Anita.
AH: So before we go on to talking about what happened at the school, and how you became a kind of a music education superstar, I’d be really interested to hear about your musical journey and how did you get to be a primary teacher and why is what you do so important to you?
JR: Well, music’s been a part of my life ever since I was really tiny. My mum used to sing to me a lot, which really, really helps with musical development. And then as soon as I could reach a piano I was playing on it. I was really lucky to have a piano in my house, and again really lucky that my parents could just about afford for me to have piano lessons. So my mum would take me kind of four or five miles, in wind, snow or rain, because I don’t think that we could afford the bus fare but we could afford the piano lessons. It was brilliant having a mum like that who was really supportive. I was lucky enough to have a really good choir at school which really helped with my musical development alongside that, and yes music’s just been a huge part of my life forever, really. And like most music teachers I trained as a secondary music specialist, and it was only when I really started doing supply teaching that I realised what a sorry state music was in primary schools. It was virtually non-existent in most of the schools I went to. There was even a kind of anti-music tendency. I once got asked never to come back to a school because I dared to bring my piano in and do a song for the last 10 minutes with the children. And the school were furious with me.
AH: How strange?
JR: Yeah. It’s strange to us, but it’s quite common because there’s such high-stakes accountability for a very narrow curriculum of maths and English. Hopefully things are changing with that now, with Ofsted wanting to see a broad and balanced curriculum. But part of the problem is it’s been absent from so many schools for such a long time, it’s going to take a while for schools to get music back on the agenda, really.
AH: Yeah, it’s going to be a long, slow process, but hopefully things are definitely changing. I know you’ve told the transformation story of Feversham many times, but just for the record can you kind of summarise what happened at Feversham that caused all the interest. And when you go there, what was it like? How did you start to bring music more into the school?
JR: So, we were in special measures, we were a failing school, and the morale was very low in the school, and like a lot of primary schools who are in that position, the previous headteacher thought, ‘Right, OK, let’s focus on maths and english’, and nothing else. They were getting maths consultants in. I went in there doing a little bit of music on supply and it was all not really done well, because I was teaching just children in Years 5 and 6, and only the children who were perceived to be musically talented. I went to the headteacher and kind of said, ‘Look, if we’re going to do music let’s do it properly. This is how we should be doing it’. And he said, ‘Brilliant, yeah, let’s do it properly’. And I said, ‘Well I’m going to need to get trained because I’m a secondary teacher, I don’t know anything about teaching a class full of five-year-olds’. So the school paid for me to have quite substantial training in the Kodály approach and then I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to study even more, and actually gave the tools and the methodology to make a difference with the children in the school. So it went from virtually no music up to seven hours music a week for the children fairly quickly. And we found that the more music we did the more children’s confidence increased, the happier they were, and the more they enjoyed coming to school. But then we started to see a quite dramatic upswing in results in other subjects. And really nothing else had changed in the school. It was still the same staff, still the same senior management team. We had a new headteacher that wanted to put creativity right at the heart of the curriculum, so it was brilliant working alongside him and have the kind of support he’s given me, to take a whole-school approach to music and to put it at the centre of the curriculum.
AH: That’s brilliant and I know what everybody’s going to want to ask is, first of all, so how did you persuade the senior management team, even the governors? It sounds as though you had an open-door with the teachers and you were lucky with the head. Is that right?
JR: Yes. Lucky to an extent, but also I was very keen to present all the benefits of music education to him. And I think one thing I wanted to kind of really put across in this podcast is that as music educators because it’s so tough for us, and because our music is so undervalued in schools, we all need to be advocates now. We all need to kind of fight our corner, even it it’s just with other staff in the school, to educate them about the benefits and the best way of doing things. And obviously with senior leaders and governors as well, you can really show how music can be part of a school improvement plan, and how it can get so much better outcomes for children across the curriculum.
AH: I’m really interested to know how you did that. Did you sort of go to your head and explain the benefits, and did you need to go to governors to justify music?
JR: Not at that stage no. It was something I used to do because at the time I was working as a professional musician and just doing a couple of days supply during the week. And I’d say the headteacher was kind of cautiously supportive of what I was doing. But he did want to see evidence and research and things like that before we really took the plunge with things. There’s so much evidence out there in all kinds of fields, from neuroscience to psychology to music and dyslexia. There’s so many facets and so many benefits for the children that really it’s hard to argue against. And one thing I have found is that nobody’s saying. ‘Oh, we should do less music in schools. We shouldn’t do music’. Nobody’s saying that. Even Nick Gibb is saying I want all children to leave primary school being able to read and write music well, and to have a good balanced education. But the system is just discouraging headteachers from doing that at the moment.
AH: Absolutely. And just to sort of backtrack again. In terms of that evidence base that your headteacher wanted to see, what bits did you pick out or how did you go about presenting that evidence?
JR: I presented quite a broad case for music education. So there’s the wellbeing benefits, research from people like the Arts and Minds charity which shows that people joining choirs, it had a huge effect on improving their depression and loneliness and all these feelings that affect our wellbeing. We looked at the neuroscience and how evidence suggests that music can promote structural and functional changes in the brain, and especially in early years when the brain is so plastic anyway. We looked at how music can boost literacy, we looked at how we can teach music across the curriculum, and use the tools in music to teach maths and teach other subjects. I mean, there’s some quite substantial reports like Susan Hallam’s ‘The Power of Music’ is particularly strong and brings together a lot of this research into one piece of work. So there’s lots of good reports out there to read.
AH: And is your approach to sort of send those to your senior leadership team, or do you talk them through the benefits, or were you giving presentations? What sorts of tools did you use to get those messages across?
JR: It depends. I mean sometimes I’d have teachers questioning why I’m doing things so I’d just say, ‘Look, read all this research’, and I’d give them tons of research and I don’t think they looked at it. ‘Here you go. Read this. This is why I’m doing what I’m doing’, and they just kind of agree with you then rather than have to read through thousands of words. But I think there’s still a perception in schools, and it’s become very ingrained over the years because music hasn’t been seen as being important. If you want to be a primary music specialist, there’s only two places in the country that do it that offer a Primary PGCE with music specialism. So there’s hardly any opportunities to become a primary music specialist. And often it’s on a PPA-cover basis, so you’re covering for teachers and you’re seen as not really part of the main body of staff. Often you’ll get teachers pulling children out of you music lessons for things like handwriting interventions, and dyslexia interventions, and often it’s those children that really need the music lessons the most and really see the biggest benefit from them. So there’s kind of an environment in schools where it’s very, very difficult at the moment for music teachers to succeed. And people say, ‘Oh, can’t we just train lots of people to do what you do’, and you can train lots of people to do what I do – it really isn’t rocket science. However, without the support of your headteacher it can be virtually impossible to actually achieve anything in a school. So we’re trying to develop a whole-school model where all the staff are on board, music’s central in the curriculum, and everybody respects it. But it’s difficult, even here, with all that support. So if you have schools and the headteacher doesn’t value music, it must be very, very difficult indeed for the music co-ordinators.
AH: Absolutely. And in terms of allocating staff time, as well as money to music. That’s a massive thing isn’t it? And that’s what’s holding loads of schools back. Is there anything you can share about Feversham and how they overcame that, to make sure that every child has music?
JR: Sure. Music needn’t be really expensive. There’s so much of a focus on learning through instruments when actually, and especially in the early years the voice and the body are really powerful, primal instruments that we can use. And we found with the largely Pakistani Muslim community that we teach, there was lots of cultural and social issues with actually getting instruments out to children and for them to take them home. Even though we were offering free instrumental loans, children weren’t really … children really wanted to take them home, but the parents were saying, ‘No, no, we can’t’. Often because you’ve got big families and they were worried about instruments getting damaged and having to pay for them. Or they were worried that it was going to stop their children from becoming a doctor or a lawyer, because again it was this perception that music is a waste of time rather than something which hugely enhances learning across all subjects. So yes, there’s a perception that music needs to be really expensive, and what a lot of schools are doing is just buying in loads of instruments without actually thinking, ‘Well have we got anyone who can teach these instruments?’. Or the children are kind of getting instrumental lessons, and it’s a big group of 30 children, and it’s very, very difficult to teach like that, especially if you haven’t had any training in age-appropriate pedagogy. So yeah, using the voice and the body we found that children could go and practice all the time. We’ll see children going home practising the sol-fa and practicing the rhythms on their bodies and things like that. And actually, the best investment you can make is in training for staff so they can be independent and confident in delivering it. And actually things like First in Music project in Teeside have shown that while it’s very difficult for teachers with no training to teach music, actually if you just give them a little bit of the fundamentals. They were training teachers for about 25 hours in total and giving them a body of songs that they could use in lots of different ways. And First in Music found that was really effective and they’ve managed to bring the Kodály approach to 60 schools in Teeside. But again, a lot of those schools are finding the same problems, you know. People are coming into the lessons and talking to the children while they’re singing. Just not really giving music the respect as a subject that it deserves. So there’s still some way to go, but I think training for music co-ordinators and a whole-school approach to music really is the way forward.
AH: Oh, that’s really interesting. So I was going to go on to ask, what is it about the way music is done at Feversham that has caused this remarkable transformation? And your approach is very much based around the Kodály approach. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
JR: Yeah, sure. So the Kodály approach is incredibly clever. Children learn through play, and quite often the games serve one of two purposes. Sometimes the game is just a way of reversing that dynamic where the teacher’s saying to the children, ‘No you didn’t get that right. Let’s do it again’, and the kids are going, ‘Aw, do we have to do it again’. Whereas if it’s a game, it’s the children saying, ‘Again, and again, and again’. And you’re saying to the kids, ‘We’ve done this seventy times now – you must be bored?’, and they’re going, ‘Not at all, we want to do it again’. So you’re establishing practice like that through the fun and play, but quite often there’s important embodied cognition so children might learn about pitch through representing it physically. They might learn about pulse through gross motor movement and through moving to a pulse rather than putting up rhythms on a board and saying that, ‘This is a semibreve and this is a crotchet’. It’s a very instinctive way of learning music, and all the steps are carefully scaffolded so that every child can come on that journey with you. And I think as a way of teaching music, en masse, it’s incredibly effective. And over the last few years, I’ve used more and more of Dalcroze techniques, and Dalcroze is a wonderful approach too. It’s very much based on movement and expression and responding to music. And use of time, space and energy in the room and sort of relating that to how we think about music. If that makes sense?
AH: So are those two approaches embodied in the training that primary school teachers would get? I know they only get probably about two hours of training, if that.
JR: Most primary school teachers are getting training which is an insult to them and an insult to the subject. It’s a joke. They’re getting between one and six hours of training on their PGCE course on the entirety of the course. So you imagine doing one hour. You’ve never played an instrument before and you get one hour of training. I’ve looked at some of the stuff the newly qualified teachers have been doing in my school for their music training and it was things like listen to a piece of classical music and then comment on the dynamic tempo texture etc. And that’s not giving them any guidance or tools to use in the classroom. It’s not helping them in any way. It’s pointless.
AH: Is there sort of any training available that you’d signpost schools to?
JR: People often come up and ask me, ‘With such an overwhelming array of options of how to teach music, and a lot of commercial options, how can you kind of find the right approaches when you might not really have a clear idea of what good music teaching looks like’. And what I say to them is, ‘Always ask two questions. Ask first of all, what is your musical philosophy, and what kind of pedagogy are you using?’. And if they can’t answer those questions, then ‘Goodbye’, really, because it shows that they’re more bothered about just a box-ticking, commercial exercise than actually developing music thoroughly and vigorously. The training I had was with the British Kodály Academy, and that was absolutely marvellous. It was superb training. Really, really good, and really in-depth. I also went on a Dalcroze Summer school. There’s less Dalcroze practice in my mash-up of all these approaches. But again the Dalcroze training that I had from Dalcroze UK was just absolutely brilliant. The British Kodály Academy, Dalcroze UK, Voices Foundation are doing some excellent work in schools. And if you’re an early years teacher, then there’s an organisation called MERYC who provide a lot of training, and really the early years is so much different to Year 1, and Year 1 is so much different to Year 2 that you kind of need different approaches. And there’s organisations like the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, [and] Musical Futures. Musical Futures’ approach, which is quite radically different to Kodály and Dalcroze, but again it’s something that’s been working in schools and has a good track record. So there’s lots of different ways of approaching this. But I think the priority should be that it’s child-centred, that it’s age-appropriate, that it’s fun and that it plans for substantial musical development over time. Otherwise you’re just sort of randomly banging drums, randomly singing songs, and perhaps not learning all that much, and not developing all that much.
AH: I know that you’re a big advocate for making sure that music is as inclusive as possible, and I know that that’s actually more complex than it sounds. So, could you also tell me a little bit about how that works in your school?
JR: Sure. The Kodály approach is a very inclusive approach because the idea is, the way music’s often taught, and certainly the way secondary school music teachers will teach it in a primary school is that you’ll maybe present it in a couple of ways and using a score and things like that. I think if you present it in the sort of traditional ways we have presented music to children, there’ll only be sort of five or six children who are able to do it straight away. And I think often we jump the gun a bit and think, ‘Ah, these are the musically talented children’. And this idea that some children have musical talent and some children don’t is just, I can disprove that to anyone that comes to visit the school. If they’re taught in the right way, every single child will be musical. Obviously they’ll be musical to different extents, depending on how passionate they are, and how much extra time we put in. But every single child will have a strong foundation of musical ability. And the reason that happens is that because rather than present things in one way and have five or six children understand it, you’ll present things in five or six different multi-sensory ways and eventually that starts to stick. But you also have, I think traditionally a music teacher would present you with a piece of music, you wouldn’t recognise much of it, it would be quite intimidating, and then your music teacher’s job was to tell you all the mistakes that you’d made. Good pedagogy will prepare any difficulties. You’ll break those down into exercises that you try before you do the song with these difficult parts in them. You’ll anticipate what children are going to find difficult. You’ll turn it into a game. You’ll practice that and practice these elements, and then when you do actually present them with the musical score they’ll be really prepared for it. They’re approaching it with confidence rather than fear, and making much fewer mistakes. So when you get to the practicing stage, children are much more successful because they’ve had a really good grounding and preparation. So the pedagogy itself is very inclusive. In early years we have a lot of children who are new to English, so I tend not to speak very much. There’s been a lot of pressure from the DfES for teachers to talk more in lessons, and that might be fine for an A-level History class, but for an early years music class where none of the children speak English anyway, there’s very little point, initially, in using lots of teacher talk. So I will just go straight into the activities and the games and then children will develop their language through that. So that’s the main body of the lessons, and every child is doing really well with the curriculum, but we also have interventions for dyslexic children. So we’ve worked with Katie Overy and Emma Moore, who are researchers into music and neuroscience and psychology at Edinburgh University, and they observe that children with dyslexia often struggle with rhythmic activities. And they looked at brain scans and noticed that our brains process music in virtually the same way that we process speech and language, particularly with rhythms. And dyslexic children often struggle with certain rhythmic activities. So things like rapid auditory processing. If I clap seven fast claps, [does seven fast claps], they will really struggle to count that as seven, they will clap back five claps or eight claps. And they thought, ‘Well, if we can correct these rhythmical difficulties, will it have any positive effects on the literacy outcomes?’, and they found that they had quite significant effects. So we do that with dyslexic children in Year 2 and Year 5 who get three, 20-minute sessions a week on top of all the music lessons they’re already getting. We also have quite intense interactive sessions with children with autism. We’ve had maybe four or five who are selectively mute, and it’s been wonderful just doing these sessions with them. We’ll do a lot of activities to build up trust, we’ll do a lot of observation. It’s very child-led, and we’ll very much sort of go into their world. Once we’ve established that trust, we can start having exchanges of communication and working with this. And maybe developing singing, and you can really see, we’ve videoed them regularly, you can really see the rapid development of speech and language in these children. And what’s fascinating is, they don’t talk and they don’t communicate much outside of the music room, and then the minute they’re coming to music they’re singing their hearts out at the top of their lungs. So it’s had a really significant effect on bringing the power of speech to these children. And I don’t think, and the parents don’t think that they would be speaking now if they hadn’t had those intensive music sessions. So yeah, we’re doing a lot in terms of inclusion and the fundamental principle of Kodály is that music is for everybody and not a single child should be left out. And as I said before, if it’s taught in the right way, every single child in your class will be musical. It’s a myth that some people are musical and some people aren’t.
AH: Yeah, I’m really glad that you said that. I know that Awards for Young Musicians have done a series of videos about spotting, not talent, but spotting musical potential I think they call it. And that’s been really interesting. I think Hugh Nankivell has been quite involved in that, he’s a community musician, and very experienced. It’s been really interesting seeing that sort of develop, and that approach kind of expand across England and the UK. It’s so interesting hearing all this Jimmy there’s so much to talk about your school, but I kind of want to move on to advocacy now. I’m very interested in the Katie Ovary work, and I will be talking with her in a future podcast because you’d suggested that. So we’ll hear more about that then. And I think actually that is a really good hook to hang music on – not that we should need to – but to tell your local authority school improvement teams about what music can do for dyslexia is quite a powerful message really. And there are lots of different messages that we can convey about different applications for music. I just wanted to pick up on, before we move on to communications, you’re running training yourselves aren’t you, as a school, anybody can come to you. Is that right?
JR: Yeah. We did a couple of sessions last year which went down really well, and the teachers came away really confident about using aspects of Kodály and Dalcroze in their work in the classroom. We do feel however that as I said before you really need a whole-school approach. So, what we’re looking to do is bring our approach to all the schools in the AET Academy Chain and there’s been a precedent for this with the work of Simon Toyne in the David Ross Educational Trust Academies. They’ve got a Kodály approach going on in their schools which unfortunately isn’t that well known, but I think that that’s quite an achievement. So, we’re looking to use similar models across all the AET schools but also really give them a lot of support with the whole-school approach. So you’re not just training the teachers, but you’re training senior leaders, training the class teachers, to really make music part of the school. Because I think one of the negative effects of setting up the music hubs has been that music then becomes something that the music services do and not the school. So the schools kind of pass the buck and say, ‘OK, we’ve ticked that box, the music service are doing it’. The kind of responsibility moves away from the school towards the music hubs, and the music hubs are just not equipped to bring curriculum music to every single child in the country. So yes, it’s really important for us that music’s right at the heart of school life.
AH: And so that training, anybody from anywhere around the UK can come up to Bradford and take part in that and they just need to look on your website for information is that right?
JR: Yes, that’s right. They can and they do. We’ve had visitors from as far away as the Cook Islands and New Zealand and Canada.
JR: Yeah. It seems to be an international problem, this fading away of music from the curriculum. So I’m finding a lot of the arguments that I’m using here also apply in Norway and North America and all over the world it’s a very similar story unfortunately.
AH: So that seems like an appropriate time to turn to communications because obviously you’ve been an amazing advocate for music education and it is just an example of how one person can make a difference. So how did all of that start? How did the media get hold of the story?
JR: I contacted The Guardian. I was reading The Guardian’s Tuesday education supplement and there was an article about how Bradford schools were under-achieving. There was an article I think about how Muslim children weren’t accessing music lessons and there was another article – and I can’t remember what that was now. But there were three articles within the same edition which kind of I thought, ‘Hang on, we’re telling a completely different story to what you guys are telling here’. So I got in touch with them. I think I tried before to get in touch with the Bradford Telegraph and Argus and they just weren’t interested. But when I read all these stories again, I felt compelled to contact The Guardian and I was quite surprised when they said, ‘Yes. We’ll send up one of our journalists to take a look because we’re really interested in a positive education story.’
AH: It’s as simple as that then, that’s amazing. And who did you contact and how? Was it an email to The Guardian education supplement?
JR: It was an email to The Guardian education team, yeah. You hear about so many music teachers who are quietly getting on with doing absolutely brilliant work. Which the children are really benefiting from, and the school’s really benefiting from, but we need to be shouting from the rooftops when were doing this kind of work. Because so many children are not getting this and that’s what drives me. When I see autistic children learn to speak, dyslexic children improve their spelling. Every single child being a confident, expressive musician, and all the kinds of benefits that all of this brings. I think that it’s criminal that children aren’t getting this in schools. That’s my main motivation. That’s why I spend my days teaching but I also spend my evenings doing all this advocacy work and just trying to get the message out there. About the importance of music, and how we as music teachers can really sell what we do to parents and governors and headteachers and the Departments for Education and Ofsted. You’re only a few steps away, I think, from very influential people. And I think if you can keep putting the right messages out they will be picked up, and people will pick up on the work that you’re doing.
AH: I wanted to ask a really tactical question now. When you wrote that email to The Guardian, what were the things you said? Because you only have a very few paragraphs or words to grab somebody’s attention because they get so many press releases and things like that. So what was it that you said, specifically about your school? Can you remember?
JR: Just that we were bucking all the trends in education. So everything that they’d highlighted we could show the opposite of that. You can have Muslim children engaged in music, you can have a Muslim community engaged in music, you can have all children being musical. It was just a very positive ‘We can do this, and we are doing it’. And I was very surprised at how popular the article they did was. It got 250,000 shares around the world, and that’s kind of when the international interest in the school started. And then the BBC World Service picked up on that and did a film which has now had about 10 millions views across the world. And it was that kind of thing that attracted the Global Teacher Prize, and it just kind of snowballed from there really. And I’m still kind of rolling around in that snowball.
AH: And what did you specifically do to grab onto the coattails as it was all spinning around?
JR: Just taking one step at a time, really. And just moving from one thing to the next. I found that if I stopped to think about what I was doing it would be a little bit terrifying. Because I was speaking to the House of Lords, I’ve had opportunities to influence the Department for Education and Ofsted. Doing things like keynote talks for the Royal Philharmonic Society, the Music Education Commission, and I just kind of have to try and be very kind of Zen about it and go from one thing to the next, not panic, not worry too much, not think whether I’m out of my depth or not. Just going for it really and doing the best I can because I’ve got some really exciting opportunities to influence policy makers. If everything is still the way it is in terms of politics, I will be doing to talk to both Nick Gibb and Amanda Spielman in December. And that’s really exciting because I can really put these arguments forward. It’s great to have that kind of influence but it’s also a big responsibility and it’s something that might never happen again and it might disappear tomorrow, for all I know. So it’s just a case of taking my chances and making the most of the opportunities. But, I’ve got great support, and what you do find is that if you do go into something like primary music advocacy, there’s not millions of people who are shouting and fighting for this. There’s kind of a small team of people if you like who are regularly putting forward these arguments. And you can just become part of the team with them, you know. It’s quite an inclusive movement, and it’s a lot of people working very, very hard to try and make a difference.
AH: That’s really inspiring. That anyone could do that, and you just have to be brave and almost don’t think about the fear.
JR: And I think actually, not being part of an organisation can be quite advantageous in many ways. Not being part of a kind of major national organisation because you’re not seen as having any bias or any vested interests. You won’t be kind of have to pass things on to the CEO or your line manager. And you’ve got complete editorial freedom to put your views across.
AH: Yeah, I can understand that. Actually there’s one national organisation that’s asking for people who are willing to be spokespeople which is the Creative Industries Federation. And they are looking for spokespeople, so I’m trying to get as many music education people to get on that list as possible. So sometimes that does happen too, that the national organisations will be looking for individuals to speak. So how did all this attention affect the school and the pupils and also yourself?
JR: I think it’s been overwhelmingly positive. I mean my first priority was to protect music in this school and to kind of make it such a strong feature of the school that they couldn’t ever get rid of it. It very much cemented music as a central part of the school. It’s been a lot of good news for the community. The community, and the school in particular, gets a very bad press, or previously have got very bad press. Even a couple of years ago you’d walk around in the community and you’d say, ‘Oh, I work at Feversham school’, and they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s a terrible school, that’s an awful school’. But now we’re Outstanding according to Ofsted. It’s very, very difficult to improve your reputation locally if it’s been damaged and bad for a long time. You know, if parents went to the school and had bad experiences, it’s very easy to get into a negative cycle. So, it’s all the more miraculous really that we’ve been able to pull out of that and put a positive story across.
AH: It’s incredible. And what are your future plans for spreading the message about music education?
JR: Well this year is again part of the reason I’m working really hard, it’s kind of like my Olympic year. I don’t think I’m going to get these opportunities again to influence things, and there’s a lot of key things coming out this year. So we’ve already had the new Ofsted framework, the subject deep dives, and I’ve been hearing about a few of those taking place for music. And so that’ll make a huge difference if Ofsted are taking music seriously and actually inspecting it. I’ve been working in schools for about 16 years now, and because of doing a lot of supply contracts I would get Ofsteded all the time. So, I might have three Ofsted’s in one term if I’m working in three different schools. But they never, ever came to see about music, so after a while I started to stop worrying about it because I knew they weren’t bothered. And I think schools have let music slide because obviously Ofsted haven’t taken the slightest bit of interest in it. So it’s good for Ofsted to suddenly start to take an interest and as I say, this year we’ve had the new inspection framework from them. We’ve also got the National Plan for Music Education [in England], and that could make or break things really. So that’s a vitally important piece of work. We’ve got the new model music curriculum which I’ve been advising on, and I can’t say too much about that. But I can say, what I’ve seen so far it’s absolutely brilliant. I know there’s been a lot of sort of criticism.
AH: That’s good to hear something positive.
JR: Yeah, there’s been a lot of criticism of the make-up of the panel, but I think there’s been enough people on there with real expertise and a really good philosophy of primary education for us to put something together that I think that people are actually going to be quite surprised by and are really going to like. So hopefully that can provide a good standard for schools to aspire to. So this year is just vital, there’s so much happening, there’s so much coming out this year. Next year I haven’t really thought too much. I might just try and chill out on a beach for a year somewhere.
AH: I don’t blame you.
JR: Become a lifeguard or something, and just try and relax for a bit. I can maybe take my foot off the gas a little bit next year and I’m certainly not working in a sustainable way at the moment. I’m doing 60- to 70-hour weeks which you can do for a short time I think, so I’m seeing this year as a year when I’m really going to kind of hammer things home and see how the dust settles next year.
AH: I hope you look after your wellbeing Jimmy, because I think we kind of need you.
AH: So I think I want to move on to questions from Twitter and LinkedIn. So there’s just a couple of questions if that’s OK?
AH: OK. So, Liv McClennan who’s a community musician – I think you know Liv – she said, ‘Was Jimmy already working at the school or started working there after it went into special measures? And just wondering about the SLT’s thinking around music, why did they choose music and how did they go about implementing it so deeply?’. You’ve probably covered some of that.
JR: Yeah. I think we were just coming out of, or had just come out of special measures when I started at the school. But really a lot of credit is due to the headteacher because the headteacher’s got a really deep philosophy on school and education. And really believes that the arts, even though he’s not from an artistic or musical background himself, he is from a Sufi Muslim background, so he appreciates that spiritual side of music. And obviously we live in quite a secular world now and music, to him, is one of the last connections to that spiritual, that transcendental experience which for him brings you closer to god and develops the soul. And we often talk about children in terms of developing their souls and part of this kind of developing the whole child approach. So in all subjects we are looking to develop all aspects of children, you know, their confidence, their self-esteem, their physical development. All of this is planned for in a very joined-up curriculum, so we’re not just having this narrow focus on English and maths because regardless of what your results say, I think everybody knows that’s not a good education for these children. And actually, if we’re sending children away from school without the confidence to speak to people, with low self-esteem issues, that’s every bit as much of a failure for me as if we sent children away from school not being able to read and write. We have what we call a values-based curriculum, so we’ll have a different theme each month. We’ll teach about resilience, or we’ll teach about patience, or friendship, all these sorts of things. And again these are not really measured are they, they’re not really measured by schools, they’re not necessarily seen as fundamentally important to schools because we’ve got such a pathological, narrow focus on maths and English and we’re not really preparing them for the world of work either if we don’t provide them with a broad and balanced education.
AH: And so the other question was from Karen Turner, who’s the executive director of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, and she said, ‘Do you use music alongside other arts?’.
JR: Erm, yes, actually. Art in our school is something that we’re still looking to improve. Drama has always been central to what we do as well, so we have a fantastic drama teacher who doesn’t get that much publicity. But he’s superb. He’s supposed to have retired about five years ago, but they wouldn’t let him because he’s so brilliant. So he just comes in a couple of days a week now, and we’ve just taken on a new drama teacher. Dance is a huge part of what we do, and we’re lucky to have a couple of members of staff with dance degrees. So all the kind of work I do with movement and Dalcroze really fits in well with what they’re doing in dancing.
AH: And it sounds like your school employees subject specialists, very definitely in the arts?
JR: Yes. We’ve shown models where you can not be a subject specialist and actually teach music outstandingly well in early years and key stage 1. Because you don’t need to be a virtuosic musician to deliver music at that level. What you do need is the sort of the things we were talking about earlier. The age-appropriate pedagogy, the good relationships with the children, the positive attitude, etc. And actually, I think a trained-up classroom generalist in key stage 1 will be more effective than someone who’s just a musician and hasn’t had that sort of training in how to make it stick with the children. The difficulty comes in key stage 2. If you have had a really good music programme in key stage 1 and early years, by the time children get to key stage 2, they’re often at a higher level than the teachers. Therefore it can add an extra layer of difficulty and embarrassment to the teachers. So I think all schools need access to a specialist, they’re not all going to be able to all employ a specialist, but what I would hope is that music hubs could provide music specialists which would work in clusters with schools. So that specialist knowledge and skills is still disseminating into the schools, it’s just in much more of an organised way. Much more of a collaborative way with the class teachers rather than being something that’s entirely separate.
AH: Yeah, and I know a lot of hubs are doing that. Particularly around singing, so that’s really positive. That’s been in the national plan [for England] from the start. It sounds to me as though that that sort of Kodály training actually, because is it’s so pedagogy-based and very values-based in a sense, that actually sending a teacher on that training would benefit all of their teaching wouldn’t it? So it doesn’t need to necessarily be seen as just music training almost?
JR: Absolutely, yeah. I mean it’s just very good, inclusive pedagogy. There’s certain things that you can take across into other subjects. So something that’s really important in the Kodály approach, and also in things like the Orff approach. Carl Orff said you should experience first and then intellectualise. Kodály had kind of three stage pedagogy where you had a preparation stage which was this experiential, unconscious learning and then you would present the information of what the children were learning, and then you would practice it. That’s quite a simple model but that can be applied to other subjects.
AH: So finally Jimmy, I could talk to you for absolutely hours, but we’ll have to wrap up quite soon. So could you give us three or more practical pieces of advice for others working in music education who maybe feel they don’t have a voice. Who maybe want to advocate for music in their own school or perhaps want to raise the profile of music education more generally and campaign for change.
JR: Yeah. There’s the kind of ‘mud against the wall’ theory isn’t there? Where you kind of throw lots of mud against the wall and eventually some of it will stick to the wall. That’s been no different for me really. I mean, obviously I’ve had all this interest in my work over the last couple of years, but I’ve been teaching for 16 years now and often I was that voice who no one was listening to. So I’ve been there and I can sympathise with that, but I think just keep putting your arguments across, keep fighting your corner, because we have to now just to protect music. As I said, everyone needs to be an advocate now. We need to protect our own jobs in our own schools by making sure that the staff in the schools really understand what we’re doing and why, and the parents, and all of these benefits that we spoke about. You know, I will advocate to anybody who’s nearby, you know, people whose eyes are glazing over at bus stops, who have no interest in what I’m talking about. But I’m kind of so enthusiastic about it, and what’s been amazing is that people are listening and when you have to get your arguments taken on board by a few key influencers. And the great thing about being online is you have access to all these key influencers, you know. You can go to a speech about something at a music conference and then you can contact the guy or the woman who was doing the talk the next day and chat to them about what they were doing and strengthen your own arguments, and get involved by just putting yourself about really, and keep shouting it from the rooftops.
AH: So sort of talk to anyone because you never know when you’re going to plant a seed, be networked because that’s critical, and there’s sort of plenty of opportunities to be networked in all sorts of different ways.
JR: Loads of people will help as well. Because I mean, you spoke about how I’m kind of doing this on my own but I don’t feel like I am doing it on my own. And I don’t feel like I would even be able to do it on my own. I’ve had incredible sort of behind the scenes support. I might be doing a talk on music and wellbeing. So I’ll get in touch with music therapists, and I’ll get in touch with people who have much greater expertise than I do. Being able to have a network like that where you’ve got all this expertise and all these people making strong arguments and influencing the world, you can just dive in and be part of that. The kind of social networking that’s going on might be the thing that saves music education.
AH: Oh, that’s really interesting. That’s brilliant. It’s just worth diving in and getting involved in the conversations. Particularly on Twitter, I think there’s some really rich conversations that go on, and people are all learning an awful lot.
JR: Yeah. One thing that’s really important about being an advocate is to kind of get into the world of people who you’re putting these arguments to. So when I had the opportunity to influence the Department for Education I looked at all their philosophies so they believe in knowledge-rich education, they believe in the ideas of E. D. Hirsch. And actually what you’ll find is that they’re not completely incompatible. You’ll find things you can hook on to. So if I’m taking to the DfES I’ll talk about the knowledge-rich aspects of my work. If I’m talking to Montessori teachers I’ll talk about the child-led aspects of my work. If I’m talking to headteachers I’ll be talking about the possible boost to academic achievement. If I’m talking to nurses and music therapists I might talk about the wellbeing elements. And I think it’s important to be able to know where your audience is coming from and to be able to pitch your arguments specifically to those targets.
AH: Angle your messages accordingly. There’s a tool people use called an Empathy Map actually in communications, which is exactly what you’re talking about.
AH: That’s a really, really, fantastically useful tip to end on. Thank you so much for all the inspiration and the ideas you’ve given us, and thanks for all your doing for music education.
JR: Thank you Anita.
AH: You’re really welcome. If you want to read more about Jimmy I’ll be sharing the links in the show notes.