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How a school in Bradford is beating the odds with music
Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 19th Sep 2018

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A primary school in a deprived part of Bradford has gone from failing school to success story. The transformation, it says, is down to a decision to rebuild its curriculum around music.

Adyan, who is nearly five, can barely stand still in the school's music room. His mother, Rabia, is growing impatient.

"Come on: one, two, three, start," she says. "Please, sing."

But Adyan doesn't. He's scampered off to another part of the room, shouting.

He's meant to be showing me that he can recite the alphabet while playing a simple tune on the piano - a big achievement for a child who could barely speak English when he first arrived at school.

"Adyan is a hyperactive child and he has traces of autism," explains Rabia. "Sometimes it can be really hard to understand him. Being a mummy I always said, 'Yes, I can do it'. But I don't understand it. The music is unlocking some of that communication."

At last, with no warning, Adyan rushes to the piano and launches into his alphabetical journey. Each cautious press of the piano key seems to give him the confidence to sing the next letter.

There's a wobble around "m, n, o, p…", when he begins to shout the letters in a distracted way. But then the soft piano sounds seem to lull him back into a state of concentration.

At "z" a beaming Rabia bursts into applause, with Jimmy Rotheram, the school's music coordinator, joining in.

"He gave him courage," says Rabia, pointing at Rotheram, who is standing by her side. "He didn't let him go.

"Give Mr. Rotheram a high-five, Adyan."

Jimmy Rotheram is Feversham Primary's first music coordinator

Jimmy Rotheram is a man full of nervous energy, who exudes a passion for music.

When not teaching, he plays funk and soul on Yorkshire's live music scene.

In his late 20s and 30s he taught music in secondary schools and colleges. But he left the profession feeling overworked and underpaid, hoping instead to be a full-time musician.

When he couldn't make ends meet, he began supply teaching again, but this time at primary schools, including this one, Feversham Primary Academy. He found the younger children's natural enthusiasm fully ignited his passion for teaching music.

"I always use the analogy of swimming," he says. "If you drop a young baby into the water they will just swim naturally. If you leave it too long they forget how to swim."

He arrived at Feversham Primary at just the right time. In 2013 a new headmaster was looking to make radical changes.

Government inspectors had put Feversham Primary in special measures. This means they thought the school was offering an unacceptable standard of education and needed new leadership. In November 2012 it had become an Academy, run by a trust.

Headmaster Naveed Idrees was keen to bring a new ethos to the failing school

"The children were disengaged," explains current headmaster Naveed Idrees. "The curriculum was unstimulating, behaviour was a massive issue, parents were completely switched off. We deserved to be where we were."

Meeting government examination targets would be a challenge for any school in Feversham Primary's position. More than 98% of its pupils, including Adyan, speak English as an additional language, the vast majority being from a Pakistani background.

It's also in a catchment area that, despite a nice suburban veneer, is dealing with high levels of poverty and crime.

But six years on, the school inspectors rate the school very differently. According to performance tables, it is in the top 10% of schools in England when it comes to progressing children's learning in core subjects like maths and English. For the eldest pupils at the school who have come through the system, their progress in reading and maths places them in the top 2% and 1% respectively in England.

So how did it achieve this remarkable turnaround?

The vast majority of pupils at Feversham Primary Academy speak English as an "additional language"

It is a myth that English, maths and science are the most important subjects, according to Idrees.

"What we discovered is that children need to be engaged not just at the level of the mind and body, but also the level of the soul."

The school took a gamble by focusing its resources on music, creating a full-time job for Rotheram in a brand new role, that of music coordinator. It was partly able to fund this through pupil premium funding, the extra money schools are given to support their children from the poorest backgrounds.

It also appointed new specialists in drama, science and design technology, but government inspectors and the school's own headmaster highlight music as the catalyst that changed the school.

"When I first started supply teaching, music would often not be taught here at all," recalls Rotheram.

"I don't blame teachers for this, because it's very hard if you've not been trained to do something."

In his experience, music often falls to the bottom of the pile in schools. It is not a core subject in England's education system, unlike maths, English or science. There's no minimum amount of time that schools are obliged to devote to it - there are just a few general targets for musical competence.

"It's just a tick-box exercise. It might be just putting a CD on and writing about Beethoven's trip to the countryside," says Rotheram.

 The lessons are designed so children actively engage with music

Pupils at Feversham now have three hours of music timetabled into their school week. In fact many pupils are doing up to eight hours a week, explains Rotheram, by choosing to do things like choirs and clubs. This is a much bigger commitment to music than you would get in most state schools.

The music classes built into the school timetable are all highly practical and active - a far cry from children passively listening to a CD.

"My number one rule is that it should always be a joy, never a torture," says Rotheram.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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