EDUCATION: Finding the keys to success

by
19 September 2014

A report this week emphasised the value of learning an instrument. Margaret Holness went to hear how it was done in one school

New accomplishment: Shackyrah, whose piano lessons have helped her cope with the after-effects of being bullied

New accomplishment: Shackyrah, whose piano lessons have helped her cope with the after-effects of being bullied

ONE morning in March this year, the head of the Stock Exchange, Xavier Rolet, and his senior colleagues had some VIP guests for breakfast. They were pupils of St Paul's and All Hallows', a primary School in Tottenham, north London, there at the invitation of M. Rolet, who had visited their school weeks earlier.

A talented amateur pianist, M. Rolet had heard of the beneficial effect of the school's unusual instrumental-music programme, and wanted to see it in action. The multi-talented Frenchman was particularly interested because he had not grown up in the most propitious circumstances, and his success has been achieved against the odds.

St Paul's and All Hallows' C of E Academy, a federation of a nursery, infants, and junior school, standing in the lee of Spurs' football ground, is a calm, cheerful oasis in an area of multiple deprivation. Ninety-eight per cent of the 400 or so pupils are of Caribbean or African backgrounds - many of the latter with refugee parents - and at least half do not have English as a home language. Many are dealing with stressful circumstances in the past or present.

That said, they attend plays at top London theatres, and attend ballet, opera, and classical music concerts at prestigious venues, such as the Royal Festival Hall and the Wigmore Hall. Everything is paid for by the academy, whose executive head, Sharon Easton, is determined that they should have the cultural experiences provided for more advantaged children by their parents.
  

 

A LARGE part of the academy's cultural programme is music, which is taught to all pupils from the age of five upwards. In Year 4 (eight-to-nine-year-olds), all children learn a musical instrument, choosing between the clarinet, the trumpet, and the guitar. More than 90 are now having regular lessons.

Individual piano lessons are reserved for pupils with particular needs, who, Mrs Easton judges, need extra attention, and the chance to acquire a new accomplishment.
 

SINCE piano lessons began 18 months ago, they have been taught by Peter James, who came to the school as a volunteer and was later employed as a classroom assistant for four days a week (two days at St Paul's and All Hallows', and the other days at other schools in the Academy Trust). He initiated the original contact with the Stock Exchange. He has also taught about 12 pupils to play the piano - their success has had a marked effect on other aspects of their school life.

Shackyrah, aged 11, has a huge smile, but readily admits that her bad behaviour was a problem that had not been resolved at two other schools. "I was bullied a lot, then I'd get angry; but, since I've been playing the piano, I've calmed down. Now I think about what makes me angry, and when I'm sad I play some music that makes me feel better."

Uche, Mrs Easton says, is an able boy whose academic performance gradually stalled. After 18 months of piano lessons, he has already passed the Associated Board Grade 3 examination, spends hours at home practising on a keyboard, and has recovered his academic focus.

Ky, also 11, was chosen for the piano project not because of his behaviour, but because he was withdrawn, and, outside school, had more responsibilities than most children of his age. He has just taken his Grade 1 exam, and, as he played me a little Mozart, his musical potential was obvious.

Mrs Easton knows when any of her pupils are playing, because the school piano is just outside the door to her study. It is placed there intentionally, so that she can easily pop out to encourage the pianist.

Piano lessons have been a lifeline to some of her pupils, she says; and M. Rolet would agree: the Stock Exchange has now given the academy £5000 - which, Mrs Easton said, will help to fund her cultural programme. So, more plays, ballet, concerts, and opera for children from one of the 12 most deprived wards in Britain.

 

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