How to improve the school results: not extra maths but music, loads of it
Abiha Nasir, aged nine, walks quietly into the small classroom, takes a seat, adjusts her hijab and picks up the drumsticks. A shy smile spreads across her face as she begins to play.
She was just five when she turned up at Feversham primary academy’s after-school clubs, leaving teachers astounded by her musical ability and how her confidence grew with an instrument in hand. Last year, Abiha successfully auditioned for Bradford’s gifted and talented music programme for primary school children, the first Muslim girl to do so. The assessor recorded only one word in her notes: “Wow!”
Abiha’s teachers say her talent might have gone unspotted in many schools, where subjects such as music and art are being squeezed out by pressure to reach Sats targets and climb league tables.
But at Feversham, the headteacher, Naveed Idrees, has embedded music, drama and art into every part of the school day, with up to six hours of music a week for every child, and with remarkable results. Seven years ago Feversham was in special measures and making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Today it is rated “good” by Ofsted and is in the top 10% nationally for pupil progress in reading, writing and maths, according to the most recent data. In 2011, the school was 3.2 percentage points behind the national average in English. This year 74% of its pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, against a national average of 53%. It is 7.1 points above the average for reading and 3.4 above for writing. In maths, the school was 2.4 points behind the national average in 2011 and is now 6.5 above it. Its results for disadvantaged pupils are well above average.
The turnaround is even more notable given the makeup of the school: 99% of its 510 children speak English as an additional language, and half arrive at school unable to speak a word of English. The area outside the school gates, BradfordMoor, is one of the city’s most deprived and densely populated neighbourhoods. Nearly three-quarters of the surrounding population are of Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Indian heritage, compared with just over a quarter in the city as a whole, according to the 2011 census. A recent influx of refugees and a longer-term increase in the number of eastern Europeans has added to community tensions in an area where the city council has noted that different ethnic groups “don’t necessarily get on well or treat each other with respect”.
Inside the school gates, however, it’s a different story. Thirty different languages are spoken but the youngsters all learn happily alongside one another. The children practise Shakespeare and the Beatles as well as Muslim worship songs called Nasheeds. They learn Hi Low Chickalow, the playground clapping game, as well as studying the second world war and the songs of Ahmad Hussain, a Sheffield-born YouTube star who performs for the school every year.