A Newent school teacher who admits he was once the bane of his own teachers’ lives, has turned from poacher to gamekeeper. Now heading up the school’s ‘inclusion suite’, Paul Catten is using music interventions to help students to believe in themselves and re-engage with school. Anita Holford, who works for hub partner The Music Works, visited the school recently to find out more.
Paul started at Newent Community School in September 2014, moving from Monmouth Comprehensive School where he’d worked in a similar team. His first experience of using music was when he was asked to work with Tom*, a year 10 pupil who had been excluded. Tom was allowed back to school a couple of times a week for support sessions in English and Maths, but the real breakthrough came when Paul introduced him to making music using technology.
“I was running a Rap Club in my spare time at a youth centre not far from Monmouth in Ross-on-Wye. Tom’s behaviour was pretty bad, and I was trying to find something a bit different for him to do, so one day he came to work with me there. He didn’t want to do any MCing, but I quickly realised he had an interest in music, and he had some beats. So back at school, we started making music on a computer using a programme called Logic – basically an online studio where you can create your own music by mixing and editing sounds and samples.”
Paul would set Tom tasks each week, “things like, I want you to write me a song using loops, drum ‘n’ bass, but I want classical instruments involved in there.” Initially Tom would seem to complain and resist but Paul found that he always rose to the challenge, often going beyond what Paul had taught him, to teach himself what he needed to learn.
Paul persuaded Tom to accredit his learning using Arts Award, which he achieved to Bronze Level. As a result, he gained a place at college.
“He didn’t leave school with a lot,” Paul continues, “but he managed to get a place at Gloucestershire College doing music production, and got a distinction in his first year. He’s now working in a club doing their sound, so it’s all worked it out, and that’s what I wanted to bring to Newent when I got the job here.”
Introducing music technology at Newent’s inclusion unit
When he started his new role as SAFE (Safeguarding and Attendance for Education) Officer at Newent School, Paul mentioned the music intervention work he’d been doing in Monmouth. Although nothing happened initially, around 12 months in, he was asked to work with Sam, a year 7 student who was at risk of exclusion: constantly disrupting lessons, and using inappropriate behaviour and speech.
“His behaviour escalated quickly to the point where we were looking for a space at the Alternative Provision School for a while,” remembers Paul, “and the word ‘exclusion’ had been mentioned to his family.”
Nothing was seeming to work, so the school agreed to try a pilot scheme involving the Bronze Arts Award.
Paul worked with Sam for four months, initially gaining his trust and interest by talking about the music he listened to, and eventually starting to show him how to make his own using music technology. Just like his first ‘music student’ at Monmouth, this pupil thrived as a result.
“He sailed through the Arts Award,” says Paul. “Everyone was really happy. The new head called him in at the beginning of the year and gave him the certificate and told him ‘Well done’, and that meant a lot to him. He’s now doing his Silver Award and has chosen music as an option at GCSE.”
From poacher to gamekeeper: an unexpected path for Paul.
Paul understands more than most how it feels to be labelled as ‘badly behaved’. Like the students he now supports, he disliked school and rebelled.
“I was at John Kyrle High School in Ross-on-Wye, and as soon as punk came out everything went out of the window. I just didn’t care. I was 12 or 13 when I got into the Sex Pistols and the anarchist side of things, and I ended up leaving school with hardly any qualifications and getting a job in a factory in Ross.”
Music had always been his ‘thing’ but he hated music at school, and instead taught himself at home. At age 16, he became a roadie for a punk band in his spare time, and then formed his own heavy rock band, Medulla Nocte.
“We spent some time going around trying to sell some demos, playing to nobody, and eventually we started doing alright. We had our photo in Kerrang! Magazine, and were their single of the week. Then we split and I joined another band and played the very first Download Festival, opening on the main stage to 40,000 people. And we all still had dead end jobs and didn’t have enough money.”
Paul’s employers were supportive, letting him have unpaid time off so for a while he managed his two careers. “Then I started to get into some studio work when we were recording our songs. I was always the guy who was sitting by the producer in the studio, listening and learning.”
“It must have been around 2006 when I thought I want to learn more about this, so I took an Open University diploma in music. About a year before finishing it, I was offered voluntary redundancy from the factory so I took it, and decided to finish my degree”
It was getting in touch with Gloucestershire music charity, The Music Works – then called Gloucestershire Music Makers – that proved the turning point for Paul.
“I wrote to Mark Bick, who was running the charity at the time, saying I was doing a music degree, that I was able to fix instruments, do studio work etc. I went to see him and he offered me some casual work working with kids in the studio initially.”
One thing led to another and soon Paul was doing a range of freelance work – in the afterschool club at Whitecross School, giving drum lessons to young people with ADHD in the studio, as well as attending training courses and working with a range of young people “many who were really badly behaved,” remembers Paul. “But they’d really enjoy making music and I loved working with them. It was The Music Works which paid for me to become an Arts Award advisor and I’m reaping the benefits of that still. I’m totally indebted to Mark for all the help he gave me. I will never, ever forget that.”
Soon Paul took on a role as a youth worker at a youth centre in Ross-on-Wye – where he still works in the evenings to this day. There was a studio at the centre, and Paul started using music to get young people involved and coming back: setting up a rap club and using music as a behaviour intervention in a more informal way. This then led to Paul’s first Teaching Assistant job at Monmouth Comprehensive, followed by a promotion to Vocational Mentor, which is when he met Sam and his music mentoring work began.
Paul is convinced of music’s power to change students attitudes and behaviour. “When you work with these guys you see their patterns of behaviour, where they’re good and where they’re frankly a pain in the backside. And for many young people the arts, drama and music are where they’re at their best, and it improves their self-esteem to be able to achieve something.”
“One lad I’ve been working with here was disruptive, pushing people around – not as a bully, but not sure of boundaries, and making a lot of inappropriate comments – both racial and sexual – without even realising what he was saying.” Paul continues. “He was getting about six or seven demerits a week, and now he’s down to one.”
“When he’s doing music, he’s happy, he loves it, and he wants to keep his head together. He does stumble, but the maliciousness has gone. There’s never any inappropriate language anymore because we’ve worked on that. He now walks away from physical conflict too.”
The school is also now fully supportive of music as an intervention: “We’re only six to eight months into doing this really, and we’ve only just come out of the Pilot scheme, we have four students currently on Arts Award but it’s open ended – we’ve got an open door now.
If your school is interested in using music as an intervention, The Music Works can help. Our team are specialists in working with young people in challenging circumstances who face barriers in music, learning and life. Using one-to-one or small group music mentoring, they work with young people to engage them through music, build confidence, self-belief and motivation, and so empower them to improve their life chances. To find out more visit www.themusicworks.org.uk/school/at-risk.
* All young people’s names have been changed to protect their identities.