Pop4Schools – An Interview with Ruth Katz

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For those that don’t already know, Pop4Schools is an online teaching resource which uses the pop music industry as a way to teach children using cross-curricular activities and lesson plans. The most exciting part of the study programme is the role play, where students take on the various roles and tasks involved in producing a pop single; from writing the music and lyrics, through producing the single, shooting videos and even forecasting and planning the profitability of music sales and merchandise. You can read the full article about it here.

We signed up with Pop4Schools from the start as we wanted to share this exciting new programme with our customers. Several months have passed since the launch now, so I thought I’d catch up with Ruth Katz and see how it’s all been going. I also thought it would be nice to find out a bit more about the work they’ve put in and the complexities of starting up a new business with such an unusual product.

RH: It’s quite a revolutionary idea; can you tell me how it came about?

RK: I’ve been working in the music industry for over thirty years and had the idea about educating children using the pop music industry some six years ago, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I had the chance to put my idea into practice.

Through talking with friends and colleagues both within the music industry and outside of it, I managed to get five schools interested enough to have a group conversation and we met in February 2009 to discuss the idea.

Out of that meeting a pilot project was born. The teachers were very enthusiastic and came up with the idea themselves about how to teach this; they thought that if children could write their own lyrics and music and also simulate the roles in a record company a lot of learning could be achieved whilst having fun along the way.

We commenced the pilot in September 2009, having got the resources together that we all felt were needed and we ran it until the Easter holidays in 2010.

We then reconvened to review what had happened and the results from both the children and teachers were so encouraging I decided to take it forwards and create a proper company and website. One of the areas that struck me specifically (and perhaps because I’m not in education it surprised me even more) was that Pop4Schools wasn’t just a way in which to teach more about music and all that it involves. It was evident that the whole range of subjects in the curriculum could be taught through Pop4Schools and we have lesson plans covering literacy, maths, ICT, history, geography, science, PSHCE, art and, of course, music.

One of the teachers involved with the pilot was Rachel Jacob who at the time was Head of Stanley Park Infant School. She was looking for a project in order to retain her Artsmark status and this fitted the bill perfectly. As a music specialist herself, she really got into the pilot and was so enthusiastic that when I asked whether she’d like to take the project forward with me into a company and spread the programme throughout education, she was delighted to accept the challenge. The NAHT, her Local Authority and the school Governors all supported her and were happy for her to take on the role of Education Director.

Once I knew that Rachel was happy to join me I also talked with a few other colleagues. Lucy Jones is a lawyer with corporate music industry experience and in addition to this (unbeknown to me at the time) she also had experience teaching primary aged school children. Our commercial director Mike McMahon studied to be a teacher but decided to join the business world and he has a wealth of commercial music industry and entertainment experience as well. Harry Grant, a Chartered Accountant, is our finance director and has extensive experience working with media companies. And, many moons ago, I used to be a guitar teacher!

Knowing what I was venturing into everyone wanted to be a part of it and we formed the company. Pop4Schools was on its way.

RH: So between you there was quite a lot of industry and teaching knowledge?

RK: Yes absolutely. The five of us all bring our vast experience to the table and without doubt our mix of personalities, skill and knowledge has brought high standards, quality and relevant teaching resources to Pop4Schools.

We are all very well networked in our respective fields and our contacts have been invaluable supporting us in our endeavours to spreading the word about Pop4Schools.

For instance we were extremely fortunate, especially for such a new company, to have been supported by Panasonic at this year’s BETT exhibition which is where we launched, and we also managed to scrape into the Tesco Schools and Clubs voucher scheme just in time to be an online exclusive this year. They were two big wins for us.

Meeting Music Village has been wonderful and to know that you support us is a heartening feeling. It was at BETT where we met the PTA Magazine too, so all-in-all, launching ourselves at that exhibition was a good thing to do!

RH: With the concept in place, what did you do next?

RK: Once our April meeting was over in 2010 we had a long list of things to do. We had established which bits of the pilot programme worked and which didn’t and I had been asked by the teachers to include other areas that hadn’t been thought about, let alone created, for the pilot.

The process involved making a lot of bespoke films about areas of the music industry and related services such as design, printing and manufacturing as these films simply didn’t exist. Through talking with colleagues I was introduced to our wonderful cameraman Luke Banfield and he agreed to come on board and create the films for us.

I searched out many of my contacts in the industry, called and emailed company Managing Directors and Chief Executives and explained what I was up to.

Knowing that I needed to create films for the record company roles I thought about which ones would be best to show students and then had the task of thinking about who would be best to approach and hope to goodness that they’d agree to do it. I had immense help from the IFPI, the international music industry trade body association, which in turn led me to talk with other music companies. I was also introduced to Gibson Guitar who allowed us to make a lot of the films in their studio. The BRIT School also got behind us and approached some of their students in a band called Chakula Soul. They agreed to provide motivational messages on film to help teachers in the classroom.

Without any exception, everyone opened their doors and welcomed us with open arms. Nothing was too much trouble to create what you see today in the Pop4Schools resource and I became a film director in the process!

Rachel and Lucy set about how we were going to put our lesson plans together and with the uncertainty about where the curriculum was going they decided to base them on the Blooms Taxonomy Higher Order Questioning model which would therefore enable a teacher to take the structure and adapt it to their student’s age group.

Other trade body associations in the music industry were, and still are, so very supportive and one of our films showing the process a new artist goes through in order to build their career, was given to us by our Italian friends who’d made a film already and they gave us permission to adapt it for the UK market.

Some record companies gave us real press releases, artwork and posters which hopefully teachers can use to help inspire creative writing and design.

The BPI (most publicly known for The Brit Awards) introduced me to our wonderful web designers Design to Communicate and Phil and his team have been there to guide us every step of the way. We feel that they’re really a part of us and we couldn’t do what we do without them.

From an educational point of view Merton Music Foundation have given us full support and their DVD, which breaks down the process of song writing was given to us to share with everyone to help demystify how to write a song.

The BBC kindly gave permission for us to include four animated films they made last year which shows another side to becoming a pop star and the importance of making sure all the copyright boxes are ticked and that there’s awareness of e-safety.

The BRIT School as I’ve mentioned support us as well and, just this week, Rachel and I had another meeting with the Head to chew the cud and review where we are now.

RH: You launched Pop4Schools at BETT back in January; how well received has it been?

RK: We went into BETT rather blind, not knowing what on earth to expect – except Rachel obviously had knowledge about the exhibition having been there herself as a consumer. The build up gave us the anticipation that it was going to be good and that turned out to be true.

We were bowled over with its size and we were so, so fortunate to have been taken under the wing of Panasonic which meant that we were on two floors in the Grand Hall spreading the word. Being part of Panasonic’s stand and using their interactive white board on our own stand confirmed to us that Pop4Schools works excellently on the bigger screen just as it does on regular computers.

For the majority of the time we were all rushed off our feet and we spoke to over a thousand people which was terrific but trying to communicate with everyone subsequently has proved to be challenging!

Rachel Jacob with Pop4Schools at BETT 2011

We learned a lot from being at BETT and have since focussed on doing conferences and exhibitions that are aimed more towards our bespoke market. For instance we provided material for inclusion in the Federation of Music Services conferences and I believe we had an advert in the Music for Youth festival programme (although I’ve not yet seen it).

Another partnership that we have is Kestrel Education. They work with schools in the Thinking Skills area and we were invited to their conference to run a workshop and exhibit Pop4Schools.

Without exception, everywhere we go and everyone we talk with loves Pop4Schools and the fact that it’s a fresh idea for teaching the curriculum in a ‘life relevant’ way.

RH: What have you been working on since the launch?

RK: We are constantly striving for improvement and always listen to what teachers say, need and want. A big part of our ethos in building Pop4Schools is for them to tell us what’s needed in the classroom. It’s been designed by teachers for the teaching profession and that’s how we’ll continue to grow and develop.

We will have two new additional resources that will be added to the site over the summer. Some musical loops have been created by a colleague and we also have an exciting new video which will show how sound is created from a band in a studio. New lesson plans will be written to go with them.

Hillcross Primary School have kindly shared their lesson plans with us and there are some excellent examples of how, by using the Pop4Schools resource, you can really push the boundaries and take learning to an extreme. For instance we have the new category of Design and Technology, whereby Hillcross came up with the idea of creating a chair for an outside concert! I wouldn’t have thought of that in a million years! Great stuff – and something I hope will inspire other teachers as well.

Rachel has written five lesson plans specifically relating Pop4Schools with the Thinking Skills approach which, again, push the boundaries for learning and illustrates how the two teaching approaches complement each other so well. Her experience with Thinking Skills teaching is evident in these plans.

I’ve also been in discussion with the Head of Music and Art at Kensington and Chelsea who also supports us and we’ll be working together in the forthcoming school year. She feels that Pop4Schools has a strong place in teaching which together with The BRIT School and Merton Music Foundation support gives me encouragement to know we’re on the right lines for helping to educate children in a relevant way.

RH: What feedback have you had from school’s that have started using it?

RK: Matt Douglas from Brannel School in Cornwall dropped me a line a few weeks ago saying “I would like our BTEC Music students to be able to access the media and film clips to help them with their research and assignments. They will be really useful for them”. This was great to hear and we duly provided login details for his 55 students.

Talking with teachers from a school in Manchester they’re also impressed with Pop4Schools and can see the many benefits it brings. We’re planning a teaching day for their feeder schools in the New Year.

One of the school governors at Stanley Park Infant School has allowed us to quote her on our website – “As a parent and a governor, I enjoyed the project immensely and would recommend this to all schools. The children also raised money for the Agape Orphanage in South Africa”.

RH: What do you see the next step as being, for Pop4Schools?

We’ve been delighted with feedback from teachers teaching older children. Having originally been designed for the primary age group in, we’ve now got schools on board teaching Pop4Schools at Key Stage 3, BTEC and Special Needs.

This has given us food for thought and we’re looking at expanding over the coming year to fully incorporate these age groups and will include any feedback, or needs, that the teachers suggest to us.

We haven’t yet expanded outside of the school area but Pop4Schools is a great resource to be used in holiday camps for instance and anywhere where activities need to be provided for young people. Youth clubs, breakfast clubs, after school, talent shows – our resources are wide and varied and its part of our plan to expand into different areas.

We also met with International Baccalaureate at The Sunday Times Education Festival and we’re investigating what we need to do in order to provide the right level of resource for this syllabus as well.

A few people have spoken with us about creating an awards scheme and we’ve started talking with a very exciting organisation about partnering with us to do that. I can’t say more at the moment as talks are in their infancy but watch this space over the next few months!

We have some more exciting development plans also in their infancy right now and I’m confident that each one of them will add to the Pop4Schools way of teaching, help teachers see how Pop4Schools will enhance their teaching with areas such as Ofsted and self assessment whilst at the same time will enhance initiatives such as the Henley Report and Musical Futures.

Expansion eventually will be global and a couple of countries have been talking with us about running a pilot. We shall see where that goes!

RH: What advice do you have for people who are considering teaching using Pop4Schools?

RK: We provide training and can either go in to schools to do twilight sessions, or do half day or full day training, depending on what a school requires. If a school is thinking about teaching using Pop4Schools then they can call us on 0845 519 5444 as there are often a number of questions they have as it is a very unique programme.

We know that many people are put off because it sounds like it is all about teaching music, but it’s not. You don’t have to be a music specialist to use it and is about teaching the curriculum through music rather than this being just a music programme. Its versatility means you can take it anywhere you want to and if you’re a music teacher wanting to focus on music alone, Pop4Schools is a great way to do so.

For the time being we’ll hold our introductory price at just £100 (+vat) so I hope more schools and education organisations will sign up and quickly see how wide reaching Pop4Schools is.

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Here’s a gallery of Pop4Schools in action at BETT 2011…

All BETT 2011 photographs (c) Sue Lacey Photography

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About Author

Starting out as an IT student, Robin inadvertently found his way into the music scene in the mid 90’s when a friend asked for help getting a copy of Cubase for Window’s 3.1 to work. The blooming dance scene of the mid 90’s sparked a passion in DJing and production and he held many residencies at clubs around the country in the late 90’s. Since becoming too old to stay up all night partying, Robin has devoted his skills to teaching others DJing and Music Production and most recently to giving sound advice on how to get started in the world of making music and running our educational sales department. Email him on robinheyworth@digitalvillage.co.uk if you have anything you can contribute to our educational news section.

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