Nurture their passion and they might indulge yours! (guest post)

An SEMH school leader, Graham Chatterley has become a regular guest-blogger for Axcis. In this post, he discusses the importance of involving children with music and creative arts. Especially if we want them to “behave”. At his school, some of the students came together to produce a song and music video and this is what happened…


First of all, if you only have a few minutes and it’s a choice between listening to me waffle on or watching the video, choose the video! Watch it and share it:



However if you do have some time then I can give some context of how it came to be and why I struggle to hold it in whenever I listen to it. This is because as brilliant as it is as a stand-alone song performed by a group of talented kids, I know that it means so much more than that.


Sadly, I had no involvement in the production, I am unfortunately talentless when it comes to music, but I know the work we have done has played a part in bringing them together and giving them the belief to get to where they are. Nearly every child who comes to our SEMH school does so because they are deemed a failure and they have been rejected by their mainstream school. It can be sugar coated in a managed transfer or an inability to meet needs but in the eyes of the child it’s a rejection and probably not the first of their lives. Whether it’s teachers, parents or peers, being rejected and not being good enough is the internal working model (IWM) for most of our children and we have to overcome that.


How do we do it? How do you overcome non existent self belief and get a child to challenge their IWM and vulnerability?


Axcis Andy loves a bit of music!

By finding their passions and nurturing them, by finding their talents and using them to show they have plenty to offer. I get driven mad by schools that complain about classroom behaviour, saying ‘he’s only interested in football’ or ‘she’s forever drawing in her book ‘. Use these things – they are your hook! They tell you the interests of the child to build a relationship, they tell you a potential reward or incentive they can be offered to improve engagement but most importantly they show you what the child believes they are good at and a vehicle to build self belief and a way to engage that child, a way to get a child to take a risk they never would have before.


Don’t see a child’s passion as a distraction from written work! Incorporate that passion into written work!


Don’t view art, music or sports as less important. They are not a reward to be taken away if they haven’t done their maths. I know it happens – I taught PE for years.


I’ve sat in meetings doing outreach and listened to pages and pages about what a child’s behaviour has been like and I asked them what he’s good at?


They replied ‘we’ve been told he’s a good singer’


My response was ‘great how have you used that?’


To which they replied ‘oh, he hasn’t earned music yet!’


I’m just going to let that sit there for a minute!


The educational entitlement, the hook to build a relationship, the escape from constant  failure and the vehicle to build his self confidence must be earned! How big an effort would it be to flip it and use music to drive everything else?


The list of needs, social difficulties, failures, and behaviours of the children we work with (and which are in this video) is too long to list. They are on the floor in terms of confidence when they arrive (at our school) but those same children walked into school 10 feet tall after this video came out! They have craved belonging their entire life and now they are part of a group and other kids are telling them positive things. You cannot put a value on that.


Progress 8, chronic underfunding and other pressures on the curriculum – I get it, I really do – but not every child is academically able, not every child has the skills to cope in the classroom and not every child is willing try something that they aren’t interested in just because they should.


But I promise you that if you share and nurture their passion with them they will love you for it, and whatever your subject, they will at least indulge your passion for it and give it a go.


Every child has one, it is the key to unlocking relationships, building confidence and overcoming the fear of failure. That’s when things like this video can happen.


The result is that children who hide their vulnerability will put it on show, children who can’t socialise come together and children who won’t write in class pick up a pen to write some of the most powerful lyrics I’ve ever heard. I can’t explain the pride and emotion I feel every time I listen to this because I’m on the journey with them and I’ve seen where it started.


They call themselves Eskape because that’s what music was to them and they called their song Stronger because that’s what they are now. Any part we have played in that journey is why we do the job.

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