‘You are role models our young men look towards’

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Loyalist band leaders can be leading role models for young Protestant men and encourage them to show the same considerable application with which they address their musicianship , when it comes to their academic education.

This was the central theme of a presentation by Mr Michael Allen, Headmaster of Lisneal College, when he met this week with representatives of the Londonderry Bands Forum.

The meeting took place in St Columb’s Park House where the main topic on the agenda was educational under-achievement among young males, especially, but not exclusively, within the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist community.

Mr Allen said: “Young people from the band sector look to and respect the leadership within the band community. They look to them for guidance and as role models. This bond can serve as an essential link between young people and their approach to education”.

Mr Allen emphasised the similarities between what he is seeking to establish in Lisneal College and standards expected and admired within the Londonderry Bands. He pointed out that young band members take great pride in their appearance and dress while representing their band and city when on parade or on public occasions and highlighted how the band leadership could collectively and individually encourage young people to apply these same standards when they attend school.

He said: “The commitment and effort young people bring to learning complex musical routines and marching techniques to perform with bands showed that they have the ability to learn and they could and should be encouraged to apply this when in school.” Forum members were reminded that some of the bands come from what are sometimes termed marginalised or ‘hard to reach’ communities and contain young members that historically do not achieve well in educational terms.

Mr Allen reminded members that a lot of the leadership in the bands did not achieve academically but now, having achieved in many areas and in different ways, they “are the very role models who can encourage younger band members in seeing that education is the key to their future and that it is ‘cool’ to work hard at school.”

Referring to A Report by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland in October 2015, Mr Allen highlighted the sections he felt applied to areas where the band leadership could help young members. He gave particular emphasis to the ‘Role Model and Transitional Stages and Pathways’ and provided clear evidence that young males are the main losers in the system.

Kenny Mc Farland, Chairperson of the Londonderry Bands Forum, thanked Mr Allen for his attendance and presentation. He believed that as a result of the meeting members would now be more informed about the issues and how and why bandleaders should aim to respond positively. He also pointed out that the Londonderry Bands Forum have noted some of the detail of various reports pertaining to under-achievement for some time but until now, had not been approached by any school wishing to address the problems collaboratively. He commended Mr Allen for making such a positive move and promised that the Forum would do all in its power to work with the educational sector.

The Coordinator of the LBF, Derek Moore, pointed out that for the past 18 months the Forum had been delivering an Outreach Programme mainly in Primary schools with pupils that Mr Allen would most likely be meeting as post-primary pupils in the near future and the Forum is anxious to continue to work with these young people following their transfer at age 11.

He pointed to a reluctance, thus far, within the Controlled sector in acknowledging that Marching Band music is a main component within the traditional music scene and suggested that Controlled schools should ‘take a leaf’ from the Maintained sector and encourage and embrace all the benefits that all music has to offer pupils of all abilities and from all backgrounds.

Mr Moore also pointed out that the Bands Forum, with others, had met with outgoing Education Minister John O’ Dowd MLA and, with his support, has on-going discussions with the Music Adviser of the Western Education and Library Board (Education Authority) to consider and plan how Marching Band music can be incorporated into a more inclusive school music curriculum.

He added that the LBF, with Bready and District Ulster Scots Association, is developing a Music Accreditation Course that it is hoped will be accredited by an Assessment Organisation.

The two groups have over 150 music pupils in training each week as a result of Initiatives funded by the International Fund for Ireland, Department of Education and other funders. In many cases young people who would otherwise miss out on tuition can avail of the teaching while also learning the ethos and history of Marching Bands.

Mr Allen said he would take all the information on board and looked forward to seeing what could be achieved by working together for the benefit of all young people in the future. He said he would collaborate with the Forum, in whatever areas he felt appropriate, to create an atmosphere in Lisneal College that would bring the best outcome for all the pupils at the school.