Column: Pulp legend calls into Sheffield school rooms and helps to build students’ exam success
Pulp legend Jarvis Cocker turned up in the exam hall of several Sheffield schools last week when his lyrics became the focus of an A-Level question.
The Geography paper quizzed Year 13 students about place perception and how this can be represented in music, with Sheffield being a very clear focus.
Candidates I saw leaving the exam were a little bewildered about dealing with a question so close to home, but for me the paper featuring Pulp was riddled with educational irony.
All the 18-year-olds following the AQA Geography course have studied a unit on how places are perceived through different artistic media.
The analysis of film, music, literature, paintings and even graffiti have become more important over the years in geography to consider how our towns and cities are represented and also how they can be re-invented to boost business and tourism.
But at the same time these students are being informed of the importance of the arts, there are many examples in schools across South Yorkshire of how they are being belittled and undervalued.
When Pulp were on the cusp of transforming the music scene and being a part of Britpop in the early 90s, they recorded in a Rotherham music studio not far from a school where music is currently a hot topic.
Earlier this year, this secondary school made its only music teacher redundant – scrapping the music department entirely with the issuing of one P45.
Lessons are still available to those who want to learn how to play an instrument, but they are limited to those who can pay for them and only last 10 or 15 minutes a week.
Access to music for all is a thing of the past here, and it makes you wonder how many young Jarvis Cockers will be overlooked and how many bands will not be influenced over the coming years.
When the music teacher was in post, they went above and beyond what should be expected of a teacher.
Like many music teachers, as well as the standard ‘day job’ of teaching and getting kids through exams, there was a daily commitment to extra-curricular activities for those wanting to be enthused by music.
And there was the talent shows they helped to produce, the Christmas concerts that became the focus of the school’s festivities and the musical accompaniment to drama productions.
In a bizarre twist to story of musical provision at this school, it appears senior managers at the school may have realised – albeit too late – that having a music teacher is actually a good idea.
During staff briefing last week the headteacher issued an appeal to all current teachers, asking which of them could play a musical instrument and urging them to set up music clubs during lunchtimes and after school.
It was not a popular request, unsurprisingly given how a professional was made redundant and now other folk were being asked to fill their boots by volunteering.
When Jarvis Cocker penned the words to Wickerman he was writing an affectionate love letter to the city where he grew up and experiences that meant a lot, mentioning places familiar to him – Forge Dam, the Leadmill, the Moor, Broomhall – and plenty of nods to Sheffield’s industrial past.
His is not the only example of artistic talent that has been used to paint a picture of Sheffield over the years.
Geography students have looked at the importance of music by the Arctic Monkeys, films such as The Full Monty and nostalgic work by local artist Pete Mckee.
So many people express themselves through the Arts; they write, sing, act, draw and paint to get their opinion across and convey their emotions.
Schools are not removing the ability to do this entirely, but they are squeezing it and making it harder, reducing the opportunities that are offered.
Last week’s AQA A Level geography exam was a hot topic on social media once the exam had finished.
Some people made fun of the subject matter, claiming geography was being dumbed down and probably wishing it had been a test about capital cities and flags instead.
Others questioned why students around the country were faced with a question about a song they’d never heard and a city they’d not visited.
Both were missing the point that the nation’s artistic talents have for centuries been fabulous ways to show our feelings about places, share our emotions and create a contemporary record about UK life.
It’s important that this vehicle of expression is not sabotaged for kids currently in school.
NB: Please do not read the lyrics whilst revising for your exam.