As a lover of Classical music, and Head of Latymer Upper, I was somewhat perturbed to read in The Telegraph recently that “Hugh Grant’s alma mater becomes school of rock”. It transpires that the piece was actually about the launch of our record label, 32 Bit Recordings. This was the brainchild of a number of current pupils (32 originally), who approached one of their teachers (the aptly-named Dr Drumm) to help them make it happen. As is the case in many independent schools, Latymer has always had a very strong, not to mention diverse, musical life, encompassing cellist Raphael Wallfisch and rapper Jay Sean. However, the reason for creating a label rather than just sending songs directly to iTunes is that it gives our musicians an experience of all facets of the industry - recruitment, audition, recording, live event management, web design, artwork/logo, legal issues - rather than just performance. And so it was I found myself standing in a crowded piazza on a sunny June lunchtime listening to the launch ‘gig’. It was a fantastic experience, and our debut single (‘a messy mind’ by Maddie Mortimer) is sure to be roaring up the hit parade, or ‘available for download from iTunes/Amazon/ Spotify’ as I believe young people are calling it these days.
At this point, one might be tempted to observe how lucky pupils in the independent sector are to have such opportunities - and they are. However, I have omitted two important aspects of the project. Firstly, all the profits will go to our annual fund, which supports bursaries that allow boys and girls from low-income families to attend Latymer. As with many former Direct Grant schools, we want to be academically selective, but as socially inclusive as we can be; since 2004 we have raised approximately £11 million for means-tested scholarships, and next academic year there will be 105 means-tested scholars at Latymer. Secondly, the intention is to expand 32 Bit Recordings next year to include young people from the local community, whatever school they attend. Both these aims were at the instigation of our pupils, who know that a wider social mix is good for the school, and making these musical opportunities available to the community is good for everyone.
All of which brings me to Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments about independent schools living in ‘splendid isolation’; the most recent ISC census shows that over 90% of independent schools are engaged in some form of partnership activity with their community. “Marooned on an island of privilege”? That’s not what I believe our young people are calling it these days, Sir Michael.