Ray Prince is on a mission to spread the gospel of music to schools. Shahid Naqvi meets the man who believes music holds the key to re-engaging under-achieving pupils
As a child growing up in Birmingham's Balsall Heath, music was all around Ray Prince.
He sang gospel at church with his family and both his brothers are musicians. School, however, failed to identify his own talent for music and he left formal education with only a handful of CSEs - less stretching alternatives to the old O-level exam.
He is now determined to put that injustice right by spreading the joy of music across Birmingham schools.
And it's not just his own feeling of being personally let down in education that motivates him.
"A member of my family pushed me into this," said the 35-year-old tutor who works with Birmingham's Music Service and is doing a masters degree in community music.
"He was a young black boy at school and going down a bad way, but he was a great musician.
"He got expelled and now he is in prison. How come the school couldn't find out what he was good at?"
That is the essence of what Mr Prince now does - finding other youngsters whose hidden creative talent has not been identified or nurtured.
Currently he is working with Kings Heath Boys School with a group of 12 youngsters of varying age who have barriers to learning.
Under his guidance, they have produced their own original musical work which later this month will be performed at the Birmingham Conservatoire.
"We selected a range of boys from year seven, eight, nine and 11 with an even ethnic spread," he said. "They had different abilities. But during the ten-week period we worked with them their confidence has grown enormously. Their teachers say their attitude to school has changed also."
Mr Prince believes music can play a vital role in re-engaging and motivating under-achieving pupils who may not learn well by traditional means.
"If you have 30 kids in a class, that is 30 different ways of learning," he said. "People may say some don't engage, but why don't they engage? It's because of the way they are being taught.
"I learned practically. But I wasn't taught in a way that I could best benefit from."
A growing emphasis on "personalised learning" is supposed to address this issue but Mr Prince believes teachers need more help.
"The Government now recognises that working with other agencies promotes that and community music is one of the areas they are tapping into.
"I have skills that teachers don't have. If we work together we can address the student in a better way.
"You can't be up there teaching semi-quavers and crochets because they will switch off.
"But get some drum sticks and keyboards and you can say 'you know what you just did there - you used a semi-quaver."
The pupils Mr Prince is eager to tap into are, in effect, youngsters similar to how he was at school.
"If I didn't have the support of the community, which was my church, I could have been on the streets waiting for you to come out and nick your phone," he said. "I give credit to my community - it wasn't my school."
Mr Prince believes that community sense must be recreated in schools and sees music as a better way of forging it than any number of vague lessons in "citizenship".
"With the boys I'm working with now, when they first started there was a lot of bickering, boys being silly. But now they are a unit.
"If you stand in a school playground you'll see citizenship isn't having an effect. Pupils aren't treating each other with respect.
"Music is something that can teach you respect because of the discipline factor. When you play music it is instant - you will know if you are right or wrong.