Profile: Tom Chatterton, Head of Music, Chilton Saint James School

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Can you give us some background on your teaching career? How did you start off in teaching, and what made you decide to become a teacher?

I began my teaching career in an independent school in the UK which impressed on me the potential for the scope of music provision within a school.  Teaching was offered on almost any instrument and there were many excellent ensembles.  The aim was that the musical needs of all pupils at the school could and would be met.  This ambitious aspiration has stuck with me in my career and I take very seriously the responsibility to provide the best music education possible here at Chilton Saint James School.

Even towards the end of my time at school and when I attended Cambridge University, it became apparent to me that leading a music team in a school was my goal.  I recognised that the multi-disciplined nature of music (curricular, one-on-one instrument teaching, musical theatre and extra-curricular groups, to name a few) gives so many opportunities to cultivate a love of music and to impact positively on the lives of children and young people.  To lead a department that has the potential to make so much positive change is a real honour.

Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way to a career in education?

While it is not a single moment that inspired me to begin a career in music education, it is the experience of performance that led me into the education sector: dedicated preparation, working with other outstanding musicians and, indeed, the moment of performance itself, are wonderful experiences.  Performance is something that all children should have the opportunity to do: the highs – and the lows – teach us so much about ourselves and can shape our personal development hugely.

In my role as Head of Music at Chilton, my ongoing aspiration is to increase the opportunities to perform and consistently raise the standard of performance, so all the children here can experience how wonderful it is to perform music.

Can you tell us a bit about the Preschool music programme for the Hutt Valley – how it came about and your involvement in its development?

My wife (Emma Chatterton, Teacher of Music here at Chilton) and I are a team here in the Music Department.  We have a shared vision to develop the most outstanding provision of music education in New Zealand.  We are jointly pioneering the Chilton Music School, a school within Chilton, with the aim to be New Zealand’s only specialist music school, based on similar school models that exist in Europe.  Our intention is to open the Chilton Music School in January 2020.

Our first step in this venture is to open the Chilton Pre-School Music Centre, which will provide an opportunity for pre-school age children to develop their confidence, creativity and musicality in our specialist music facilities.  We will be delivering our own progressive curriculum through classes which parents and children from the local community attend, that will cultivate an early focus on developing key musical skills of performance and aural appraisal.  The content is closely modelled on the re-worked syllabus that we have been teaching to our own pre-school students here at Chilton for the past twelve months, which focuses on music, movement, performance and – of course – having a lot of fun when learning!

We noticed that there is a gap in the provision of music education for pre-schoolers in Wellington.  There are many institutions that offer parent-run preschool music groups with little to no differentiation for age and ability.  This is admirable and has a number of benefits.  However, we can take this further by having experienced, specialist music teachers teaching our tailored curriculum to groups of children of the same age in our excellent music facilities.  Through the Pre-School Music Centre, we can offer much more to our local community of pre-schoolers and unlock musical talent and potential earlier.

How would you describe your teaching style?

I am a chameleon; or perhaps someone who has a lot of hats!  I work with so many different groups of students that I need to change my approach to be suitable for that particular situation.  For example, working with our top music students requires an academic rigour and seriousness that is, quite simply, totally inappropriate for working with a large group of very enthusiastic Year 7 drummers.  Learning how to change styles quickly (often opposite styles one lesson after another!) has been a huge challenge, and of course, I am still learning the best way to do this every year when I meet the new personalities that enter my classrooms or rehearsal spaces.

What attracted you to the Chilton Saint James school?

Chilton Saint James School is well-known throughout the Wellington region as a school that excels in the performing arts.  Our Ballet Academy, Dance Centre and CSJ Drama are all flourishing.  I knew that with the strength of the already-established tradition in the arts, Chilton was the right school to put into practice my vision for performance to be at the forefront of a student’s experience of school music and to put in place the project to open New Zealand’s only specialist music school.

Chilton is also in the process of transitioning to become Wellington’s only fully Cambridge International Exams (CIE) school.  This change attracted me to the school, especially coming from the UK as I am very familiar with the philosophy and ideals of the CIE model.  I believe this will a very positive change for the pupils at Chilton.

What do you enjoy most about being a teacher?

I love teaching! Being a Head of Music is hugely rewarding and I find the multi-faceted aspect of my role very stimulating.  On a typical day, I find myself taking a full-school singing session, going to a Year 8 practical lesson, followed by an IGCSE analysis session, then a music theatre rehearsal, and an orchestra rehearsal.  There are so many opportunities in my day to make a positive impact on the musical development of children at Chilton.

What are your thoughts on the benefits of independent schooling?

I think that independent schooling is an asset that we must retain.  Independent schools can offer children more than mainstream schooling in all aspects of education.  In particular, there is greater scope in music to offer concerts, recitals and shows.  

As Chilton is a private school, we have the freedom to launch our specialist music school within Chilton.  This is a project that, I believe, has the potential to revolutionise the provision of music education within New Zealand, and benefit a huge number of our most talented Kiwi musicians.

In your role as a teacher, what do you most want for your students?

I want my students to have the ambition, belief in themselves and ability to go wherever they want and to achieve what they want.  I also want them to have a love of music – of whatever style – and to have experienced the joy that performing can bring to our lives.