Timothy Jones shows how performance helps students at the British Council School in Madrid become informed world citizens.

School background

The British Council School in Madrid has 1,800 students of whom 98% are Spanish. We follow the British national curriculum to the end of KS4 and pursue performance as a way of encouraging a global sense of citizenship, as well as contributing to the aims of the British Council (see box). For example, our recent Music and Spanish Dance Performance Tour took thirty Year 7 to Year 12 students to London in February 2006. Previous tours have been to New York in 2004 and to Washington, DC and New York in 2005. In 2007 students will perform in Beijing and Shanghai.

Through these and other tours, students have learned about global citizenship by:

  • acquiring knowledge about institutions that have a world-wide influence
  • developing an understanding of international diplomacy
  • witnessing how Spanish culture is highly valued outside Spain
  • establishing relationships with their contemporaries around the world.

The British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations operating in 220 towns and cities in 110 countries worldwide. We build relationships and understanding between people in the UK and other countries and increase appreciation of the UK’s ideas and achievements overseas.

Global citizens: a world of music

In Washington, DC the group performed a lunch hour concert for International Monetary Fund and World Bank workers and their children. The students learned about the activities of these two organisations when they attended a talk on global economics. Performances were also given at the British School of Washington and Washington International School, where they exchanged ideas about the influence of Abraham Lincoln on contemporary human rights. The importance of peace studies was driven home after seeing the Vietnam War Memorial with the names of 57,000 fallen Americans inscribed in marble.

The London tour of music and dance performances came from an invitation extended by Lord Kinnock, Chair of the British Council. Students were given a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament and learned much about the democratic process. The group also took part in a concert at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, spent a day and performed at Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets and gave a concert for the Staff Association of the Institute of Education, University of London.

On the first tour in New York, the group performed at the Spanish government’s Instituto Cervantes and attended a reception hosted by the Spanish Ambassador to the United States, where students gained insights into international diplomacy. The second tour included a concert at Midtown West Public School in Manhattan and the United Nations International School, where students compared their civil obligations regarding alcohol consumption, driving and military service.

On all these occasions, the reaction of audiences to Spanish music and dance has struck our students. Whilst the programming goes against their own preferences for Britney Spears and Robbie Williams, they are surprised at the depth of interest abroad in counterpoint from Spain’s Golden Age, in Garcia Lorca’s folk songs and their flamenco stage costumes and dance routines.

Music and dance performance as personal challenge

The tours also contribute to the desired outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda in a variety of ways:
Being healthy On a performance tour, staying healthy is essential not just to make the most of the trip but also to be able to play one’s part in concerts. Eating strange food, keeping unusual hours and sleeping in spite of the excitement of being with friends are part of each individual’s responsibility.
Staying safe ‘Child Abduction: Yellow Alert’ read the traffic sign on the route into Manhattan from JFK airport. Enough to frighten the most serene tour leader, but it helped students to confront the seriousness of the threats around them and learn about personal safety.
Making a positive contribution This teacher will never forget the moment when our host finished his introduction and our first overseas concert had to begin. As is our custom, our students perform without a conductor. There is no hand holding: personal responsibility is at its extreme. After months of planning, huge expenses and a journey of thousands of miles, is the group up to the task? Every performer has to make their own positive contribution.
Enjoying and achieving The enjoyment of performing is intense because the sense of achievement is genuine. The personal challenge has been met. Each student has been tested to the limit of their possibilities.
Economic wellbeing ‘Paying in pounds is painful’ was a familiar lament in London after the dollar paradise of our US trips. Finding your Euro gets you more designer jeans in New York than in Madrid but fewer than in London is a direct way of acquiring financial literacy and understanding the significance of exchange rates.

Developing relations

In May 2006, Morpeth School students from Tower Hamlets, London, will visit Madrid. Half an hour after they had met in February, students from each school were swapping text messages and within days they began to link up with potential host families. These are indeed citizens of the world who are up to facing the greatest personal and musical challenges. 

Year 11 students María Álvarez Becerril and Natalia Sánchez Holgado write:
We have danced on all three trips. We have learnt to be careful and responsible for our safety as we have been in strange places without our parents. We have made friends each time with teenagers of many nationalities and from different social backgrounds’.

We welcome:

  • contacts from any school in the world with a musical theme, including video-links
  • proposals for one-way visits to Madrid
  • offers of exchanges with arts performance content.

Timothy Jones is Head of Music at the British Council School in Madrid