The school where everyone plays the ukulele

Boy playing the ukulele

Have you ever been in a school where students learn to play the ukulele before learning to write? I have! It’s on the Isle of Luing, in the Inner Hebrides. Head teacher Stephen Glen-Lee explained, “The ukulele is almost the same cost as a recorder but has a faster success rate. A child can make a really good noise from a ukulele in a few minutes!” Their whole-school band, Ukulele Luing, has performed before 1200 people in Perth. We too were treated to a spontaneous concert. I especially enjoyed a homemade song with the catchy refrain, “I can play my ukulele and we’ll have ourselves a ceilidh.” The words rhyme – ceilidh is a Gaelic celebration.

Watch a video of the children’s performance for us

Visiting this little school was an adventure. First Martin and I took a ferry to the island. Then we drove a winding track, losing phone connection as we passed an old slate mine. Because folk still put out gifts for faeries here, I expected the school would be old-fashioned. It turned out to be one of the most forward-thinking schools I’ve ever experienced. Fair trade symbols alternate with children’s sewing and artwork on the walls. A green flag (and compost bins in the back) proclaim an eco-school. Most important, children’s individual strengths are recognised and built upon. For instance a lad dealing with ADHD loves constructing in the woodwork shop. They have a small steep mountain behind the school, and some children were busy with a rappelling rope while others were building dens.

When Stephen applied for the headship, he laid down one condition: the council had to supply a full set of hollow blocks. When he won the job, he got rid of all chairs and desks and began with only the hollow blocks! The children created a pirate ship and staff learned to teach all subjects within it. Stephen did eventually purchase furniture, after ensuring that our wood comes from sustainable forests.

Both the children and their teachers seemed wholly motivated in all they were doing and learning. If we ever get the chance, we’ll go there again. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these lively young musicians as much as we did!

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