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Last Updated: Friday, 10 September, 2004, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
College redeems talented musician
By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News Online education staff

Simeon Brown
College gave Simeon Brown a new lease of life
Two years ago Simeon Brown had no qualifications and was regularly in trouble with the police.

Now the teenager has his own record label, and a distinction in a music technology diploma.

At 18 years, Simeon still pops in to his old primary school in Nottingham to say hello to teachers. But his secondary school experience tells a less cosy tale.

The transition between sectors was hard and Simeon's relationship with teachers became fraught.

"I was having communication problems with certain teachers at the school," says Simeon.

He felt his desire to pursue an interest in music was not being taken seriously.

Simeon Brown
People can put up a shield and when they feel they may be discriminated against, they go into confrontation mode
Simeon Brown
"It was really, really frustrating. When I got angry in class, I was losing my temper.

"Teachers started complaining to the head that I was intimidating to have in class."

He left at 16 with no GCSEs. Simeon does not believe being black was a significant factor in his struggle at school, but he says some people do have issues.

"You go to primary school and there are loads of activities and stuff. Then you go to secondary school and there's a teacher shouting at you, speaking to you in a certain way.

"Now a lot of black kids have been taught not to take anything from anyone and certain kids will think 'Who is he to speak to me like that?'

"People can put up a shield and when they feel they may be discriminated against, they go into confrontation mode."

CS spray

As Simeon got into more trouble with teachers at school, he was also attracting the attention of police officers.

"I got arrested a few times - for threatening behaviour and resisting arrest. I got CS gas in my face and down my throat once."

Simeon Brown
When you're here the teachers talk to you with respect, they don't talk down to you
But an astute teacher, who recognised Simeon's passion and talent for music, started to guide him back onto the rails.

She was setting up a gospel choir and asked him if he would play the piano for the group, which he did willingly.

Then she managed to get him a part-time place on a music technology course at New College, Nottingham. When he passed with ease, Simeon decided to repeat the course last year on a full-time basis, aiming for top marks.

Having got his distinction in the summer, he is now starting a two-year BTec national diploma in music technology.

"When you're in this college it's just the best. When you're here the teachers talk to you with respect, they don't talk down to you - that's why I respect them."

Simeon is described by his tutor, Andy Wolfe, as an "exceptional student".

The course, which covers topics such as writing music and music promotion, has around 50 students and half of them are from ethnic minorities.

Mr Wolfe says the course has had a strong appeal to young people for whom school has been a difficult experience.

"Typically the kind of people coming on this course have found school tricky or have not connected with academic work," he says.

"But when it comes to music, there's no-one more passionate than these boys and girls.

"So it's very satisfying, because we're dealing with people who have not experienced public success before, like doing well in exams or playing in the school football team, and that can lead to low self-esteem."

A new life

Simeon, who raps, writes lyrics, DJs and produces tracks and albums, says the chance to realise his passion for music has helped him to channel his energies creatively.

"I haven't lost my temper in two years, before I lost it all the time. It feels good.

"There's no point in fighting - when things kick off now I just don't want to know, I just go home."

And Simeon is under no illusions about what sort of life he has turned his back on.

"All that sort of thing just leads to one thing - being buried six feet under, selling drugs and going to prison or being the bloke who wanders up and down with a beer can in his hand, drunk and on the dole.

"That's terrible. That's no life."

Rap star Dizzee thanks teacher
11 Sep 03  |  Education
'More black teachers are needed'
07 Sep 04  |  London

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