Embedding inclusion in our music services: what we’ve learned – latest from the National Working Group

Image of computer and text on the screen: National Music Services Working Group on Inclusion

Sixteen music service leads and inclusion project managers met on 13th July for the final National Music Services Working Group on Inclusion of the academic year.  The group identified seven challenges and shared tips and advice  on overcoming them which we hope may be of interest to other music services. A fuller resource – our annual review and learning – will be published in the Autumn.

Challenge 1: getting buy-in from partners

Multiple ‘sub-challenges’ including identifying schools and settings who will be open to our offer, finding the right people to talk to in schools, or the local authority.


  • Identify the right people to broker conversations – do your research and ask around within the local authority. “We had a good link with the Early Help worker (aka Early Intervention). We asked them which schools, and which contacts, we should approach.” See our local authority blog series here which includes a list of possible teams to approach. 
  • SENCOS are key – you may need to go one level up through LA SEND teams, who will identify the right people to speak to (for example, in a large county there may be local reps), and broker initial conversations.
  • If you have looked-after or adopted children within an existing programme, contact the Virtual School, they may have match-funding
  • Ask schools to ‘register interest’ – it doesn’t require a commitment from them, but you then have a list for who to approach rather than spreading your initial approaches too widely

Challenge 2: capacity of workforce. 

E.g. finding staff who are available (not already committed to other work eg WCET), and have the right skills/behaviours. 


  • Build elements of inclusive practice training into all staff training, to demystify it and build skills across the workforce: inclusion skills are good teaching skills 
  • Offer specialist inclusion training to all staff (check out the Changing Tracks peer learning and training events programme – more dates to follow soon)
  • Ask all tutors whether they have an interest in developing this area of work or lived experience of some of the issues (eg parent of a child with autism) – you may be surprised. 
  • Carry out a formal skills audit process
  • Offer coaching, mentoring, shadowing opportunities. Video sessions to use in training. “Simply watching a session is ideal training for delivering one.”
  • Support and enable tutors to support each other:
    • Make sure to build in reflective practice meetings where tutors (a group, or as few as two) working with children in challenging circumstances are able to informally share challenges and learning, tips and advice. Music services found these worked particularly well online. 
    • Use online tools to help share simple ‘what works’ tips 

“tutors were asking for practical ideas – what do you do to break the ice, then what activities are most successful. One of our tutors set up a Teams channel for all tutors doing nurture group work so they’re sharing experiences, tips and resources. He says he is now more flexible in sessions and has developed his wider practice.”

  • Tutors asked for practical ideas – what do you do to break the ice, then what activities /techniques do you use. One tutor said that asking pupils how they feel at the start of the session really helped – eg. you can ask each person for one word to describe how they feel.
  • Empower and support tutors to be flexible, test approaches and learn what works: in effect, doing their own action research: 

“One tutor hadn’t worked in SEN/D settings before, although she was an experienced teacher. She spoke to the teachers in the setting to learn about the pupils; and explored with them what might work. She then went in with a toolkit of possibilities, and a loose structure for each session, but was flexible and responsive to the pupils – who responded well. “ 

“One of our tutors went in with a well-structured plan tried it and it didn’t work. We gave him support and practical ideas, so he now goes in with a rough structure, but is flexible in his approach.”

Letting tutors know that confidence, resilience and other social and personal outcomes are as important as musical outcomes is key. It gives them the confidence to allow them to support pupils holistically, takes the pressure off expectations of musical achievements (technical competence in an instrument for example). This also encourages tutors to give pupils agency: 

“discussing what they want to do next, as equals with teachers – pupils really enjoyed this. 70% of pupils in the inclusion programme have started instrumental lessons in schools.”

  • One example of a training/support model is, in Hertfordshire: Understanding the impact of trauma training; induction into the nurture group approach; critical reflection sessions facilitated by a peer; end of year music service CPD, live and online, to all music service tutors. 23 tutors are now trained in inclusive practice.

Challenge 3: how best to set up new work

Eg clarifying expectations, ensuring buy-in, building initial relationships with children and young people and setting staff.


  • A pre-meeting with the school/setting was critical “our tutors learned the value of that when they didn’t set it up in some schools. Having a pre-meeting, perhaps after a first session with the young people so they can then put ‘needs to faces’, really helps.” It means they can learn more about the students’ particular needs, challenges and potential. 
  • Make the first session with students a ‘getting to know you’ session with no pressure to make music 

Challenge 4: fluctuating attendance of participants, many of whom have disrupted home lives.  


  • Accept that this will happen. Embrace the fact that attendance, and sessions themselves, may feel chaotic, and turn the challenge into an advantage. This may involve different approaches or outcomes to those intended. In this case, flexibility helped with publicising the project more widely and drawing more people in: 

We agreed with the school that the school would identify additional students and encourage them to attend. This brought a new excitement. When we began the group work, pupils who weren’t invited were asking to join in.”

  • Make the case for working with the cohort for the whole year, reinforcing the progression outcome, how they’ll develop, what they’ll achieve.
  • Always consider where those young people will go next – what is their progression route? A music centre? Another provider?
  • Find sources of funding to support young people who are keen – eg Awards for Young Musicians, Remission of Fees schemes

Challenge 5:  how to capture and use evaluation data
Making evaluation practical, achievable and purposeful.  


  • Ask music tutors what will work for them and be prepared to think creatively and flexibly and test what works best for them: “I have massive chains of WhatsApp messages that I translate into more formal documentation”.
  • Build in time where they can reflect together and with you – a chat can reveal a wealth of evidence, you may need to take responsibility to document it. Make good use of tools like Otter.ai for transcribing audio  (it’s free for a certain amount of minutes). Conversations about practice can be a great way to develop case studies that can help advocate for the work, as well as to capture impact for funders.
  • Conversations with school teachers are important sources of evidence – they can yield rich data. Build in reflection sessions that include teachers/SENCOs but make sure to get these booked in early – right up to the final end-of-project evaluation meeting.
  • Make use of existing music service report forms – they may just need adapting. See a sample tutor report form here, adapted to capture social and personal outcomes and also a tutor critical reflection diary template.  

Challenge 6: advocating for inclusion: sharing project outcomes outside your service. 


  • Work out the most impactful (for advocating inclusion) and helpful (for learning across the service) materials to share – this could include written evaluations/pen portraits from participants themselves; photos and video clips from performances; short case studies 
  • Discuss with partners how best to share the impact and value of the work with decision makers “At a planning meeting with the Early Years team, they said they want to present the project to the head of education at the County Council, we hope [the digital learning platform] becomes part of their wellbeing strategy and CPD offer.”
  • Some councils run profile-raising/practice-sharing weeks, eg ‘Children’s Services Practice Week’ or ‘ED&I week’ – and sometimes these provide opportunities to gain referrals of young people to inclusion work

Challenge 7: advocating for inclusion and sharing learning to benefit the whole music service not just a targeted programme. 


  • Find statistics/evidence of need in order to make the case

At the most basic level, use County Council or schools data on the proportion of children facing specific challenging circumstances in your area. Who is missing out on music, disengaging with learning generally?

  • Whole service training and confidence building is key

Many tutors lack confidence in working beyond mainstream settings – and therefore may not step forward for inclusion training and support. Tutors need support and encouragement, and to be reassured that they can take risks, and adapt when things don’t work as planned.

“It takes a shift in attitude, a more creative, open frame of mind, allowing plans to go awry, having a toolbox of things to fall back on.”

  • Promote inclusion as an integral part of your whole offer to schools, and to music tutors

“We have included nurture groups in our main schools brochure, we’re having a whole staff CPD day around group music making lead by some of our nurture group tutors, to promote best practice in teaching”

A powerful way to embed inclusion is to make the link between your inclusion programmes and first access/whole class (eg nurture groups)

  • Run a nurture group programme

This can kick-start your inclusion delivery work, as well as support everything from culture change to practical actions on inclusion. “Nurture groups are a great model for making this practical, actionable, and across the service, this enables the whole service  to reflect on inclusion.”  See our nurture groups resources.

  • Ask  your staff, ‘where do you think you have untapped skills?’

This opens up more possibilities than asking about inclusion experience. This could be done as part of a staff capacity and skills audit.

  • Provide practical resources – a toolkit – for staff

“There are lots of conversations around toolkits.” “Tutors want practical advice”. You could identify a tutor to lead on this with her/his peers – the role might include sharing learning and outcomes

  • Reinforce the need, following Covid, for more inclusive practices in all music work

“Our tutors were experiencing increased behaviour challenges, children needing to move around more, and have more agency. We had to adapt our WCET offer to respond to this, for example, incorporating songwriting. We now have a more creative WCET programme and through this, inclusion has become part of the service planning process.”

  • Begin to embed inclusion in music service core processes, toolkits 

“We’ve included a question in our annual music service pupil reports, ‘How does music make you feel’.” This example captures personal and social outcomes as well as material for advocacy.

  • Include ED&I as an agenda item for every leadership team meeting

“We include a question at the end of each leadership team meeting which is ‘how have these decisions moved us forward on inclusion?’ ”. One music service has an ED&I working group – as a result of critical challenge around the music service’s response to Black Lives Matter – read our Places for Change article.

Changing Tracks is a programme of peer support and learning for and with music services wanting to improve equality, diversity and inclusion. It is run by Hertfordshire Music Service and funded by Youth Music as part of the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England. It was previously called MusicNet East. We help music services to be more inclusive by providing peer networks – one of which is facilitated by Music Mark training and consultancy, advice and resources.

Find out more about us, or check out the other resources and blogs on this site for more helpf for music services, and visit the AMIE Musical Inclusion Resource Hub for more inclusion tools and guidance, blogs, videos, and case studies.

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