[VIDEO] How can music services ensure that music and inclusion are central in school planning?

Video of James Dickinson from Hull Music Service and Hub

This briefing note outlines how music services might advocate for music and inclusion in conversations and planning with and by schools. It is compiled following a meeting of the National Music Services Working Group on Inclusion* in July 2020, and in particular draws on a presentation from James Dickinson, Head of Hull Music Hub and trustee and chair of Music Mark (excerpts are in the video above).

Now is a great time to reinvent, re-imagine and re-configure how we work with schools so that we meet their current needs, as well as those of young people – particularly those who are most vulnerable. 

Here are some things the group discussed it would be helpful to consider:

1. Where and who are you focusing on and why?

When resources are limited,  we need to make choices about who to prioritise, and what impact we want to have. That might mean focusing on smaller numbers and bigger impact, rather than big numbers and low impact.

Or it could mean targeting areas/groups that are of concern for the local authority. Are there schools in these areas that you could focus resources on – and that may attract match funding in the form of commissions or contracts? 

2. What are  the most helpful personal and social outcomes that music can achieve for young people right now?

We are all used to talking about the  many benefits that music brings to young people. Social skills like teamwork and communication; personal skills like attention and skills for learning; and academic skills like language acquisition and numerical processing;involving children who are disengaged in learning, or see themselves as “outsiders”. 

Yet the more specific and focused we can be about the actual benefits we can bring and the difference we make, the more likely schools are to engage with us.

Resilience and wellbeing are major concerns and drivers of school support funding, and are likely to be more so following the pandemic. We’ve found many schools and local authority teams are talking about ‘resilience’ rather than wellbeing, because the former acknowledges that children grow through learning to navigate rather than avoid challenges. 

We can address this in two ways:

1) in the way we communicate the value of music in a particular offer (see more on this in the next section)

2) more importantly, in the way we develop the service/programmes that we offer schools. How might we accentuate the aspects of our work with young people that improves their ability to cope, to look after themselves, and to flourish? How can we test, or measure this? What support would tutors need to develop their skills to enable this?

3. How do we communicate what we can offer?

It’s helpful to start with conversations with people in the local authority who are responsible for children’s or family services. This gives a sense of the wider priorities and concerns in the area, which will help inform your conversations with schools. Is there a team leading on school inclusion, preventing youth offenders, or supporting specific cohorts or communities?

Plan your research, so that you can communicate in language used by schools about engaging vulnerable children and young people in learning. There’s a useful resource here based on work by the National Foundation for Educational Research.

And others guidance reports here from the Educational Endowment Foundation.

It’s helpful to think of communications with schools as a multi-strand approach – use phone calls and emails, but also social media, and documents sent through the post. Yes, it can require a lot of time and effort, waiting for schools to respond, but the success comes from being both patient and persistent. 

When you speak to a school, focus on their needs, not your services. Ask them which children they are most concerned about, and consider how music can support them. We’ve found projects succeed best when there’s a local inclusion ‘champion’; this can be a SENCO, a music co-ordinator, an instrumental tutor, or ideally a member of schools’ senior leadership team. Look for these and nurture the relationships; often people with relevant lived experience will have the drive to make things happen.

As music services are used to providing a specific menu of services, we may now need to adapt our offers, or think of them in a different way. For example, in Hull, the music service has been identified as a form of ‘alternative provision’ (AP). Schools may have a budget for this and local authorities may also want to avoid sending their pupils to a traditional alternative provision school, for cost reasons as well as well to avoid further segregation.

Ask schools and L.A. teams what types of evidence of impact they need; it may be simpler that you expect! In Hertfordshire, the music service has  updated its pupil report forms to include personal and social challenges and successes: these, and pupil case studies have been well received in schools and Alternative Provision.

4. Our workforce is a selling point

Children get a lot out of their relationship with a music  tutor, especially those who usually struggle with positive relationships in or out of school.  Building positive relationships with an adult will have a lasting impact on the child and influence their relationship not only with music, but also with  learning. We don’t make enough of this mentoring style relationship with instrumental tutors – now is the time to bring this to the fore.

Do you have tutors who are particularly skilled at supporting vulnerable young people? Could you match these with schools who agree that you can support their work with these pupils?

An audit of the diversity of the workforce and their skills is a good place to start with this. Sometimes tutors have interests or backgrounds in social development that they can draw on can add value to your work. Tutors with experience of youth work, or of learning informally can offer much here.

If you’re looking to develop your tutors’ skill in working inclusively and with vulnerable young people, contact us here at the Changing Tracks programme run by Hertfordshire Music Service – we’ve developed training in reflective practice and working with vulnerable young people

5. And finally: music is an asset, now more than ever. Think about the best ways to advocate for the value of music now

As a sector, we can help each other by improving our skills in advocating for music education, as well as sharing our own tips and experience about what works. There are all sorts of resources available to help you, and we’ve listed just a few here:

Watch the video and read more about Hertfordshire Music Service’s Nurture Groups

Hertfordshire Music Service is a founder member of the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England (AMIE). It runs the Changing Tracks programme which helps music services to become more inclusive by providing a peer network, resources and tools, and funding for action research on the barriers and drivers to inclusion.  Visit the AMIE Musical Inclusion Resource Hub for tools and guidance, blogs, videos, case studies and more, to help you break down barriers to music-making.

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