Making the case for inclusion – Waltham Forest Music Service

Waltham Forest Music Service has been part of the Changing Tracks programme for the past three years. They’ve recently published the first Inclusive Music Strategy, which sets out an ambitious programme towards inclusion for the Hub partnership, on which each Hub partner, including the music service can build its inclusion action plans. Mary Mycroft, Head of Service and David Austin, Acting Deputy Head, outline their journey so far and share some advice and insights for other music services.

Read more about Waltham Forest’s involvement in Changing Tracks here

About Waltham Forest Music Service (WFMS)

WFMS is the lead organisation in the Waltham Forest Music Education Hub (established in 2018) and is part of the Local Authority, the London Borough of Waltham Forest. An Outer London borough in the North East of the city, we use our ACE Hub grant of just under £400k to work with a wide range of local, regional and national partners, from small independent charities to large NPOs. We lead on delivering the core and extension roles set out in the National Plan for Music Education and also offer a traded service to schools. We have a workforce of around 50 part time tutors engaged mostly on casual contracts, supported by 2 full time senior managers (Head and Deputy Head), 3 part time middle managers and 2 administrative staff. We are proud to be launching our first Inclusive Music Strategy, which sets out an ambitious programme towards inclusion across the organisation.

Why did WFMS need an Inclusive Music Strategy?

“Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice we make every day. As leaders, we have to put out the message that we embrace, and not just tolerate, diversity.” ~ Nellie Borrero, Managing Director and Senior Global Inclusion and Diversity Lead, Accenture.

Although we had long been passionate about meeting the needs of any child or young person in Waltham Forest, there had been a somewhat sporadic, “project by project” approach to engaging those children and young people across our borough who are harder to reach.

Our involvement in Changing Tracks gave us the opportunity to talk with and learn from other music services colleagues and helped strengthen our resolve to build on this area of work. Through our early experience on this journey towards inclusion, it became clear that work across the Service and the wider Hub could be strengthened through the development of a strategic plan, which would help build a common understanding of inclusion, and help embed inclusive practice.

Getting started

Once we had agreed that an Inclusive Music Strategy would be beneficial to the Service, we decided that bringing in external expertise would ensure we established a clear and unbiased starting point. We needed an objective and data-based reflection of our current position from which to consider our next 4 years’ action plan.

Having worked with Dr Phil Mullen previously to deliver inclusive music making training for our staff, we were confident in engaging him again when he brought forward a proposal to work with us, building on work he is doing with other hubs around the country. Through in-depth interviews and conversations with Dr Mullen we were able to reflect on the current context, considering fully our strengths as well as areas for development. This professional challenge helped us to prioritise various aspects of our work in order to become more inclusive. This process and the associated learning continues to inform our planning, alongside working with Changing Tracks who use the Youth Music EDI tools. These consist of an audit spreadsheet and action plan template document – free tools that you can use for reflection and planning.

Challenging Circumstances

Part of the initial incentive for developing an inclusive music strategy was our desire to truly understand local need; who might be missing out on opportunities and how the local landscape plays a part in shaping the experiences of our young people. We know that children in Waltham Forest are exposed to a number of risk factors at a significantly higher rate than national average, including under 16s living in poverty, family homelessness, families out of work with dependent children and children who became Looked After Children due to family stress, dysfunction or absent parenting. We also know there are challenges faced by disabled people, with disabled people making up over a fifth of the population but being under-represented in music education and the music industry (See the Youth Music report “Reshape Music”).

Reflecting the community

WFMS believes that as a publicly funded music education organisation, we should aspire to deliver inclusive provision. Waltham Forest is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in London; around two thirds of residents (68%) are from a minority ethnic background (other than White British/Irish), compared to 58% in London as a whole. It is worth reminding ourselves that our funding is intended to benefit all children and young people (between 5 and 18years), and we therefore have a responsibility to reflect, represent and celebrate the identities and cultures in our borough.

In terms of the future outlook and what our young people might witness of the world around them, there is a clear Ethnicity Pay Gap in the borough (BAME employees are paid 15% less than non-BAME employees) and also a Gender Pay Gap of 13.5% (although comparing with a UK average of 14.2% this does at least appear to be headed in the right direction). Of course, the causes of these inequalities are many and complex, but we must acknowledge that we have a part to play in ensuring all young people have positive life chances through their education and experiences. With the local landscape being what it is, and the impact this can have on children and young people’ perception of the world, WFMS intends to help improve representation, for example by creating more work for BAME tutors which we hope will help increase engagement of BAME young people.

In commissioning the Inclusive Music Strategy, we are driving forward aspirations to visibly promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and are holding ourselves to account for the journey towards inclusion that lies ahead.


An ethos of inclusion must be communicated explicitly if is to become embedded in the culture of an organisation. This fundamental work around policies, procedures and resources began with our work with Changing Tracks.

We believe that most music educators aspire to be inclusive, believing in the importance of children and young people having access to the enormously enriching experience that is music education. However, they may lack the confidence, skills or experience, or perhaps even the opportunities to engage with young people facing barriers to music education. Having an Inclusive Music Strategy helps provide the impetus and focus to develop our work force to lead more inclusive music making across both the Service and wider Hub partnership, and to create a more equitable and diverse arena for all.

The WFMS management team subscribe to taking a holistic approach to supporting the development for both those who are delivering and those who are participating in music education, both formal and informal. An important step on the road to inclusion is to have the empathy to consider the barriers people in our communities might face in accessing music education. We have a duty to regularly reflect on who is delivering and who is accessing our provision, with a key focus asking “Are we programming what Children and Young People want, and when they access it, do they feel welcome and supported?”. Ultimately, we must ensure no young person feels excluded from our provision or feel that it is ‘not for them’ and in order to do this a comprehensive understanding of lived experience is necessary. Likewise, for musicians and music educators, there may be great deal of talent that is discouraged from entering the workforce if recruitment policies, for example, are not fair and equitable, or if they make stipulations that musicians coming from community music backgrounds cannot meet. As a music service we need a diverse team in order to deliver a diverse range of opportunities to a diverse community.

Key learning

Dr Mullen’s interviews with both senior and middle management, and with local stakeholders highlighted gaps or areas where opinion/understanding was mixed; there was limited knowledge of what work the Hub was doing or where needs had been identified for development. We now come together regularly for deep professional conversations which help to grow our understanding of sector developments in inclusive music work. We are able to look critically at our strategic plans through a more objective lens (for example, using Dr Mullen’s Taxonomy of Children in Challenging Circumstances, p11 in our Inclusive Music Strategy) to help inform and refine our work appropriately.

The Strategy has already begun to palpably shape our development. We are working both independently and collaboratively to ensure we take forward the priorities set out in our IMS and have recently secured funding (in partnership with Newham and Hackney Music Hubs) from the Youth Music Music Education Hubs fund. This will enable us to focus on embedding inclusive practice through development of our workforce across the three hub areas. This programme was designed in direct response to several strategic priorities and will see us engaging an Inclusion Manager to lead on upskilling our wider team and establish a focus on inclusive CPD. The programme will also be delivered through active learning projects with targeted outcomes for young people, enabling us to address further strategic priorities and directly support those children who may need music the most.

Looking to the future

The strategy and a refreshed ED&I plan provide a clear “roadmap” for our journey to inclusion.

One of the most significant and tangible outcomes from our strategy, is our list of Strategic Priorities (found on p31) which are key to focussing and shaping our development.

Going forward, we know we must maintain these clear goals, which enable us to grow and develop music work with under-engaged Children and Young People. We have set ambitious targets but having our IMS at the heart of our planning enables us to approach and plan for meeting these targets, and a commitment to working in partnership means that there are opportunities for us to share this load.

We are grateful to Dr Mullen and all our colleagues in the Changing Tracks programme who have supported us to get this far. We look forward to continuing to work together with our sector and sharing in our journey towards inclusion.

Mary Mycroft and David Austin

March 2021

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 a peer network facilitated by Music Mark, funding for action research, support and challenge, 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, or visit the AMIE Musical Inclusion Resource Hub for more inclusion tools and guidance, blogs, videos, and case studies, to help you break down barriers to music-making.

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