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Hertfordshire Music Service has been pioneering approaches to equality, diversity and inclusion in music services for many years. Since 2012, it has been supporting other music services across England to improve equality, diversity and inclusion through Changing Tracks.

We support music services to develop E,D and I action plans that set SMART targets for workforce development, encouraging young people’s voice, programming and resources and leadership and strategy.

So far more than 45 music services have benefited directly.

Hertfordshire Music Service supports the Changing Track's mission of:

helping music services to embed equality, diversity and inclusion throughout their organisational culture, strategy and practices, and model good practice.

Below are the outcomes including blogs and news articles that were created over the project duration.

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Diversifying progression

Youth Voice useful resources

The Music Lab: a toolkit for youth voice in classical music education

A toolkit for practitioners in classical music education by Dr Anna Bull (University of York) and Jennifer Raven (Deputy Director, Sound Connections). The toolkit is the result of the Music Lab research project where participants and practitioners explored classical music education through both practical activities and discussion. Full of ideas and activities used during the Music Lab course, the toolkit provides inspiration and resources for instrumental teachers, class music teachers, ensemble leaders and other musicians and teachers working in the classical music education sector. A resource from Sound Connections.

Youth voice in music education: 10 things to think about

Case studies and things to think about, informed by people and organisations working in music education. A resource from Music Mark.

Ije’s journey from participant to music leader - video

A key part of HMS Changing Tracks is finding new progression routes for young people.

Ije Amaechi began writing songs after attending a songwriting workshop as part of MusicNet East’s Songwriter 2012 competition. She is now studying music at the School of Oriental and African Studies as well a being a trainee workshop leader for Songwriter and working with Stevenage Youth Music Council.

Putting diversity and representation at the heart of our music services

In this blog to accompany her video, Ije Amaechi, music tutor and workshop leader at Hertfordshire Music Service, and Changing Tracks Project Officer, shares her views on representation and diversity in music services, and her progression route through the music service. 

How I got involved with Hertfordshire Music Service 

My introduction to Hertfordshire Music Service (HMS) was at an open mic night in Watford back in 2011 at the age of 14, where I was to perform the first song I had ever written. It was this night that I signed up to Songwriter 2012, which helped kickstart my song-writing journey beyond the four walls of my bedroom.

I regularly attended HMS’ songwriter workshops, performed my original songs in school assemblies, local gigs, showcases and events. I was then invited to perform at the Hertfordshire Schools’ Gala at The Royal Albert Hall and performed my song ‘Afraid’ solo with my guitar. It was an amazing experience and to this day, over eight years later, I am still proud of how confident and composed I was! 

My interest in social development

As well as music, I have long been interested in social development. I was a Member of UK Youth Parliament in years 10 and 11 and part of Watford Youth Council. In both groups, we surveyed thousands of young people to find out which issues were most pressing for them.

After sixth form, I went on to study a BA in Music and Development Studies at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, where I developed my knowledge on why and how the world is the way it is politically, socially and developmentally; about music around the world, and how history and politics can influence an area’s music and people’s relationship to it.  

Alongside my degree I started as a Trainee Music Leader for HMS, shadowing other teachers and attending various training. A year later I became a part-time Music Tutor/Workshop Leader, running my own songwriter workshops and teaching song-writing, ukulele and singing in various settings like youth clubs, schools and education support centres, taking music classes to those who have never had instrumental music lessons before. I am now also working on project development, evaluation and communications within HMS and Changing Tracks (a national programme for music services wanting to improve equality, diversity, and inclusion, funded by Youth Music, run by HMS). 

As part of this work, I’m keen to raise awareness of my experience as a mixed-race female going through a ‘typical’ music service system. I’d like my work not only to enable every young person to have access to music, but also to influence the practices and structures that may act as barriers to that, including for BAME young people.

Why we need to be having conversations about diversity and representation in the music education workplace

Growing up as a mixed-race female has had its challenges. You’ve probably had your own – no matter what your race is, or your background. Yet when a person of colour is talking about challenges like bullying, struggles, finding oneself and making friends – there is an added layer of “stuff”. This stuff has been created by society – racism and white supremacy. It infiltrates our institutions, co-operations, the structures within them, our politics, and our minds… whether we like it or not.

I can only speak for myself, as not every mixed-race person will have the same view or experiences as me. But I know from conversations with many mixed-race friends, the commonalities are there. It is a constant questioning of who you fit best with and where you belong. We are definitely not, and have never been “White” and often don’t fit into being “Black” either, due to missing parts of the culture of the country we haven’t grown up in, even though many of us will identify as Black and/or mixed race.

The topics of race, diversity and representation have always been a discussion point with my family, friends and online, but they haven’t ever been a key discussion point at work. When the Black Lives Matter movement came into the mainstream earlier this year, following the tragic death of George Floyd by police brutality, people were forced to wake up and to speak up, even if they didn’t yet have the language or tools to do so. 

What mattered most was people saying that what is happening is not okay – and that they know they need to do more work. Beyond that, a commitment and action plan is what separates desire to be anti-racist and create anti-racist environments, and real change. So it starts with a conversation, but that needs to be quickly followed by a plan. That’s why Equality, Diversity and Inclusion plans are so important for music services.

How can we encourage more open conversations leading to action in our sector?

Until recently, I hadn’t felt able to talk openly about my experiences and my desire for change around diversity and representation in music education. The Black Lives Matter movement and the important discussions it inspired, felt like the perfect opportunity to talk about my experience growing up and how music education can be more inclusive for BAME people. 

I acknowledge that I am the exception and that there’s much work to be done and learnt to become a core part of all music services. Although black males are over represented in school exclusion statistics, they are proportionally under-represented within the music service, even within musical inclusion projects, let alone wider service activities. 

It is extremely important that we recognise these facts, think of ways to change this and improve our services for young people, so that no child is left behind.

Here are five simple questions that may help you to start the conversation in your team meetings and discussions:

  • Are black people represented within your music service proportionally to the local population, both as tutors and as pupils?  
  • Do you have more than one or two black employees? 
  • Are your comms’ images diverse?
  • What are the barriers for black young people in your area?
  • How can you research overcoming these barriers? Who needs to be involved? E.g. surveys, questionnaires, focus groups 

Ethnicity can be a taboo topic within service improvement, but it is crucial. We need to start having serious, honest conversations about the inequalities within our music services and the impact that this is having on young black people every day and how this affects their music education in the future.

See Ije playing her song ‘Afraid’ at the Royal Albert Hall Gala, May 2012

Embedding inclusion into the music services quality assurance cycle –what might help?

In our previous national working group (NWG), we looked at how we measure becoming more inclusive. In this latest session, we built on this by looking at the processes and stages at the heart of what music services do: our quality assurance cycles. We wanted to understand what forms of support and resources music services were using, or would find helpful, for embedding inclusion into each part of the cycle, including measuring becoming more inclusive (part of the ‘reporting’ part of the cycle).

We shared our model for a music service quality cycle that you’ll see below (and you can read more in our blog, Embedding inclusion within music service quality assurance cycles).

A circle featuring 5 blocks representing elements of the QA cycle - described in the blog

We then broke into groups to look at each stage of the quality cycle, and consider the following questions:

  • what resources or activity do you use that you can embed ED&I in? E.g. a form, a policy, staff groups?
  • what other form of support does your service need? E.g. peer groups, buddying, training, consultancy?

We came back together to vote on what would be most useful and captured results in a ‘Mentimeter’ interactive survey.

The results: which of these 11 resources or other forms of support that you’ve suggested, will be most useful?

Bar chart depicting results of a survey described in the blog below

We’ve mapped these back against the five elements of the quality cycle and introduced these with some more detail from the conversations. The numbers referred to below (i.e. 5th, 9th, are from the diagram above).


In a music service that’s responsive to its stakeholders, planning starts with understanding and responding to need. Part of that is establishing partnerships with people working with vulnerable young people and planning together. For example, working with SENCOs to help teachers adapt to the needs and interests of young people. Or working with the Virtual School or other children and young peoples’ support services. This then continues through all our project planning and budgeting. Planning can be curriculum planning or project planning – how do we bring inclusion into both? How can inclusion drive the business plan and related KPIs?

5th –  ED&I prompts within our project plan and budget plan formats. Many music services have a consistent format for these two, that they use for all projects and programmes. How can we adapt them to consider the needs of vulnerable young people? How do we embed an outcomes approach based on personal and social as well as musical outcomes?

9th – Target new service provision through an EDI focus. Whenever we are starting something new, use this as the opportunity to refresh our processes, tools and resources using an EDI lens.


Many music services said they struggle to recruit staff, and particularly to diversify their workforce. We’ve already co-created an inclusive job description, but we also need to consider where and how we advertise; and an induction process that introduces the values and purpose of the music service.

7th – A shared approach to the recruitment of staff across a region, using a good understanding of need.

11th – Recruitment resources that match local authority and music services’ ethos. This might include learning from how local authorities’ processes are built on the Equality Act.


We know teachers are the most important asset we have in developing an inclusive music service. How do we bring them on that journey? One music service talked of how they ran a ‘Why do you get out of bed?’ session with their tutors to encourage reflection on the purpose of their work, and of the music service. Another service shared a helpful quote from some training “everybody here already has the skills to offer a valuable experience: you bring to this the musician that you are.” 

1st – How to ensure youth voice influences our CPD offer (from how tutors talk with young people in lessons, to how we find out what young people are interested in doing, and how this influences the training we offer our workforce)

2nd – How to encourage and facilitate reflective practice in the staff and freelancers we manage – support for line managers to do this, extending across the hub too

3rd – Whole staff CPD days, specialised tuition development with an outcomes approach to reach the whole workforce

4th – Critical reflection groups for staff and freelancers – including fresh insights from people who work with vulnerable groups eg Emotional Literacy Assistants

Performance management:

We have many processes and systems for performance management: how much do these help us to recognise good inclusive practice, starting with youth voice and differentiated learning? 

6th – Prompts for instrumental/vocal teachers’ lesson observations


This might include everything from capturing and reporting on engagement, retention and progression; to gathering baseline data on the vulnerable young people in our area. Every local authority has data and a plan that covers this (in some cases it may be called a Joint Strategic Needs Analysis or a Children & Young People’s Plan). It will also include lesson report forms (can these include social and personal outcomes. Could they support schools’ end of year reports for parents?). And it will also include reporting to our wider stakeholders – and bringing them on board with an expanded view of ‘the purpose of a music service’.

8th Individual Learning Plans created with young people (this might require resources such as Pupil Profiles, Individual Learning Plan templates to document and track aspirations and goals). These will not only create personalised learning pathways and feed into progression routes: but will also help us understand our customers better and feed into needs analysis.

Sharing is caring:

A 10th request was to remove barriers to sharing resources, tools, and insights. Changing Tracks is here to help music services to share their learning around inclusion: creating new resources where needed or sharing existing resources from music services to save reinventing the wheel. Do you have any resources, templates or tools that are mentioned above? If so, get in touch. These could either feed into our Task and Finish Groups or be shared on our website.

What next?

We’ll be setting up task and finish groups, sharing resources, or peer groups, training or other forms of support in response. So we’d now like to hear from you. Do you agree with the choices here? Do you have anything to add? What form of resources or support would help you to embed inclusion in your quality assurance cycle?

We’ve also been thinking that music services’ lesson administration systems could be used to capture data on the engagement, retention and progression of the young people who are experiencing challenging circumstances. We believe these to be key metrics to help music services measure becoming more inclusive.

Our final question: Do you have an ED&I action plan for your music service?

Bar chart showing whether people have an EDI action plan

At the end of the session, we also asked people to let us know if they had an ED&I action plan – see the results above. 8 said ‘yes, shared with ACE/added to our business plan’, 7 said yes, in draft and no-one said not yet.

“Does our Inclusion Strategy count?” was a question asked by one participant. Our answer was that it depends if it has a clear action plan included. By this we mean a process such as the Changing Tracks EDI action planning used in bootcamps and with our partners: one which focuses on transforming music service practice, policies and purposes. This in turn prepares us for commissioning work through the wider hub. We’ve heard from many music services that, once they’ve developed their strategy, they’re left thinking ‘but where do we start’. This is why we created our ED&I bootcamps so if you’re in the same situation, we hope you’ll join us for one – see the links below for current dates (more will be released for July onwards).

Embedding Inclusion with Music Service Quality Assurance Cycles

At a recent meeting of the Changing Tracks National Music Services Working Group for Inclusion, the group workshopped a question of ‘how do we know we’re becoming more inclusive?’ The information below outlines how music service quality assurance systems are central to progress and evidence in inclusion.

The challenges of measuring how we are becoming more inclusive

One metric arising from conversations was the value of mapping the engagement, retention and progression of children in challenging circumstances within our data management. These metrics will be familiar to colleagues tasked with monitoring efficacy of targeted inclusion programmes, but they can feel challenging to services experiencing multiple pressures on capacity. However, engagement, retention and progression are also key and interlinked elements of music service quality assurance systems, albeit often with focus on a specific, narrow type of quality that diversity and inclusion have sometimes been challenged as ‘hollowing out.’

Improving quality is a helpful way to frame embedding inclusion

Rather than a separate programme, policy or strategy, is embedding inclusion really any different to encouraging good quality, responsive teaching? Might this be simply service-wide adaption of our offer to the differing needs and interests of all young people, rather than serving those who find it easiest to access what we already do? If so, are the EDI action plans we have been developing really any different to quality improvement plans?

Which resources might support this?

In our 5th year (2022-23), Changing Tracks is interested to explore how inclusion can become more thoroughly embedded within services’ quality assurance systems, and to develop the resources that can be most helpful to this process. For instance, our earlier work on recruitment resulted in a task and finish group that collectively developed an inclusive job description for instrumental music teachers. This resource has since been downloaded 93 times and used by many music services as part of their quality assurance cycles. So, what other areas of an annual quality assurance cycle might we look at, and which resources would help us to embed inclusion at other stages?

What might this mean for service development?

We could apply our engagement, retention, progression metric to different stages of quality assurance. Using data effectively and encouraging youth voice can help us plan to engage a wider range of young people. But instrumental teachers know that adapting their lessons to the needs and declared interests of young people they teach is also key to retaining pupils, especially those in challenging circumstances. And adapting teaching also requires adapting progression pathways to progress young people in accessible ways, and so sustain their engagement. So which other resources could we develop to help services improve our planning CPD, Performance Management and reporting processes to support these interlinked areas?

What might this mean for business planning?

Most significantly at this stage of the year, what might this mean for our service business cases, for our prioritisation of resources?

In 2020 we wrote about a blog about how, beyond the social justice aims we all pursue, the key to embedding inclusion is how it supports music service’s business cases. Could re-reframing our own service’s purpose uncover additional values for instrumental teaching that our whole organisation can get behind? And could this drive both business growth and deeper inclusion?

How a secondary school created a community of young musicians and leaders - video

Freman College’s inclusive approach to music education has helped them create a community of young musicians within the school and developed their students’ leadership skills.

Diversifying music services –beyond representation

A summarised version of this article was first published in Music Teacher magazine, April 2021 

Ije and Michael at the Music Mark conference 2018.

Music Teacher Magazine referenced Changing Tracks in an article about diversifying representation within orchestral music. To find out more about the Changing Tracks approach to diversity, representation and inclusion, we caught up with Hertfordshire Head of Rock, Family and Community Music Michael Davidson, and Workshop Leader and Project Manager Ije Amaechi.

What’s Changing Tracks, and what are it’s aims?

Michael: Changing Tracks works with music services nationally in order to diversify practices, pedagogy and progression routes more widely, in order for services to engage a wider range of young people.

It uses action research as a catalyst for change, and has an overall research question of ‘what are the challenges, enablers, and benefits of music services embedding musical inclusion practice?’

When music services start thinking about musical inclusion, they often begin by working to increase representation of potentially marginalised groups (e.g. Free School Meals Pupils) in an existing offer. This is a great starting position, but we’ve found there’s benefit in a wider approach. For instance, one previous project began by seeking to increase representation in school orchestras, but we found that when we asked them, pupils wanted to progress in different ways.

What other progression routes have you developed?

Michael: One example is Songwriter, a creative music progression pathway developed by Hertfordshire Music Music that has engaged pupils who are interested to learn and progress in different ways to grades and formal ensembles. Ije started as a participant in this.

Ije, what were you looking to get from Songwriter?

Ije: I was having guitar lessons at school as part of GCSE music, but this involved learning grade 2 pieces which didn’t really excite me or make me feel like it was helping my song-writing, which is what I really wanted to do as I’d loved creating songs from a young age. I guess the tutor was limited by the exam syllabus and so the only choice I had was which piece to learn from a list of songs I wasn’t very interested in.

How did you progress as a result of Songwriter, musically and educationally?

Ije: I had already written a few songs, but since I had only just started learning the ukulele and guitar (after taking a break on the piano due to feeling disengaged from learning grades), the songwriter workshops helped me with chord sequences and song structure – all within a day’s work. Very soon I was invited to join a songwriter ambassadors group formed from young people around the county. We met regularly and had workshops with professional songwriters such as Boo Hewerdine. The Songwriter team picked up on one of my songs ‘Afraid’ which I wrote on acoustic guitar, which is mainly about emotional learning and vulnerability. I was chosen to perform it solo at the music service’s biennial gala at the Royal Albert Hall…so I stood in between the orchestras and choirs, just me on my guitar. You can see it here.

I didn’t take A-level Music, it just wasn’t the kind of music I was interested in. I used my song-writing and experience on Songwriter to get me into SOAS. I wanted to explore my interest in West African music in particular and at the end of the course went on a sabbatical to study Kora (a West African harp) in the Gambia.

How did that feed into what you’re doing at present?

Ije: I kept in contact with the Songwriter team, and when I was still a student at SOAS I was invited to get involved as a trainee. HMS was looking to build up its song-writing team, and I began by shadowing a community musician working with young asylum seekers in a youth clubs. I really enjoyed it, and learnt a lot from how the youth workers worked with the young people.

Now, I am part of the HMS music tutor team. We attract a wide range of pupils, probably wider than you’d expect in most music centres…and they’ve written some great songs. Some of whom are now also interested in becoming workshop leaders, as well as writing their own songs, so I guess it all comes around…They put on regular showcases where they perform their own songs. We’re building a songwriter community jointly with our Young Music Leaders who have organised and run such events as part of their training.

In a recent vlog you recorded, you said that it was important for young people to see themselves represented, do you feel that song-writing can help?

Ije: Yes, but I think it’s representation in a number of ways. A lot of black music and song-writing can be a form of repository for a hidden social history of black communities. This comes through the lyrics, more diverse genres and musical practices that perhaps gets missed in other genres that just focus on the music. I also studied a course on Global Hip Hop at SOAS which completely opened my eyes to the way music can be used for social change, expression and capturing the socio-political climate. Studying music and people from other cultures revealed how music has different functions and uses in different countries. It feels like the wider function and meaning of music is missing in the UK music curriculum. This limits the kind of connection people can make to it, thus reinforcing the idea that music or musical instruments are only for those who are really good at it, do grades or have parents who are musicians, when that is of course not the case.

What do you think music teachers can get from teaching song-writing?

Michael: It’s quite different from how we work with pupils to get us through exams, which for me often tends to focus on a lot of tutor instruction and pupil listening. I’ve noticed that encouraging pupils to create their own music leads to more ownership of their music generally, and they always perform at a higher level when playing their own songs! But to make the most of it, it really requires opportunities to showcase and perform them to other people, and for pupils to join a wider community of young songwriters. Young people are often really interested in wider social issues, and teaching lyric-writing can link them into this. At one school I taught at pupils wrote songs as part of an Amnesty International project, so lyric writing can open up ways of linking instrumental music teaching into forming reflective and democratic citizenship through education, taking us right back to John Dewey. That’s got to be a good thing!

Ije, Do you think young people would be interested to study these kind of things also in curriculum music?

Ije: Curriculum music is beyond the Changing Tracks brief, but yes – Perhaps teaching song-writing could link music to schools’ citizenship curriculum? With a bit of blue sky thinking, perhaps we could have an ethnomusicology GCSE or A-S Level, where people learn about the social history of music from around the world? I think young people would be really interested in that! It shouldn’t have to be something so niche that’s only available at a few universities!

So, take us back to the Changing Tracks research question, what’s the benefit of music services doing this?

Michael: I think largely because it helps engage a wider range of young people. We’ve found that creative music making also brings considerable personal and social outcomes to young people. We’ve noticed this particularly in PRUs, but also on a creative musical nurture group project that we’ve been running for the last couple of years in Stevenage. This has landed very well with schools and the local authority, which are looking for ways to keep young people from being excluded from schools.

They really want music that can build social inclusion and wellbeing for as many young people as possible. Song-writing is the most accessible project, as anyone can take part, even just by writing lyrics, a melody, chord sequence or creating a backing track and we’re currently producing some amazing songs about their experience of lockdown, which they’ve written with our Songwriter tutors.

So diversification goes beyond representation then?

Exactly, music services sometimes get a bit stuck with diversifying recruitment, as they can’t do positive discrimination, or affirmative action in recruitment, but you really don’t need to.

It all starts with finding out what a more diverse group of young people want, taking the first step of running diverse projects, through which you diversify participation and progression opportunities, and you’re starting to develop a more diverse future workforce… And when they return, they bring skills that other tutors can learn from. It’s been fascinating to be in training sessions where song-writing tutors compare notes with violin and cello tutors. Lots of value in different approaches!

And we’re currently developing training and resources for (for want of a better word) more mainstream instrumental tutors to do more song-writing in instrumental lessons in schools…We know that many of their pupils are really interested in song-writing and composition, like Ije was, and music services in the 21st century really want to support this. If tutors are interested to find out more about this, we hope to be offering this online in April, as part of Music Mark’s series of CPD for music tutors.

Case Study – Mark’s journey of self-confidence in singing and playing the piano

I’ve been teaching Mark, a year 10 student, at an Education Support Centre (ESC/ Pupil Referral Unit, PRU) in Hertfordshire since October 2018. Mark had already been having weekly general music lessons with the music teacher at the ESC, but my additional lessons have focused on singing songs he chooses and learning to play chords on the piano.

Mark has always been able to sing in front of me from when we started off with the song ‘Perfect’ by Ed Sheeran. However, whenever someone else would enter the room, or if his teacher for his next lesson (who he has a good rapport with) would come in a few minutes early asking to hear him play, he would refuse and start playing the first few notes of chopsticks on the piano (which he learnt elsewhere). His teacher would also pick up the guitar, play a few chords and they would have banter about his level of playing.

Mark is great at listening to the tips I give him for his vocals and always tries his best with singing the songs, really putting his heart into it, but finds the piano somewhat challenging to focus on and stick with. He can spend a couple of minutes practising new chords and repeating an exercise until he reverts to playing the beginning of ‘Chopsticks’, perhaps because he knows it so well and can play it fast. He also likes to show his teacher almost every week even though we ask him to play something new he’s learnt or to sing a song.

In November, I gave him the lyrics to ‘Say Something’, a song he told me he really wanted to sing. We soon realised how much it suited his voice and helped him to project more and pass the boundary of singing quietly, worried if someone were going to come in. We talked about dynamics and how he can build the song up by using his voice to help portray the meaning and he really started to give it his all. He still, however, was not ready to sing it to his teacher.

One week, Mark was finding it particularly difficult to focus and didn’t want to play or sing, so I suggested he make up his own tune on the piano. He started playing around for a few minutes and at the end pressed lots of keys simultaneously which created a startling, dark sound. I jumped and laughed, which he found hilarious, so he spent the next ten minutes making up a tune and went on a little experimental journey, hooking you in with the notes, getting quieter and quieter and then suddenly, all the keys at once, very loudly. It was quite amusing – I could see he was really enjoying the freedom of playing what he wanted and became immersed in this. His teacher soon came in, much to Mark’s delight, for now he could do the same thing to shock him. “Sir, I’ve got something to show you…”, “Ah great Mark, I’d love to hear it”. Sir sits down, probably expecting to hear ‘Perfect’ or ‘Say Something’ from previous weeks, but Mark plays his new experimental improvisatory piece, sliding up and down the piano, with varying dynamics and black and white keys. He of course ends with the fade to sudden loud notes and we all laugh.

In December, at the end of the lesson, Mark’s teacher asked him to sing again and by this time, Mark had been singing ‘Say Something’ for a few weeks, so was more comfortable with it. I played the piano for him and not only did he sing the first verse, but he sang the whole song, with repeated choruses at the end, even projecting his voice. It was amazing to see him perform to his teacher and feel able to sing out the same way he had been doing in the lessons and after so many weeks of encouragement to show his teacher.

Recently, Mark has shown me country songs on YouTube his mum plays in the house. He sings along quietly to the original, staring at the screen, as if the song holds a string of memories for him. I noticed that when he shows me drum and bass music or hip-hop, he turns the volume right up, but when he played ‘Turn the lights down’ by Lock Turner (country), he turned it down to speaking level. “Oh, you can turn it up more!”, I said, to which he replied “No, it’s embarrassing”. I guess he was again worried someone would hear that he liked this kind of music which isn’t perceived as “cool” by his peers, despite it suiting his voice wonderfully. I’d like to help him feel able to sing these kinds of songs he likes properly, as I can see that they mean something to him, and as a singer, I know those are the songs that feel best to sing. I hope to make some progress on this with him, which I may do by showing him some of the piano chords to the song to bring a different element to it. But for now, perhaps it’s enough to have the space to share these songs with someone else and to enjoy listening and singing along quietly.

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Embedding inclusion in music services

How can music services demonstrate the full value of music?

As delivery providers and in many cases, hub leaders, music services occupy a unique position to lead development conversations about the full value of music. In our final year, Changing Tracks will be working to move this conversation forward. In alignment with the National Plan, we believe one way is by setting out the full value of instrumental music teaching to enhance lives.

Changing Tracks has been considering this question throughout our ten years of strategic work and action research across England, funded by Youth Music and hosted by Hertfordshire Music Service. Our research question has been: ‘‘What are the challenges, enablers, and benefits of music services working together to embed musical inclusion practice within the core roles of instrumental/vocal music teaching?”  

Citizens of Here PhD

The work has contributed to, and drawn from, PhD research by Changing Tracks programme lead Michael Davidson. We’re pleased that the PhD has been awarded (July 2022), with the examiners commenting that it makes for compelling reading, is an original contribution to the field and recommending publication.

Drawing on 9 years of research, including Changing Tracks, ‘Citizens of Here’ uses citizenship as a lens to consider how developing more holistic instrumental music teaching can prepare young people for adulthood. It describes how instrumental music teaching has been valued too narrowly as simply preparation for performance, with its potential overlooked by development models that has focused on ‘disruption’, top-down change, and ‘magic bullet’ approaches to inclusion. Instead, broadening expected outcomes for existing practice can become a catalyst for sustainable development of music services, and can become a driver for services’ business cases.

Music services’ unique position

As hub leads and partners, music services are well-placed to grow and lead a sustainable, integrated and inclusive offer. We occupy a unique position with a well-developed infrastructure, and long-term knowledge of local music ecosystems within, between and beyond schools. And importantly, we have partnerships with local authorities, families and communities which bring values beyond improving school attainment, including supporting vulnerable families, preventative health and life-long collective flourishing.

Most significantly, ‘Citizens’ considers how placing youth voice at the heart of development and learning from young people at risk of social and musical inclusion, requires us to diversify the workforce, pedagogy and progression routes.

Changing Tracks themes

This year, in parallel with Music Mark’s Talk into Action programme, Changing Tracks is exploring the following overlapping themes. We’ll do this, as always, by facilitating peer groups, running our nurture group action research programme, working with fellow music service/hub colleagues on our action-planning and CPD. We’ll share collective wisdom and insights through our communications – including a new podcast – and continue to create momentum around equality, diversity and inclusion.

THEME 1:  How can we demonstrate the full value of music services, as hub leads and in delivery?

THEME 2:  How can we best demonstrate the full value of instrumental/vocal music teaching?

THEME 3: How can we empower instrumental music teachers to adapt their practice to be more inclusive and better valued?

THEME 4: How can music services/hubs help schools build the School Music Department of the future?

THEME 5: How can we develop more inclusive progression pathways, including through curriculum music and into HE?

Trauma-informed music nurture group - Merton Music Foundation

For Merton Music Foundation, attending an ED&I bootcamp has led to the service running a trauma-informed music nurture group, creating its first ED&I action plan (now published on its website), and was the starting point for an inclusion resource for its tutors.

Hailey Willington, Youth Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion Leader and Subject Leader for Strings, attended our third ED&I bootcamp series in June 2021. She attended the Inclusion Project Managers Peer Learning Group in the same month, and had also joined our Inclusive Job Description Task & Finish Group the previous month. CEO Elizabeth Wigley then attended the National Music Services Working Group on Inclusion in September 2021.

How did this help you to take your next steps towards inclusion?

The EDI Bootcamp was a fantastic opportunity to focus on the subject and consider my organisation’s meaningful next steps. It was a supportive space and incredibly useful to hear from facilitators and fellow participants about where they are on their EDI journey.  

What areas of your ED&I action plan did you move forward with next?

Hailey followed up the bootcamp by working on staff training for inclusion, and finalising policies to make them more inclusive. MMF has since signed the Black Lives in Music Charter (BLIM) and is working with BLIM on redesigning inclusive recruitment practices for both staff and trustees.

In September 2021, she successfully applied for funding from Changing Tracks as part of our Nurture Groups action research programme.  Hailey says: “Supported by trauma training, and critical reflection groups from Changing Tracks, the nurture group programme has been a successful pilot that has brought actionable inclusive practice and reflection into many areas of our teaching practice. We’ll be continuing this project in September 2022 and are proud to have added musical nurture groups to our 2022-2023 offer to schools for the first time.”

Tools for change - how toembed ED&I in music services using the Youth Music toolkit - video

A music centre, somewhere in the UK. There’s been talk about becoming more inclusive – but how do the team take things forward and create an action plan? A film by Changing Tracks the inclusion support programme for, with & by music services, for the Music Mark conference, 2021.

ED&I bootcamp – 15 music service colleagues complete our four week twilight sessions

15 music service colleagues have now successfully completed our first three ED&I (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) bootcamp series. After just four weeks, members of each group are clearly more confident about how to put equality, diversity and inclusion into action in their music services:

“This has been a really helpful opportunity to step away from the daily job and review both my own situation but gain insight into what work is being done about EDI in other areas of the country. Great to be able to support each other along with this!”  Emma Calvert. Head of Service, East Riding Schools’ Music Service

“The EDI bootcamp was the perfect way to kickstart our path towards a more inclusive music service, with many practical and realistic tips and plenty of discussion.”  Pili Lopez, Inclusion Project Manager, Dorset Music Service

“The ED&I tool is incredibly useful. I filled it out with our head of service, and then with our SLT, it was interesting to compare views, and helped us to identify easy gains. Also confirmed my instincts about the need to look at our policies.”

What does it involve?

Six music service managers/leaders meet online in each ED&I bootcamp ‘set’, at a regular time and day (usually early evening) in an open and supportive environment.

Each group is facilitated by Nick Denham, Head of Inclusion at Hertfordshire Music Service (which leads Changing Tracks), supported by Michael Davidson, Head of Rock, Pop and Family Music at Hertfordshire Music Service and also strategic lead for Changing Tracks.

The short sessions take participants through a practical process of assessing where they are now, creating a snapshot as a baseline for change, how to set realistic goals and create a plan, refine it to connect with stakeholders’ needs, and finally track your progress and adapt your goals.

The sessions use Youth Music’s ED&I action plan tools to turn discussion into action, and participants come away with a little helpful, practical, homework each week, and a plan of action for their service at the end of four weeks.

The key principles have been to:

  • start with and celebrate what you’re already doing
  • set realistic, incremental goals
  • support, coach, collaborate and learn together – there is no one-size-fits all approach

What have music services discussed so far?

Many common issues have emerged, often reflecting the challenges and drivers experienced by members of the National Working Group on Inclusion and detailed in Changing Tracks’ annual review and learning report: Embedding learning in the strategy and delivery of music services. Some of the comments have included:

“An understanding of what ED&I is”. “Getting people familiar with the ideas.” “How do we lever culture shift?” “Embedding inclusion so it’s owned throughout the service – good leadership carries on without leaders.” “How do we ensure that policies go beyond appearing in the handbook?” “There’s a value in getting people involved in ED&I but it needs to be the right time – perhaps using the ED&I self-assessment tool during CPD.”

“Confidence of staff (to deliver inclusion work) is a challenge.” “Getting buy-in from staff who are freelancers, and keeping them invested.”

“The community is very diverse, the workforce isn’t.” “How do you do diversity when all managers are white middle class classical musicians?” “How do you ensure the Hub board is more representative?”

“Learning music for personal and social outcomes is as valid as ‘high art’ music.”

“How ED&I sits within Hub rather than music service work – i.e. as part of a commissioning process.”

“Engaging local authority education services in music (ED&I work is a way to do this).”

“Working from the music service out, rather than the hub in.”

“Low scores on the ED&I self-assessment tool are valuable, initiate conversations between different people in the organisation.”

“Legacy – what happens in a school when the inclusion ‘project’ ends?”

What are some of the practical actions and ideas that resulted?

  • Discussion with the chair of the Hub board led to an agreement to fundraise for an ED&I catalyst programme to include training and delivery across partners.
  • An inclusion CPD day for the core team before the start of term.
  • Using staff appraisal forms as a focus – asking tutors to identify their own ED&I targets.
  • Asking staff 6 questions relating to ED&I, one per week, on different topics, to identify training needs – a different type of staff consultation.
  • Agreement to improve rates of representation in repertoire – starting point is that each ensemble will play a piece by a female or composers of colour, and funding allocated from music library budget.
  • Aiming to raise the profile of steel pan band playing – developing numbers and progression.
  • Talking about the inclusion work helped with conversations with schools.
  • Planning to develop an access ‘rider’ – a set of requirements that schools can complete to answer the question “What we need, to make your teaching the best for our pupils.”
  • Talking about a young person they’ve benefited, getting information from SENCOs’ perspective.
  • Getting help from the local authority ED&I teams around understanding and using the language of inclusion (e.g. not using terms like ‘handicapped’).
  • Talking to SENCos is a helpful start for understanding the value of flipping the outcomes of teaching (ie from traditional measures of musical progress, to incorporate social and personal progress).
  • Establishing a youth board including training for young people – beyond the ‘usual suspects’.
  • Increasing the voice of young people with SEN/D in the music service.
  • Arranging school visits to talk with headteacher and music lead about future provision.

“The EDI Bootcamp is a great starting point for creating an EDI Strategy and Action Plan. The rich conversations amongst Bootcamp leaders and members were really encouraging, insightful and helpful.”

“I have a meeting with the Head of Service on Monday morning – this is very good news.The Bootcamp is already having an effect!” – after session 1.

“I have found these sessions useful in many ways – making time to reflect on current ways of working, making opportunities to talk with colleagues. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s comforting to know that it’s not a quick fix for anyone.” – after session 3.

“…I am doing a lot of soul-searching about the appropriateness of our offer…I feel we are doing quite a lot of work to try to overcome “barriers to access” – maybe our question should be “access to what?” – after session 3.

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

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

E.g. 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 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.

Proving it: how music services can evaluate and evidence the outcomes of music making for vulnerable young people

Evaluation and evidencing outcomes is an important skill for music services working with young people facing barriers in their learning and their lives. But with so many evaluation models around, where do you start? Lyndall Rosewarne, strategic lead of the Changing Tracks programme, calls for an approach that is authentic and straightforward.

When vulnerable young people have been referred to us, evaluation should enable us to check that their participation is supporting them in ways that are helpful to them, and if not, to adapt what we’re doing. Using evaluation to report back to funders on the learning from the project is important, but should be secondary.   

But which outcomes should we focus on? And how can we realistically evidence that change is happening? 

Music service tutors are not music therapists – so we don’t necessarily need clinical-standard evaluation

It’s tempting to think we should use clinical-standard, complicated matrices to ‘prove’ the worth of the work. But our focus is on making and learning music: not a therapeutic intervention like music therapy.

Making and learning music supports vulnerable young people because they enjoy it, are challenged by it, and discover they can achieve and learn as a result. It can help with their sense of identity, their wellbeing and ability to cope with life’s challenges. It creates emotional and social connections through which they build trust with adults, form friendships and even find their ‘tribe’, and so redefine themselves.  

There are many ways we can evaluate all these different outcomes, but it’s important that our evaluation methods are:

  • authentic (not based on claims that we can’t evidence) 
  • appropriate to the tutors and the young people we work with
  • ideally, able to capture longitudinal outcomes (as music services, we may run targeted work to engage young people, but the aim should always be to open up progression routes which keep young people learning in the long term)
  • embedded in existing music service systems (from observation and quality monitoring, to student reports and data collection) – otherwise inclusion may risk always being treated like a one-off project

In fact, when inclusive practice becomes truly embedded in music service systems – evidence is naturally authentic and appropriate – because it’s focussed on young people’s lived experience. So by ‘being embedded’ we mean by training tutors in reflective practice and documenting outcomes in case studies; and senior managers in inclusive lesson observation and using reflective questioning with tutors.

What do young people – and those who work with them – want?

Young people tell us that they are tired of interventions, they want to learn music, and to be considered musicians, pure and simple.

Schools, youth services and community partners often have surprisingly simple requirements. They want young people to engage with the activity, experience fun and enjoyment, moments of wellbeing and a sense of having achieved something.  

This may be all your evidence needs to show. So the outcomes and indicators we use should be light touch and easily captured as part of the session format.

It’s important to also think about how you capture progression. Music services may run targeted work to engage young people from particular disadvantaged/under represented groups but the aim should always be to open up progression routes which keep those young people learning long term.

Examples of sources of evidence

Sometimes funders or commissioners may ask you to use an evaluation method that makes young people feel they’re having an intervention. They may need to compare your intervention with others on an equal basis so there may be no way around this. But it’s important to feed back to them on how the process is affecting young people, if you feel it’s having a negative impact on them and the programme.

  • Tutor’s log
  • Arts Award portfolio
  • Written lyrics
  • Recorded songs/music
  • Simple question set

What should we measure?

Most music teachers are comfortable with measuring musical development outcomes along the lines of Time x skill acquired = progress. In a given time they can accurately predict how many new chords the student is likely to learn, or how much progress they will have made in achieving the correct technique for blowing, strumming or pressing down keys.

Social and personal outcomes may seem trickier to define and measure, but if you break these down, they become a lot easier. Here is one of Changing Tracks personal development outcomes for children and young people:

  • Young people develop resilience through music making activity.
  • The young person and the tutor/leader develop a relationship of trust, using music to build a place of safety.
  • The young person reports using music/music making to express, moderate and change their own emotional state.
  • Over time the young person is able to review their own music-making successes and failures in order to learn from experience.

As work would take place over two or three terms, we also wanted an outcome that could encompass significant change. We also knew that resilience chimed with Youth Service thinking and was realistic. While we may not change the challenges the young person is facing, we can be alongside them, and model different ways to respond that validates the young person’s experience.

To measure change you need to start with a baseline measurement. So for musical skill development we might be asking if they have played an instrument before or sung in a group or solo, to get a measure of their starting point. 

With resilience, we might observe the level of trust (or distrust) the child brings to the first session (either spoken or through body language). We might discuss how the pupil feels about making mistakes while learning. We might have some information from their SENCO about the way in which the challenges they face impact on their ability to make progress in school. For example, a child who presents as withdrawn may not ask questions or fully engage with lessons and may end up falling behind and feeling inadequate.

What are the indicators of the change?

Once we’d agreed this outcome, we had to consider what we might see from the young person which might indicate that they were developing resilience. Trust seemed to be the key. We have seen that with excellent music leaders, the young people understand they will not be judged, that any views or ideas they give will be welcomed. That making mistakes is an essential part of learning. They are encouraged to lead their own learning and this gives them agency, a feeling of being in control of their destiny. Trust enables young people to try things they might have been wary about, to be vulnerable, to show their real feelings. So this was our first indicator of change.  

The second indicator was about the emotional connection in music which enables us to experience our feelings, to be authentic. Evidence often comes from a discussion with the tutor about how music makes them feel (more on evidence in the next section). This both gives them permission to talk about emotions and to begin to use music as a tool to affect mood ie to put on a dance track when they need to motivate themselves, or to channel their anger into a drum solo.

Because much of Changing Tracks delivery lasts between 6 and 30 weeks, sometimes longer, we wanted an indicator for substantial change. Our third indicator describes the young person who has developed in confidence sufficiently to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them, accept criticism, and deal with set-backs constructively. If this is noticed in school or in the family, we can say that our input has had impact.

How could we capture this evidence: the music tutor’s perspective

A music tutor’s log is a simple but powerful way to capture evidence – and encourage reflective practice, critical in working with vulnerable young people.

It doesn’t need to be detailed – just a few notes at the end of each session that capture the tutor’s reflections and the young person’s progress in social, personal and musical outcomes.  

If you’re a music service lead or project manager, you might also want to ask your tutor to write a case study of the young person/young people, the progress they made and challenges they faced along the way. See this blog about sharing evidence [insert link to the Sharing evidence blog, see end of this blog].

Case studies can also become part of your staff training because they involve critical reflection by the tutor. We find that bringing tutors together in pairs to write case studies can be very beneficial too. It gets over the ‘blank page’ problem and often a tutor working alone will missed out or fail to spot evidence which seems ‘too obvious’. Although the case study is about the young person, it can help the tutor to think about what adaptation they made, what approaches they took that really inspired that young person to make progress. 

The young person’s perspective

This is probably best (ie most authentically) captured through conversation between the young person and the tutor as part of the session, and documented in the tutor’s log or a document co-created with the young person. A tutor can have an important role in helping a young person/young people to reflect on and express what’s happening for them, how it’s affecting them, and acknowledge when they’ve taken a step forward and what they need to focus on next (musically, personally or socially). They can also capture direct quotes which are particularly powerful.

If you’re a music service head or a project manager, it’s important that you’ve discussed with the music tutor what indicators of progress to record and what outcomes the programme is hoping to achieve. They’ll also want to capture relevant unintended outcomes/indicators.

The teacher/youth worker/parent perspective

Capturing evidence from a third party who knows the young person well helps to ensure a rounded and unbiased perspective (called ‘triangulated evidence’).

You could use a simple form or online survey; or capture video or audio feedback, perhaps at a performance or sharing of work. 

The witnessing of young people in their ‘music’ persona can be really powerful, for the young people, who are validated, for the music tutor, who is recognised and for the teachers, youth workers or parents/carers, who understand, without you having to explain, what music can do for the young people they work with or care about. They may be surprised at the skill, team-work and increased confidence they show, and may well see a different side to them. Often these moments allow children in a bad place a moment of reimagining (and becoming) themselves.

Expecting the unexpected

Outcomes measurement should never become a series of hoops to jump through. It should be flexible, nuanced and able to encompass all types and styles of development, as well as unexpected results. Here are some examples:

  • Leadership – the young person who draws the group together,  resolves differences or quietly puts in extra hours on production may be exhibiting leadership skills as much as the person who’s opted to be the lead guitarist, solo singer, or conductor.
  • Prior experience – one of our partners was surprised that a popular programme for young people with mental health problems, failed to show any improvement in emotional intelligence. In hindsight it is likely that the young people already had above-average emotional intelligence as a result of having undergone therapy, so there appeared to be little movement. Anecdotal evidence showed that there was lots of development in confidence, sociability and musical invention!
  • Attendance – young people who attend irregularly will show less change, but these may be the very children who stand to benefit most from the activity. Don’t give up, use your outcome evidence to ask questions about what is really going on, for children, for settings and for tutors.·  Time period – sustained engagement is likely to have a greater impact than a one-day workshop but both options will offer something to measure. If the outcome is social connection (an important aspect of wellbeing), an appropriate indicator for a 10-week programme might be ‘student develops mutually supportive friendships through the music activity.’ But for a one-day workshop this might be,  ‘student reports feeling less isolated’.

Stay open to all the possibilities and don’t look at ‘no change’ or even ‘negative change’ as failure.  Development is rarely linear, young people may appear to make progress and then come to a stop or even go backwards. Some present as very confident as a way of hiding their more negative feelings about themselves. It may be that you are measuring the wrong thing or that the participants don’t understand the evaluation questions. Use your outcome evidence to reflect and change: Do, review, improve.

Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Trust (NMPAT) experience of using the Youth Music EDI tools

An excerpt from a meeting of the National Music Services Working Group on Inclusion, Sept 2020, featuring Peter Smalley, CEO of Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Trust (NMPAT). The transcript is below.

We have used the EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) toolkit most recently to open up discussion amongst our management team about what EDI means to us. 

As an organisation I think we’ve got some fabulous work going on but there’s a great danger that it’s all happening in pockets. And the bit that’s wrong for us is that  inclusion, diversity, equality is not embedded in the organisation.

I think it is, I think it’s part of our DNA but we don’t know how to articulate that.

So I used the lockdown period to send the EDI toolkit to all of our management team, everyone that has leadership responsibility, and the people that were lead practitioners in any area of inclusion.

And the results coming back were staggering in their diversity. Although there was a general agreement about the areas in which we were strong and weak the range of scores that came off the EDI ranged from 1% to 90% in most areas. 

What was really interesting is the management team the people who possibly should know more about what’s going on but have got other areas of responsibility and don’t bother themselves with those sorts of things, were sort of in the middle and fairly uniform.

There were two outlying responses that were much lower than everybody else and one which was much higher. And those are the three people that I would describe as being our lead practitioners in the area of inclusion.

So what does that tell me? Well it tells us that we’ve got a lot of discussion to do. We had a fabulous senior management team meeting on Monday when I invited everyone to talk about what EDI means to them before I presented the results. And the first thing was that the responses were so utterly different as you would expect. And then looking at the responses of the on the tool kit it led to a corporate decision that we actually need to talk about this and we need to move this forwards. 

So I share that story with you and not out of any great pleasure that that’s where we are in on this journey cos we’re a long way behind long way to go but out of how the easy I took it as unlocked that conversation and people’s frustration at not being able to answer it has led to them wanting to be more involved and wanting to know more so for me it’s been brilliant and it’s the beginning of a journey that started a long time ago but we’re now on it.

The stages and indicators of inclusion in music services and hubs

We previously published a blank version of a tool to help music services to consider how inclusion becomes integrated within their delivery of music education, and their organisation’s development. It is the second most popular piece of content we’ve published. So we’re now sharing a ‘filled in’ version. We hope you’ll download it, use it as a discussion tool in your music service, and let us know if you think we need to add or change anything.

Music services are constantly changing and innovating - challenging exclusive practices (see page 3) that can be hidden by unquestioned traditions. Each service is at a different place on our journey to address this, but we all face common challenges, and will all recognise the indicators listed in the tool.

About this tool

This set of slides is the latest version of a collaborative working document, intended to help discussion and planning in music services and hub lead organisations. 

It has been created by Changing Tracks, based on the experiences of music services who are part of the National Music Services Working Group on Inclusion. 

Who is it for?

It focuses on the particular challenges for ‘music services’, as organisations, to become inclusive – whether they are still local authority-run or have moved out of local authority control.  

How do I use it?

The diagram and tool ask you to consider how inclusion becomes integrated within music services as a process (ie: it does not depict the progression of a particular cohort of young people). We think it’s most helpful as a discussion tool in team meetings, alongside Youth Music’s EDI audit spreadsheet and action plan template and their Evidencing how hubs are becoming more inclusive guidance for hubs.

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

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:

Inclusion: the business case

Inclusion isn’t just a Social Justice issue for music services, says Michael Davidson, Head of Rock, Family and Community Music at Hertfordshire Music Service. It can also be a smart business move. In Hertfordshire, it’s helped the service to secure new income through commissions, partnerships and funding; transformed their relationship with schools; and made them a more effective and creative, relevant and resilient service. Here are six reasons why.

1. Inclusion offers a broader range of possible outcomes for instrumental music teaching

As music services, we’ve traditionally prioritised instrumental technique and music exam grades above all else, and benchmarked our teaching and learning accordingly. But many tutors, particularly new ones, feel that personal and social outcomes are a key part of their work.  Some may be particularly skilled and motivated to develop their abilities in these areas.

Pupils, schools and parents think this is important too. So if we value these sorts of outcomes, capture evidence of them and their impact (eg through self-assessment, tutor CPD and stories), and make them visible, teachers, parents and young people will begin to value music for the range of benefits it can bring. This in turn can broaden and increase uptake for lessons.

2. Inclusion can improve quality of teaching

Employing non-conservatoire trained tutors is sometimes seen as ‘hollowing out quality’ (in fact, this was a comment from the audience at a workforce development panel at Music Mark 2018). Yet for us, broadening the workforce by bringing in community musicians has improved quality in several areas.

Firstly, community musicians’ focus on critical reflection has helped us to broaden our service training sessions beyond technique and repertoire. We’ve had useful conversations about differentiation, which can not only improve the teaching of technique, but also be vital in preparing tutors to engage and retain a wider range of pupils. This can apply across the board, to teachers of all sorts of instruments.

Secondly, community musicians’ focus on holistic outcomes, and on being led by the student’s needs and interests (negotiating participant roles and learning aims), can add value to instrumental teachers who may tend towards a ‘telling mode’ teaching technique. Applying this more coaching-based approach can help develop more independent learning in all students, at a time when many tutors report that this is increasingly restricted by ‘teaching to the test’ in schools.

Some tutors we’ve trained on inclusion projects have commented that learning how to teach vulnerable pupils has helped them learn how to manage their engagement and behaviour in larger groups, a key issue for First Access tutors, as well as an indicator of teaching quality for Ofsted.

3. Inclusion improves our value to schools

This has relevance to the take up and sustainability of First Access (FA), otherwise known as Whole Class Ensemble Tuition (WCET). With mounting pressures on PPA time, schools are more likely to buy in FA from tutors who can manage classes without support from teaching assistants (Tas) or classroom colleagues.

With mounting pressure on finances, we know that some academy chains are beginning to employ tutors directly (comment from MU officer, Anglia Ruskin University, 2017).  Others are beginning to buy in lessons from independent providers. Often the incentives are that they take care of billing themselves, and offer a wider range of instruments and progression routes.

However, we’ve also found that schools are really interested in music services whose tutors can deliver inclusion outcomes, and provide a hospitable place for vulnerable children in school.  For instance, a project in Hertfordshire that developed instrumental tutors as music mentors for pupils at risk of exclusion is funded by the school at a cost of £10,000each year. Essex Music Service, one of the founder partners in our Music Net East musical inclusion programme reported that one academy chain was about to buy in provision from private tutors, when they heard about our SENCO-led music mentoring model. So instead, they decided to fund free instrumental lessons for a whole year 7 cohort.

In Hertfordshire, our inclusion work has got us back into schools where there’s been no recent instrumental teaching. We’ve been able to re-establish First Access teaching, and provide Primary Music consultancy in those schools.

4. Improving service value to local authorities

We know that local authorities are under considerable financial pressure, and are particularly interested in saving money by preventing pupil exclusions. It costs almost four times as much to educate pupils in alternative provision as it does within mainstream schools. This increases considerably if pupils are educated outside the county.  

Our creative musical nurture groups, delivered by music service tutors in Stevenage primary schools, each cost approximately £1,000 annually. They’ve already proven highly effective at preventing the exclusion of vulnerable pupils. That’s a pretty good investment for local authorities, and one that can be fairly easily rolled out or replicated in other areas.

We know that local authority targeted support teams are increasingly tasked with raising attainment and preventing exclusion of vulnerable young people. Building partnerships with these teams can help them use music to develop relationships with hard to reach young people and families, raising the profile of music with L.A.s, as well as within schools.

We know also that some music services lease buildings from local authorities which are increasingly required to charge a full market rent for these. However, we’ve also come across instances where some have been able to offer a ‘peppercorn rent’ in return for activities which support the authority’s corporate plan. For example, this might be long-term targeted programmes of activities to support vulnerable pupils and families, or weekly activities in music centres that add value to the work of targeted support teams.

5. Inclusion improves musical outcomes

We know that some services still regard musical inclusion practice as being only concerned with personal and social outcomes, and as a result, producing little ‘proper music’. Our experience is quite the opposite.  Young people on our Songwriting project perform at a higher level when singing or playing their own songs.  Many have written high-quality songs. As a result of seeing these outcomes, schools have commissioned workshops to support the performance and composition elements of GCSE music.

These improved musical outcomes are important not only to the young people and to us, but also to schools, in terms of music curriculum requirements; to Arts Council England, in terms of funding outcomes; as well as to potential employers in the creative industries who are currently poorly served by school curriculum music examinations. See Youth Music’s ‘Sound of the next generation’ report for more on young people’s lives and futures in music.

6. Inclusion offers alternative progression routes to HE

Many schools have stopped running A-Level music due to lack of uptake, since following wider curriculum changes in schools. Since 2014, there has been a 30% decline in music entries at A-level. Many Level 3 qualifications do not prepare young people for the more diverse ways to study music at Higher Education. Several of our young songwriters have evidenced their creative work with Songwriter to support their applications to study music at University, and we’re interested in how this may inform future formal accreditation.

So how could you take this forward in your service?

Youth Music has produced an Equality Diversity and Inclusion tool which you’ll find on their AMIE (Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England) inclusion resource hub. This tool was created to help music services and hubs assess where they are now, identify areas of strength and improvement, and put together an action plan (something that Arts Council England requires of National Portfolio organisations). This is a helpful way to start, and you’ll probably find there’s a lot that you’re already doing to promote inclusion.

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Inclusive recruitment

Routes into teaching – Diversifying the music education workforce

Routes into Teaching is an informal recruitment model developed by Hertfordshire Music Service in partnership with the Musicians Union in 2014. It helps raise awareness of portfolio music teaching careers for local musicians and enables music services/hub lead organisations to attract a more diverse workforce. Following is a summary of the model which can be adopted and adapted by other organisations.

The initial idea came from Hertfordshire Music Service’s (HMS) interest in working with musicians who had been unsuccessful with applications to work as tutors for the music service. This was often because applications were written poorly, or focused too much on performing careers.

This linked to conversations with the Musicians Union about raising awareness of careers in education and how teaching can be developed alongside performance and composition work. Sessions have helped music services identify qualities in tutors which had not been evident in applications, contributing to the diversification of services’ workforce.

Day 1: Routes into teaching pilot

HMS designed a half-day networking event to bring together musicians interested in, or already working in, music education or community music, to share practical tips and effective practice, and to find out about developments and local opportunities in music education. We ran this event in July. The programme was broadly as follows:

  • Coffee and networking
  • Speaker from the music service: music education hubs and quality
  • Speaker from the MU: portfolio careers
  • Icebreaker
  • Workshop: personal stories of musical journeys and routes into teaching
  • Recruitment: hear from recruiters about what they look for in an application, CV and interview
  • Speaker on inclusive music quality: Youth Music Quality Framework
  • Practical music session: led by a community musician
  • Refreshments and networking

Day 2: Routes into teaching for FE and HE students

A similar awareness-raising and networking day for local students on music FE and HE courses. We piloted this at Colchester Institute with students on the teaching module of the Popular Music BA. The day included similar elements to days 1 and 2, including:

  • Practical activities
  • Panel discussions
  • Information about the type of work that the music service is involved in (for example, work in PRUs, special schools, and with young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties)

Day 3: Routes into teaching – regional hubs session

In July 2018, Hertfordshire and Essex Music Services ran a large scale regional Routes into Teaching in Hatfield, which was attended by leaders and delegates from the regional hubs network. This may offer a helpful model for geographically close hubs wishing to work together on recruitment.

Routes Into teaching – CPD day 1

MusicNet East devised and ran a ‘Routes Into Teaching’ day on 9th July 2015, to help local musicians discover more about types of music teaching available for music services.

What happened?

The day began with an opportunity for the delegates to network over coffee with tutors and managers from Hertfordshire Music Service and MusicNet East.

James Dickinson, Head of Hertfordshire Music Service, spoke about how the development of Music Education Hubs had invited music educators to consider differing ideas of Quality, in recruitment, teaching practice and in assessment. These would underpin the aims of the day.

Paul Burroughs from the Musicians’ Union spoke about the benefits of musicians combining music teaching with their own performance practice, and outlined the need to be in a union, partly to manage risk of false allegations, which Paul said amounted to an alarming average 2 in each tutor’s career. Union membership also offers insurance cover for teachers as well as performers, and is open to musicians from all types of music traditions. James indicated the Music Service always recommended that tutors belong to a professional association or union.

For an Icebreaker activity, delegates were invited to choose a position within the hall reflecting where they are based within Herts and to introduce themselves to neighbours. They were then invited to divide around the room by informality/formality of musical style on one axis…and by experience on another. Finally delegates we invited to move to where they would like to get to.

In the Routes Into Teaching session, HMS tutors and managers spoke about how they had learnt music, begun working for the service, and about their current roles, and what continues to inspire them. A strong theme was the need for tutors to maintain their own playing or creative practice to maintain their own wellbeing, to maintain energy and enthusiasm for teaching, and how the parallel strands or teaching and playing can interweave to add value to each other.

In the Recruitment session James Dickinson and Lesley Webster spoke about what they look for in a CV, how it is important to have a teaching rather than a playing CV, to write it to reflect the job description, to foreground teaching experience, to keep it to one page, and to not provide too much detail on specifics of playing careers.

James and HMS managers then spoke about what we look for in an interview. How applicants should choose a piece that demonstrates their ability to communicate well, not necessarily the most difficult piece they can play, and to ensure play the bit of it they really want interviewers to hear! James said it was often surprising that interviewees looked surprised when asked if they have any questions for the interview panel, that it shows interest in the position if they have researched the organisation and arrive with some questions. Interviewers also discussed the benefits of inviting applicants to deliver a demonstration lesson at interview. They are also invited to submit video of themselves teaching with their applications, and these have proved effective in being invited to interview.

After coffee, Lyndall Rosewarne gave out and spoke about the Youth Music Quality Framework, which Youth Music developed from frameworks from the Ofsted and Arts Sector. Delegates reflected on the personal and social benefits to young people participating in musical learning and activity.

Mark Howe from MusicNet East ran a relaxed and joyful Community Junk Percussion session, helping delegates learn how to work together make music from found objects. Mark emphasised he saw ‘play’ as an essential part of the workshop, and ‘taking care’ of ourselves and each other as both important aims and enablers of the music making.

You can watch Mark’s Top Tips for workshop delivery in the video below:

Lesley Webster briefly mentioned the HMS ‘self-review’ tutor quality moderation system, and how it drives our CPD programme, before the session broke for further networking over lunch.


Some of the delegates commented it had challenged limiting ideas of musical identity by suggesting that anyone could make music out of anything.

Delegates shared their feelings on the value and quality of the workshop, which included:

“Good way to get everyone on the same level”

“Made me realise how people hear things differently, rather than a pre-conceived level….enlightening!”

“The most relaxed I’ve felt all day”, “confidence!”

“It was good to think about the ‘ARC’ of the workshop, warm up, main activities, feedback, consolidation of learning, plenary…”

“Inclusivity…challenged limiting ideas of who’s a musician…”

“I was energised by music and play, great to see everyone smiling and having a go!”

“Good to be reminded how difficult it can feel as a learner, and it works on different levels, deep, gentle listening, and bashing the hell out of it!”

Delegates felt the day had been helpful in raising their awareness of opportunities available to work as a music tutor, and of how to make effective applications. They also planned to investigate opportunities to shadow teaching.

HMS felt that the day had been highly effective in informally bringing together people in a group as part of the pre-interview process, and hopes to offer it as part of annual HMS’ ‘open day’ activities. HMS is interested to develop the session as a replicable model that can tour FE and HE institutions.

Routes into teaching – CPD day 2

On 23rd October 2015 we ran our second Routes into Teaching morning bringing together 20 workshop leaders from Southend, Luton, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire interested to develop their group teaching practice. Routes into Teaching first ran in July 2015 and has been developed in response to a need to grow a workforce of teachers and music leaders who can work with large groups.

What happened?

Participants were a mixture of tutors already working for music services, community musicians and trainees. Participants used junk percussion, ukulele and voice to investigate inclusive ways of working that combined informal and formal pedagogy.

MusicNet East’s Mark Howe demonstrated a community music approach, Hertfordshire Music Service’s Nicky Footer gave a more formal whole class singing approach, and Michael Davidson showed how formal and informal approaches could combine in whole class ukulele teaching.

Mark’s junk percussion session offered a chance to experience a playful and reflective music workshop that encourages participants to take musical choices, to reflect about their learning and to use the music to develop group relationships.

Nicky’s vocal session reinforced the value of fun warm-ups linking sound production and physical movement, how complex sounding harmony singing can be built up from simple building blocks, and how spontaneity and responsiveness to participant input can help composition and musical ‘ownership’ emerge.

Michael’s ‘one person-one note’ ukulele workshop demonstrated how making music as a group could enable musical outcomes beyond the capability of beginners, supporting social inclusion and cooperation valued by schools, whilst also establishing a solid classical guitar technique.

All the workshop leaders emphasised how involving participants in demonstrating and feeding back on their and each other’s learning can help manage differentiation and challenging behaviour and build personal and social outcomes alongside musical outcomes. They also spoke about their own varied routes into teaching and what had helped them develop their practice.

Discussion – First Access, quality framework, adapting practice to the needs of young people

In a plenary session we discussed how First Access tuition is a developing area for music hubs and how community musicians could contribute their practice to this opportunity. All the leaders spoke about the importance of developing quality of practice through learning, and how the Youth Music Quality Framework supports this by promoting reflective practice, ensuring practice is inclusive by meeting the abilities and needs of participants, and the need for good communication about the needs of participants from the organisations hosting the session, for example passing on information about pupils with SEND so that music leaders can come prepared to make the session as inclusive as possible.

John Musto gave a great example of how he’d adapted the one person-one note group ukulele approach to be inclusive of a blind pupil, by inviting half the class to play ukuleles with their eyes closed, whilst the others stood behind each player and tapped their shoulders when the conductor indicated it was their turn to play.


  • 45 minutes was about right for each taster session, 2 hours on follow up would enable more working in depth and participant feedback
  • Subsequent sessions could include a chance for trainees to try out a part of their own practice in a supportive environment
  • A request for schemes of work/lesson plans for the sessions to use to develop their own practice
  • A request for input on behaviour management with challenging teenagers
  • A suggestion to develop material in the one person-one note activities to engage older children

Routes Into teaching – World Music CPD day

Building on the success of previous Routes Into Teaching events, MusicNet East and Hertfordshire Music Service ran a Routes Into Teaching World Music Day on Friday 5th February at Stevenage Music Centre. 

Twenty musicians, instrumental teachers, workshop leaders and students from Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and London attended to discover more about teaching world music in schools.

What happened?

The workshop attendees took part in three practical sessions, playing taiko, gamelan and ukulele, with discussions at the end of each session on how to lead large groups of young people with a ‘world music approach’ on common instruments.

Each session demonstrated different approaches to large group learning in a world music setting and a comment was made that it was useful to see these different approaches in action. Several participants commented on how pleased they were to learn ‘take-home’ activities on all instruments, particularly ukulele. 

A particularly interesting point was raised when comparing the approaches to playing gamelan, which creates a ‘safe’ place in which to experiment and the odd wrong note doesn’t really matter, to taiko, where the visual element of a performance is as important as how it sounds.

We agreed that taiko can be a fantastic opportunity for engaging young people with dance through the martial arts-influenced performance style. Playing gamelan allows players to immerse themselves into a ‘sonic cocoon’ – complete with cushions!Networking was an important feature of the day and many participants commented that the networking element had been a very useful.

What will be helpful in future?

The following topics were raised during the plenary discussion:
  • Is there a common database for world music leaders in your area? – use listing sites like the Youth Music Network, Music Pages or even Twitter (when used appropriately)
  • Get in touch with your local music hubs to link to schools; don’t approach schools direct as they are often embroiled in paperwork!
  • Think about ways in which your project could link to different school departments as a way in to finding funding
  • The importance of creating a CV that highlights your experience of learning and teaching music

Feedback and ideas for future training

“Really enjoyed Taiko”

“I now feel more confident to extend my work”

“It was useful observing and experiencing different ways of structuring a music lesson”

“Informative, exciting, interesting!”

“Networking was very useful – important.”

“The ideas suggested in the ukulele session were extremely helpful.”

“It was useful learning about techniques that can be used in a variety of settings with different equipment.”

“Thoroughly enjoyed it all! Would love to learn more choir warm-up tips, like the one we did at the end of the day.”

“Ukulele session was useful – how to work with whole class groups.”

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Music in the community

Creating a music centre for the whole community in Stevenage

We all know how important a music centre can be to a young person. It’s a place where they forge friendships, develop as people, and learn skills for learning and for life. In this interview with Christina Luchies, Head of Stevenage Music Centre, she explains how her team are creating a centre for the whole community, including adults, families and vulnerable young people. She talks about how this approach has also unlocked new partnerships, support and funding.

Stevenage Music Centre, part of Hertfordshire Music Service, has been based at the Nobel Secondary School, since 2013. Christina joined in 2015, having been head of music at an inner London secondary school, then head of performing arts at a Stevenage secondary school. Prior to that she had been a solo and orchestral performer in South Africa which she combined with classroom teaching.

Why is your Centre different to the traditional model of a music centre?

In many ways, it’s the same. We offer instrumental teaching and ensembles to young people and arrange performances here in the Centre and in the local community. But we also offer activities for adults and families, as well as a targeted programme of informal music education to prevent school exclusions and support young people in challenging circumstances. So it’s a really diverse community of music-makers.

What sort of activities do you offer?

Who attends?

Around 376 young people attend each week, from three-year-olds taking part in String Babies, right through to students preparing for ABRSM exams, GCSEs and A-levels. Then there are also young and middle-aged parents in our family workshops and choirs, and a few adults including retired people who are learning an instrument for the first time. We have one lovely example of a mother and grandmother learning guitar together while their child comes for lessons.

Currently, around 6% of young people pay reduced price fees as a result of being in receipt of free school meals or other benefits.

We know we have a long way to go in terms of reflecting the local population: as 15.9% of under 16s in Stevenage Borough live in poverty.

How did you begin to broaden the offer at your music centre?

When I took up this post, I’d already worked with the music service through my school, running a rock school with them, and various inclusion projects. We started by looking at ways we could bring the young people who took part in the inclusion projects in schools, into the music centre.

Inclusion isn’t something you just talk about: you have to work hard to understand who may be facing barriers, and what you can do to break them down. You can’t just be so passionate about something, like music, that you’re blinded to the fact that many people can’t access it.

We’re lucky in Hertfordshire that we have a Youth Music-funded programme called MusicNet East – Changing Tracks, which is part of the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England. So we looked at how we could bring that work into the Centre, rather than seeing it as a separate project.

We agreed that the point of a music centre is more than traditional ensembles, orchestras and choirs. We want to fill our practice rooms with young people and the many different types of music they want to make on their own and together, as a community. I would be asked “what are you doing to encourage more bassoon players, we’re running out!” To which I’d answer, “get young people in the music centre first so they can see one!”.

Why are you so committed to inclusion?

When I was a head of department, success for me was making sure that all pupils, but particularly those who were misbehaving or not turning up at school, saw the music department as somewhere for them. I wanted them to see music as an area where they could be successful.

Inclusion isn’t something you just talk about: you have to work hard to understand who may be facing barriers, and what you can do to break them down. You can’t just be so passionate about something, like music, that you’re blinded to the fact that many people can’t access it.

And inclusion can’t just be ‘tagged’ onto provision. It must underpin all provision.

What’s been the key to attracting a wide range of young people?

The more diverse the range of music and music learning you offer, the more young people will come through the door. But also, we started thinking, we need parents to experience the difference music can make – after all, it’s parents who make the final decision on whether a young person attends.

Our community-funded choir (free to all members) is open to any 7-18 year-olds who took part in one or more paid-for activity. We now also host intergenerational mornings, open to parents, grandparents and family members, and it’s really diverse culturally. We now have 60 students on our books. Students and family members fundraise for the choir, with anything from a marathon to a cake sale.

 We agreed that the point of a music centre is more than traditional ensembles, orchestras and choirs. We want to fill our practice rooms with young people and the many different types of music they want to make on their own and together, as a community.

We then decided to run Family Music workshops, to bring in new families and help us to get to know them, beginning with junk percussion, led by community musician Mark Howe (see the videos here: promo video – and reflections.

Since then music centre tutors have delivered samba, ukulele, steel pans and gamelan. They always sell out now. The County’s Intensive Family Support Team also pay for vulnerable families to take part, when they identify that someone has an interest in music. Sometimes we run sessions just for these families. Schools are interested in this too, in terms of how they can engage ‘hard to reach’ families. Children from these, and other targeted programmes often move into other areas of our provision.

The other key to our success is giving young people a voice in the centre. We have a Stevenage Young Music Leaders group, and they get involved in community music leadership training, offering suggestions for how the music service can better engage young people, running the Hertfordshire Youth Music Give a Gig, being ambassadors and looking after VIPs at events and much more.

What evidence do you have that you’re attracting a more diverse range of young people?

That’s a question that we’re about to start addressing more rigorously. Like many music services, we’ve relied on ‘seeing’ the change, but we know that’s not good enough. So we now have KPIs specifically around inclusion and a set of related actions that we’ve committed to taking.

See an infographic of Stevenage Music Centre’s inclusion KPIs and actions below. 

What has helped you to engage the wider community?

We run a lot of events like family concerts, and fundraising concerts for local charities. These are often themed around what the charities do, and we show films or slideshows to raise awareness of their work.

We also know that it’s important not to expect people to come to us, but to go out to them too. So for example we work with social workers in children’s homes to identify young people interested in music, and provide one-to-one mentoring-style lessons at their home.

I’m really proactive about building links and developing relationships. I now know all the music leads in the schools in the areas – we bring together primary and secondary schools’ networks once or twice a term – and we send promotional information to them too. Some are very proactive and will pay for individual children to attend, provide transport etc, because they know what an impact it makes to be part of the Centre.

We also link up with other professionals who may be a route to reaching those who usually miss out.  I’ll invite them in to discuss with me what we need to do to support and encourage the young people they work with. We’ve also worked in this way with the Home Education community as well as special needs schools.

If I can’t support my community, how can they support me? If I don’t take my centre into the community, how will they know I’m here?

Getting out there, and attending community meetings, is important. I attend the Borough Council cultural meetings and I’m a member of the Stevenage Festival Committee. Through these commitments I’ve got to know all sorts of people. We’ve been invited to perform at events such as the launch of the Cultural Strategy and the switching on of the Christmas lights – but we make sure we, and our staff, are paid and are clear about those costs, ranging from transport to rehearsals. If people offer us an opportunity, we make it happen. If I can’t support my community how can they support me? If I don’t take my centre into the community, how will they know I’m here?

What impact has this broader approach had on your tutors and other staff?

Early on, when we first started our inclusive nurture groups [more on this in a separate blog, see below], we offered training from a trauma therapist to all Music Centre staff – not just those doing the targeted inclusion work. They all really loved it, and enjoyed the opportunity to extend their skills. Across the music service, we’re continuing to offer those sorts of opportunities to all tutors as much as possible. 

One of the other key things is that staff have ownership and autonomy. It’s important that they feel able to be responsive to the people they work with, and also to their own passions and interests. They have my blessing to explore new approaches, to test if they’ll work. That might range from setting up a new group to quite simply trying different repertoire. Young people also have quite a bit of input, particularly into repertoire for the choir, where older pupils work alongside the workshop leader.

I think that doing the work on the ground and getting it to the point of success does its own PR job. Then people ask, how did you get 27 new people in your centre for a family workshop? And I say, “four years of hard grafting!”

The Centre now has a really lively, community feel, and that makes everyone feel positive about it.

What impact has it had on your music centre as a business?

Inclusion can’t just be ‘tagged’ onto provision. It must underpin all provision.

One of the Centre’s Key Performance Indicators is to increase business by five per cent. People might think that doesn’t sit well with inclusion: the impact of ‘going the extra mile’ for inclusion can be difficult to quantify.

We also have to make some decisions that might seem contrary to ‘business’ practice. For example, we make our Songwriting sessions ‘drop-in’ rather than asking people to commit to the term. We don’t want children to come just because their parents say they have to. But it’s worked, because they do come!

We’ve also brought in new income streams by looking at who’s missing out, and then seeking partners to help reach them. For example, staff in a PRU where the Music Service were working told us they were part of a network of local schools’ headteachers working to prevent school exclusion from primary school upwards. We approached the network, called DSPL2 – Developing Special Provision Locally’, presented to them, and together we co-designed a schedule of inclusive instrumental teaching across key stages, made up of Nurture Groups and one-to-one music mentoring. They gave us £11,000 in match funding, and now some schools have gone on to sign up for Whole Class Ensemble teaching. We had a Nurture Group day in the centre in March, and are looking forward to welcoming pupils into our weekly centre activities.

We know that music is valued by the County Council and by others in our county working with young people. It’s helped a wide range of people to recognise the importance and value of music to the young people they work with, as well as to the community, and that’s priceless.

What is family music?

Family Music is group music-making for parents and children aged 5-18 that offers an informal and fun environment for families to play music together and with others.

Using simple, accessible instruments such as percussion and ukulele, sessions are led by a workshop leader who will work with the group to ensure that everyone feel included, has fun and leaves with a sense of achievement.

Sessions can be run in schools, music centres and community centres, after school, at weekends or in the holidays.

Benefits of family music include:

  • helping to foster positive relationships between school and parents by offering a chance for families to be together in school, doing something creative and having fun
  • supporting the transition of vulnerable pupils to secondary school
  • supporting older pupils to mentor their younger peers
  • it is accessible and inclusive – no musical knowledge is needed and everyone can join in, removing barriers posed by low maths and literacy skills
  • encouraging parents to demonstrate resilient learning skills to their children
  • can encourage the development of leadership skills in children and young people
  • promotes better understanding of other cultures
  • can be offered as an extension to, or to help establish, First Access whole-class music provision in primary schools
  • supports music, PSHE and citizenship curricula and British Values and Prevent agendas
  • can also support CPD for members for staff
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Reflective practice

Getting better at what you do as a music tutor: using reflective practice

Ije Amaechi, a Hertfordshire music tutor and workshop leader, explains how she uses reflective practice as a tool for improving the way she works. She outlines what it is, how it helps, and how to set up a critical reflection group for tutors.

I’ve always kept a diary or journal and have generally been quite a reflective person. I’m an avid believer in sharing ideas, problems and thoughts to not only feel clearer in your mind, but to improve in certain areas in your life. 

Reflection is important, because it encourages us to think deeper about things, taking thoughts beyond our internal world and onto paper, or into a conversation with a friend or colleague. Sometimes we need another opinion or perspective, or we need to talk through something to figure out what we truly think and want to do next. Most of us do this with our friends, family or mentor or in a journal and find this an essential part of decision-making and processing, so why not do it with our colleagues?

As inclusion tutors at Hertfordshire Music Service, we meet every half term for critical reflection sessions.These sessions are informal, which allows for the openness, honesty, trust and good communication that’s imperative for these kinds of meetings. We have time to report individually and discuss any challenges we’ve had and want advice for and then later discuss the projects in a wider context.

What is reflective practice?

Reflective practice helps us make meaning from experience and transform our insights into practical strategies to improve the way we work. At the most basic level it’s a process of Do, Review, Improve, as described in the Youth Music Quality Framework.

 In more detail, it involves:

  • learning to pay attention – listening to ourselves 
  • considering and questioning our own assumptions 
  • noticing patterns 
  • changing what we see 
  • changing the way we see. 

We can and should do this alone as part of our daily habits and practices, but it’s very powerful when we have regular, structured, space and time to do this with others.

Why is it important to reflect with others?

Reflecting on your own practice in front of (and with?) others gives you a chance to discuss and be questioned about what does and doesn’t work for you and your learners. 

It encourages you to ask for advice directly, but also to be inspired by aspects of other people’s practice.

It’s beneficial for tutors to hear what works for their colleagues and how children and young people react to certain activities, some that they may not have heard before, like certain games or a particular song that a group of children loved learning. It’s learning from the real life experience of other tutors and their lessons.

Sometimes people make mistakes, an activity doesn’t get the engagement hoped for, or a young person misbehaves and another teacher needs calling in to the classroom to help manage the situation. These challenges can occur at no fault of the tutor, yet can leave the tutor feeling disappointed and upset, perhaps with the need to seek support. Critical reflection lets you talk about these difficult moments with trusted peers and allows you to seek comfort in their support, advice and listening ears. Tutors have commented on the ‘safe space’ that critical reflection meetings provide and have said how much this space and time is appreciated and valued. 

Reflective practice also puts children and young people in the centre. It is about child-centred learning and how we can encourage and facilitate youth voice. We are reflecting on our practice so that we can improve our delivery, content and impact, inspired by them, by drawing out youth voice. Did you ask the young people what music they listen to? Did you ask what song they want to sing next?  What did they feel about the session you’ve just finished? What would they like to do in the next session? It’s important to reflect on whether you’ve encouraged youth voice in your lesson and how the young people responded to it. When children and young people are involved in decision-making, sharing their opinions and knowing that their voice is listened to and valued, they tend to be more engaged and excited to participate in a lesson that they know is for them and influenced by them. 

How do you start? How do you learn the skill or habit of reflective practice?  

After one of your workshops or lessons, record your thoughts into your phone’s voice recorder. Ask yourself:

  • What went well? What didn’t? 
  • Why do you think that is? 
  • Did anything stand out in that lesson? 
  • What could you do differently or the same next time? 
  • Is there something you should take with you into the next lesson? 
  • Are there any quotes you want to capture that tell you something meaningful or that you want to tell your organisation or the school?
  • What kind of reactions did you receive for certain activities? Which was best received? 
  • What are you taking away from this process?

Soon, you may notice patterns or notice that a certain group or individual reacts positively to an activity, routine or something you said – sometimes small things like this can have a massive impact in how well the session goes and how much the cyp ( perhaps use ‘children or young people’ in full?)  engage and enjoy it. Reflective practice helps you to be more alert to these.

You can start with as little as a minute the first time, then each week should get easier. It doesn’t have to be shown to anyone at first and can be a way of checking in and making sure that you’re making the most of the sessions and are aware of what has happened or what was said, without it all being in your head.

Alternatively, you could write your thoughts down in a notebook, but you want to try and do this soon after the lesson so that your memory is clear and fresh. 

You could reflect straight after and again a day later in case you’ve thought of something useful to add, which can be taken to a critical reflection session with colleagues. 

How do you run a critical reflection group? Advice for managers and tutors

  1. Find out from colleagues if they would find such a session useful – show them this blog to explain more. The minimum you need is two! If you work or freelance regularly for an organisation, ask your contact there or your line manager if they’d be willing to set aside some time, and a place, where you can run the group. Ideally you will be paid for this time, as it’s part of your CPD. How often this happens is up to you – we run ours once a term.
  1. Give the tutors a heads up on what to think about before the session (see above in ‘how do you start?’). Tutors could also bring any particular challenges they have overcome in their sessions or any challenges that are still present, where a solution has not yet been found. The group can help the tutor think about possible solutions by asking open questions, clarifying questions and encouraging thought on what to do next. It is important to have open discussion and to help the tutor think about their own ideas, rather than others coming up with whole answers for them. It can be helpful to use reflective questioning for discussions like this. Examples of questions to ask are:
  • How do you feel about this situation? 
  • What could you do differently? 
  • What/who could help you with this problem? E.g. more support from the school, teacher or learning new behaviour management techniques.
  • What are you trying to achieve?
  1. Some people find it harder to think on their feet, especially if it’s a new group or new way of sharing that they’re not used to. It is vital that everyone can share and take up similar time to do so, for efficiency of the meeting and so that no one is talking for twenty minutes and one person for two. You want to have balance within the group and expectations that are adhered to, so be sure to discuss this at the start and have someone on timekeeping duties.
  1. Make sure that everyone understands why you’re taking part in critical reflection. This includes the benefits for the tutor, the young people and the organisation. It’s always better if people feel positive and understand why sharing and being part of such a group is important for these different reasons and not just a tick box exercise. 
  1. Make sure that everyone understands that critical reflection is not only for venting or sharing, but also for listening and offering support. This is just as significant as the former, for that safe space to manifest. Everyone needs to feel valued, which happens from being listened to, heard and respected. Advice can be given in non-condescending ways and everyone should appreciate that people have different ways of doing things. 
  1. Make it somewhat informal (and fun!) Why not throw some music-making in there? Let people know it’s a space to feel comfortable to share in a way they may not be used to in a work setting. This is especially important if the group is unfamiliar with each other. You may need to find ways to create this if it doesn’t happen naturally straight away. 
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What is Songwriter?

Songwriter establishes accessible and diverse progression routes so that all music learners can progress and develop as young musicians is an important part of our Songwriter project.

Songwriter is an online community and competition aimed at nurturing and developing talented songwriters aged 8 -18. It offers an opportunity for young people to learn how to write, perform, record and promote their own songs and includes coaching and feedback from professional musicians as well as performance opportunities.

Song are showcased on the Songwriter website which includes songs from young people across Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Norfolk.

Why songwriting has been important to Hertfordshire Music Service and Changing Tracks….

We have an interest in musical inclusion; as a music service we wanted to reach a wider range of young people.

We started running rap, rock and acoustic song-writing workshops in 2003. And found straight away that they engaged young people who wanted learn to make music in different ways. We also got interest from schools who wanted help with the composition element of GCSE music. As well as schools, the workshops also helped us build partnerships with local authority teams working to support vulnerable young people. These saw lyric writing as a way to provide young people with a voice about social issues. So, we had commissions from teams working on social agendas, such as an anti-bullying initiative.

We started the Songwriter project pretty soon after that, as we realised that young people wanted more than one-off workshops. We set up songwriting showcases at local festivals and venues to give something to work towards, and an online chart where the songs move up or down depending on how often they’re listened to. We wanted to build connections with the music industry, so we arranged for professional songwriters run workshops and to give feedback on the young people’s songs. So Songwriter has since run workshops in music centres in school holidays, and we’ve just started running weekly sessions during the last few years.

Songwriting is probably the most accessible part of our offer, you don’t have to be a great performer to write a song, you just need to want to create your own music. Young people can come to songwriting workshops and get involved after just learning a few notes, and leave with a recording of them performing with some new friends at the end of the day. If they don’t want to play, they can get involved by writing lyrics.

Over the last few years we’ve been running songwriting sessions for young people in pupil referral units. We know they often enjoy creative activities, and there have been some amazing reflective lyric writing and performances coming out of this work.

Writing lyrics also gives young people a voice about social issues. One wrote a great song about Grenfell Tower. Writing and performing songs also links really well into producing personal and social outcomes like resilience, wellbeing and agency. Recently we’ve had a number of songs written about young people’s experience of lockdown, and we’ve just started working with Youth Connections team on a project to support young people at risk of getting drawn into County Lines activities.

But songwriting also produces high quality musical outcomes. The workshop leaders often say that people perform at a higher level when playing their own music. We’ve been really lucky that we’ve been able to get stagetime for our songwriters to perform at prestigious events such the BBC introducing stage at local festivals, and at the biennial music service Gala at the London Albert Hall.

We pull out a call for songs, which get auditioned by our songwriting team,  which selects a couple to produce to be performed. They always hold their own alongside the massed choirs and orchestras, and it’s great to see how young people grow through the opportunity. Some have gone on to other opportunities such as the School Proms, through the Music for Youth programme.

And we’ve also been very lucky that some of the great songwriters that have gone on to study songwriting at college have come back to work for us as tutors, to help us develop songwriting more widely.

Road to the Royal Albert Hall - video

Watch this short film showing young songwriters Matt Debnam, Charlotte Nairne and Lorna Thompson on their journey to performing their own songs live on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, as part of the Hertfordshire Schools’ Gala 2020.

Songwriter: the impact of songwriting in a music service - video

When music services integrate songwriting into their music education offer, alongside instrumental teaching, they’re able to appeal to a wider range of young people, as well as develop a range of progression routes for them.

Hertfordshire, Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire music services all offer a programme called ‘Songwriter’ which began in Hertfordshire. Songwriter is an online community and competition aimed at nurturing and developing talented songwriters aged 8 -18. It offers an opportunity for young people to learn how to write, perform, record and promote their own songs and includes coaching and feedback from professional musicians as well as performance opportunities.

Practical guidance for using songwriting in inclusion work

Music tutors and workshop leaders Victoria Port and Ije Amaechi share practical guidance, tips and insight into teaching songwriting. This CPD is for anyone interested in delivering songwriting, whether you are an instrumental teacher or workshop leader. It’s particularly helpful for tutors developing inclusive practice.

They look at case studies of young people they have taught both in one to one and group sessions, play examples of young people’s songs and go into detail about how to help a young person write their own lyrics and melodies. They also demonstrate as the ‘teacher and student’ how this could look in a lesson and show how tutors can come up with different chord progressions to write with.

Teaching song-writing: increasing inclusion

Why song-writing has been important for Hertfordshire Music Service. 

It’s mainly because of our interest in musical inclusion; as a music service we wanted to reach a wider range of young people.  

We started running rap, rock and acoustic song-writing workshops in 2003. And found straight away that they engaged young people who wanted learn to make music in different ways. We also got interest from schools who wanted help with the composition element of GCSE music. 

As well as schools, the workshops helped us build partnerships with local authority teams working to support vulnerable young people. These saw lyric-writing as a way to provide young people with a voice about social issues. So, we had commissions from teams working on social agendas, such as an antibullying initiative.  

We started the Songwriter project pretty soon after that, as we realised that young people wanted more than one off workshops. We set up song-writing showcases at local festivals and venues to give something to work towards, and an online chart where the songs move up or down depending on how often they’re listened to. We wanted to build connections with the music industry, so we arranged for professional songwriters run workshops and to give feedback on the young people’s songs. 

So Songwriter has since run workshops in music centres in school holidays, and we’ve just started running weekly sessions during the last few years. 

Song-writing is probably the most accessible part of our offer, you don’t have to be a great performer to write a song, you just need to want to create your own music. 

Young people can come to song-writing workshops and get involved after just learning a few notes, and leave with a recording of them performing with some new friends at the end of the day. If they don’t want to play, they can get involved by writing lyrics. 

Over the last few years we and our Changing Tracks partners been running song-writing sessions for young people in pupil referral units. there have been some amazing reflective lyric-writing, performances and personal and social outcomes coming out of this work. 

Recently we’ve had a number of songs written about young people’s experience of lockdown, and we’ve just started working with Youth Connections team on a project to support young people at risk of getting drawn into County Lines activities. 

But song-writing also produces high quality musical outcomes. The workshop leaders often say that people perform at a higher level when playing their own music.  

We’ve been really lucky that we’ve been able to get stagetime for our songwriters at prestigious events such the BBC introducing stage at local festivals, and at the biennial music service Gala at the London Albert Hall. 

We pull out a call for songs, which get auditioned by our song-writing team, which selects a couple to produce to be performed. They always hold their own alongside the massed choirs and orchestras, and it’s great to see how the young people grow through the process. 

Some have gone on to other opportunities such as the School Proms, through the Music for Youth programme. 

And we’ve also been very lucky that some of the great songwriters who have gone on to study song-writing at college have come back to work for us as tutors, to help us develop song-writing more widely. 

Young people’s agency through song-writing

By Ije Amaechi 

One cold, gloomy, rainy day in February half term a room of creativity, energy and group support was created in Royston School of Music by Music Tutor Lindsey Tibbs and the young people.  

Beginning with everyone sat on chairs in a big circle, the room was quiet, filled with anticipation of what the day had in store. Lindsey started by asking about the young people’s favourite artists and songs and for their opinions on their own and each other’s choices. The conversation flowed and welcomed a good response from all the young people, even if some were a little more reserved, building a rapport from the start. 

Lindsey played the songs through a small speaker, which seemed to ease some of the tension for those who came across a little anxious. Body language gradually became more relaxed and open as the activities went on. For example, one of the icebreakers was to tell a story as a group by having one person say one sentence each as you go around the circle. Laughter quickly filled the room, creativity and imagination was nurtured and enhanced by everyone making up humour ours or silly lines to create such a story. 

Next, Lindsey went through some song-writing terms, asking for the group to offer their knowledge on different parts of a song and characteristics of a “good song”, whilst sharing her own insight.  

There was no box to have to fit in or right or wrong way to create

The theme of youth voice was central to the workshop throughout the day, like asking the young people their opinions, letting them choose whether to work solo or in a group, having agency the song they want to make, their lyrics, how they perform and much more. Lindsey acted as their guide and support throughout the day, but never restricted creativity. There was no box to have to fit in or right or wrong way to create. I think this is what allowed for the breadth of ideas that came to fruition, from songs inspired by pop, a rap track, to a “political fun song against Brexit”. As I made my way around the groups during the day, everyone seemed to be getting on with their songs, enjoying the creative freedom they had.  

When it was time to rehearse for the performance in front of parents and carers, I asked some questions about the day. The first question was ‘how did you find working in a group’ with responses like “it went well, quite easy” and “pretty good [fist pump]”. The second was ‘what have you found most enjoyable about today?’ with answers including “I enjoyed being with other people”, “making a story around the circle” and similar comments around being able to do something they “wouldn’t usually be able to do”, like singing with someone else playing the piano.  

One of the young people said they learnt that “music can be funner than (they) thought”, with another saying, “songs can be about anything and it doesn’t matter”, emphasising on the creative freedom I mention above. 

I asked the young people how they felt about performing before the audience arrived and had a range of responses from “shocked” and “excited” to “it’s amazing, brilliant and fun and I can do it quite well”. They applauded each other after each rehearsal and Lindsey gave time and space to those who needed another go or more encouragement, which was especially important to their comfortability and confidence ahead of the performance. 

All the young people did an amazing job at performing the songs they had written in around 3 hours, either solo or in groups with friends, or people they had just met. The energy was high at the end from the excitement of performing with big smiles all round and comments like “it’s fun to express your feelings” and that the performance was “so great, really fun”, thus a positive roundoff to a productive, artistic, musical and expressive day.