Category Archives: Music Education

Gloucestershire’s hub – what’s been, and what’s next?

anita-holford-1It’s more than four years since Make Music Gloucestershire was formed.  Anita Holford, who’s freelanced for the Hub throughout that time*, looks back at her experience of this period of change, and has some questions for music educators for the next phase of hub working.

Around five years ago this Autumn, I was freelancing for Gloucestershire Music, helping the team with the development of a new website. There had been murmurings that a change was about to take place in music education, and that things would be very different for county music services in England.

Before we knew it, a little like Alice stepping through the looking glass, we were transported into a world of music education where things were very different.

The Department for Education announced that it would no longer directly-fund county music services. Instead, it would expect groups of music education organisations in each area to bid for funding to form ‘music education hubs’ and deliver on requirements set out in ‘A national plan for music education in England’ 2012-2020.

Shifting our ways of thinking and working

Anyone who works with me knows that I believe in hubs, and in the model we have in Gloucestershire.

The whole concept of hubs was about reaching more children and young people and providing joined-up pathways for them, based on their needs and interests.

This meant supporting the non-school music education workforce (music services, music education organisations, individual music tutors, other organisations working with young people in music) to shift their way of working and thinking.

They would have to work in partnership with schools, which meant moving towards a more market-led approach. The tricky bit was and is, that this needed to be balanced with delivering on the requirements (Core and Extension roles) set out by the new funding.

But the big idea at the heart of this change was that no single organisation could provide that ‘light bulb’ moment for each young person, where they’re switched on to music. Or indeed all the opportunities and support that need to come afterwards, so they can progress as musicians; use music to support their own social, emotional and personal development; or simply develop a life-long love of music.

For many, having an inspiring instrumental tutor in their school, taking part in an ensemble or orchestra, or seeing an inspiring orchestral performance will turn on that light.

For others, taking part in a singing project, world percussion, or iPad music-making programme in their school is far more likely to reach them. Or getting support for their independent music-making in rock, pop and music technology through community studios or out-of-school creative music-making sessions.

Gloucestershire’s model – something to be proud of, and more to do

We have all these opportunities in place in Gloucestershire, and more – either through Hub partners or other deliverers. And they’re pretty well networked and communicated, although there’s far more we can do. We’re also working far more effectively in partnership, as delivery partners and with schools. Again, there’s a long way to go – particularly in finding ways for schools to have a real say and work alongside us, rather than see us as ‘providers’. We also have an exciting, emerging, youth voice strand of work.

Yes, it’s been difficult. Having other providers share the responsibility – and the funding – to deliver on the government’s plans for music has put Gloucestershire Music in a really difficult position. While it’s funding has gradually been cut, it’s had to work in partnership with those organisations who are now, in a commercial sense, taking some of its market share.

And it isn’t always easy working in partnership, putting the ‘greater good’ first and the interests of your own organisation second. But that just makes me even more of a fan of hub working: because it’s hard, and it brings out the best (occasionally the worst), in people and organisations.

In Gloucestershire, the Hub is not simply the music service with another coat on. Funding, decision-making and responsibility for outcomes are distributed amongst a core of key partners (although the County Council currently holds the funding). We’ve had an inclusion strategy that’s been central to our work, and we’ve recently developed a new one to reflect where we are four years on. Those are two things to be hugely proud of.

We haven’t always got things right. The initial model of a commissioning team didn’t give Hub partners enough say in decision-making, or accountability. Initially we didn’t really take account of what young people thought. And we’re still struggling to form effective partnerships with many schools.

And no, we’re not achieving all we want, as fast as we want. The work we do in schools is often short-term which limits its impact; we need to continue to get better at reaching those young people who are facing the biggest barriers in learning and in life; and ultimately we need to keep on improving our numbers and our outcomes.

What’s next?

Four years is not long when you’re creating cultural and systemic change. There are many hurdles still to overcome, so as we welcome the announcement of continued funding for hubs, here are a few questions for us to consider:

  • How can we create a clear strategy that looks beyond Arts Council England/Department for Education funding requirements, measures of success, and timescales, to the difference *we* want to make in Gloucestershire?
  • How can we share resources and knowledge with other hubs to save money and avoid duplication?
  • How can the music service protect itself from further cuts, generate more income, and evolve to meet all young people’s needs?
  • How can we make the case more powerfully for the place of music in schools, and help schools find ways to give more priority to music – in particular those facing the most difficult economic and social challenges?
  • Long-term music education is still something that’s mainly accessible to wealthier families (see ABRSM’s recent ‘Making Music’ report). What changes need to happen in Gloucestershire so we address cost and other access barriers in all our work, as well as in targeted work with young people in challenging circumstances?

* Anita now works part-time for hub partner, The Music Works, as well as continuing to freelance through her business Writing Services.

Megan’s week as roving reporter for Make Music Gloucestershire

Megan BettertonMy name’s Megan and I’m 17 years old. My school, High School for Girls, Denmark Road, offered us a week of work experience and I got to work with Make Music Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire Music through my interest in journalism. I was given the opportunity to go and visit two primary schools and a music charity,  and to write about them for Make Music Gloucestershire’s newsletter, website and blog. Here’s a report I wrote about my week for my school.

You can also read the pieces I wrote about Gloucestershire Music’s Whole Class Instrumental Teaching,  The Music Work’s Get into Music course and my interview with Gloucestershire band, Halfway to Nowhere.

Monday: My first day was really enjoyable and welcoming, I was introduced to everyone at Gloucestershire Music (which was the organisation hosting me for the week) and  given a tour of the building where they’re based, Colwell Arts Centre, and even learnt about the history of how it had been used in the past. Then I started on one of my tasks for the week with a lot of help; I created some interview questions for a rock band from Cheltenham and then sent it off to get a response and later write up as an interview/article. I didn’t expect to do something like that on my first day but felt it was a huge step towards helping me to figure out whether that’s actually what I want to do in the future. I then started to get everything sorted for Tuesday and Wednesday so I would be more prepared to visit the schools and talk to the students and teachers. Overall my first day was really welcoming and productive and gave me a really good insight into the type of work I was going to be doing throughout the week.

Tuesday: On Tuesday morning I visited Huntley Primary School where I observed a year 4 and 5 whole class violin lesson. Most of the students seemed very eager to start playing and show each other what they could do. It was very interesting to see how excited the children were about playing their instrument and how they listened and took in what Heather McFarlane said to them. The children were very encouraging and helpful to each other if they forgot which string to pluck or what finger to use they had no problem asking their friends. I managed to talk to some of the children quickly before they had to go to their next lesson which was helpful. I then returned to the Colwell Arts Centre to do some more writing and organisation for the rest of the week.

Whole Class Music GloucestershireWednesday: On Wednesday I spent most of the day with Maureen Currie who also teaches whole class tuition, we went to Cold Aston school and Twyning school. On the way to Cold Aston Maureen kindly answered many of the questions I had and helped me gain a better understanding of what it was like to be a music tutor. At Cold Aston I sat and observed the children’s clarinet lesson as well as being able to talk and ask questions to the students and their teacher. I then went to Twyning school where they were learning brass instruments, and got to talk to more of the children there, as they were older they did give me more detailed answers which I could use along with the interviews from Cold Aston to give me an overall idea of how the children in different parts of Gloucestershire felt about their music tutoring experiences.

The lessons were very different, it could have been because of the age difference or the different types of instrument, however both groups of students worked eagerly and most played with confidence and enjoyment which was really good to see. It really helped me to understand the importance of music lessons in schools and how they can benefit the children. A teacher at Cold Aston commented about how the children’s clarinet playing subconsciously had improved their general coordination when writing in lessons which emphasises how music is important and can help in subjects across the curriculum. Read the article I wrote about my observations of whole class teaching.

Get into Music The Music WorksThursday: Today I went to the recording studio with the Prince’s Trust and The Music Works, as part of their Get into Music programme, and got to watch the students record some of their own songs and watch a recording artist perform as well. This was really beneficial to see how young people are gaining these kinds of experiences that a lot of people never even get to try. Along with the different things they did throughout the week they were working towards their own blog and achieve an Arts Award.

This was really different to the other things I got to see throughout the week but was really interesting and opened up a whole other version of what Make Music Gloucestershire and it’s partners have to offer young people. We then came back to Studio 340 and I got to see them writing up on their blogs and the talk from someone at Gloucestershire College to talk to them about the music courses available which I think was important because it showed them that they could use what they gained from this week and end up getting back into work or education which is one of the main aims of the Prince’s Trust. Overall it was really interesting and showed a whole different side of the music education offered in Gloucestershire.

Friday: Today was my last day with Make Music Gloucestershire hosted by Gloucestershire Music and it was mainly just writing up and going through what I’ve done this week. Overall my week has been really beneficial and interesting and I’ve gained a lot of experience. Before this week I was set on the type of journalism I wanted to do in the future, but this week I have encountered many different forms of writing which I have become more interested in and therefore has opened up my options.  I am very grateful to Gloucestershire Music and Make Music Gloucestershire for letting me work here for the week and for the amount of amazing opportunities and experiences they have offered me.

Make Music Gloucestershire creates, promotes and funds opportunities for young people to make and learn music, improves and develops the quality of music education, and champions music education. Find out more at and find tutors, workshops and studio/rehearsals spaces and more at or follow us on social media – see links at the top of this blog site.

Sharing our practice – The Songwriting Charity’s tips for successful projects with young people

Our latest guest blog is from Hub partner Ben O’Sullivan, who is based in Gloucestershire and is Director of Programmes at The Songwriting Charity. With funding from the Hub, Ben has been working with Balcarras and Winchcombe secondary schools to involve a range of young people in music making and develop their skills as vocal leaders through group singing and the building of a band. They’ve produced three fantastic videos – watch them below and then read Ben’s blog below.

The two programmes look and feel different, with Winchcombe’s focus being on instrument and vocal ensemble building (bands) and Balcarras on three-part harmony a cappella work – yet there are similarities to how they were achieved. So I thought it might be useful to identify some common elements that helped us on our way, and highlight some of the lessons learned.

The starting point for me would be to deliver with a sense of joy (even when it’s hard!) – but I guess that, as you’re reading this, you’ll already be enthusiastic about music leading, so that will be a given.

Another presumption of this blog is that you already have funds in place. When it comes to fundraising, that’s a whole other blog entry, but the principles of Youth Music’s outcomes approach is worth referencing. Almost all funders will want you to focus on what you can change, and Youth Music has a huge resource bank on how to go about this.

So, below is a list of fairly easy-to-implement building blocks that might help any project, especially when working in partnership. A lot of it will probably align well with what most think of as simply good teaching and learning practice across the curriculum and beyond, but as I come from a non-formal teaching background, I hope there might be some bits in here that all music leaders can take away and try elsewhere.

Assess need carefully

Engage the students in the planning at every stage. We worked closely with staff and students at both schools, including practical taster sessions and more cerebral student consultation, to understand the needs and wants of the young people. Giving time over to such activity is not always easy, but putting aside half a day in the initial stages (in our case, before we had any funding in place) is well worth it, as it includes students and partner schools in the decision making from the outset. Once they own it on that level, they are more likely to commit and ‘dig-deep’ when things get tough in the rehearsal room.

Establish roles

Straightforward this one, but crucial: establish the roles for leaders, young leaders and participants alike. Who’s doing the leading? Who’s planning next week’s session? Who’s uploading the homework to the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment)? It’s just so much easier to establish this early on. If roles need to change, either on an ad hoc basis or by way of a more permanent swap, this is fine, of course.

Find and create a reachable, exciting goal.

This can be a concert, a national or regional performance opportunity, or in our case a recording at a professional recording studio (Yellow Shark Studios in Cheltenham) or historic building (Postlip Hall). Again, best to include all students and staff in this discussion and decision. Be ambitious (within reason) and allow the goal to motivate everyone to help maintain a step-by-step approach to the teaching and learning. Meaning, don’t let it be a ‘be all and end all’. It’s something to aim for and can inspire learning in learners but don’t let it become a burden.

Maintain commitment

Setting expectations about what is required from students to confirm and maintain membership of the project is pretty key at the outset. Whether that’s drawing up expectations around attendance or commitment to work outside of the rehearsal room (both in these two recent projects), it’s important that the students get a sense of what is expected of them and can be called on to reflect if their commitment is waning. Beth Hayes, Head of Music at Balcarras made it very clear that 100% attendance was expected and that any absence will need to be authorised in advance. Beth also ensured all form tutors were aware of the club, and reminders were sent out each week. At Winchcombe, the groups were smaller so attendance issues were managed as and when they arose, as Head of Music Leah Turner had 3 hours direct contact with all the students as part of the 2-week timetable.


Plan an evaluation session before your sessions start, to baseline the students’ current ability and interest etc. In our case we base our bespoke evaluation for short programmes around the Youth Music evaluation. Valerie Warburton, our volunteer data expert then converts them into computer readable forms, and data entry (an absolute cinch compared to other systems we have used) is performed by our other wonderful volunteer, Meredith Miller over in Paulo Alto, California. You can see a video on how we evaluate one of our one day workshop programmes.

We used the themes built into the evaluation as a means for opening up discussion throughout the project, to ‘check-up’ how the students felt they were progressing. For example there are questions about energy and commitment, and we would share when we felt we were gaining or losing ground in respect of those areas of the programme in order to keep the intended outcomes of the project alive for the students. And of course, we evaluated at the end to see how the participants feel they have developed, including written feedback.

Mid-project commitment reviews

When you hit a bump in the road, it’s important to address it immediately: the longer you let negativity bumble along the more energy it can gather. Sometimes you won’t be aware that you’ve hit a bump though! So giving students and staff opportunities to give feedback throughout the project and in feedback/listening sessions is essential. In both of these projects a number of parents gave feedback part way through too, which was really valuable and if you can, it’s worth building this in to your mid-project reviews.

It’s important to remain flexible at this stage. There will be certain things that you can’t change, but be open to feedback. Sometimes simply airing a concern and having a listening session can really bring the group together and help everyone move forward with renewed optimism. Sometimes a prohibitive crease can be ironed out that you didn’t even know was there, by asking for feedback. When asking for feedback aim for the traditional ‘positive first, challenges after’ but be sure to look beneath the surface, and uncover the tricky things lurking that perhaps you really don’t want to hear.

It helps to ask for written feedback as well, as some are more confident pen to paper and others more confident verbally. Students may be happier to talk to their friends and other members of staff about issues rather than the session leader, so it’s important to maintain open communication, listen and be approachable so that you can pick up on what’s happening.


Always let the students choose what they will be performing. If they don’t agree as a group, chose something democratically. Make room to highlight the pros and cons of certain choices, so they can make an informed decision. Many educators disagree with letting students choose: they say it’s important to educate young people in music they may not otherwise experience. I agree that’s really important too. But this should be a decision that they are part of, so that they take ownership and are more likely to get involved with enthusiasm and so learn more. You could do this by suggesting that a new piece is introduced to the repertoire that contrasts with the last. Ask them to come up with suggestions but also to commission music department staff to go away and find such a piece that you all appraise as a group before agreeing.

Less is more

Be brave and limit your repertoire. Refining one song over six weeks is a test of anyone’s commitment, of course, but if you want it to be produced professionally and broadcast on the internet, it’s important to get it right. For these two programmes, we worked intensely on one song per ensemble. We made space for plenty of other sharings and workshoppings and, indeed, recordings of other songs within the sessions and in breaks, yet we were resolute in refining and polishing only the song that was in focus, to ensure quality. This was a specific approach we wanted to trial this time, and I am pleased we did, but it did take some soul searching when the going got tough.

Watch out for the weather!

Make sure wherever you’re planning to take your participants you ensure the weather is likely to be kind – or at least, be prepared! Postlip Hall is 600ft up a wind tunnel-esque valley, so when we planned to hold a recording there in March, we realised a wintery wash-out was as likely as a refreshing spring day. Once we clocked the possibility, we moved the recording day to April.


When publishing to the web, especially with video, it’s really important to collect consent forms from parents. We managed to get them sent out well in advance for both projects this time, but you need to keep track of where they’re at to avoid a mad rush at the end.

Most of all – don’t panic and share the load

Don’t hold on to worries and concerns about the project. It’s important to share concerns and it always helps to chat through problems. Whether that’s with the students, the staff, the head of school or the funder. After all, we’re not trying to resolve a major international conflict, just helping young people nurture their musical instincts and ‘grow that little bit taller’. This may seem obvious, or inconsequential. But just as partnership is integral to Hub working at strategy and project level, it’s also important at a personal level. Relationships mean everything in partnership working – and building them properly through honest communication and mutual trust and support can help everyone involved, as well as modelling positive behaviours for young people.

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