Category Archives: What’s happening

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.

Swans, schools and statistics – taking things forward above and below the water

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There’s a metaphor about swans that keeps coming into my mind when I think about the work of the Hub in Gloucestershire – it’s the one describing how all seems quiet and calm above water, but underneath they’re paddling furiously to propel themselves forward. That’s certainly what we, the Commissioning Team, have been doing since our last blog: there’s been a lot of progress, some of which won’t be seen publicly quite yet, but it has propelled us forward rapidly.

Working with schools

First of all, we’ve been making great strides in our talks with schools. With around 306 maintained schools and academies in our county, that’s no mean feat! But we’ve taken a pragmatic approach, working with small groups of heads and teachers who can help us shape plans so they really do respond to what they need now and in the future, to support their teachers and pupils to make sure all pupils benefit from music education, and meet their potential. Some of the results have been:

Schools Music Education Plan – this is the plan that Arts Council England/Department for Education asked all Hubs to create, to map out how we’ll work with schools. We created the plan with the help of a working group of teachers, and are now carrying out the actions including …

Singing Strategy – we’re being encouraged to be more strategic about supporting schools in ensuring all pupils sing, so we’re working with two groups of schools representatives, one for secondary schools, the other for primary schools, and they’re leading us in our work on this. One of the first activities will be a short piece of research to find out what’s actually happening in schools around singing. The teachers involved for secondaries, are: Jenny Cameron, Millbrook; Omar Khoker, Severn Vale; Beth Hayes, Balcarras; Julia Bishop, Chosen Hill. Members of the primaries group will be confirmed soon.

What makes an effective music lesson? – we know locally, and from national evidence, that senior leadership teams (SLTs) in secondaries can find it hard to know what to look for in effective music teaching. We’ve completed our pilot study (three secondary schools looking at how the Hub might support music departments and SLTs in ensuring music is valued, and promoted in schools and good teaching practices recognised and encouraged), and we’re now disussing the next steps in rolling out this approach.

Involving teachers in supporting each other – we’ve had many discussions, through lots of different forums, about how we can work in a smarter way to make the most of the expertise in schools, for the benefit of all schools, and plans include a ‘paired teachers’ CPD initiative, involving teachers as advisors to schools,

Collecting information from schools, and sharing back to schools – see ‘statistics’ below.

New funding for schools and community groups

To helps schools and community groups (eg amateur music groups) to reach more young people with group music making, and help those already involved in music to progress, we’ve launched a ‘rolling programme’ (you can apply anytime) of small grants (up to £1,000). You can find out more here:

Schools grants brief & application form
Community grants brief & application form

Funding for the Hub from Department for Education via Arts Council England

We’ve all been on tenterhooks following the announcement from DfE earlier this year about ‘extra funding for music education’. The figure was announced as £18 million across the country for 2015/16, but as always, the devil is in the detail, and we will find out exactly how this translates to individual hubs and to Gloucestershire shortly.

What we know for now is that Hubs won’t get all of that money, and it may well be short term gain for long term pain – ie we’re getting an uplift in funding for this year, so we can invest in making sure we’re sustainable for the cuts that may follow. We don’t have any information yet on the likely funding for April 2016 onwards, but even though that makes it tricky planning for the future, we will be working hard on more ‘below the water’ conversations, planning and strategy to make sure that the work and partnerships are robust and sustainable.

Working with music educators

Following on from our partners meetings series earlier in the year, we’ve put together a series of workshops to help us all learn, and share our knowledge and experiences on topics that are critical to the future of music and arts education in the county:

Outcomes and impact workshop report
Income generation (25 Nov 2014)
• Relationships with schools & curriculum update (27 January 2015, sign up to the music educators enews to hear when booking opens)
• Getting commission-ready (TBC)

The other great thing about this series is that we’ve developed it in conjunction with Create Gloucestershire, Real Ideas Organisation, and Make Music Swindon, so it also has the benefit of being a first practical step in us working with the first two organisations, which we’re sure will lead to further partnership working.

We’ve been talking with other new partners about how we can make the most of our shared purposes, ideas, energies and resources. One of these is Gloucestershire Healthy Living and Learning who work with schools to improve pupils’ health and wellbeing. We’re agreed that music can be an important means of reaching young people as well as improving their mental health and emotional wellbeing, so we’re working on a number of plans for next year.

How we’re doing

Perhaps the ‘boring but important’ part of this update: we’ve also been collecting statistics and other information so we can report to Arts Council England and Department for Education – and can understand ourselves – what we’re achieving in terms of the National Plan for Music Education, and also begin to map what’s happening and what’s needed. Earlier in the year, we asked schools what they wanted to know too (particularly about what other schools are doing) and following this launched an online ‘data collection app’ (currently closed while we draw down data and clear ready for 2014/15 data) to make it easier for schools and others to include their information. We’ll be sharing this information very early next year.

There’s a lot more work to be done (and in fact much more to tell, but that’s for future blogs). The Commissioning Team and the school and music education partners we work with are all very aware of this, and are sometimes keen to move faster than is possible. But we have built some strong momentum, and we’re looking forward to the next phase with continued enthusiasm and determination to reach more children and young people, and improve the quality of their music education experiences.

Anita Holford, freelance communications advisor, and member of the Hub Commissioning Team.

Responding to Ofsted: Make Music Gloucestershire, a year on. Guest blog from Peter Holmes, Head of Access for Learning, Gloucestershire County Council

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The recent Ofsted report into hubs caused deep concern amongst all of us who care about music education. Attention-grabbing headlines in national newspapers about hubs’ poor performance were unhelpful and in many cases inaccurate. Yet many of the challenges for hubs that the report highlights have reinforced what we already know and are currently working hard to address in Gloucestershire.

It seems timely then to share what we’re doing to accelerate the process of change in music education in Gloucestershire. As the article below (reproduced from the Hub’s November e-news) outlines, I’m working with Peter Clark of Swindon Music Service and the team at Gloucestershire Music, to reshape the way we work so that we can address many of Ofsted’s concerns. In particular, we are:

investigating options for the structure and governance of the Hub: including a ‘commissioning/delivery’ model, in keeping with the County Council’s operating model. This would provide a clearer demarcation between the work of Gloucestershire Music, and other ‘delivery’ partners, and the more strategic work of the Hub;

talking to school leaders, heads of music, and primary teachers to find out how they can be more actively as equal partners in the strategic, sustainable, development of music education in the county. The Hub has engaged an ex-head and passionate musician, Alan Winwood to help in this;

talking to a range of practitioners and organisations working through music with children and young people to find out how we can best bring together the county’s music education workforce to better understand and respond to the needs of children and young people.

As the article below says, ultimately, it’s up to us as a music education community – school leaders, teachers, music education organisations and practitioners – to decide what’s right for our county, and how the Hub will develop here. And in the words of Lord Kitchener, we need YOU! Yes, it is still early days and Ofsted’s report may have been a little premature. But we want to make sure that we take on board the points it raises so that quality, affordable, and accessible music education reaches all children and young people in Gloucestershire.

If you feel you can help us in this process, or you’re a school leader or teacher and would like to talk to us about how we can help your school, then please contact Peter Clark in the first instance:

Make Music Gloucestershire: your music education hub, a year on.

A fuller version of this article was originally published in Make Music Gloucestershire’s Autumn term e-news. Read the enews, and sign up for future issues.

So, it’s been a year since embarked on the journey to becoming a Hub – finding ways to bring together everyone working in music with children and young people. It seems fitting then to recap on what the Hub is and what it might mean for you in this next year.

Like all music services across the UK, in the last year Gloucestershire Music (GM) has been undergoing a transformation from being a music service, to operating as part of a music education hub. This was the main recommendation of the government’s National Plan for Music Education.

It’s an exciting development. Hubs have been given both an opportunity and a challenge to bring together schools; music leaders, teachers and tutors; music organisations; and others working with children and young people in music, to create joined up opportunities for making and learning music.

But what does a Hub actually do?

The role of the Hub as defined by its main funders, the Department for Education (through Arts Council England) is to deliver four core roles:

3.     PROGRESSION ROUTES which are available and affordable to all young people.
4.     SINGING/VOCAL WORK so every pupil is singing regularly

There are three optional ‘extension’ roles which cover CPD for staff in schools; instrument hire; and access to large scale/high quality music experiences involving professional musicians and venues. Read more about the Hub and the core roles.

The work of our Hub, Make Music Gloucestershire, also includes a parallel and important inclusion strategy – to make sure that children in the most challenging circumstances can access these and similar opportunities.

Ultimately, it’s up to us as a music education community to decide what’s right for our county, and how the Hub will develop here – it’s early days yet, but with a first year under our belt, it’s now that things start to get exciting.

So, how have we been developing these roles?

Make Music Gloucestershire’s whole class instrumental work, delivered by Gloucestershire Music in 138 schools and Groove On in four schools, has been going well and prompting great feedback from teachers. After a period of consultation with primary and secondary schools, carried out by Alan Winwood, ex-head of Chosen Hill, we are now finding ways to develop the offer so that we can reach more schools and pupils.

Gloucestershire Music’s groups and ensembles are continuing to develop young people at all stages of their musical journey. New opportunities include a free complete beginners half-term course and follow-on weekly groups; a County Youth Choir and County String and Brass ensembles. We’re continuing to forge links with other groups in the county, as well as promoting them through our TouchBass search tool. Our next steps will be to map these and other out-of-school – and in school – music-making and learning opportunities, to  identify where the gaps are and how we can support other providers through networking, connections and signposting.

Our singing and vocal work in primaries, overseen and delivered by Gloucestershire Music Makers has been a big hit, and this year we’re working to extend this to secondaries – as singing can have powerful social, educational, psychological, health and of course musical benefits for adolescents, and can support many areas of a school and it’s pupils development.

We’ve been seeing impressive outcomes from our inclusion work with young people in Pupil Referral Units, Hospital Education, and looked-after children, as well as young people in youth justice settings. We know that it’s valuable as well as cost-effective, because commissioners of services for young people are wanting more. You can read some of the case studies and read our latest story about a young man in hospital education.

Where next?

There’s a lot of work to be done: the first year has been a time of change and adaptation. Since April, leadership of the Hub has been split between Peter Holmes, Head of Access, Gloucestershire County Council, and through a partnership agreement with Swindon Borough Council, Peter Clark, Head of Swindon Music Service and Swindon Music Education Hub, now called Make Music Swindon.

We’re now formalising that relationship which means that Peter Clark will be the strategic lead for both hubs. The benefits are that we’ll share strategic thinking, save reinventing wheels, and make better use of time and money.

On the ground and out in the field we’ll be wanting to hear from you: whether you’re a school teacher or head of music wanting the children and young people you work with to benefit more from music; or can provide music making/learning opportunities for schools and young people.

We will be asking you (and then sharing what we find with you):

  • Schools – what’s already happening in your school? What are the gaps? How can music help address some of your wider school priorities?
  • Music education providers – what music making/learning opportunities do you provide for young people or schools? What would help you do it better or to reach more children and young people?

If we’re going to achieve our hopes and dreams for music education in Gloucestershire we need to start by sharing our knowledge of what’s happening and what’s needed.

So we will be in touch very soon and do hope you’ll want to join us in this critical work for children and young people in Gloucestershire.

Sign up to our enews to keep in touch with developments, keep in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter, and add your details to TouchBass, our search tool for music making and learning opportunities.

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