“Our Music” is a two-year project taking place in Wolverhampton schools and is funded through the charity Youth Music. It is an inclusive music project through which we set out to develop the confidence and self-esteem of the young musicians, embed an awareness of the well-being of others in the group, to increase the musical creativity and self-expression of young musicians, support the musical development of each young musician from their individual starting point through music making opportunities tailored to each young musician’s ability and to develop the confidence, skills and knowledge of music leaders working in a SEN/D setting across the Black Country.

It is an incredible opportunity to develop partnership working, for the benefit of both young musicians and music leaders; it also challenges us all to look in more detail at the positive impact of reflective practice and more honestly at the extent to which this is currently embedded in all that we offer.

The Youth Music grant was awarded to Wolverhampton Music Education Hub and the project began in September 2017. Staff from Wolverhampton Music Service have led the project, alongside partners from Soundabout, Rockschool Music Ltd and music leaders from both special and mainstream schools in the city. There has also been a developing partnership between music leaders delivering in a SEN/D setting across the Black Country Music Hubs (Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton) as we have launched a networking group to share good practice, latest research, offer support and ideas and to celebrate learning and our successes.

During my time working on the our music project, I was able to learn able so much from the young people taking part. After each session with the young people, all tutors working on the project sat together to reflect and discuss the things that had worked particularly well, and the areas which we felt could be improved on. This informed our planning and delivery of the next our music workshop, and was a very valuable time.

“The most important lesson I learned from the project overall was never underestimate anybody, as they will constantly surpass your expectations. The enthusiasm and joy the young people took from being able to be part of a music project such as our music was a wonderful and inspiring thing to witness and be a part of”.
Ed, Music Leader

As I write in October 2018, we are now at a mid-point in the project and music leaders in Wolverhampton have just begun work in two new special schools for this year. During the spring term there will, again, be more focus on joint music-making as Wolverhampton Music Service staff are joined by music leaders from Rockschool Music Ltd and children in the special schools are joined by a small group of young musicians from mainstream secondary schools. Many new faces, as well as exciting new musical and social opportunities for all.

Time and time again, my work with Will Taggart from Soundabout has challenged me to look more closely at the experience we offer from the young musician’s perspective: individuals, with individual needs and musical preferences and all with the potential to engage fully with a musical experience which is truly accessible to them. I have reflected on unconditional positive regard as a starting point for every interaction with our young musicians and begun to notice the things which can erode this. When we challenge ourselves to really look, to reflect and learn together, I know that we are already better teachers and musicians. It’s a turning point in our thinking and I am certain that we are developing the confidence and clarity to understand that there is always more to learn and that we want to be there taking part in that.

Confidence, friendship, teamwork and collaborative skills are the most important learning I think the students have learned during this project. I think the pupils have enjoyed learning new instruments and making new friends, also the sense of being ‘selected’. Projects like this are important because creativity is so often side-lined these days even within the arts curriculum. The whole project was great. Special School Music Leader

Music leaders have made extensive use of the Youth Music SEN/D Quality Framework “Do, Review, Improve” 2016. In this development of “Do, Review, Improve”, Drake Music gives examples of good practice and valuable insight into how this resource can be used effectively in a SEN/D setting.

Here is a tool for developing really effective reflective practice, focusing on an evaluation of a young-people centred approach to the learning, music leader practice, session content and the learning environment.

We have also hugely benefited here from having a skilled Soundabout-trained reflective partner. We have learned more about adapting instruments and using assistive technology and have worked to remove disabling barriers to inclusive music-making. This partnership has enabled music leaders to move their own learning on much more rapidly this year and has also had a positive impact on other areas of teaching. Our partnership with Soundabout has helped to inform a revised approach to our Whole Class Instrumental Teaching, in terms of our approaches to meeting the individual needs of pupils and also how we communicate with schools. We have felt better equipped to ask the right questions and schools have been very open to this improved partnership-working. We have begun to develop our understanding of the Sounds of Intent Framework so that we can more confidently map young musicians’ musical attainment and progress and demonstrate this to schools.

“Through the Our Music Project Soundabout has embedded its ethos for child led music making. Using simple music making techniques, a playful approach to sound and silence and providing the opportunity for the child to lead the music making we model an approach that empowers music leaders to unlock the potential in children of all abilities.”
Will Taggart, Soundabout Practitioner

Sometimes we have not got things right first time round. We have reduced the size of our mainstream school groups for the Spring term 2019. Last year we had vibrant music sessions in which there was plenty of evidence that young musicians engaged very fully, both socially and musically, but there were also occasions when resources were stretched thin and a deeper level of social interaction and awareness of the musical preferences and well-being of others took a little longer to fully embed.

The pupils seem to have enjoyed making new friends and making music no matter what their ability. This project is so important because it brings various layers of compassion, understanding and allows the students to show freedom of expression. The students have learned how to interact with different walks of life and gained so much confidence through the joy of making music.
Sharlane, Music Leader

There has also been learning taking place for music leaders around improving planning of jointly- led sessions and an improved focus here has been prioritised in the schedule for the year. There is ongoing work to be done on sharing our learning, both within the work of the project but also across the Music Service and within the Black Country Hubs.
We have also reflected on the need to revise our evaluation methods. Analysis of data around confidence and self esteem clearly demonstrated the positive impact of the project on young musicians in both special and mainstream schools. This was reinforced by the positive responses of parents/carers; data indicated that parents/carers judged the positive impact of the project to be significantly more pronounced than was shown by responses from the young musicians themselves. Effective questioning is an area that we still need to improve on and truly capturing the young musicians’ views on their musical development and improved confidence and well- being relies upon a deep level of trust between young musicians and music leaders. Working more closely with school staff would benefit this, as well as further consideration around allowing appropriate time for the young musicians’ need to reflect before responding.

With a shift in emphasis this year to working with young musicians with more complex needs, we will need to consider the impact of the project on social outcomes and indicators outlined in IEPs, asking those best placed in schools to share their observations. We will also seek responses from pupils more casually and verbally within sessions, looking for appropriate opportunities where this will not impact on the flow of the lesson and is in a context which can be meaningful for the young musician.

Perhaps a more straightforward opportunity to capture feedback was at the Spring term showcases and this was overwhelmingly positive.

“I think I’ve become more confident at playing the keyboard and interacting with others.”
Young Musician

“A disability is only a disability when you’re told you can’t do something. At a mainstream school our daughter was told she couldn’t “do” music. You gave her that back. A thing of beauty and wonder.”
Parent

“Our Music” is, in some part, a celebration of inclusive music-making and an amazing opportunity to record the voices of those from whom we can all learn most.

Sarah Tulley October 2018