by Ben Stevens, Music Director at Hertfordshire Music Service
A music service leader’s experience during the Changing Tracks research project – and why it’s so important to keep sharing, caring and learning about inclusion.
It wasn’t long after I started my role at Hertfordshire Music Service (HMS) in 2019, sitting in an open office behind the team leading the Changing Tracks project, that the discussions I was overhearing across the room distracted me from my induction training programme and made me turn around. This was the start of my own journey at HMS as I joined many colleagues, past and present, all seeking to understand the power of music to improve the lives and life chances of children and young people.
For HMS, Changing Tracks was a fantastic opportunity to learn about and highlight the inspiring inclusive provision delivered across England as well as some of our own work that was either already in progress or in the process of being refined. The project enabled HMS to frame this work through the lens of personal, social and emotional outcomes like never before and this seemed to resonate with other music services who had joined our shared National Inclusion Strategy Group – delivered by music services, for music services. From my own point of view, I felt the forum provided a safe space amongst colleagues to describe what was working well for HMS, but more importantly, what hadn’t gone well. This is often where the best lessons are learnt, and in the spirit of this, I have written some reflections from the last four years to allow anyone reading this article a ‘behind the scenes’ look at our own journey – because sharing is caring.
During the research project, what became clear through regular ‘water cooler’ chats was the
enormous scope and possibilities of inclusive music tuition. The ideas would flow and inspiration
would thrive as I gave these conversations the space and time I felt they deserved. I thoroughly
enjoyed delving ever deeper into the potential impact of our inclusion work and the projects
highlighted by the National Inclusion Strategy Group – it felt great to discuss it all with such insightful colleagues.
With hindsight, the key word here was potential. The scheduled 30 minute catch ups would easily become 90 minute discussions, and before you knew it you had several pages of ideas, implications and impacts that would, ultimately, stay on the page. Similar to having an inclusive mission statement and strategy, until we went through the practical steps of finding suitable teachers, school’s willing to support us, some students to take part – and funding, the impact would remain unachieved.
It wasn’t until we began to position this work as ‘everyone’s responsibility’ across our wider teaching teams (with funding for sufficient staff time and support) that the outcomes started to materialise and our interesting conversations started to bear fruit.
All of this is, of course, obvious – but inclusion is so wide ranging and means so many things to each of us that this first hurdle can be the most difficult one to overcome – where do you start with so many potential outcomes and potential impacts?!
Who is ‘in charge’ of inclusion?
Once we decided which inclusive provision we would be scaling up (in this case it was Creative Music Nurture Groups) the challenge shifted to that age old friend of all music services – demand versus capacity. We knew anecdotally that there were some staff who wanted to be involved in this type of provision and we had a well-designed training and support programme ready for teachers to join, however the emails and newsletters calling for expressions of interest from myself or other leaders in the service flopped and we were no closer to realising significant impact. This is the point at which I learnt about silos and the danger of having a person or small team of people either officially or unofficially ‘in charge’ of inclusion.
I should start by declaring full transparency – Hertfordshire Music Service has an inclusion lead and I personally wrote the job profile. The difference with our Inclusion Development Lead role is that it focuses on developing the opportunities to learn and researching new avenues for partnership rather than being ‘in charge’ of inclusion. Arts Council England stipulates that all of us who lead a Music Hub need to identify a role that is ‘in charge’ of inclusion, but I hope to explain why our learning tells us there’s more to this than a single role.
The challenge we have at HMS is the sheer size of our organisation, and to increase our capacity for delivering inclusive provision requires personal connections across a large group of people. We needed more conversations with more of our staff.
I knew that for the type of change we wanted to achieve at HMS, it would be difficult with a small
leadership team and over 450 staff to have the kind of conversation needed to effect the interest in inclusive music provision we wanted to develop.
In January 2022, I facilitated an all staff training day that was informally titled ‘Why I get out of bed’, and the aim was to get as many teachers as possible together (we got about 150) to describe what they saw as the purpose of their teaching, and the values that make a great teacher. The responses revealed that our teachers clearly already shared the values and purpose of our music service and they gave some inspiring examples of how they achieved the outcomes we were seeking on a daily basis. I took the results of this session and collated the responses into our revised HMS Teaching & Learning Standards which now forms the framework for how we will hold ourselves and each other accountable to our intended purpose – developed by our teachers, for our teachers.
In July 2022, HMS completed the first phase of an organisational structure change that was guided by the learning journey of a student as well as increasing the number of management roles needed to allow time for great conversations. The positive change this enabled was that instead of inclusion being something that a particular person or team was responsible for, it became a key factor in everyone’s work across all stages of the learning process.
The most important lesson I learnt over the last four years was that inclusion is everybody’s
responsibility and just like safeguarding, it needs to be a fundamental and clearly understood part of every single role at a music service or Hub – teachers, managers, operations, finance, HR,
administrators, leaders, board members and students (and any other role I haven’t mentioned!). A small but important element of this was to specify that equality, diversity and inclusion was a key responsibility in the job description for each role in the newly structured music team.
For a while, adapted approaches to music education were championed solely, albeit passionately, by the small team of staff at HMS delivering the inclusive tuition or leading funded projects. There was a sense that inclusion was something that ‘specialist teachers’ did and everyone else was too busy with their normal lessons and ensembles to get involved. Many different teachers felt that inclusive music provision was a step too far given their time limitations – particularly during the COVID pandemic and our move to online learning that was in full swing at the time. The lesson we began to learn after January 2022 was that a teacher’s perception of what ‘inclusive teaching’ is became the main barrier to engaging more teachers in the work. As our staff began to gain the understanding that they’re already teaching in a values led and outcomes driven way, the more our teachers were able to see themselves as inclusive music teachers – not the ‘specialist’ experts they associated with the work previously. Case studies and peer-to-peer support networks enabled a lot of myth busting and rallied more teachers to the cause but we’ve still got a long way to go. A wise person told me recently that change is a journey, not a destination – and we still have much to learn from our colleagues in other services as well as our own staff.
Changing Tracks developed a strong community of practice and development in inclusion which will be vital to continue as we all adapt to the new Music Hubs and the revised NPME. I can’t wait to hit the ground running in September 2023 and attend the next series of Changing Tracks National Inclusion Strategy Group sessions planned during 2023-24.
With the support of both Music Mark and Youth Music, we will continue to convene the National
Inclusion Strategy Group of our peers to respond to developments in NPME, teacher-led research and coming together to share both successes and failures so we can learn from both!
As we all look to find more diverse income streams and investment, I will continue to advocate for working to advance inclusive, child-led learning opportunities with personal, social and emotional outcomes at its heart. For example, HMS now works with 10 different teams at the Local Authority which is now unlocking both grant funding and traded work that supports some of the county’s most vulnerable children and young people. It continues to demonstrate that an inclusive organisation is a resilient organisation and financial sustainability follows as a result.
The opportunity to learn from and support each other, identify key issues to be resolved and share the trials and tribulations of running a music service and/or Music Hub next year means we can improve the lives of more children and young people – and ultimately that’s why we do this job.
I hope to see you at a session in 2023-24 soon and good luck with all the other work between now and then!