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Making it count: How Sheffield Music Hub champions school music with Music Mark

8th December 2017

by Stephanie Kennedy

One of the exciting parts of my role here at Music Mark as Communications and Marketing Manager, is that I get to hear about all the great work happening across our membership. Of course, there are challenges and uncertainly at what lies ahead after 2020 when the Current National Plan for Music Education comes to an end, but there are also some incredible success stories. Inspiring and inspired hub leaders and partners, practitioners, teachers and pupils, are contributing to the ever-changing, and at times fascinating landscape of music education and music generally.

Celebrating success and keen to raise the profile of quality music education practice is Ian Naylor, Head of Sheffield Music Hub. As part of the hub’s strategy to help schools develop teacher confidence and broad and outstanding musical learning, ten schools were rewarded with Music Mark membership during the Sheffield Music Hub 2017 Conference. Before the other 150 delegates, all “great innovative people doing great stuff” as Ian describes them, Key Note Speaker and Doncaster’s well-renowned Jazz Trombonist Dennis Rollins presented the awards and Music Mark certificates. Whilst Sheffield boasts a strong music tradition and a number of world-famous rock bands to its name, including Arctic Monkeys, Pulp and The Human League, these schools have stood out for their hard work, determination and achievements, despite the odds.

I learn this catching up with Ian over the phone. Lively and keen to share the success of his city, Ian explains the different schools that were considered for Music Mark membership and those that didn’t quite make it. “When we say ‘despite the odds’, we are really thinking about those who are trying their best in the face of adversity, individuals who have fought for change despite, for example, a Head who gives little value to music education. Really, what we wanted to do is celebrate the people who have such dedication, commitment and charisma that they leave their leadership with no choice but to continue music education at their schools!”

Success then, is about effort, not necessarily about being the best. Following the awards ceremony, one teacher approached Ian and asked why they hadn’t qualified for a Music Mark certificate. “Their school is located in a middle-class area and has a well-resourced and lively music department. However, the school’s population is 28% black and minority ethnic but the music department is almost exclusively white!” Ian chuckles in disbelief. “Their department may be thriving, but it needs to reflect the diversity of the pupils at the school. “

Championing schools and putting them at the front and centre has been at the heart of the Sheffield Music Hub’s mission since its formation. The successes of today however have not come easily and it is only recently that some schools can start to boast of a music department with direction and purpose. Progress has been the fruit of relentless pressure, constant dialogue between the hub, practitioners and school staff, and more meaningful and supportive relationships with schools, making up for years of neglect that had left many music teachers isolated and music departments abandoned.  “Ofsted gave us all a roasting when their Music in schools: what hubs must do report was released in 2013”. Indeed, the report was a wake-up call for many and prompted Music to articulate a response. “Still, we had been trying to reconnect with schools since before then, but Ofsted helped us formalise our approach.”

Since then, Sheffield Music Hub has met with each of its 174 schools in the city. “For all of these meetings, we insisted that the Head was present. If they were not available, we would come back at another time. We believed that while you can have a great conversation with a music teacher, if the leadership is not behind them, in many cases nothing will happen.” As a result of these meetings, both the Hub and school would come up with a set of actions and a personalised music planner. “We want to support schools and promote their hard work and efforts”, Ian continues. “We call Champion Schools those that have meaningfully championed music education and we send them a huge banner. 90 schools in the city now have these banners outside their gates!” The initiative has helped spread the word about music education across the city, inspired others to join in and highlighted the value of incorporating music into the curriculum in a more meaningful way. Such has been the popularity and effectiveness of the banner, Ian tells me it is now the schools that ring in asking for their own.

Sheffield Music Hub “Champion School” banners outside schools in Sheffield.

This progress is due in large part to the hub’s deeply personalised relationship with its schools and practitioners. Music teachers are called Music Leaders and are responsible not only for the teaching, but also to work strategically with schools and help advance both the objectives of the hub and the action plans for the school. “They don’t just parachute into the school and then out again. They sit down with the head and really embed themselves into the school community. That’s why we can deliver 100% data back to Arts Council England. We are very proud of this data return.”

Awarding schools in Sheffield with the Music Mark certificate has meant that all this hard work is getting the recognition it deserves. “Teachers are doing so much for their kids. They attend all events, conferences, workshops; they take their kids everywhere and inspire them. And what the kids are doing, from playing the violin to DJing- it’s just spectacular!”

Spectacular indeed, and once our conversation is over, I realise just how contagious Ian’s positivity is. Maybe making a difference starts with spreading good news.


School Membership is only available in partnership with, and through nomination by, its local Music Education Hub. For more information on Music Mark membership, click HERE.