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#MusicMark10: Changes in the Early Years music education sector

26th February 2024

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In this edition of our 10th birthday blog series, Dr Jessica Pitt explores both the positive and negative aspects of the Early Years music education sector over the last decade.

To be invited to write a piece about the last decade of Early Years (EY) music education in England is a privilege and a responsibility. I decided to consult with colleagues via the dynamic Facebook Early Years music group. Ten years ago, the group comprised about 1000 members. Today, the group has an international membership of over 3000. Members work with a variety of music pedagogical methods and approaches. They come with varied experiences: from running parent-child music groups in the community, to school/nursery teachers, leaders in music education hubs, academics and franchise owners. Some music classes are run as private enterprises, some are funded projects, some take place in educational settings and some in community locations.

I asked: What have been the positive aspects in England over the last ten years in the Early Years music world and what have been the challenges?


Positive aspects of the last 10 years

  • Network of colleagues

The online community became a much more important part of practitioners’ support structure during the challenges experienced through the pandemic restrictions.

“There’s something so powerful about forming a community and I do think the importance of this was recognised during the pandemic. We became more recognised as a sector and perhaps became more appreciated by our families.”

“I really feel the open sharing of info, resources and creativity has helped develop each other’s practice  […] It feels like we have a much wider network of colleagues now. […] Now we can take part in learning all over the world. It’s been so wonderful.”

 Greater connection and communication have led to increased understanding of cultural appropriation, a wider appreciation of including musical genres for children under five, with the inclusion of songs in the home language of children.


  • Qualification pathway for Early Years Music

Although it is acknowledged that Early Years remains an unregulated field with questions surrounding quality practice, what is welcomed are professional development programmes, workshops, and seminars now available for early career through to more experienced practitioners.

“A brilliantly positive initiative in 2018, when the Certificate for Music Educators began with the first cohort…Connecting nursery workers, music practitioners and academics, this was a wonderful way to develop personal skills, clarify aspirations and build confidence in the EY music sector.”

The Certificate in Music Education (CME):Early Childhood, brought about by Dr Susan Young, is run by leaders and mentors who have all completed the MA in Early Years music; both courses administered through CREC (Centre for Research in Early Childhood).

These programmes blaze a trail in establishing a qualification pathway for those wanting to specialise in EY.


  • Music for adult wellbeing

Societal shifts in attitudes, perhaps because of pandemic experiences, reveal awareness of the wellbeing impact for adults who attend music groups with their young children:

“Something I’ve noticed is a louder narrative of how early childhood music classes also link with parental (and carer) mental health.”

 Similarly, changing attitudes to parenting are reflected in fathers/male carers taking a more active participatory role with their young children.

“When I started (about six years ago) a dad in a public class was like an endangered species. Now I regularly have dads in the group […] it’s made me think about how I present and deliver my classes…to be welcoming for all.”

 This comment shows the sensitive reflections that characterise the pedagogy needed for working in this complex, multi-layered context of adults and young children participating musically together. Planning is essential, as is a flexible, improvisational participant/learner-centred approach.


Negative aspects of the last 10 years

 The last ten years have seen:

  • Continued lack of centralised funding for Early Years music education and:

“Muddle over NPME – not including under 5s in early version, now including under 5s, but without extra funding. Some MEHs including EY provision […] others not. […]Very uneven provision across the country, and very dependent on committed, knowledgeable individuals.”

  • Continued lack of focus on music in the training of early years educators leading to low confidence and music happening rarely in settings. This combines with a decline in school/nursery budgets with fewer resources available to buy-in music specialists. A concentration on prime areas of learning with drivers of assessment and measurement which also means music is happening less in settings.
  • The demise of SureStart Children’s Centres, where music was frequently offered to families free of charge, has led to widening gaps in access to music in locations where need is high.
  • Static rates of pay, increased cost of living, are a problem for diversifying the EY music workforce. Practitioners are working flat out with little or no time for reflective practice:

“wouldn’t it be great to have a truly diverse field of serious, ambitious practitioners, and for all of us to have proper time to train and reflect that’s not done at 11pm at night!”

  • Impact of technology

a generation of people who experience their music in a different way […] may not sing, make sounds or music with their children […] may choose to play music to them online.”


I imagine that as you read this several aspects will resonate with you in your area of music education. If change is to come for music’s place in society, I argue that it must start with increased interest, understanding and funding for music education for the youngest in society and their caregivers. This comment explains how it feels looking out from our sector:

“We still have challenges in convincing people involved in education, especially politicians and policy makers, of the importance of music in the Early Years. It is particularly difficult to get across to those not directly involved in EY music what it looks and feels like[…]”

My aim has been to demonstrate that EY music practitioners are a connected group who share and discuss actively, are motivated to develop their practice, and are keen to work with other areas of music education, education more widely, and with other disciplines. I want to acknowledge Youth Music who have been vanguards in funding EY music activity and continue their support, by recently nurturing the growth of regional networks for EY music across the country. Finally, thank you to Shirley Stump for starting the Early Years Music Facebook Group, and to my colleagues for helping me represent the last ten years of EY music.


Written by Dr Jessica Pitt, Lecturer in Music Education Royal College of Music, Commissioner for ECME (Early Childhood Music Education) ISME, Trustee of MERYC England (Music Educators and Researchers of Young Children), Director of SoundSense, Co-Director Magic Acorns. Get in touch at