In the next installation of our #MusicMark10 blog series, Inclusion Specialist Ben Sellers, from the MEHEM Uprising! Project, reflects on inclusivity in music education settings, sharing how things have changed over the last decade, and looking forward into the future.
Ten years ago, as Music Mark was saying its first hello to the world, I could often be found cycling around London with a bag full of instruments, taking my first steps (pedals?) as an assistant workshop leader with Drake Music. This mostly took the form of projects in special ed schools, exploring how assistive music technology could unlock the potential of pupils with cognitive and physical impairments.
These projects were often funded by music hubs – themselves recently formed – and seemed a welcome but separate addition to their core offer. There wasn’t much talk of musical progression for pupils with additional needs, precious few accessible ensembles or qualifications, and special school instrumental tuition was often taught by dedicated classroom teachers rather than specialist hub-based tutors.
Fast forward a decade, and I see a transformation in hub-led inclusive provision. For many hubs, inclusion has become a central element of the design and delivery of all provision, based on an increased understanding of what inclusion is: a moment-to-moment feeling of belonging in the music-making space, and in the music itself.
This manifests in many areas of provision. Accessible ensembles have sprung up all over the country, working with many different cohorts and using many different models. From Open Up’s National Open Youth Orchestra and regional Soundabout Choirs to smaller, school and hub based ensembles, many more pupils are now able to access meaningful ensemble provision.
Connected to this, a far greater range of accessible instruments are now on the market and used in a variety of settings, from first access tuition to professional ensembles. Particularly worthy of mention are Eyegaze and head-tracker technologies that support people with limited movement, VR systems that allow pupils with social anxiety to prepare for group music-making situations, and the coming together of Disabled musicians and community technologists in ‘Hackathon’ style events that enable individual instruments to be created to meet individual needs. Lancashire Music Service is one hub working to embed this across its provision by establishing an ‘accessible instrument library’ alongside its traditional instrument loan service.
Importantly, given that roughly 16% of all mainstream school pupils ‘receive SEN support’, solid inclusion training is increasingly available to instrumental tutors working in mainstream settings. As part of the MEHEM UpRising project, we have been encouraging tutors to apply the Social Model of Disability in their lessons, fitting all aspects of learning – communication style, lesson structure, use of notation – to their pupils and asking school staff the golden question: ‘what would progress/success look like for…?’. Inspiring Music’s Count Me In project takes this principle a step further, offering pre-WCET nurture groups for smaller cohorts.
Finally, it is encouraging to see examples of institution-based training and research being applied in the classroom. The Sounds of Intent assessment framework has been reimagined as Count Me In!, a set of differentiated song-based resources (not be confused with the Inspiring Music resources above!). Bristol Beacon pioneered an ‘Inclusive Practitioner CME’ programme, and Rosie Rushton’s recent Musical Play Framework for pupils with PMLD sets out a clear approach to the unique pedagogy necessary for working with this cohort.
There is no doubt that the next ten years will see huge changes to music education, and that much of this will be out of our control. Part of me, for example, is very much looking forward to the day that I can jam with a Charlie Parker hologram playing AI generated Charlie Parker-style licks. Another part of me finds this same idea quite sad.
I like to focus on what is in our near future, and in our power to influence. I would love to work in a world where the warmth and specialist knowledge present in special schools was integrated with mainstream provision, removing the idea of ‘special education’ entirely and allowing all young people to learn and socialise together, regardless of need. This is already happening to some extent in specialist provision/units within mainstream settings, and music projects that integrate specialist and mainstream settings offer a simple yet powerful opportunity to use music as the context for increased integration.
I would also love to see hubs get creative when it comes to expanding their workforce. Live Music Now’s ‘Inspire’ model takes early career musicians from all backgrounds, gives focussed training, then places them in progressively more immersive projects in special ed settings. Hubs could apply this approach to musically-minded teaching assistants, community leaders, FE college graduates, and even senior youth orchestra members. This would break down some traditional barriers to entry and nurture a workforce that reflects the young people and musical styles it seeks to engage with.
Finally, I am excited by what I have seen of the new Hub Inclusion Lead role, as set out in the 2022 National Plan for Music Education . I am observing how, in the East Midlands, newly in-post Inclusion Leads are connecting hubs’ various strands of inclusion work, identifying gaps, and more effectively understand and speak to the intersection of a given individual’s background, needs and interests. I glimpse a music hub of the near future: a gathering point, incubator and amplifier for all those young people for whom struggle has given them something important to say through music.
Ben Sellers leads the MEHEM Uprising! Project. UpRising has created the Resource Balloon, a set of free resources that cover PMLD music-making, inclusive ensembles, curriculum development and much more – www.uprisingballoon.com.