November 9, 2018

Early Years Music: Building A Community of Practice in the North West

by Zoe Greenhalgh in News

The first of three Note Weavers regional consultation events was hosted by Music Education Expo in Manchester on October 11th 2018 and was attended by 68 delegates. Entitled “Early Years Music: Building a community of practice in the North West” this World Café style event gathered information and ideas from delegates relating to five different aspects of provision.  Collated into this report, all these responses and comments were offered as contributions to the continuing national debate around the provision of music in early childhood (birth to 5 years).

The questions asked were;

Within your personal field of experience in Early Years provision:

  • What have you found works well? (positive)
  • What challenges have you experienced? (challenges)
  • Without any concern for practicalities, what changes would you like to see? New approaches, innovative ideas, Blue skies thinking (problem solving/developing new ways of working)

These questions were discussed from five different identified aspects of provision and were facilitated by expert guest leaders:

  • Music Education Hubs: Nicola Burke, Tri-borough Music Together
  • Funding: Vicky Merriman; ACE Relationship Manager, Children Young People and Learning
  • SEN/Wellbeing: Ros Hawley, Songbirds/Music and Health
  • Independent practitioners/project work: Lucy Wallace, Brighter Sound
  • Developing practice within Early Years Education: Dr Karen Boardman, Head of Early Years, Edge Hill University


Music Education Hubs  Nicola Burke, Tri-borough Music Together

Music Hub core funding cannot be used for Early Years work.  However, clustering schools to build working partnerships with organisations/schools/settings has been successful and can be funded through creative use of other funding streams. Youth music funding for such projects is also available and now often includes training for Early Years Practitioners and teachers.  One Youth Music funded project included the development of technology – an “app” –  to capture the children’s voice.

Barriers are undoubtedly created by the absence of Early Years in the National Plan of Music Education & Music Hub remit (funding).  The resulting reliance on short term funding streams means that provision is largely piecemeal project work with no evidence of joined up thinking or strategic planning to develop provision for universal access. A lack of knowledge and understanding of Early Childhood Music Education and appropriate pedagogy within Music Services and Music Education Hubs was also identified.

The need for funding for pro musicians to play in early years environments was raised, but this applies to all early years music practitioners (and Early Years Educators as well).  Appropriate levels of pay for both musicians and educators in the Early Years sector would be a huge step forward and would be a positive step towards reducing the high turnover of staff.

The importance of Early Childhood pedagogy and developmental understanding was highlighted. Specialist music training is required:

  • within Early Years Practitioner and Teacher training
  • for managers
  • for qualified practitioners and teachers
  • for musicians

Early Childhood training for music service/hub practitioners, educators and managers is also necessary to gain the understanding of child development and approaches to learning in early years education.

SEN & Wellbeing   Ros Hawley, Songbirds/Music and Health

There is clear recognition of the power of music in SEND where the child is at the centre of the activity; communicating, confidence building, accessible to all, open ended with many possibilities.  Children centred, family friendly and flexible – a space where the child can be in control.

This is a specialist area of provision where training is required.  Children have individual needs requiring practitioners to have a good knowledge of ways to interact and support music learning and engagement which requires expert teaching knowledge to ensure that provision is at an appropriate level and appropriate assessment strategies are employed.

Training is identified therefore to be of great importance.  Residency models of provision in close partnership with setting staff with an integral training element and are seen as very effective. Developing models where all partners contribute means that learning is shared and extended, developing new thinking and innovative models practice.  Working this way requires time to be built in to the provision to enable all involved to talk and reflect (see Tri-Music Together Evaluation Report; Pitt, J. 2018 ).

This group also identified a need for information and professional networks – somewhere to access information and connect with colleagues to share practice and ideas.

      > Note Weavers: Identified need for development

The independent sector – arts organisations, practitioners, project work   Lucy Wallace, Brighter Sound

The relationship between the practitioner and the parents/school/setting/venue was identified as being of paramount importance for successful early years music provision particularly when there is close collaboration from the start. Early Years Practitioners are generally seen as keen to learn from musicians and to be involved. Positive relationships with community venues were identified as helpful in reaching new networks.

Capacity and time management are challenging for independent self-employed practitioners as is the need to transport resources from one venue to another. Difficulties around the engagement of parents during music sessions and managing the expectations of families were also raised. Participation in music sessions is frequently said to be adversely affected by a lack of Early Years Practitioner confidence leading to the suggestion that every early years practitioner should have music training.

The source of many of the difficulties for these independent practitioners related to working relationships.  Identifying the right person to talk to within a setting is often not straightforward and frequently the lack of understanding of early musical development makes these initial conversations difficult.  Managing the expectations of settings and managers and negotiating the working relationship are also seen as challenges.  There is a sense that the power is in the hands of the setting (employer) and the practitioner (employee) is expected to conform and work around the existing timetable and models of delivery.  Hourly paid independent practitioners within this environment may be reluctant to risk losing work by articulating their own expectations and as a result, the relationship between the setting, the teacher and the music practitioner is not always conducive to effective partnership working or quality music education for the children.

      > Note Weavers: Would a framework for independent practitioners to use to negotiate partnership agreements with settings/schools be useful? Does one already exist – Youth Music?

Thoughts for the future were twofold:

  • training for all early years practitioners and
  • a statutory requirement for music education hubs to report on the early years work.

Developing practice within Early Years Education  Dr Karen Boardman, Head of EY, Edge Hill University

There is a recognition that music “fits” well within Early Years Education and that consistency in provision and structure are important elements in fostering the confidence of generalist practitioners.

Knowledge and understanding were identified as potential challenges – for Early Years Practitioners a lack of musical understanding and for music practitioners, insufficient knowledge of child development and poor understanding of how children learn.  In some cases the lack of commitment to the importance/value of music was also identified as a barrier resulting in teachers often not being present in weekly music sessions and children being taken out for targeted interventions during music sessions.  A reduction in music in early childhood generally was recognised with less singing of nursery rhymes etc. and the poor quality of much music provision, particularly in community settings such as libraries.

Thoughts for the future included;

  • The importance of building confidence in the workforce
  • Increasing the importance of music within the curriculum
  • more quality music opportunities for families within the community

Funding Vicky Merriman, Arts Council England, Relationship Manager, Children Young People and Learning

This group felt that the importance of early childhood music education is increasingly being realised. The availability of funding from Youth music was mentioned as was the increasing number of rhyme time music sessions in community venues, in particular public libraries.  Particular reference was made to the successful partnership between the National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYC0S) and Book Trust in Scotland in which NYCoS provides music training for Librarians, thus empowering non-specialists in non-specialist venues to lead music sessions for young children and families in a community setting.  Music for families within community settings was also identified as having an effect on the confidence, and therefore the engagement, of parents as they participate within a familiar local environment; taking the music to where the children and families are.

Difficulties in gaining funding for early years music initiatives was clearing identified, with the absence of Early Years provision within the Music Education Hub remit and the absence of sustainable funding for day to day provision.  Existing funding streams do not enable regular provision or long term strategic thinking due to short term funding cycles (usually 2-3 years). There is also a lack of funding for practitioners to attend training workshops and professional development opportunities.

A lack of knowledge and expertise relating to the preparation of evidence to demonstrate the impact of early years work was identified. Education professionals need help to compile evidence as well as funding to cover the many hours needed to write funding bids.

Resolving these issues featured heavily in the thoughts for the future;

  • Early Years provision (0-5) should be included in the National Plan for Music Education,
  • funding for practitioners to attend training (Fees and/or cover costs).
  • a significant increase in the music content within early years practitioner and teacher training courses
  • fundamental changes the early years curriculum by raising the profile of music in early childhood.
  • music bags scheme along the same lines as Book Trust
  • advocacy with head teachers and academy trusts who are seen to be powerful advocates for music education within their peer groups.


The predominant themes from these discussions were universally raised by all groups as areas for concern and development and none of them were previously unknown! The identified themes were:

  • Relationships: the importance of collaborative partnerships in the provision of programmes of work to effectively support children’s musical development and the need for sufficient time to be built in for these relationships to bear fruit through discussion and reflective practice.
  • Training: the need for specialist training to ensure all partners have a good understanding of early childhood music and early years development/education – at all levels, practitioners and managers.
  • The absence of core funding for early childhood music with no statutory provision by Music Education Hubs in the existing National Plan for Music Education (NPME). Early childhood music must have central funding as a priority so that provision can be universal, strategically planned, joined up and above all, sustainable.

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