Working with trainees

  • by alex lupo

    Wednesday, 7 October, 2015 - 20:45

I’m in the early stages of working as the SEND activist for the Bristol Plays Music ‘A New Ambition’ project.

I’m in the early stages of working as the SEND activist for the Bristol Plays Music ‘A New Ambition’ project. Whilst that seems like a lot of words to describe my role, it really boils down to me being responsible for best practice across two distinct projects that are being funded by Youth Music’s Fund C funding. This means that I’ll be working in partnership with two leading organisations in the world of SEND and music.; Drake Music and OpenUp Music. I am also responsible for supporting a number of trainees across the two projects, and this is what I’ve decided to write about today.

I’ve worked on several projects in the past where recruiting suitable trainee music leaders was built in to the project planning, and crucially was a requirement of the funding. On more than one occasion I have really struggled to find the right person or people to work as trainees. I think that there are a certain number of things that need to be in place for a trainee to benefit from this kind of opportunity and of course for the project to benefit in a meaningful way. My experience tells me that an ideal candidate needs to be committed & motivated, they need to be interested in their own development in a very real way and have the appropriate musical skills. This is a list of skills and attributes that is difficult for everyone to satisfy. Couple this with the sometimes complex world of SEND, where sensitivity and an understanding of the health needs, both physiological and psychological of young people with profound levels of need, and it becomes even harder to identify the right candidate.

So how do we go about identifying these trainees? And how do we try and make it meaningful and mutually beneficial? In the case of the Open School Orchestra project we have worked with one of the SEN schools in Bristol where the project is being piloted this year, and through this partnership we have identified the right person, and signs of the mutual benefit are already apparent.

This is where Tom comes in; Tom is a teaching assistant who already works in the school, not only that but he is an established musician on the vibrant Bristol music scene. Combine these qualities with a tenacity to get involved and learn, and a willingness to develop himself both professionally and personally and we have the right candidate! Tom is going to be able to combine and develop two existing areas of his life that he is passionate about, those being SEND and music. The Open School Orchestras project is going to have an opportunity to invest in someone in a meaningful way and that meaningful investment is in turn going to be really valuable to the school. The emphasis on mutually beneficial investment here is crucial as well as the focus on good, solid partnership working.


I’m really excited to get to work closely with Tom over the following 12 months and to see how everyone who has invested in his development are going to benefit, probably in all sorts of unexpected ways.

66 reads


Count Me In's picture

This sounds like an excellent opportunity all round.It's great to have a teaching assistant on board with embedded projects.

It certainly benefits all projects to have trainees on board, not least because it means as a delivery team, you have to think clearly about your methods, aims and outcomes in order to explain and model well. And it's a huge opportunity for the trainee, to have experiential learning and be hands on in supported situations.

Meaningful investment is the key term. When you're working in schools you do need the school to be fully on board too - to release teaching assistants from class duties, and have the courage to support trainees to share their skills within the school.
It needs senior management teams to fully recognize the potential and embed these new approaches for it to be worthwhile - though of course the trainee is learning transferable skills that will work in other music settings. I wonder how many teaching staff are also excellent musicians but don't get to use this in their daily work? Quite a few, at a guess.

Another question that comes up is about the ongoing professional development of trainees, and how we can monitor practice long term, beyond the life of funded projects. Trainee placements tend to be as good as the people who deliver them, but it's a two way thing, and the trainee needs to know what next steps are - both the school and the lead organisation can work together on this one.