On Thursday 19th October, we ran our first major Musical Inclusion SEN/D Conference scheduled as part of our current Youth Music Fund B project, “Music Forge”. The conference was designed to showcase the full range of our musical inclusion activities along with SEN/D projects being delivered by some of our Hub Delivery Partners. The target audience consisted of school teachers and music/arts specialists working within special schools and DSP units across Northamptonshire and Rutland (NB: NMPAT is the lead organisation for both the Northamptonshire and Rutland Music Education Hubs).
Whilst we had run smaller scale events in the past, which we have usually dubbed “seminars”, or perhaps collaborated with partners on larger initiatives, as we did last year with the Education Department at the University of Northampton as part of their Erasmus funded “Digital Learning Across Boundaries” programme, this was our first major conference event delivered entirely under the auspices of the Musical Inclusion programme team.
Planning for the conference started back in Spring 2017, with meetings and discussions being held across our two main partnership networks:
- The Northamptonshire Music Education Hub Delivery Partners Forum
- The Musical Inclusion Forum
The former comprises music/arts organisations and artist-led micro businesses currently active delivering music education across Northamptonshire, whilst the latter represents the network of organisations and agencies, many from the third sector, who we’ve been working with as part of “Music Forge”; these organisations work in many different sectors and typically target and support specific groups of children and young people in challenging circumstances – e.g. Northamptonshire Carers, Hospital and Outreach Education, the Northamptonshire Association of Foster Carers etc.
The first things discussed were around who the target audience would be, as well as the content of sessions and who were the right people and organisations to deliver them. Our initial thoughts had been to look outside of Northamptonshire and Rutland to see who was engaged in delivering high quality inclusion work in the SEN/D sector. Whilst this was not our final direction for the conference, this initial approach lead to quite a bit of research and pooling of information from partners. A useful exercise in itself!
However, as discussions progressed, a number of our partners felt that, in point of fact, there was plenty of good practice already in operation across the two counties. So the idea was mooted that perhaps the local sector would be better served if the conference focussed on celebrating and disseminating the achievements of existing SEN/D and Musical Inclusion activities, and ensure the conference could be used as a platform to engage with a much wider constituency than we currently have capacity to do.
At this point the die was cast and the direction ahead was clear. Given our preferred target audience, there was still some concern as to whether we would be able to attract a large enough pool of delegates, especially given the difficulties many of our school-based colleagues have securing time off site. Of course, we decided to go ahead, but very much aware that we would need to put a major effort into marketing and publicising the conference.
In the end, we managed to attract around 45 delegates with 12 out of 14 of local special schools represented. Our main schools conference in the Summer, typically attracts around 50 delegates across the whole sector, so given the target audience here was more constrained and focussed, we were quite pleased with the final figures… and actually, just the right size for our delegate hall and the size of the breakout sessions.
The morning consisted of presentations to the whole delegation, including the keynote at the start of the day, followed by presentations and performances by SEN/D groups who’ve been working with our Musical Inclusion Team over the past year.
Overall, we felt there were two main highlights of the day. One was the keynote speech by musician, composer and music leader, Sigrun Griffiths. Her session, entitled “The impact of being heard: the powerful experience of having a voice in a creative setting”, superbly set the tone for the day exploring the concept of inclusion in musical activities and gradually focussing delegates down to some specific issues around SEN/D children and young people. Perhaps the most impactful element of her presentation was the practical music-making activities she led delegates through. These helped to bring theory to life, and not only demonstrated Sigrun’s supreme skills as a creative musician herself, but also showed everyone that with the right attitude and approach, there is no great mountain to climb… no absolute barrier to leading musicians sessions and can be undertaken by colleagues with a wide variety of different skill sets and experiences.
The second highlight was the presentations by two of the SEN/D groups we have been working with. First up was the Youth CHAOS group who had travelled in all the way from Oakham in Rutland. This group of young people – aged 16 plus and all with some sort of learning and/or physical difficulty - meets every Saturday morning (“CHAOS” is actually an acronym of “chatty, happy, activities on a Saturday”), and work with members of our Musical Inclusion Team, most notably Kate Rounding, Daniel Johnson and Akshay Sharma. The sessions have a strong focus on music technology (especially DJ-ing, MC-ing, and Beatboxing) and, at the conference, the young people demonstrated some of the skills they had learned together with the musicians. The confidence and subtlety of their musical expression was particularly noteworthy, as well as their professionalism and approach to performing in public.
The second group was our “Inclusive Ensemble” from Friar’s Academy (a special school in Wellingborough for 11-16 year olds). They performed their song, “I’ll Be There for You”, along with members of the Musical Inclusion Team (Jon Kendall, Anna Marie Whittaker Johnson, Joel Barford) with whom they had been working over much of the course of the last academic year.
Of course, the practical demonstrations of the pupil’s work and achievements were also a very tangible and powerful way of demonstrating to delegates the value of the activities and see some of our successful and well-trialled methodologies in action.
Following lunch, the afternoon was structured around six breakout sessions, four of which focused on some of our current Music Forge projects:
- Relaxed Singalong: members of our Relaxed Singalong team talking about their monthly sessions at our Kettering Centre, the conception behind the project, and its evolution over the past couple of years.
- Interactive Piano: pianist, Rebecca Price’s, innovative approach to 1-2-1 teaching of SEN/D children.
- Sound Control: our partnership project with Goldsmiths, University of London, combining machine learning technologies with computers and digital input devices to create new bespoke musical instruments for SEN/D children and young people.
- Beats and Bars: an interactive session with beatboxer, Akshay Sharma, and DJ, Daniel Johnson, exploring the use of commercially available music technologies (e.g. loop stations) and urban styles to engage young people in creative and immersive music making.
- Reach the Stars: a consultation session for school teachers wanting to find out more about NMPAT’s new SEN/D schools programme.
- Music Technology for Building Community Skills: an interactive session with Helen Caldwell from the University of Northampton and some of her students, exploring how new music technologies and readily available digital devices, can be part of a holistic approach to music-making.
(NB: Full descriptions of these sessions are available via the attached documents.)
Reaction to the conference as a whole was extremely positive. Some comments about what delegates learned, observed and/or enjoyed included:
“Brilliant workshops, short and sharp but delivering enough content to raise awareness of the options and brilliant hands-on demos. I learnt a lot. XXX [delegate’s son] enjoyed the Beat Box workshop as always and loved the singing at the end.”
“Discovering I had at least a small amount of music ability during the first session (‘impact of being heard’).”
“Helping us to understand how simple it can be to incorporate music in a meaningful way into the curriculum.”
“Have a go. Have fun. There are no wrong answers.”
“Thank you for making us feel welcome and keep up all the good work in musical inclusion – sounds like there’s lots going on to explore further.
“To see young people at ease contributing.”
“Keep on keeping on! Awesome work with amazing potential.”
“An excellent conference with relevant and interesting content. Eager for the next one.”
“Absorbing new tech into organic situations.”
“Exploring alternate ideas in composition and making more effective use of music technology.”
“New ideas for composing.”
“With right support and resources every child can access quality music provision!”
In terms of what we learned from running the conference, some standout points include:
- There is obviously a lot of enthusiasm for, and belief in, the power of music for benefitting SEN/D children and young people, and a clear appetite to find out more about what’s on offer.
- The importance of providing age appropriate activities, especially for older SEN/D students, even those with profound and multiple learning difficulties.
- The need some colleagues have to re-ignite their enthusiasm and creativity in an increasingly pressured environment… and the role the Hub can have in nurturing this!
- Seeing how the SEN/D young people involved in the conference sessions contributed with confidence and a high degree of professionalism.
There’s a lot more to say about the day, which concluded with a meditative like singing session led by Sigrun… but we have attached the conference papers so you can get a full picture of the day for yourself.
Most of the musicians working on “Music Forge” and NMPAT’s Musical Inclusion Programme, are freelance… so if any of the work on offer at the conference is of interest, please do contact us and we can connect with some of individuals and organisations concerned.