Tri-Music Together: an Early Years workforce development project

The Tri-borough Music Hub in London is leading a collaborative project to improve music-making provision for children aged 0-5. Tri-Music Together is offering training opportunities for teachers and music leaders working in Early Years settings (nursery schools; children’s centres; private, voluntary and independent nurseries) across the boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster. It’s aiming to provide a joined-up approach to Early Years music-making in the area.

Children aged 0-5 aren’t included in the government’s National Plan for Music Education, meaning that Early Years music-making isn’t covered by the core funding that Music Education Hubs receive. But the Tri-borough Hub saw the value of including Early Years music-making in its wider music education strategy too, and successfully applied for additional Youth Music funding to make it happen, receiving a two-year grant for the project. 

Tri-Music Together has a specific focus on supporting Early Years practitioners (i.e. those teaching children aged five and under) working with low-income families and children in challenging circumstances in the area’s 12 most deprived wards. Ultimately, the project will have an impact on children aged 0-5, as well as their families, across the whole Tri-borough area.

Partnering up across the Tri-borough

Stuart Whatmore, Manager of the Tri-borough Music Hub, says: “When I came into this job I was aware that there wasn’t much Early Years music happening centrally in the area, but there were lots of organisations who were delivering good Early Years work – so I put a call out to see who would be interested in working together more strategically”.

An initial meeting led to the formation of the Tri-borough Early Years Music Consortium (TBEYMC). Led by the Hub, the group includes the children’s centre leads for each of the three boroughs, plus nine notable arts organisations: Chickenshed Kensington & Chelsea, Creative Futures, Inspire-works, Music House for Children, Royal Albert Hall, Royal College of Music, Sound Connections, The Voices Foundation and Wigmore Hall.

One of the major issues the consortium sought to address was communication. The lack of central co-ordination of Early Years music-making meant parents and carers weren’t finding out about the opportunities available to their children. And likewise, Early Years practitioners didn’t have a ‘go-to’ source of information about music activities, training and resources.

When you include private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries, there are over 100 different Early Years settings across the 12 focus wards and wider area – so co-ordinating them is a challenge. The consortium partners identified the need for a detailed map of the area’s current Early Years music delivery, so that gaps in provision could be filled and duplication avoided. Alongside this, there was a big opportunity for everyone involved to share practice, learn from each other, and establish greater consistency in how Early Years music is taught and evaluated across the Tri-borough area.

The Hub also carried out research which showed that Early Years practitioners in the area were keen to gain skills and expertise in teaching music. Stuart adds: “There’s a disparate and isolated workforce out there that is looking for a hook in their local area and they will engage if a supportive network is created and maintained.”

New skills and new ideas

October 2016 saw the project’s official launch event – staff from all the area’s Early Years settings were invited. Since then there’s been a wide variety of training, continuing professional development (CPD) and events on offer – aimed both at the music leaders from the partner organisations, and at Early Years practitioners and teachers from settings across the area.

“There’s a real range of people involved,” says Stuart, “from those with massive experience in Early Years music-making to those who are really new to it. The training is very inclusive and it’s at everyone’s level. It’s about reflective practice: no matter how experienced someone is, we can all learn.”

The project intends to develop skills on two fronts. For the specialist music leaders, it’s about helping them improve their understanding of the Early Years Foundation Stage and the various ways that children learn and develop during this phase.

And for the Early Years professionals, it’s about strengthening their music-leading skills and helping them feel more confident delivering music in their setting. To help with this, just one part of the project will see the TBEYMC run 27 one-day sessions in Early Years settings across the project’s 12 focus wards.

Early Years music in practice

A specialist musician from one of the partner organisations will come in to teach music for a day, working alongside and supporting the setting’s own staff. The Early Years team can choose to focus on themes including using instruments with children, creating space for musical activity, children’s musical development, developing their repertoire of songs, planning for age-appropriate music sessions, inclusive musical activities for all children, and how staff can strategically place music and the arts within their planning.

Stuart knows how complex and demanding Early Years music teaching can be from his first-hand experience. “There’s a misconception that because it’s working with babies and children, it’ll just be a shaky egg and ‘Wheels on the Bus’ – which it is at certain points! But I always maintain that it’s some of the hardest teaching you’ll ever do, because of the pace and variety and constant reading the room – you’ve got to have empathy skills, you have to be responsive.”

He’s also seen the positive outcomes of Early Years music-making and how children carry these through to the next stages in their development. “There’s a massive positive impact on non-verbal communication – following the leader, call and response – which leads through to much better confidence. And music-making can really help develop children’s movement too.”

Generating a buzz

The upcoming training opportunities will cover aspects of Early Years music education including Dalcroze methods (using movement to help children develop musical expression and understanding) and a singing day for music leaders and Early Years professionals.

Alongside the training, there’s an ongoing drive to raise awareness of the project and its activities, including a Twitter page and Facebook group. The Hub also held a well-attended networking day for staff from settings and partner organisations to share ideas. “There’s already a real community developing,” says Stuart. Everyone is there for the learning which they will get from it. The Royal Albert Hall, for example – they’re arguably the world’s leading music venue, currently delivering a small amount of Early Years work and they’re really interested in how they could learn more.”

Understanding children’s needs

“But there’s so much more to do,” he adds. One of the project’s main aims is for the Hub and the partner organisations to develop a better understanding of the needs of pre-school children in challenging circumstances across the Tri-borough area – as well as the needs of the parents, carers and staff responsible for them.

The challenges these young children face include a range of issues from delays in development, to having English as an additional language, to difficulties around parenting. “We need to understand the needs of the children to be able to support the settings,” says Stuart.

It’s early days, and the more the Hub and the partner organisations work together with the various education settings, the clearer the picture will become. We’re getting feedback all the time and collating evaluations of everything we do,” says Stuart.

Learnings and legacy

With a group of very busy project partners and hundreds of different settings to co-ordinate, concise and clear messaging from the Hub is essential.

“Communication is the biggest challenge all round,” explains Stuart. “We need to engage better with senior leaders within the various settings to ensure that they are looking at the strategic long-term importance of supporting music and the creative arts. And we need to find a way of ensuring that everyone engaged in our project is tasked with sharing their learning back in their setting or situation.”

Although overseeing the project has entailed a lot of work, Stuart and the Tri-borough Hub team are positive about the results so far and optimistic about the project’s longer-term impact. It’s creating a network of Early Years music practitioners which can be sustained once the project’s funding ends. And those taking part are developing new expertise and knowledge in Early Years music-making that can be retained, used and shared further afield in future. 

The Tri-Music Together team are currently in conversations with the British Association of Early Childhood Education with a view to working together to produce free guidance on understanding children’s musical development and how to develop music provision in Early Years settings. This guidance will be available online and free to access.

A model for other Hubs?

The Tri-borough area is fortunate to have a rich variety of arts organisations, businesses and venues that the project has been able to tap into. But a similar approach could be adopted by other Hubs wherever they are in the country.

Stuart says the starting point is to ask questions. How do Hubs know what happens before they start to work with children aged 5? What do Hubs offer for children aged 5? Could Hubs look at running CPD for their workforce focused on the pedagogy of childhood development, and how this learning might positively impact how they work with children of all ages?

“People’s time is the biggest resource, so it’s about taking a strategic approach and responding within the current limitations.”

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Image from the ‘Chamber Tots at Globe Primary School’ project run by Wigmore Hall, one of the TBEYMC partners. Photo by Benjamin Harte.

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