Sounds of Intent SW conference, Colston Hall, Bristol, July 8th

As someone running a Youth Music project with young people who have complex communication and learning needs, I found a lot of interest at this conference. SoundSense asked me to write this short article about the day : if this is your field of interest and you haven't come across Sounds of Intent,or weren't able to make the conference, you could find this useful.

A new tool for assessing the power of music :Sounds of Intent SW conference, Colston Hall, Bristol on July 8th.

‘I believe music is very important to all people, especially to people who find it difficult to communicate through normal means.’

Wise words from one of the Sounds Of Intent Young champions, who opened a useful day of reflection, information sharing and networking, organized by the MUSE project and Sound Splash, the music inclusion programme at Colston Hall.

Teachers and music leaders working with young people with complex needs will have an interest in Sounds Of Intent.

Set up in 2002 to investigate and promote the musical development of children and young people with learning difficulties, this research project has developed an online resource for music educators.

Why do we need this resource?

The keynote speech was presented by Professor Adam Ockleford, Sounds of Intent research leader.

He asked us to consider that we don’t have a picture of how children with complex needs develop musically. He posited that Ofsted reports, for example, tend to talk about music sessions in terms of anything but music. With progressive assessment, children with more profound needs can have ‘spiky’ profiles, developing faster in some areas. Professor Ockleford recognises that often the ’spikes’ are to do with music, because of the fundamental, repetitive nature of music, which makes it a precursor to language skills. Musical encounters and experiences need to be acknowledged and assessed in their own right.

Sounds of Intent’s framework of musical development covers the whole range of abilities from profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) to those with autism, with or without exceptional musical abilities.

The Sounds of Intent framework deals only with music. Suitable for those presenting at ‘early’ P levels to an equivalent of National Curriculum level 3, it aims to enable those working with children with learning difficulties or autism to offer more effective support in engaging with music as an activity in its own right, as well as better enabling them to use music as a scaffold to structure other learning and development.

The Sounds of Intent framework is a free online toolkit, confidential and – we’re told! – easy to use. Data can be collated and graphs generated to measure progressive engagement.

The system is presented as a coloured circle of concentric segments. It is visually pleasing, drawing the eye in, cleverly sidestepping linear or hierarchical lists. It comes across as something seamless, organic.

The next layer is (necessarily) a list: this is the portal to strategies, and interpretations of engagement, allowing for an in depth level of assessment.

Who is it for?

About 200 schools are already using the framework, which is being rolled out across the country by the music charity Soundabout. There will be free training available to schools in the coming months, and the University of Roehampton is developing a PGCert in the use of Sounds of Intent.

There is learning in this framework for practitioners outside the formal sector, too. Sounds of Intent asks us to consider that musical engagement can be broken down into three domains:


Using this as a starting point can help us plan more effectively, and may help us to evidence what we do, and have more meaningful discussions with funders.

At the conference, music leader Alex Lupo shared his experience of piloting the Sounds of Intent framework in a school. (The Sounds of intent pilot is led by Drake Music, who will be rolling it out nationally.)

Alex worked closely with three members of staff, and ten early years pupils, over six months. The children were following the national music curriculum. Quotes from the staff included:

‘You could drop it into classes where staff are struggling to show pupils’ progress.’

‘They are achieving something – it’s not what we planned, but we should recognize that.’

‘It can be used to capture those magic moments of freedom and expression, beyond the confines of a structured music ‘lesson’.’

Alex’s’ finding was that everyone can, and is, using it differently.

Is it a useful tool?

Practitioners working in this field, both in and out of ‘formal’ educational settings, will know that music does engage young people through interaction, reaction, and pro-active learning. Often, we find that words do not adequately describe the impact of the activity, or capture the unexpectedly joy of instances of musicality.

Fresh methods for defining of those ‘magic moments’ could result in a wider recognition of the benefits of music in special educational needs settings.

If Sounds Of Intent can give us an insight into the range of ways young people with complex needs engage with, and develop through, the use of music, then we have an important new tool that should be shared and used.





Jane Harwood, August 2013

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