What is the particular significance of session planning in musical activity with looked after children?

In musical projects with looked after children where the emphasis is as much on partnership working and on  individual and group development and social pedagogy  as the music itself, an extra dimension of planning is required. These practices are not the norm in some music organisations where the bulk of the work may be ‘simpler’ and the individual musician is responsible for preparing for what is often a lone gig.

Implications for practice

The team work before, during and after the session and the reflective practice that permeates it are core elements of the social pedagogic approach (see Section E).
Session planning and evaluation might involve:

  • pre-session planning in which the whole delivery team including the care workers
    • shares any ‘one-week-after’ reflections on the previous week
    • receives any update from care staff on need-to-know information about changes in children’s circumstances
    • agrees outline roles and responsibilities for the imminent session
  • immediate post-session reflection in which the whole team are able to debrief on
    • what has gone well and why?
    • what has gone less well and why?
    • What the implications are for the next session

As well as check in about how each other is feeling – some sessions can be emotionally intense either because of occasionally difficult behaviour or because of the material surfacing about the young people’s lives through their conversation or song-writing.

This model has implications for the contract under which musicians are employed, ensuring that they are paid for sufficient collective planning and reflection time (in addition to set up and pack up time).

There will be the additional task of the Lead Musician to take the findings of the post-session reflection, pull them together to confirm a session plan for the next session and  follow up any specific interim tasks which may involve occasionally following up absent participants to demonstrate they had been missed and wanted. The lead care worker will also be monitoring the reaction of participants in consultation with their carers.

Illustrations from practice

One project manager on the Sing Up NCB programme wrote:

"In making our plans as a music organisation we have to be aware that while the project is for us our primary responsibility, there were a  number of issues that are impacting on:

  • the staff in the care organisation: – the project is one small piece in the jigsaw
  • care workers – they have full and heavy  workloads
  • artists – most are part-time and have other commitments"

Good plans made with an appropriate degree of collaboration, made for a feeling of security among all involved.
The very high level of organisation of every aspect of the project meant, for one carer, that

"‘It felt safe’. Communication – the regular reassuring phone calls; the personal letters to both the child and the carer. ‘It felt like we hadn’t been forgotten’"
(Foster carer in the Sing Up NCB programme)

A number of projects in the Sing Up NCB programme reflected on the importance of session planning:

"Importance of planning time and debrief time when delivering as a team: this was instrumental in the team working well. Everyone had clear roles and knew what was happening each week as we met up before the session to discuss the plan and strategies. Post session we would fill in an evaluation sheet and discuss how the session went and note down anything that needed to be fed into the following week's planning. It was really important that we had a mixture of artists and staff from CYPS. It meant that we had a broader and deeper understanding of working with Looked After Children. It was also fantastic for both parties to share knowledge, develop new skills and work together."

In another project:

"The great thing we learnt was the music making could be flexible and individualised even in the group settings, as long as we had got the action plan for the delivery in place before hand. This included the right amount of support adults and tutors but without overcrowding the session, a good understanding of the needs and behaviour patterns of the CYP, break times, room layout and basic workshop content to fall back on. Setting rules with the group and have agreed boundaries with the CYP and their carers is very important, especially when working with CYP whose needs are greater. What we gradually came to realize was the Social Pedagogy Model."

Music managers found the input of care staff very helpful:

"A very equal amount of time and effort put into the planning and delivery from both project and programme managers and the centre staff was a driving force in the success of this partnership. K_ (Manager of Independent Fostering service)'s input and sharing into gathering, meetings and evaluation was amazing and very informative, this definitely helped us improve and shape the project as we went along."

And in another project:

"M_  also helped us to compose letters to the children at regular intervals throughout the projects, providing them individual reports about their progress. Throughout the project she liaised with the schools to monitor progress and reporting back on anything that was said about the project in, for example, review meetings. Our partnership came into its own during the delivery days. M_ held all of the information regarding the participants, informing us of anything relevant we might need and arrange transport or other issues. For example, when a birth mother turned up with a child without M’s guidance it would have been difficult for us to know if this was ok. At the beginning M was a familiar face to the carers and children, helping the settling in process. Both H_ and M_ were also able to support any of the children who were finding it a challenge to engage in the session at first."

There was appreciation of how ‘structure’ in planning didn’t necessarily mean ‘stricture’:

A relative lack of structure in sessions and easy relationships nevertheless needed preparation and adequate time for reflection and further plans when the sessions were over. This approach was much appreciated by a singing leader:

“In a school when I was brought in to work on the Gifted and Talented programme I was just left in the room with the children, with no preparation as to what might be done or expected. But with Sing Up, how the activities worked out was more carefully planned than in any other teaching activity I have done ... As little was left to chance as possible.”

In another project a singing leader commented:

"Soon becomes clear that it can become difficult to plan sessions due to the unpredictable nature of the young adults’ lives. Planning always takes place but is often ‘thrown out’ during sessions. But the fact that you’ve done the thinking together means you’re on each others’ wavelength and can build up an alternative quickly."

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