by Author Katy Robinson

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Exchanging Notes launch event: notes from our panel discussion

Photo of Drum Works participants drumming - credit Gar Powell-Evans

Exchanging Notes was an innovative four year partnership project between music organisations and schools, funded by Youth Music. On 22 May 2019, Youth Music and Birmingham City University launched a report of the findings from this project, which you can read here.

BCU also hosted a lively launch event, which gave projects, researchers, and music educators the opportunity to discuss the findings from the project, and the implications for further work. This blog contains the notes from a great panel discussion, which took place at the launch event and was chaired by Youth Music's CEO, Matt Griffiths.

Panel members:

Kris Halpin – artist, educator, facilitator
Melissa Uye-Parker – musician, former secondary school teacher, PhD candidate
Jennifer McKie – Head of Service at Lincolnshire Music Education Hub (MEH)

Chaired by Matt Griffiths


“Finding a voice in music education is interesting”: overcoming impostor syndrome

Music leader Kris noted that he can suffer from ‘impostor syndrome’. At the outset of his music leader career, having come from a successful career as a touring and recording artist, making the move into a formal education setting “despite just being a bloke who mucks about with music technology” was daunting. However, he noted that his kind of professional experience is often interesting and exciting to young people – they find it impressive that musicians have worked with particular artists, or toured, and therefore often engage with you differently.

“This is a really fascinating bridge”: connecting people from different backgrounds

Mel was struck by the social impact of this project. Having come from a youth work background as well as having worked in a secondary school, she found it ‘fascinating’ to see the impact the community music organisations could have on involving young people who might not traditionally be engaged with classroom music.

“Why can’t every school do that?!”: embedding the learning more widely

As a Head of Service for a Music Education Hub, Jen has experienced a lot of different types of school music lesson. She’s seen examples where schools in her county are already delivering excellent music projects that integrate the recommendations in the report, but recognises that the expectations placed on school headteachers, SLTs, governors by bodies such as OFSTED etc., often pose barriers to creative and participatory music-making . She suggested that ‘it’s time to do this, but we need to put the right level of support in to make that happen’.

“The legacy of the project becomes really important”: sustaining the provision after the funding runs out

When discussing the ways in which this kind of work can become embedded in schools, Kris notes that we need to be wary of ‘parachuting in’. Mel agreed, relaying this to her own experience of teaching in a school and setting up a good presence of music technology in her classroom. Developing partnerships to sustain provision is important - when she left the school to study her PhD, her colleague contacted Charanga, who have been able to offer their advice and feedback on a more ongoing basis.

“Looking for opportunities going forward, this is fantastic”: examples of other projects like this taking place

When the discussion was opened up to the floor, several people commented that the Exchanging Notes project and its report will pave the way for some excellent new projects to take place. One observer noted that in the Midlands, there are some interesting projects trying to engage young people not currently in mainstream education, but that these often use more traditional models.

Jen from Lincolnshire MEH discussed a project that they’re running with Lincolnshire One Venues, which involves putting young people in the ‘driving seat’ when it comes to their musical education. The young people they’ve worked with have been co-creating music performances in professional venues and working with professional musicians to do this. One thing Jen notes as particularly important here is partnership, with MEHs looking to strengthen their partnerships in order to ensure their funding goes further.

“Musicians teaching, and teachers becoming musicians”: training and identity development for music leaders and teachers

A question came from the floor around the kind of training or development the music leaders might need in order to understand how to fit into a school environment.

Victoria Kinsella from the research team at Birmingham City University offered some interesting insights about language and approach, which led to a discussion about the practices and expectations that each partner brings. Music organisations had a ‘community based understanding’ about how they wanted to conduct the project, but would often find themselves being limited by the performance targets of the school. Opening up the different ways of working and understanding the challenges that each partner faced was key to moving forward and considering how to work together.

One Exchanging Notes project offered an interesting point about differences in young people’s behaviours in school and out-of-school, and different tolerances of behaviour. They noted that in school, the music leaders might carry themselves in different ways, or adopt more formal disciplines as they became school representatives.

Another project highlighted a quote in the report about a teacher who said that their new-found identity as a musician in the classroom strengthened the relationship with their pupils, and that changing the “level of equity in the relationship” between teachers and young people was a real shift in the classroom: “ they ended up working with and not teaching to”.

There was also a conversation about the confidence it takes to be able to “relinquish control”, and rely on your own skills as a musician in order to be as responsive the young people’s needs and wishes as possible. However, it was recognised that some limitations may also be necessary in order to control a class – and it’s not just about being a good musician – specific pedagogical skills enable teachers to respond differently to every single young person in the classroom for example differentiating learning to cater for different skill and experience levels.

“The three Is: intent, implementation, and impact”: understanding why and how to embed a project like Exchanging Notes in other schools

There was a question from the floor around how to pass this knowledge from the project and the report to those who aren’t currently doing work like this.

Jen mentioned Music Mark, the network for MEHs, and stressed the importance of partnership and collaboration. She also highlighted the new OFSTED criteria around ‘cultural capital’ for children. As part of the proposed OFSTED framework, from 1 September 2019, schools will be required to ensure that all children have the 'cultural capital ' to succeed. Mel believes this will help MEHs to “get a foot in the door” with school SLTs to discuss a project of this nature. She also advocated for the importance of engaging with governors.

A commentator agreed that SLT support and buy-in is essential. But whilst evidence, research and reports are helpful, schools and community music organisations need to experience first-hand how the process of negotiating a project in a particular establishment, with its own context and culture, works. The process of doing this rather than reading or hearing about it is essential for understanding it.



Thank you very much to all involved, and particularly to our panel members Kris, Mel and Jen for contributing their thoughts and ideas to this debate.

Photo credit: The Barbican Centre Trust - Drum Works - Gar Powell-Evans