by Author Jana Jammal

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Improving diversity and inclusion in music education hubs: "Young people are after diverse practices and change."

I'd like to see the day, certainly in Ealing but also across the country, where EDI is as basic as things like value for money, singing and whole class ensemble tuition.

Inclusion is not just what interests me, it’s what the children and young people need.

Sam Spence and Yogesh Dattani are senior members of the leadership team at the Music Education Hub in Ealing, an area with “the third most ethnically diverse local population in the UK”. They talk to Remi and I about the actions Ealing Music Service (EMS) has taken to improve diversity and inclusion in their Hub. Yogesh is responsible for the strategic leadership of EMS and the development of effective and sustainable partnerships. While Sam is responsible for overall management of EMS’ instrumental teachers and services to pupils. Together they have approximately 50 years of experience working in music education.


Building a diverse workforce

Sam explains that when she started working at EMS in 2013, she wanted to make sure that the workforce was representative. As part of her role, she was managing the team of teachers and recruitment. The first thing Sam looked at was the music offer. She wanted to ensure there weren’t barriers to teachers with skillsets in non-Western classical instruments. As a Tabla player, Yogesh was familiar with this barrier. “When you recruit to a role, particularly at senior leadership level, as part of that process, the employers want to check your understanding of music and music education. Sometimes they will ask you to conduct an orchestra or a choir. By making that part of the process, you’re actually excluding a whole raft of excellent music educationists that don’t have expertise in western music.”

"We had to look where we were potentially putting up any barriers to people joining our service who could teach but maybe weren’t meeting some of the criteria." continues Sam.

This also meant examining the recruitment process and trying to understand why the roles were interesting to certain groups but not others. They took positive action, and actively reached out to people from underrepresented groups to flag up roles on offer and find out what made them appealing. Removing barriers in the application process and ensuring roles were reaching people from diverse backgrounds means “that EMS now has a very diverse workforce.” 

“We make public our commitment to the EDI agenda,” says Yogesh, “And what that looks like. All staff have their photographs on our website, so that people can see the diversity of the team. When people check out a prospective employer and see people that actually look like them -  I think they would be more encouraged to apply. That said, inclusion in that context is to do with the colour of the skin and inclusion is much broader than that.

The team also spent time looking at the structure of their workforce. “We had teachers and then an SLT” says Sam “and I wanted to make sure that we developed a progression route and did some succession planning to give teachers the opportunity to step up into a middle management role.” These progression opportunities within the service meant that staff stayed in their posts longer and movement was low. 

“How can we help and support staff who want to progress from being in the teaching teams through the ranks? What does it take for them to step up to being an assistant head, or head of service?” They also set up mentoring opportunities within the staff team to support this progression.

The purpose of the middle management layer is about more than just individual progression - they are also ways “to demonstrate to other people that they can aspire to more”. As Yogesh explains, many people who teach diverse musical cultures tend to be from diverse backgrounds themselves, so it was important to showcase leadership that represented them too.  

"You look up and we’re there and I think that that in itself is really powerful." - Sam

Training has been another successful element in Ealing. As Sam says, “We retain a lot of staff through making sure that training supports them to not just understand how we value them as people who work for us, but also how important they are with regard to being role models to people and the young people they teach.”

Rather than simply putting on whole staff training days, Ealing’s training offer is bespoke.  Individual staff budgets can be used towards specific training or can be pooled together to offer popular training options for small groups. It’s a balance between “making sure that the staff feels supported in their development but that it fed back into the business and is a shared value.”


Getting staff on board

Ealing Music Hub works to build and maintain a workforce, including at board level, that’s reflective of the local population and the young people they serve: “that’s a level of diversity which we can be very proud about and actually shout about”, shares Sam. An essential action to identifying underrepresentation within the staff team is to collect diversity data.

We can really measure impact, make sure that’s a robust system that we keep looking at and review after a certain amount of time, so that we can look back year on year and say: this is where we were, this is where we’re at now, make sure our priorities are also fit for purpose.

But asking for personal information from staff (even anonymously) needs to be carefully managed. Collecting diversity data can help achieve Ealing’s goal to build a workforce of “role-models” that young participants can relate and aspire to. Where there may be reticence within the staff team, sharing these aspirations can aid buy-in.

Change, especially within an environment with longstanding processes and attitudes, can bring about resistance. Sam and Yogesh discussed the importance of consultation and strengthening collective buy-in through open conversation: “everybody felt like these things weren’t being done to them and they were being consulted and part of the process”. A ‘top-down’ approach isn’t conducive to whole-team support and progression. Making people feel part of a process can help dispel resistance.


Youth voice

Youth voice and “embedding it from the ground up” is a priority for the hub."What we would like is for them is to be involved right from the beginning."

Reaching young people and authentically tapping into their perspective is an ongoing and dynamic process, and not without challenge. Aside from music facilitators, there isn’t a “direct relationship with the core young people”, which means the hub are continuing to trial different routes of contact. One such way is through having young people on their Board. This is not done in a “tokenistic” way – the board members need to be able to see that genuine change can occur via their contributions. For example, two young board members wanted “proper venues for their performances, so that’s something that we’ve put in place and that works really well”. There is still lots to learn, so reflecting on the successes and challenges is an important part of the process.

The hub will continue to “look at anything from observing lessons to check that choice is given as part of lesson observation, right to a more formal process in terms of what young people tell us, through the Board, as well as other areas.” There are also opportunities that working online have provided when tapping into youth voice, “our online meetings have opened up more opportunities in terms of how to engage with young people, they don’t have to be there [in person].”

I’d like to see the day, certainly in Ealing but also across the country, where EDI is as basic as things like value for money, singing and whole class ensemble tuition.

Inclusive work and action are ongoing and always evolving. There is no ‘end-goal’, and more could always be done in all aspects of work. Yogesh and Sam embody the drive and determination needed: “The couple of areas that we’re fairly good at are diversity of workforce and musical genres. That’s a good base to start reaching out, and we can always be better.” In fact, Yogesh and Sam are pleased to see that the sector is pushing work around inclusion and diversity, with some funders even specifically funding projects to deliver activity around this.

This resilience, perseverance, and willingness to adapt are behind what Ealing Music Service’s ongoing success in inclusive practice.


** Sam has now moved on from EMS to focus on ED&I within the Arts and Music sector, supporting and empowering individuals and organisations with their commitment to Diversity & Inclusion. You can reach Sam here.

Further resources:  

Further reading on EDI in hubs

Sam's post on the Youth Music Network about building a culturally diverse workforce.

Yogesh’s online resource to successfully play or teach a piece of Indian classical music on any instrument.

Music Mark Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Report | Music Mark