by Author Ben Sandbrook

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2014 - a year of change for musical progression? Musical Progressions Roundtable update

At a recent meeting of the Musical Progressions Roundtable, we looked at what 2014 might mean for Music Education Hubs, particularly around progression. Here are the questions asked, the answers shared and the actions proposed.

The Roundtable, which is hosted by AYM, met in Birmingham with representatives from Kuumba Music, Royal Academy of Music, Glyndebourne, Brighter Sound, Birmingham City University, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, The Garage, Greenwich Music Hub, Youth Music, Sound and Music, ACE, ABRSM, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Square 1 Studios and CAPE UK.

Questions on the wall

What are your powerful stories: moments, journeys, images, case studies of children and young people’s music learning that have made you stop and think?

  • “Aged 14, with ABRSM Grade 6, I could not improvise on the piano. Then Brighter Sound [community music organization] shaped and encouraged innovation on the piano for me which has let to the development of competent improvisation skills.”
  • “Performance opportunities are key to changing children’s lives.”
  • “An instrumental teacher reflected that, were he to start his career again, he would put creative music-making at the centre of his teaching.”
  • “A child, aged 14, refused to sing in front of anyone. Then, after 5 years of support from community music activities (but none from their school), that young person is now studying music at university, and with voice as their first study.”
  • “A recent composing workshop with 8-11-year-olds used Ligeti as a starting point. Child A had Grade 5 on the trumpet; child B doesn’t play an instrument. Who was the better composer? Child B. Instrumental ability is not a signifier of being a better composer. There needs to be room for different kinds of musicality and for being musical.”


What did you do last year that had the greatest impact on people in music education?

  • “Doing more of less.”
  • “Reflecting on my own practice.”
  • “Taking the time to research new practices and to work with other researchers.”
  • “Giving young people an opportunity to air their views on classical music.”
  • “Had a community music project judged by local music industry as musically excellent in its own right, rather than ‘just’ an educational project.”
  • “Joined Twitter!”


One year in: what is a good hub and what has made it so?

  • “Strong partnerships, including with schools, all functioning to give more CYP musical opportunities”
  • “Having purposeful partnerships for different needs and focuses: issue-based focused alliances”
  • “Not just focusing on instrumental teaching”
  • “Bringing in a wide range of partners with varied expertise, including traditional music, education academics etc.”
  • “Working effectively with other hubs”
  • “Raising the quality of curriculum music (according to Ofsted). This is, or could be, the starting point of musical progression. Hubs should then focus on continuation from whole-class to holistic musical experiences.”
  • “Letting go of students at the right time so they can move on to the next thing.”
  • “Strong leadership”
  • “Being user-centered”
  • “Inclusion”


What can young people do now, that they couldn’t do in early 2011 when the Henley Review was published?

  • “In time, CYP will benefit from an infrastructure designed to put them at the centre. It’s not there yet”
  • “There is a new focus on youth leadership in the creative aspect of writing and performing music. Young people have more of an influence on what genres of music are covered.”


It’s easy to get stuck on Hubs. What else is big in music education (or lurking on the horizon)?

  • “Notation”
  • “Disenfranchising school teachers”
  • “Reduction in attention to music in Initial Teacher Training (ITT)”
  • “Community engagement”
  • “True cross-art collaborations, engaging the wider community”
  • “Diversity: widening  the boundaries of musical genres like Classical and Jazz”
  • “Getting to grips with the diversity of musical careers, including academia”


Questions in the round

What are the key issues for Hubs?

  • There is a lack of the right measures and measurements for Hubs to do what they want, need and are required to do. Grade Music Exams, for instance, cover some of the territory, but not all of it.
  • Being positive can be a challenge, both for Hubs, and for those working with Hubs. As highlighted by the recent Music Education Council Hub Awards, there are some very strong areas of practice that should be celebrated and shared. Equally, the Hubs’ four key roles (instrumental access, singing, ensembles, progression) are often seen as a constraint and a shackle; instead they could be seen as an opportunity for both excellence and diversity of practice.
  • There is what seems to be a new requirement, following the recent Ofsted Hub Review, for Hubs to be curriculum advisors for schools. Many Hubs, generally rooted in [former] music services have little or no experience in this area. Many Hubs feel they have no budget to provide such services.  Other Hubs, though, see this as an opportunity to extend their services and to develop new income streams. At the same time, there is a potential conflict of interest to be managed between Hubs, on the one hand being providers of services to schools, and, on the other hand, being consultants providing advice on which services schools should procure.


Café tables: honing plans for action

1. Hubs and progression: what needs to be done, and by whom?

  • Hub leaders facilitating: Hubs (i.e. the collection of Hub partners) need to look at what they mean by progression and to pull together a vision for progression that is agreed by all partners. This should build a good understanding of what progression can look like in its many shapes and forms.
  • Just musical progression? In many cases, this vision should consider progression outside the purely musical realm, for example, including where music has helped a young person progress more broadly.
  • A progression vision for educators: Hubs should share their progression vision with teachers and other educators and perhaps develop teachers’ progression ‘radar’s – providing CPD for school and peripatetic teachers to be able to identify better a broader range of musical abilities and talents, and tools for them to be able to signpost opportunities – becoming facilitators of CYP’s musical journeys.
  • Whose offer? Hubs partners need to identify what they can offer – individually and collectively. What, for example, can the music service offer, and what support can schools provide?
  • Affordable pathways for all: Are musical progression pathways a viable and affordable option for all children, or just the ones whose parents can support them?
  • Identifying gaps: Where, then, are the gaps in support for progression that Hubs need to find ways to fill?


2. Measurements and assessments for progression: how do we find the right ones and get the right people using them?

  • Right terminology: Confusion often arises between three different things, whose terms are used interchangeably: assessing whether something has been done or achieved, measuring what has been done or achieved, and evaluating whether something was effective at achieving an outcome.
  • Multiple measurements: progression itself is a complicated and multifarious concept, added to which, musicality and musicianship take many different forms, which develop in different ways. So it’s not possible to use a single measurement for measuring all aspects of all children’s musical progression. There are multiple ways of knowing. So it’s important to use multiple different measures and indicators for musical progression. But also important is to discuss which ones, and why they should be used, first.


3. CPD for progress: who needs it and what do they need?

  • Audience: The potential relevant audience for professional development around musical progression is very broad, and should aim essentially to include and be accessible to any person working with young people and music: instrumental teachers, school staff, governors, music organisations etc.
  • A Progression CPD programme should be continuous – a process of life-long learning, shared reflection, and cumulative knowledge building – instead of a fixed-term course or workshop.
  • CPD programme elements: progression CPD should aim to include: motivation for music learning and drivers for passion; understanding and handling ownership; understanding your place in the bigger picture; running a creative curriculum; translating terminology; teaching learners and learning teachers; giving permission to experiment; principles for supporting progression
  • Professional principles for progression might include: honesty, generosity of spirit, looking beyond yourself, listening first, communicating what you hear, connect CYP to appropriate next opportunities, collaborative reflection, celebrating success.


4. Engaging parents: Four organisations’ experiences

  • Brighter Sound: Many parents come to performance events, and Brighter Sound invite parents via email where addresses are available. Some CYP come to Brighter Sound independently, meaning the parents may not be involved.
  • Kuumba Youth Music is led by some of the parents of the young musicians, so parents are very much involved. They have parent forums and a parent peer network.
  • Royal Academy of Music: the majority of students pay fees, meaning that parents are necessarily involved and the majority get very engaged in their children’s music learning.
  • Awards for Young Musicians: parents are very much part of the Awards programme for individual CYP, with considerable 1:1 support for parents. Parents have access to all events and opportunities and they meet each other at awards days, both informally and via parents’ forums.


5. Musical Progression: online tools for stakeholders

These are being developed and tested.


Final thought: So what could you do about it?