Guest Blog: Charly Richardson (hub lead) on Drake Music’s Top 10

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At the end of October 2015, Drake Music released its Top 10 of common needs for music hubs and SEN/D music provision – the first evidence-based survey of its kind to date.

Since then a wealth of professionals – music leaders, teachers and hub leads to name a few – have responded by choosing their ‘favourite’ from our Top 10 and explaining why it has particular relevance to their practice.

We look forward to the Top 10 continuing to be a valued discussion tool for music hubs and the wider sector as more strategic planning around SEN/D and music becomes the norm.

However, to ‘sign off’ on this first phase of our Top 10, we’re delighted to welcome a guest blogger to reflect on the Top 10:

Charly Richardson is Lead Officer for Essex Music Services (lead partner in the Essex Music Education Hub) and a strong advocate for music making in special needs settings.

In this blog, Charly argues passionately for all music hubs to work towards inclusive practice across every strand of work they deliver. In Charly’s words, Drake Music’s Top 10 “demonstrates that there are deliverable and achievable ways forward

Thank you to Charly for this article. Please do share it with your colleagues and send us your feedback on social media or via email. We want to open up more discussion on this valuable topic and would welcome your thoughts.

Jonathan Westrup
Drake Music Education Manager


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Charly Richardson – Essex Music Hub Lead Officer

It seems like every time I attend a conference or event, support for music-making in special schools and other SEND-settings is increasingly high on the agenda & a favourite discussion topic for delegates as they enjoy -or otherwise- their lunchtime provisions.

And with good reason.  The National Plan for Music Education has had a dramatic & overwhelmingly positive impact on music education in a relatively short amount of time.  But a lack of detail on how Hubs might deliver the Core & Extension roles in SEND settings means that as a sector many of us are still grappling with these challenges.

I am not ashamed to admit that, until relatively recently, many of the 17 special schools in Essex simply ‘fell through the cracks’.  But we have made great strides in rebuilding these relationships already, efforts which have been welcomed with overwhelming positivity and enthusiasm from music teachers and Heads.

So in many ways with such a complex issue it should be welcomed that a coherent response has come from the bottom-up rather than the top-down.

Through research, interviews and identifying best practice across 14 Music Education Hubs, Drake Music –nationally renowned leaders in the field- have released three separate reports, all of which have directly informed their Top Ten Needs.

These boil down months of research and hundreds of pages of reports into ten sharp and clear recommendations which, although challenging, are also practical and achievable.  Some points may be considered more obvious, while others may be somewhat of a revelation.

Although the SEND offer made by Hubs is widely varied, with many miles ahead and others just at the beginning of their journey, it is perhaps reassuring (or you could say concerning!) that many of the same themes and issues have been identified.

Special schools across different areas are asking for the same kind of support; some basic fundamental principles are at play and can be seized upon.

Of course this does not mean that a one-size-fits-all approach will work.  We all know how varied the needs of each child; each class; each school; and each geographical area are, even within mainstream settings.

In a SEND-context the differences are even more profound and complex.  Special schools may focus on BESD, PMLD, MLD, ASD or otherwise.  Many have a complex in-take covering a range of needs.

As one Essex music teacher put it to me: “the differences between two special schools may be more extreme than the difference between a mainstream school and a special school”.  And of course the range of musical provision, resources and staff capability within each school is also vast.

This is why, going forwards, it is essential that Hubs, schools and both local and national SEND-music organisations work in partnership to create a broad and dynamic offer which can meet the needs of individual schools and pupils.

I chose the following as my number one top-tip:

5. Communities of Practice/ teacher networks are vital in order to ‘help teachers to help each other’ get better in their practice and to share ideas and resources. Individual teachers could also take up a strategic leadership role for SEN/D and music within the Music Hub.

As we all know, professional isolation is the curse of the music teacher, but in SEND-settings this can be even more profound.  Hubs cannot be expert at everything.  But there’s a reason we are called ‘Hubs’, and we are uniquely placed to connect teachers and other practitioners.

Cross-Hub collaboration at a research and development stage is also crucial, but this can also be taken forwards into delivery to maximise impact.  I am happy to be embarking on a 3-year Youth Music-funded project alongside Drake Music and a number of other SEND-music specialist organisations.

This will involve working with all special schools in Essex, Thurrock and Southend to develop the workforce and create a strong and lasting SEND-music network across the region which can feed into national-level learning, resource development and debate.

The interest in the project from Hubs and other organisations has been highly encouraging. The more that I can share, challenge and be challenged, the better.

But of course ultimately we need a sustainable offer with a clear and lasting legacy.  As Tip 4 suggests, pilot projects are a good way of getting things started, but in the longer-term Hubs should be looking at how every strand of our work can be inclusive.

There is much work to be done.  But we should be proud of the wealth of SEND-music knowledge and practice across the country, whether it be inclusive singing or signed-choirs; assistive technology; relaxed ASD-friendly professional live-music experiences such as those pioneered by Orchestras Live; the Sounds of Intent assessment framework; SEND-focused digital resources; or inclusive orchestras for young people, to name but a few.

Let’s keep sharing ideas.

Let’s keep talking.

The Top Ten Tips demonstrates that there are deliverable and achievable ways forward, and that as a sector, finally the time is right for us to work together to improve musical opportunities for Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities across the country.

Charly Richardson
Essex Music Hub

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