Music:Response // Eight ways that MEHs can support specialist schools’ music provision without ‘being in the room’.

At its best, creative music-making in special schools is collaborative, multi-sensory, visceral, connected. A container in which each person in the room can express their truth in any given moment, regardless of need. To lead this process successfully, the teacher/facilitator(s) must assess and respond to the needs and desires of individuals and the group in real time, communicate in a variety of verbal and non-verbal ways, and develop confidence, trust and group identity as well as musical skill and repertoire.

Not an easy thing to recreate on zoom.  So, the continued uncertainty about when we will be able to work in schools again begs the question:

How can we provide high-quality music provision for young Disabled musicians without being in the room?  How can we work digitally in ALN settings in an inclusive way?

The last few years have, as I have experienced them, seen the development of a genuine and widespread determination in the sector to level the playing field for young people who are disabled and/or have additional learning needs (ALN).

It is also true that over the same period school budgets have taken a battering, and less and less pupils have access to a school-based music specialist and therefore consistent music provision throughout their school career. Any solutions we find to the current predicament have the potential to be of value to tens of thousands of pupils in the coming years.

I have worked on numerous projects that place a strong emphasis on sustaining provision beyond the intervention of external specialists. The most effective way that I have found to do this is, in a sentence:

‘Invest In Music Co-ordinators’

In specialist schools, as in primary schools, each subject has a designated lead teacher. The music co-ordinator is often a generalist classroom teacher without significant musical training. They are required to oversee music-making in the school – resources, training, assemblies, performances, motivating colleagues – on top of their role as a classroom teacher. Many are currently tasked with developing an OFSTED-ready curriculum. I have found nearly all to be highly motivated, open to new ideas, and the most likely person in the school to be able to in some way ‘substitute’ for a Music Education Hub (MEH) visiting music specialist.

Below are eight suggested methods to support music co-ordinators, covering training, resources and network-building.

  1. Needs assessment, relationship building
  2. Lesson plans & schemes of work
  3. On demand training
  4. Mentoring
  5. Curriculum development
  6. Music Co-ordinator Network
  7. Pupil-facing online lessons & resources
  8. Equipment loans

1. Needs assessment, relationship building

Some school music coordinators in schools for young disabled people already work closely with their local Hub. Others may not know what a MEH is.

Asking the right questions and providing responsive support builds trust and makes it more likely that face-to-face delivery can begin as soon as restrictions lift.

2. Lesson plans & Schemes of Work (SoW)

Building Schemes of Work for non-mainstream settings is not straightforward. Many schools have an increasingly wide variety of abilities within a given class. As workshop leaders we are used to flexibility, improvisation and following the interests of pupils. Teacher confidence and access to equipment vary widely.

But, it is possible.

One option is to begin with plans from music specialist-led projects and adapt them for use by non-specialists. We have been trialling this method on Lincolnshire Music Service’s Together Through Music project, and have found that adding additional explanations and resources – including video – is essential, and that some themes (e.g. iPad composition, instrument building) are well suited to adaption, and others less so.

Another option is to ‘co-author’ projects with music co-ordinators, taking tried and tested songs, games and sensory stories and building in more focussed music-making opportunities.

Leicestershire’s set of SEND Schemes was co-authored by a group of music co-ordinators. It employs a traffic light system to differentiate between abilities and is full of hyperlinks to online video and audio examples.

3. On demand training

Ideally, Schemes of Work would be supported by 30-60 minute online training sessions. These could focus on specific needs, age groups, equipment and/or topics (e.g. sensory stories, eyegaze, soundtracks to films, warm-ups with boomwhackers) and be freely available online.

Drake Music are currently developing a menu of digital and non-digital training options, and Charanga also have a variety of on-demand training webinars available.

4. Mentoring

Some music co-ordinators may want to prepare for more involved music delivery – instrumental work or composition projects, for example – by developing their own musical skills.

MEH tutors could provide zoom-based technical, logistical and no doubt emotional, support to teachers preparing for sessions, and then use feedback sessions to reflect and develop progression routes. They could even collaborate to develop sets of lesson plans to be shared across the Hub and beyond.

5. Deep Dive Curriculum

MEHs’ core roles lie outside curriculum music, but young Disabled musicians and pupils with additional needs often have far less access to extracurricular music-making. Additionally, in order for pupils with ALN to engage meaningfully in curriculum music, lessons often take on a workshop-y flavour.

The Lincolnshire ‘Together Through Music’ project identified curriculum development as a key area that schools would like support with. It strikes me as an opportunity to take a framework often poorly-suited to both music as a subject and ALN as a cohort, and re-frame it to show what meaningful progress looks like for the full spectrum of pupil ability.

A successful curriculum would be flexible, creative, and reinforce the idea that musical knowledge and skills have inherent value.

6. Music Co-ordinators Network

In a similar vein to Drake Music’s facebook group for inclusive music teachers and leaders, a facilitated online forum – local, regional or national – dedicated to music coordinators could:

  • host trainings
  • highlight common issues facing coordinators
  • provide a two-way forum between teachers asking questions and discussing content, and those of us creating and publicising training and resources

7. Pupil-facing online lessons & resources

Perhaps particularly effective when a young musician already has a rapport with their tutors. Online composition platforms such as Bandlab can be used to complement traditional instrumental tuition.

This is a great solution for shielding pupils who may not be able to attend school for many months, and can be administered through, or referred by, music-coordinators. Organisations including Soundabout and Electric Umbrella are already providing some of their provision online.

Obviously there are considerations about making these sessions accessible, which Drake Music could offer guidance on.

8. Equipment loans

Traditional instruments as well as Assistive Music Technology – iPads, Makey Makeys, Skoogs – could be loaned to both schools and pupils who are self-isolating at home, and supported by the mentoring and resources detailed above. This could help with issues around digital poverty.


Most of these eight ideas can be developed on a regional and national level and then applied according to local need.

We should work together as a sector to develop training, resources and networks that minimise the impact of the current crisis and improve non-specialist music provision for years into the future.


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