Using the Youth Music Quality Framework, part 2: collaboration

In part 1 of this blog post I presented the Youth Music Quality Framework as a way of developing reflective practice as a music leader, and how this influenced session planning at Belvue School. This post continues to examine the older version of the YMQF, and paraphrases some of the headings/criteria.  To read the updated version please see the Youth Music website

Learning more about evaluation frameworks

Coming from a music technology and community music background, I often feel like there are gaps in my knowledge around formal evaluation frameworks in schools.  This is complicated further by moving between SEN/D and “mainstream” settings in various parallel projects.  

The Youth Music Quality Framework provides a useful bridge between these various contexts while acknowledging potential differences in approach.  Most of the ideas are familiar – as one teacher has commented, “it just looks like all the ingredients for a good session plan”.  However, the concrete examples in both the original and SEN/D version of the document often provide fresh angles and ideas to draw upon.  

This approach has proved to be particularly useful on the Exchanging Notes project, and we have the opportunity for deeper exploration of the criteria over the course of several years.

The quality framework forms the foundation for informal planning and evaluation sessions with the music teacher in this school at the beginning and end of each term. Our discussions tend to move beyond of the boundaries of the set categories, using the outlined version of the framework as an overview and reminder of key points. 

It often gives us different perspectives on situations that might not be working so well, as well as opportunities to celebrate our successes.

Two school children playing a selection of coloured switches laid out on a table.
Young musicians on the Exchanging Notes project improvising with a Soundbeam switch setup.

Examining the criteria

At the end of last term our discussion through the framework highlighted issues around resources and differentiation. In particular we looked at the environment heading:

Consideration has been given to the physical space (E2)


The duration of contact time and depth of engagement are sufficient and appropriate (E4)

Examining these areas gave us new angles on long-running issues with space and noise levels in the classroom.  I originally took E4 to mean that we should ensure that there was enough contact time (as this has certainly been an issue in other contexts).  Whereas the teacher felt we should break the groups up, I had been pushing to make sure everyone would be integrated into the same larger group. 

Through this conversation we experimented with a slightly different format, by creating fifteen minute small-group sessions at the start of classes to explore technology, primarily through writing beats using iPads with GarageBand. This has drawn upon the success of the peri-style Exchanging Notes sessions delivered elsewhere in the school.

We have noticed a deeper engagement in the shorter space of time, as the activities allow for more focus on the young people’s musical interests in ways which did not work in the larger group setting.

Interactions that had might have appeared subversive in the classroom gave way to more collaborative music making, given the space and freedom to communicate and experiment in their own time and through preferred styles – all considerations which tie back into the wider young person-centered approach.  

This has led, in turn, to a positive impact on the dynamic of the group sessions, and will hopefully lead to identifying leadership roles for the young people in question.

Developing inclusive music-making ideas with Chris Chambers, music teacher at Belvue School

Music Leader Practice & Progression Routes

In the summer term this year, while continuing to address issues of space and resources, we have decided to focus on the following areas from the music leader practice (M) section – a category from which I had tended to shy away:

Examining the competence of the music leader (M1)

The school’s music teacher has identified gaps in knowledge from our initial work (particularly since we have recently been moving away from specialised Assistive Music Technology towards an arguably more integrated and sustainable approach with iPads), and in particular highlighted that he had not been putting skills into practice in the course of the year.

As a result, we have set aside time for planning and training on this front, and will ensure that session plans incorporate targets for the teaching staff as well as the young musicians.  

Similarly, this has given me the space to take an honest look at my own development as an instrumentalist, resolving to be more open with the young musicians about my learning, and hopefully encourage a more collaborative environment in doing so.

Identifying progression routes for young musicians (M4)

While up to this point our conversations have been around the issues with finding outlets for music-making beyond the SEN/D school context, this has also led us to discuss considerations around resources that will be available outside class activities (such as affordable iPad apps), and creating peer teaching roles around music technology that might also help develop other skills.

Moving forward

This overview has been useful for this kind of project in particular, in which music leaders and teachers are expected to develop their practice together over the course of several years, arguably as much as the young musicians.

Frequent referral to the framework ensures a balanced approach: making sure that we develop our skills and push our own boundaries alongside the young people, but never swaying too far in either direction.  We sometimes find it difficult to get started on reflection after a session, so in a way the outlined criteria can act a bit like Oblique Strategies cards – a stimulus to move in a different direction.

I have to admit that when I initially tried to use the framework with other practitioners, parts of it almost felt too obvious – these are the qualities that I know many people aspire to when working in this field, after all.   

Through putting it into practice in a few different contexts, I have come to understand the benefits of the tool, ensuring the presence of a common language, and challenging examination of issues that after often written off as “going without saying”.

Watch this space for more updates as the year progresses.  Do you use the Youth Music Quality Framework in your own practice as a music leader or teacher? Please leave ideas in the comments!

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