Challenging Voices

Supporting music leaders and teachers making music with children and young people with social, emotional and mental health difficulties (SEMHD)


Dr Phil Mullen and Sound Society CIC have partnered with MAC Makes Music to provide training, reflective mentoring and other CPD support to music leaders and teachers across England that are making music with young people with social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMHD).

Challenging Voices will support two groups of music leaders / teachers:

  1. Those working with young people with SEMHD who have been or are at risk of school exclusion
  2. Those working with young people who have or are at risk of mental distress at least in part because of the coronavirus lockdown

Working with Music Education Hubs across the country, Challenging Voices will offer SEMHD Training Programmes and Reflective Mentoring. 


SEMHD Training Programmes

Building on the successful SEMHD training programme Dr Phil Mullen has run with MAC in the Birmingham area over the last four years, we have adapted the course to suit participating Music Education Hubs. This is an intensive music training programme for up to 20 members of hub staff that specialises in working with children and young people with, or at risk of, Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties. Notably those excluded from school or at risk of exclusion. 

The programme will have a strong emphasis on practical musical skills effectively, including rhythm, voice work, improvisation, and song-writing. Participants will also be given opportunities to develop their skills in leadership, facilitation, group work, behaviour management, and reflective practice.

 Other areas covered will include;

·       What is Inclusion?

·       What is SEMHD?

·       Fundamentals of Inclusive Pedagogy

·       Context of SEMHD

·       Context of children and young people in Alternative Provision

·       Elements of Engagement

·       Creative Devising

·       Practical Activities 

The training programmes offer a mixture of online and in-person opportunities, plus the option for each pariticpant to have two one-to-one sessions with Dr Phil Mullen to focus their development. 

Richard Russell from Solihull Music Service talks about his training on the MAC Makes Music course 'Music and Young People with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs'.


Reflective Mentoring

The other main Challenging Voices offer for Music Education Hubs is supporting 4 key staff members per hub with Reflcetive Mentoring.

Reflective Mentoring is guiding, teaching, and supporting individuals to become reflective practitioners, and moving practitioners on from having reflective thoughts to undertaking structured reflective practice.

It involves enabling individuals to develop their own musical practice by reflecting on a deeper level. The process will guide the musicians through exploring themselves as a practitioner, gaining an understanding of their own work and the theories behind their work. This is a guided way to develop an Emerging Theory of their practice where individuals are supported to identify successes in their work and explore how they can replicate them with other young people and in a wider context. By reflecting on their work they are able to develop a theory of their own practice.

The mentors will guide participants through reflecting before, during, and after practice. This will help participants to explore what they have done in real time, what they've done with the young people, and in the music to understand on a personal and social level what is happening. Equal focus is given to exploring musical, social, and personal development.

Participanting staff will keep a reflective journal and will attend;

  • collective meetings at the beginning, middle, end of the process
  • Individual mentoring sessions 

 At the first meeting the group will explore what reflective practice is and how to keep a reflective journal. Assuming participants are working with children / young people, they will be asked to choose a single project to keep a journal on and share this journal with the mentors. This will then be discussed in the individual mentoring sessions. Collectively they will explore how are they all doing with their practice, where they are going, and what their emerging theories are.

The mentoring is based on the ‘Reflecting Difference’ 2020 programme led by Phil Mullen that explored the fundamentals of inclusive music pedagogy across four countries in four continents.


The Challenging Voices programme will be delivered in partnership with Music Education Hubs across the country. To find out more please get in touch:

0121 446 3222    |    holly.radford-james@macbirmingham.co.uk  |    @macmakesmusic


Challenging Voices Team

Dr Phil Mullen, Pedagogical Director

Project Lead & Director, Sound Society CIC

Phil Mullen is a director of Sound Society CIC. Phil has spent twelve years working with children with SEMHD and training music leaders to do this work. Phil’s PhD, from Winchester University, is on music making with young people excluded from school because of their behaviour.


Ann Jones, Key Deliverer

Music Leader, MAC Makes Music

Ann Jones is a core MAC Makes Music facilitator and trainer with over 25 years’ experience of working in alternative provision and pupil referral units with young people who have been excluded. She is committed to helping all participants find their musical voice and enabling other musicians to work inclusively. She has a particular interest in women and girl's musical inclusion.


Challenging Voices is supported through funding from Agrigento and Youth Music, via MAC Makes Music’s Fund C grant. With this support, Challenging Voices has been able to offer a highly subsidised offer to participating Music Education Hubs.