Director of Learning, Severn Arts
Could you give me a brief overview of the Hub and music service?
Worcestershire's Music Education Hub is led by Severn Arts, an independent charity which formed in 2018 with a mission to widen access to creative endeavours. As well as leading on music education we provide an arts programme for the county, lead the Local Cultural Education Partnership and are part way through delivering a three-year festivals programme and project to develop Worcester railway arches into creative spaces, funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
How inclusive was your music service, before you started working with MAC?
I started working for the music service in 1993 and have always thought that our purpose is to be there for every child. I believe we’re about more than just developing skills on an instrument: we’re using music to encourage and engage children. We’ve always strived to make pathways for every child, and we’ve always had remissions schemes, but we didn’t really talk about it openly. Now, inclusion is a thread that runs through all our work and is central to our business plan. Our vision is:
“At Severn Arts we are passionate about the power of creativity to transform and enrich lives. Through the quality and relevance of our work and partnerships, we aim to bring opportunity to children, young people and the wider community of Worcestershire. We believe in parity and will be bold in our efforts to reduce the inequalities of opportunity that currently exists.”
Embedding equality, diversity and inclusion is a strategic aim with a key objective being to prioritise removing the unfair barriers that prevent some people from confidently connecting with us.
What were your biggest worries or challenges, in embedding inclusion in your work?
To avoid being tokenistic. And I think there is a fear factor – are you getting it right? Thankfully Holly is available at the end of the phone at MAC Makes Music (MMM) when I have a question. MAC Makes Music have given us confidence, and meeting with other hubs through the Music Education Hub (MEH) Strategy Group to discuss, learn and consciously think about different aspects of inclusion has been very helpful. MMM is brilliant in broadening our experiences, bringing different people in to talk to us about inclusion. We must remind ourselves that changing people’s mindsets can be a long journey. It can challenge you: and we do challenge each other in meetings within our team. We’re now able to do that while being very open, and respectful that not everyone will have the same opinion. It’s talked about organisationally – from how we recruit people to how we treat them – not just about a project of music activity.
When/how/why did you start working with MMM and the group – what did it involve initially?
"It’s opened our minds to working with different organisations, because we’re confident to work with a range of young people and outcomes."
I used to be a county Music Education Leader and knew of the MMM work, but it wasn’t until I became Director of Learning at Severn Arts in 2018, that conversations became more co-ordinated, more about the organisation as a whole. I remember a training session with musical inclusion specialist Phil Mullen, where we learned about the MAC MEH Strategy Group: Musical Inclusion Strategy that he and Holly Radford-James had developed with each of our five hubs in the West Midlands. We gained lots of tips about inclusive practice for music teachers. It’s the CPD session that people still talk about to this day. The training MMM has provided over the years has definitely opened people’s eyes to a different way of working. And PRUs and special schools now see us as an organisation to come to for support.
How has this work grown – and how will you sustain it?
All of our inclusion work has grown – who we’re reaching, how many teachers we’re training, our training offer – 2017/8 we worked with 14% of Alternative Provision schools in Worcestershire and by 2020/1 this had increased to 57%. It’s also more coordinated: we identify gaps and needs and meet regularly as a steering group to move things forward. We’re now working with most of the Worcestershire PRUs and special schools through our Lead the Beat programme, our two Open Orchestra’s Open Orchestras - accessible youth orchestras and the inclusive choir we run in partnership with MAC Makes Music and Soundabout. Currently the services are free to schools, although some schools are now paying for extra hours. It’s important that we don’t just run a project and then leave – so we try to contribute Hub funding to keep the work that we are doing going and also build in some sustainability through other funding sources.
Is there anything else that’s different about your organisation, as a hub lead?
Being a charity means we can apply for external funding, and we have a fundraiser on board for two days a week to help with this. In September 2021 we launched Severn Arts Music Awards to build a fund so that we can provide discounted lessons, free membership of ensembles and free instrument hire for families who would struggle to afford those. We also have legacy funding and Gift Aid initiatives, and back in 2019 successfully crowdfunded for our Music Box bus which is going to be delivering music sessions with a focus on digital across the county.
How did you begin to embed inclusion more deeply and across all the hub’s functions? I.e., from being a group of projects, to being embedded across the core roles and in your organisation’s strategies, policies and practices (a big question I know!)
We’ve made a lot of progress, and this is reflected in our current business plan. In September 2021 we appointed an inclusion lead who is working with and supporting our teachers. What’s good now is the consciousness across the whole organisation around equality, diversity and inclusion and we’re developing our inclusive practices all the time.
What did you find particularly helpful – in terms of organisational development/ strategy for inclusion?
"It’s about having a network and the space to ask questions that make us question what we’re doing and why – not just thinking ‘we’ve always done this’. "
The meetings with other hubs, facilitated by MMM, are particularly good. It’s about having a network and the space to ask questions that make us question what we’re doing and why – not just thinking ‘we’ve always done this’. We share ideas as well as practical things like reporting mechanisms, observation forms. I’m also more aware of training and resources that we can access so we are sign posting our teachers to a lot more.
What are the next steps in your inclusion journey?
We want to introduce a wider range of genres and more music technology. We worked with Leicestershire Music Service to develop our Turntablism Whole Class programme for primary school years 5 and 6. Our Music Box will help us introduce music technology to a range of ages and our inclusion lead has been trialling technology in classes with young people who aren’t engaging in school and it’s going down really well.
What are the biggest challenges for you, in embedding inclusion in your hub?
Bringing the whole team along so that it isn’t just seen as something that’s part of PRU and special school’s work.
This post is part of a set of case studies, ‘Working together to move the needle on inclusion in five West Midlands music education hubs’, produced by Anita Holford.
Check out other inclusion stories from Solihull Music Service
Severn Arts is part of the MAC MEH Strategy Group – five hubs who meet monthly, to support and challenge each other to move the needle on inclusion in their organisations and partnerships. The group is facilitated by Holly Radford-James, who leads ‘MAC Makes Music’, part of Midlands Arts Centre, and one of the founders of Youth Music’s Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England. The work is funded backed by Youth Music, thanks to the National Lottery via Arts Council England.
Further Reading & Resources
Find out how you’re doing: download Youth Music EDI audit and planning templates
Find inclusion resources for and by music services on the Changing Tracks website
Find more inclusion resources on the Youth Music Inclusion Resource Hub
Please contact us if you would like to discuss how we can support your hub
0121 446 3222 | [email protected] | @macmakesmusic