Music Education Hubs

My Inclusion Journey: Mark Steele

Coventry Music Lead

Mark Steele, became head of Coventry’s music education hub in 2017, just after the music service (lead organisation of the music education hub) had been restructured by the Council. It was a good time to bring a fresh perspective to the service: and the MAC-led group of five West Midlands hubs were also just beginning to develop their inclusion strategies.

Can you give a short overview of the Hub and music service?

Coventry Music is the lead organisation for the city’s music education hub, led by the music service which is part of the local authority. We have a strong Hub partnership group including many delivery partners across different areas of expertise. We also have an associated charity, Coventry Music Trust, which allows us to fundraise to widen our work. 

We have a core team of contracted staff and a much larger pool of freelance tutors. Having freelance tutors gives us flexibility to work around the needs of young people and those who work with them. We aren’t looking for work to fill people’s time and we can start new things when we need to.

An example is Joe Cook. He started off working at our SoundLab Saturday morning creative music centre, then we saw a need for music in PRUs and brought him in more regularly to build that work. Three and a half years later we’ve identified a need around young people at risk of offending and he’s running our Positive Choices programme funded by Youth Music’s Fund B. He’s no longer freelance, as his work has built to such an extent that he’s now a Music Engagement Officer – a permanent staff member.

Our management team consists of me, three Learning Development Leads (deputy heads), four Music Engagement Officers who run groups, teach and have a specialist development area, and an admin team of four (some term-time only).

We also work quite heavily with other music organisations as delivery partners, to broaden what we offer and enable us to be more flexible in responding to need. We spend around 10% of our music education hub grant on this commissioned work.

How inclusive would you say your service was before you started working with MAC? 

When I was appointed in 2017, we had one Open Orchestra, and a partnership with Drake for delivery in special schools which had just come to an end. And that was it.

I think my perception of inclusion was at the level of, everyone can access lessons and groups, including pupils in special schools and young people in care. But I hadn’t really thought it through holistically. I hadn’t thought about different delivery models that might be needed, and tailoring delivery to match young people’s needs rather than ‘here’s something you can join’.

The service had just come out of a restructure, and some schools had moved to using different providers. Through the work with MAC, we were beginning to identify where the gaps were, who wasn’t being reached and where we could get work going.

There were some people in the team at the time who didn’t get inclusion. I think it was easier for the tutors, as it was new paid work for them. It took a bit of time for the management team to realise we weren’t going to rebuild what was there before, and there was quite a bit of push back. For example, there was resistance to us creating SoundLab. SoundLab is a Saturday music centre group which is open for anyone who can play an instrument of any type including digital or voice, to come together, and create music together of any genre or style. But we took the opportunity to build a new and more diverse and inclusive music education offer, alongside our traditional offer.

We also had the advantage of being part of the Education Entitlement Service, which includes PRUs, Hospital Education, Virtual Schools and Work-Related Learning. So sitting in meetings with colleagues from those places, we could immediately see that there was a need for music across this provision. 

Mark Steele with Claire Tyler, Learning Development Lead

How did you work with MAC, and what impact did that have on your development as an organisation?

MAC has been the catalyst for us to make inclusion central to our organisation and our business. I came in at a good time. The new model for the service was flexible and could be more responsive to needs. I was able to come in with a fresh pair of eyes and look at gaps and opportunities; to start to meet people around the area and match them with these needs. We talk to everyone! 

And we were developing an inclusion strategy for the MAC MEH (Music Education Hub) Strategy Group of five West Midlands hubs, with Dr Phil Mullen. There would be versions for each hub, including data on who was missing out. Since then, it’s been helpful in many ways. Our inclusion work is not just the right thing to do: it’s now also about business growth. It is a central driver for the business, because it’s such an area of need, and there is funding attached to it.


"We don’t call it inclusive practice – we’ve just made it the norm."


Meeting monthly with leaders from five other hubs, and focusing purely on inclusion has provided the challenge we needed, and the support. It’s been a forum to share things with other music services, and also to see what they’re doing, ask how they did it. From things like, “we’re having trouble getting into special schools, what worked for you?” to “what’s worked well to develop provision with children excluded from schools?” Then we would share our strategies and experiences, successes and challenges. It’s helped us to see what’s possible, and to want to match colleagues’ ambition: if they can do it, why can’t we?

It’s helped us to take the team and Hub partners with us in becoming an inclusive service. Phil came to an early CPD day, so the whole workforce could understand that we were on a journey as a whole service. We followed that up with CPD from Drake’s Think 22 programme (we brought the Cathedral in as a partner for that, and they’ve since made changes to their choirs). So it’s helped us to scaffold their understanding. There’s been other training from people like the Virtual School, and inclusion features in all our CPD. We don’t call it inclusive practice – we’ve just made it the norm.  

The group has also helped us not fall into the trap of thinking we’re doing an amazing job! Every year we do a RAG (Red, Amber, Green) rating of our needs analysis, and we now find that things we’d rated green, we want to improve far more. For example, it’s great that we were in PRUs, but we realised we were only reaching half the students. We thought it was amazing that we had three Open Orchestras – but there are eight special schools. 

That’s the beauty of having a regular group and regular challenge. It’s made sure we reflect back, employ critical thinking to go back and realise, we still need to do more.

Mark Steele Playing the Tuba

How did you move from having a strategy document to taking action? Do you have a practical plan?

The strategy document had goals and timelines in it, but we tend to approach it more by acting on opportunities and needs. So far it’s worked – it’s a lot to do with finding the right people and then giving them permission. I give people the remit to follow a lead, put their time, effort and energy into it, then if there are mistakes, learn from them, to make it work. 

I’m aware we could do more analysis at the start about the reasoning behind each piece of work – and I’m trying to encourage people to do that more, without slowing things down. 

So for example, we’ve asked Phil Mullen to evaluate our Positive Choices programme (working with young people identified as being ‘at risk’ of offending) right from the start, asking him to reflect and learn with everyone involved, map participant journeys. 

What are your biggest challenges now?

Making sure our inclusion work is sustainable for young people. So that what we do to encourage inclusive practice in schools, is married up with what we offer outside of school. So there’s a natural progression route for people from/to all the programmes we offer, whether that’s to us, or to a hub partner. 

"That pathway may not be linear – and it won’t be about putting the orchestra and classical music at the top of the pyramid."

I hope that if a young person starts learning music in year seven, they can still be doing something when they’re about to leave school and they’ve had a journey. That starts from whole class which we see as a way of accessing music, not teaching an instrument. We’re looking at the best instruments to build musicianship skills, rather than instrumental technique, things like the ukulele, so people can transition easily into other ways of making music.

That pathway may not be linear – and it won’t be about putting the orchestra and classical music at the top of the pyramid. There will be MC, grime, and other music there too. You take the route that fits you. If you start playing the trumpet and then you want to play in a rock band, you can do that. You might not take that instrument on that journey – but you might.

We’re also looking at how we monitor who we’re reaching and track their progress. We’re working with the Council to tie our data with their unique pupil number data, and ‘heatmap’ the city – we hope to have this by Easter.

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.  

Read Coventry Music’s Learning Development Lead, Claire Tyler’s story 

Read Coventry Music’s Engagement Officer, Joe Cook's story

Watch Joe Cook's vlog

Check out other inclusions stories from Solihull Music Service and Severn Arts in Worcestershire

Coventry Music Hub 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, who leads ‘MAC Makes Music’, part of Midlands Arts Centre. The work is 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