Worcestershire Music Education Hub

My Inclusion Journey: Gareth Hughes

Drum Tutor and Inclusion Lead for Severn Arts



Gareth took on the new role of Worcestershire’s Music Education Inclusion Lead in September 2021. Anita Holford spoke to him about this new role, its importance to Severn Arts and the Hub and how his experience gives him added insight.


The creation of your new role says a lot about Severn Arts commitment to inclusion. What are you and Severn Arts hoping to achieve through your role? 

Inclusion is a thread that runs through all of our work at Severn Arts, its central to our new business plan. My new role is to develop an inclusion offer with colleagues that meets the needs of schools and young people in all settings across Worcestershire. I’ve got a lot of ideas and there are loads of opportunities, the key is keeping focused and making sure that I am supporting our staff to ensure all teaching is inclusive and accessible. 

And already we have got a lot in place. In September we started our Inclusive Choir working in partnership with Soundabout and MAC Makes Music, I’m leading on the pilot the nurture group programme funded by Changing Tracks, we’ve got our Lead the Beat programme and Open Orchestra. 


What personal and professional experience are you bringing to this new role? 

"I preferred working that way – learning by doing. That’s where I was most comfortable, like a lot of young people."

I was fascinated by music from a young age. I had small group violin lessons at primary school for a short time, but they didn’t really suit my way of learning. When I was 10, I had a snare drum for Christmas and a few years later my parents bought me a drum kit. At that time there were no drum tutors, no syllabus to follow and I spent hours just playing along with the radio, working it out for myself and playing a few gigs with brother’s band. I preferred working that way – learning by doing. That’s where I was most comfortable, like a lot of young people. 

I was in my mid-20’s when I started working for the music service. My first role was at a high school running a samba drumming class for 12 teenagers. This was when I realised that my nontraditional way of teaching inspired and captured the attention of the children and that by working with the children, we could adapt the programme and make it more their own. 

It wasn’t until 2008 that I was diagnosed with autism. It explained a lot about my way of learning growing up and did mean I could relate to a lot of the young people I was starting to work with.

First drum kit, aged 13

When did you start to realise that the way you taught was an inclusive way of teaching? 

The way I taught was noticed by my line manager and others which meant more work came my way, so I kept pushing on, not using a set formula, using the Kodaly approach, being pupil-led and trying to teach in the way, that I knew worked for the young people. The percussion programmes that I was teaching one to one, with groups of 7/8 kids or whole class in schools became really popular and I started to give the music service advice about what instruments to buy, and to share my ideas about teaching creatively with them.

Whole class took off—and took to the streets!

"Like me, many young people don’t fit the particular model or paradigm that school, and sometimes music education, expects them to. It’s not necessary for them, they don’t need to follow a syllabus, join groups, work towards a pre-defined outcome: the creativity in the process will deliver what they need."


How has MAC helped you develop the way you teach? 

Around 2019 MAC Makes Music put on a course led by Phil Mullen about working with young people with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) difficulties and I went along. All the people I met on that course, and the speakers, really impacted my practice. Training with MAC Makes Music and working alongside their tutors, seeing other people’s approaches to working with a range of different young people has been so helpful. 

As a result of the training, I used some of the strategies that Phil and other practitioners on the course had demonstrated and discussed. I also found it helpful to get the teaching assistants involved, and to do small group interventions where pupils would struggle learning in whole class groups. I worked alongside MAC practitioner, Daz, who’s a massive believer in building in time for reflection and developing links with the community wherever you’re placed. He was so good to work with. I’m now much more confident about what I am doing and passionate about reflecting on how I work with students so that they can get the most out of our creative sessions. 

Like me, many young people don’t fit the particular model or paradigm that school, and sometimes music education, expects them to. It’s not necessary for them, they don’t need to follow a syllabus, join groups, work towards a predefined outcome: the creativity in the process will deliver what they need. 

What are your main areas of focus going to be for the next 12 months? 

As well as my teaching a lot of my work will be working with our teachers to embed our inclusive practices, responding to what we are learning through for example Fair Play, our partnership project with Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Music Hubs. I’m going to be developing programmes for our Music Box bus which will be touring the county to schools and community events. We also want to build on all of the inclusive programmes we have up and running like our inclusive choir and open orchestras. So plenty to get my teeth into!


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 Severn Arts Director of Learning Debbie’s story.

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    |     jen.loffman@macbirmingham.co.uk    |    @macmakesmusic