Skip to content
Communicate the value and impact of what you do, explain your work, sell your services

Music for education & wellbeing podcast [27] TRANSCRIPT: Helen Brookes, Services for Education Music Service, Birmingham

AH: Hello, it’s Anita here and welcome to this month’s podcast. In this episode, I’m talking with Helen Brookes, who is head of whole class instrumental teaching for Services for Education Music Service in Birmingham, which leads one of the largest music education hubs in England. Rather than being part of local authority as many hub leads are, the service is part of the Services for Education charity, which provides a range of services to schools, from school-centred initial teacher training, to curriculum courses to school improvement consultancy. So welcome, Helen. It’s really great to have you here. We hadn’t met before until today, but I sort of feel as though I know you through our linking up on Twitter and your lovely Twitter feed. So it’s really nice to be talking to you today. 


HB: Well, it’s lovely to meet you too Anita and to discuss all things music, and likewise, I mean, Twitter is a great place isn’t it to meet new work colleagues and find out what people are up to. So yeah, very much the same for me. 


AH: Oh, fantastic. So I just wanted to start by saying how did you end up where you are today? And why is it so important to you personally? 


HB: Right, okay, well, I am a Birmingham girl born and bred. I grew up in Birmingham and I did actually go away as a student and studied in Huddersfield, which I loved. I ended up coming back to Birmingham, and then staying here. So I suppose I’m a product of what was Birmingham music service. I learned violin as a child in primary school, and that was free at the point of access at the time. So it’s going back a little, back into the early 70s. And then worked my way through the various ensembles with the music service. Had wonderful teachers. Yeah, and so everything that I’ve really gone on to achieve is really down to going to, you know, what’s just a very ordinary primary school, but one that really valued music and a wonderful head teacher that you know, valued everything that music had to offer. And then going to a comprehensive school, which again had a really wonderful music legacy. So yeah, coming back to Birmingham, and then most of my teaching is a little bit of private teaching, and then my teaching then took off when I went into classroom. So I’m secondary classroom trained. So a lot of my formative teaching was classroom as a music specialist, and then a vacancy came up in the music service for a violin teacher, and then got involved with whole class teaching. And then there was an opportunity to be assistant to Stuart Birnie, who was head of whole class at the time. And then yeah, things progressed. And here I am, head of whole class.


AH: That’s a really nice perspective to have that you’ve got that secondary classroom teaching experience, but you’re managing the whole class programmes sort of mainly in primary, I’m guessing. So that you understand the whole progression route and the importance of what you do in primary for secondary. 


HB: Yeah, I mean, my experience of teaching actually is pretty varied actually. So before qualifying as a secondary, actually, my work was in primary. I was a primary music specialist, and then actually my PGCE was in secondary. Which is really great actually, to have had the experience of working in both sectors. And, you know, learning from really great practitioners actually, both in primary and secondary. So yeah, and also prior to that I did preschool work as well, I kind of worked across all sectors, which is good. 


AH: And why is music so important to you? 


HB: I sort of had music, I suppose the background at home from my Mum particularly. I have a brother and sister and we all played, but I think that from a very early age, I think I understood that it was seen as a real privilege. You know, I came from a very ordinary, sort of working class family. And the fact that all of this provision was free at the point of access meant that I was able to engage with so many more things that I think we would have been able to had it been something that we needed to pay for. And I think that’s where my passion about whole class comes from. Because if you take away barriers, then what somebody is able to potentially achieve is just going to be fantastic, really, and I think what whole class brings to children is that same opportunity, really. I think for me in 2021, if I was that nine year old girl, it would be whole class that would be my opportunity to experience something that otherwise might be denied. 


AH: And I know that you work for a very inclusive music service. I’d like to talk a little bit more about that as well, later. Can you tell me briefly about the organisation? So it’s quite unusual, isn’t it? It’s Services for Education, but it’s not part of the local authority, it’s a charity. So is there any sort of difference that that brings being a music service and a music lead within the charity?


HB: Services for Education came about in 2012. That was when we came away from the council. But I think at that time, certainly funding for music departments within council settings was becoming quite problematic. And I think it was a way of retaining the legacy that we’ve got, and the excellent work that we’ve got. So we became a not-for-profit charity. Obviously that brings pluses and minuses. I suppose one of the downsides is you are responsible for keeping going really, and you know, given the last 12 months that we’ve had, you know, there have been significant pressures there. But the upside is that I think it just gave us a huge amount of flexibility, and autonomy, really, in how we wanted to deliver and how we could deliver. We’ve been able to really be flexible with our offer to schools, you know, during these difficult 12 months, and also to be able to respond really quickly. So in terms of, you know, risk assessments and getting things in place, how we were going to get teaching out to schools, when we were no longer doing face-to-face. I think that perhaps some music services that are still within councils probably had a more difficult time of responding just because of the cogs in the wheels perhaps turn a little bit slower. I think we were able to respond very, very quickly. So yeah, I mean, we have our music service, we have school support, and we have our music school. So I mean, a lot of that we’ve obviously had to develop a fundraising arm for that also have to raise funds to support various projects. And so it’s, I suppose it’s yeah, it’s a very different setup. And we are, you know, we are in control of our own destiny, I suppose, really. It’s definitely meant that we’ve been able to diversify and really extend the provision across all three of those services.


AH: Services for Education is, in a sense, an education charity and the music service is part of that, isn’t it? 


HB: Correct, yes.


AH: So perhaps it gives schools a different perception of you, would I be right in thinking that?


HB: I think, even though it’s been a little while since we have, you know, become Services for Education, sometimes it’s difficult for that message, perhaps, to trickle down really. And I suspect that there are still some of our schools that may not realise that you know, how we’re now working. If you don’t know that, you would assume that we probably would be still part of the council. Because actually, we carried on. Nothing changed, nothing stopped, we didn’t suddenly have a whole different team, you know. If you look at our mission statement, you know, we describe ourselves as a unique charity, bringing, you know, the power of learning and music to transform and enhance the lives of the children and the young people and adults in our wider community. And that’s absolutely our commitment. 


AH: Are there benefits in terms of, for example, you’ve got school support service or school improvement service? Are there many linkages between that? Do you learn from them about what schools need and the challenges schools are facing? And do they talk to schools about the music service? 


HB: Yeah, I mean, I think definitely in terms of the two services. We do collaborate, and we do work together. We have fairly regular extended leadership team meetings, where we will look at various projects and how those can be interlinked in some way. I mean, obviously, the work that school support carries out is wide and varied. But I think there is crossover and we see that as a very important part of our organisation, that we do collaborate and we do work together and that we know, actually what each other is offering to a school. That’s really important that we understand the whole offer, so that when if I go out to speak to a head that actually I would, you know, talk about what I can offer them in terms of all the other school support, you know, areas that they can offer to the school. That’s really important, and likewise for school support as well, to know that they can mention, ‘Did you know, that music service can do X, Y, and Z for you?’. So that’s obviously really important. 


AH: Definitely, it’s a really interesting model. Can you tell me about your whole class programmes model?


HB: Okay, so the model that we have always used, and this is going back quite way. So it was piloted first, back in the early two hundreds, well, actually, the late 1990s, as part of the wider opportunities. And the head of service at the time, took the idea of offering it to schools who were sort of going into special measures. And it’s a way of helping them raise standards, particularly across numeracy, and literacy and so on. So it started off with a pilot of just a handful of schools, where now I’m looking at a spreadsheet of, you know, in excess of about 170 schools that we deliver to across the city. So the programme itself is based on, we’ll take year four – it’s generally year four that we work in – and then what’s really important is that it goes on then it continues as an elective programme into year five and year six. And that for us is the key to our model. That it’s not a standalone, the children do it just for one year. But actually they do it for one year, that’s part of their curriculum delivery, but that then they are given the opportunity, they can elect to continue that instrument into year five and into year six. And the plan always is that they will then continue into year seven, and year eight and year nine as they move into secondary school. So that progression element of it is key to us. Because we believe that, you know, while it’s great to say, yes, you can learn an instrument in year four, and then that’s it. But to actually remove those barriers and say well actually, you can then continue into year five, and year six as well, really seeing how far you can go can go with it. So that’s the programme that we deliver. 


AH: So how does that work practically? So financially, who pays when?, and also practically, you know, if children are electing, so say half a class wants to carry on doing a whole class, half class doesn’t? What happens in that classroom? 


HB: Okay, so our costing for the whole class for the year four is heavily subsidised by the music service. So we use part of our Arts Council England funding to subsidise that. So schools will get that at a heavily reduced rate for the year four.


AH: What would that be, do you think? Is it sort of 50% funded/subsidised, 75%? 


HB: It’s about not quite as high as 50%, about 45% subsidised.


AH: Yes, okay, that’s interesting. 


HB: And so they will get that subsidy for the first job. So as a new school coming to us, they will get that subsidy. I mean, it works out to less than a pound a week per child, that learning and they get an hour of teaching. And the lesson itself is, we describe it as sort of a holistic lesson, really. So it’s learning music through an instrument. So it’s not, I obviously teach violin, and it’s not an hour of violin.


AH: That’s really interesting.


HB: You know, it is the violin, but we do singing, and we do games, and we do a bit of theory, we do listening, and we do appraisal, and we do composition, and analysis, and all those really important things. And alongside that, we learn the instrument, so that hopefully brings the whole class together. Because we know that there are going to be some children in that class, this is not going to be the instrument for them. Hopefully, there’s another instrument out there that will really sing to them. But so there has to be something in that lesson, that’s going to make them engage with music and think, okay, so the violin may not be for me, but I love all the other things that we’ve been doing. And maybe it’s going to be the trumpet, or whatever. So that’s really important. And then into the second year, the school would know that we would then, and as part of the costing, we would add the five elective onto that. So that’s a 45 minute session. And we can take up to, we say within the 45 minutes, we could take up to 20 children, and we would divide that probably into two 20 minute lessons, and that the children would come out of class to do that. And they have what fundamentalists, I suppose, would describe a small group teaching except, I mean, if it’s really popular, it could be quite large group teaching. But anyway, that’s what we do. And then the third year, the sixes, you know, they would move into year six, and you’d get the new fives coming up from the new year four. And so the school would then have a programme that just runs year four, year five, and year six. 


AH: And so what does the school pay in year five and six or do the pupils pay?


HB: That’s entirely down to the school. The costing to the school there is just pro rata our hourly rate. So in that sense the charging for that, the subsidy, stays with year four. It’s not subsidised by us in year five and year six. Now, some schools will know that a subsidy from them will guarantee that the children who want to carry on will be able to carry on and they will absorb the costs there. So I suppose they offset that against the subsidy that they’re getting in, in year four, if you like. Some schools will feel that they would make a nominal charge to parents and part-subsidise the cost. And some schools may be in a position where they have to pass on whatever the cost is, depending on how many children are taking up, and pass that on to parents. But I would say for the large part, so many of our schools in Birmingham realise that the benefit of removing any barrier, you know, to learning an instrument means that you’re going to engage more children. And I think they see that as being really, really important. Because you have to understand that this is different to general order small group teaching. So for instance, you know, if my children were still young, and they were learning through the whole class system, I wouldn’t as a parent necessarily know very much about that, because that’s just part of what they do in school. It’s part of their curriculum, and I like to see them playing a concert or whatever. But when they elect to continue, that’s when the parent I suppose then first starts to become involved with that. But we understand that there’s some parents who it might not be an absolute priority for, or part of their own personal experience even. And so, whereas with general teaching, if a parent wants their child to learn the cello, they’re making that decision for them, and so that contract between them and the school is, I suppose, a little bit more clear cut. This, and there’s a little bit more to kind of navigating it, I guess, from the school’s point of view.


AH: I bet. It’s really interesting, because it’s a child electing. Do you also offer traditional sort of one-to-one or tiny group tuition? 


HB: Yes, we do. So and that, and as well, as you know, we have classroom support going in, and we have vocal teachers going in with choirs and so on. So some schools will have a bit of everything really, which is fantastic. Some schools, maybe some of the smaller schools, the whole class actually is going to be really beneficial, actually, because you’re hitting those kind of, you know, year four, five and six, and then anything that they might provide in-house themselves, that might be you know, what they’re doing Key Stage 1 and lower Key Stage 2. But for some of our bigger schools, yes, I mean, they will also order in what we call general order teaching, so small one-to-one or small group teaching. 


AH: Interesting. And then what instruments do you offer for whole class? 


HB: Okay, we do violin, we do cello. We do those as a whole class violin or whole class cello, which we’ve done. Sometimes, we used to do quite a lot of what we call team teaching. So there will be two members of staff going in. And we could do mixed violin and cello, which was obviously to have 20 violins and 10 cellos. A lot, most of the delivery we do now is single delivery, but some of those mixed classes still go on. But anyway, so violin, cello, clarinet, flute and fife and recorder, brass. So that would generally I suppose be cornet or trumpet for year four, but then into electives, they then can go on to, you know, French horn, trombone, baritone, tenor horn, and so on. Keyboard, guitar, ukulele. And then we move into the really exciting world of world music. So we’ve got djembe, dohls, mini-pans.


AH: Oh fantastic. So schools can choose if they wanted djembe whole class? 


HB: Yes. 


AH: I mean, I know logistically, it’s quite difficult sorting out a whole class programme with different instruments and people choosing different things. I can’t even begin to imagine how you do that logistically. And you probably couldn’t explain that in this podcast. But if you wanted to, I don’t know if you want to say something about the logistics of that?


HB: I think when I go out and talk to a school, the conversation will always be first of all, what do they envisage? Because I mean, they know their school, they know their pupils, they know their parents, they probably have a gut instinct as to what’s going to work well. And what parent, I mean, because at the end of the day, we want the parents to engage with this as well. Sometimes we have an instinct as to what we think would actually work really well in schools. And if you look at the website, there are some great testimonials from head teachers, and one in particular, who talks about when Stuart went out to speak to him, and I think he, I don’t know what he wanted – he wanted ukulele or guitar or whatever – but Stuart said he felt that brass would be great. And I think this head was slightly horrified that Stuart was saying that, but actually, it was right, you know, for that school at that time. And it just, it was a real, real success story. And so I think, because very often heads, their experience in music can be reasonably limited as well. So when you talk about the instruments and how they work, and what you do, and how they’re taught, I think that suddenly opens up like a whole new palette really. Sometimes their expectation will be the same as what we would suggest, sometimes their expectation is fine. But we might say, well, actually had you thought about, you know, this? Sometimes it’s a question of putting an instrument in, and it will work for a little while, and then you know, something will just change and, and you think, okay, maybe now’s the time just to you know, switch up a bit. So those conversations are ongoing, but you’re quite right,  when it starts to get towards the end of the summer term, yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, it’s all down to budget isn’t it really? And can we buy more violins? Or can we buy more ukuleles? Or actually, what I do have is a massive spreadsheet where you’ve got schools switching instruments, and …


AH: Oh, my goodness.


HB: I haven’t found a way of that not becoming completely bonkers, really. But in the end, it all works out. It’s fine. And we get there. And I would say that I can’t think of a school that hasn’t actually been able to have what they would really like for their pupils.


AH: That’s amazing. 


HB: So, we make it work. 


AH: Talking about logistics. How successful is this whole class programme? Is it growing? And what have you learned about what schools want and expect? And I guess I should mention the model music curriculum as well in there. 


HB: Yeah. I mean, it has been a programme that has grown year on year, which is obviously really encouraging. I think there have been reasons probably in the last,  well I suppose last year, I mean, we talk about the year of COVID, then that was obviously a fairly unique year really. And while actually the number of schools themselves didn’t drop, hardly at all, actually, the amount of time that we saw being bought in by schools was obviously impacted. But to be fair, our schools are amazing, and have really stood by us and continued to support that provision. And it was actually only with whole class in this last lockdown that we were able to do that. 


AH: Please fire away and tell me about what happened. Like how would you do whole class online?


HB: So yeah, so of course, I mean, it was that Monday, wasn’t it, you know, the first Monday of term when many of us were in Inset, you know, music services and schools alike. And then obviously, the announcement was made on that Monday evening that we were going back into lockdown. Which was, I suppose, partly expected, but just I think we’d already anticipated. And we’d also had some experience with schools, for various reasons, not being able to have whole class in   from September through to Christmas. So especially at schools that had woodwind and brass, for instance, for obvious reasons there were issues there. But also some schools, they didn’t want instruments going home and coming back. So I think we were already kind of ready to go really. And so what we did, we just upped the offer that went out to schools. They could either have pre-recorded lessons, or they could have, I mean for some schools where the children were at home without instruments, obviously, we then either delivered pre-recorded lessons, where we could do activities with them at home and use the school platform, or send lesson templates home where the schools will deliver that to the children at home. Or we did remote live, so our staff actually kind of zoomed or teamed into schools, where the children in schools, you know, were the children of key workers or vulnerable children. Or our staff went into schools and zoomed out to the children at home, and delivered a lesson with them having their instruments at home. So the offer was very varied. And we knew that it would have to be a bespoke offer, school on school, because schools have a variety of setups really. And they were educating the children at home and the children who were in school as well. But this time around, we were able to make the offer to schools. So actually, it just carried on. For my own part, I did some project work around Doctor Who. We did some composition, and the children recorded little snippets of sound and kind of emailed it to me, and we did our own Doctor Who composition. So a variety of methods, really. So that once we were back in school, we just picked up from where we’d left off. But you know, that’s I suppose that’s going back to when I talked about the sort of flexibility of offering and promptness of response, really. I think as the organisation that we are, we were able to run with that really, really quickly. So that was great to be able to just, I won’t say carry on as normal, but to have the capacity to carry on. 


AH: It sounds like you’ve sort of thought of every possibility that a school might want and then delivered it. So on demand, live, different formats. 


HB: Oh, yeah. We tried to meet them where they were. And there were obviously some schools for whom that was, you know, the logistics of that, which is very difficult. I fully understand why the offer was there. We were ready to go with it. 


AH: You mentioned about young people being at home without instruments. And that just reminded me to ask you a really simple question about your whole classes. Do children take the instruments home? 


HB: Yes.


AH: They do? Right from the first whole class in year four, that’s brilliant. 


HB: Yeah, I mean, I might with my instrument, I think there’s always a you know, a handful of weeks where you’re teaching them you know, how to look after it, how to hold it, what not to pull, twist, pull-off, whatever. But the aim is that by October half-term, the instruments would then be going home, so that they can work on those techniques and skills that we’ve been covering in class. And they can share what they’re learning with the other people at home, and that it becomes a really true experience of music. So there’ll be some reasons sometimes why instruments don’t go home. And we are sympathetic to that. And some instruments, so keyboard for instance, in year four can’t. But once they elect then they get a keyboard to take home. And so some of the bigger percussion instruments as well. But for all of the others, then the parents have a letter just to explain how to look after it, you know, and then just to say we’r happy to have a home.


AH: And when they elect in five and six, does that mean – another sort of practical financial question – does that mean they have a separate higher cost or the school or the parent has a separate higher cost or is that all bundled in?


HB: No. We don’t charge for the instruments, the instruments are free. 


AH: That’s amazing, what a fantastic offer. Before we move on to inclusion. I have a question from Ben O’Sullivan of The Music Works, which is a community music charity in Gloucestershire that also runs whole class programmes in technology. So they run iPad podcast programmes. And I should say thank you to Ben for providing quite a few of the other questions for this interview as well. And he asks, ‘Is there a world class model of whole class? What would that look like? Has anybody really nailed it?


HB: Yes. Am I allowed to say that? [Laughs]


AH: Yes.


HB: I think having looked at other models, and then looking at ours, and I appreciate that different parts of the country will have different needs. I mean, I think we have to be sensible about that, really, you know, and trust the people who are arranging this provision. I would say, the reason that I’m going to say that I think ours is one of the best that I’ve seen is down to the progression part of it. I think that shows an absolute commitment to saying to a child, for as long as we are working with you, we will give you the opportunity to be the very best that you can be for as long as you want that. I can’t think that you can do any better than that, for a child. I think any model where you’ve got that progression element, you know, has to be the one that is really doing the business. 


AH: I see on your website, it says that you have continuation rates of over 34% into year five, so that’s a useful figure to know. Do you happen to know what the continuation rate is from year six to seven? Because that’s a really difficult time isn’t it, transition? 


HB: Yeah. I think I don’t, in all honesty. I mean, I can talk about it, and I would say that it’s never as high as we would want it to be. And we have done a lot of work around this, actually. We have our transition data that we collect so that we, we gather that data in from our year sixes, we find out you know, where they’re off to in September, and that information is communicated to schools, so they know potentially, who they’re, you know, who they’re getting. And actually, we have some great projects that run during the summer term across both primary and secondary. So consortium orchestras or ensembles where the children can come together over a wider age range that you might normally get. So the young children have got that experience of going into the secondary school and just seeing what it’s like, and with a hope that that will make them, you know, they’ll see the secondary school children playing and think, okay, so it’s, you know, they still play, you know, when I go to secondary school there are still musicians there. And I think it’s catching them really quickly, and some of our schools, there’s one school that I teach in secondary school and, and they’ve got a really excellent track record, actually, of keeping the children going. They get them in quickly, in year seven, get them into lessons. We will also  between ourselves I suppose colleagues, if we know that one of our colleagues teaches in secondary school, just give somebody a heads up, you know, that you’ve got somebody you know, going in there, and just get them involved with music as quickly as possible. But I think probably a lot of people would say that transition to six and seven is a tricky one. 


AH: Yeah.


HB: There are other reasons as well. I suppose sometimes, things that children have been able to enjoy in primary school doesn’t seem to be a priority to, you know, continue into secondary. And actually, sometimes I think parents sometimes see, you know, some things as, ‘Oh they do that in primary, but you know, we don’t’, you know, it’s not on their secondary radar. And I think it’s kind of changing that conversation isn’t it really? Actually it doesn’t just have to stop at the end of year six, it can carry on. So we try and do as much as we can to make that transition really work for the children and work closely with our schools. 


AH: So I wanted to move us on to inclusion. How do you bring inclusion into this work? What training do your staff have for this? And is there anything that you sort of put in place? I know that you mentioned that you sometimes have two teachers in whole class, which obviously must help with sort of supporting pupils who are struggling, but yeah, so tell me a little bit about how your whole class is inclusive?


HB: Yeah, so we do whole class teaching in a number of our special schools. Some of that is, in some of the schools that we work in, particularly schools with PMLD, the groups are very small, obviously much smaller than in mainstream. But for instance, I teach in a school just down the road, which is not mainly for autistic children. There’s sort of a mix of children with a variety of additional needs, but that’s delivered as a whole class violin lesson. So that class would be about 14 in that class, a slightly smaller number, but actually with those children I deliver all the stuff that I would normally deliver at that age, maybe in a slightly different way. And the outcomes are obviously slightly different. And the needs of working with the children, there’s a lot, I suppose a lot more one-to-one working in that sense within the whole group setting. But in terms of our inclusion training, we work closely with Adam Occleford and the University of Roehampton with their Sounds of Intent course, which I do mention from time to time, because I was lucky enough to be supported in taking that course. So it’s a year long course of training our teachers, training our staff to work with children with additional needs and with special needs. So that’s a postgraduate certificate. And so Services for Education have supported between two and four people for the last few years. So funding is put in place to pay for that course, and to train members of staff up specifically to deliver in special schools. So schools for the deaf, I teach in a secondary school that is purely for children, students sorry, who are autistic and profound, profound autism. And so that’s delivered as a whole class music lesson. And so yeah, and we also work closely with OHMI, so with one-handed instruments.


AH: Oh, yes.


HB: And we mentioned earlier on, when we were chatting, about Midlands Art Centre, MAC makes music. Actually, interestingly, we, so Sophie Gray, who is our inclusion lead, and Stewart and myself have been in conversation with Creative United, and they have been doing some research with another music hub, Nottingham around the extra support and provision for working with children with additional needs, special needs, and whether actually putting in extra support is needed in mainstream. So this is an area that we’ve been looking at. And I’m very, I think I’m somebody who’s always been really, really interested in inclusion, partly from a just a sort of a personal experience point of view, really, but so when I talk to staff, I’m very keen for staff to have a very, very good eye for those children who actually, on paper may not have any statements of any of any description at all, and school wouldn’t necessarily tell you anything about that particular child. But actually, you spot them in the classroom just because of maybe the way that they are interacting, or maybe the way that they’re not interacting, and to make sure that you are being open to seeing children who maybe need some additional help. Or that you might need to speak to the class teacher and say, ‘Can you just tell me a little bit more about the lad sitting in that desk or the girl that’s sitting just to the left? Is there anything I need to know?’. And very often there is, they just haven’t thought to necessarily tell you. I mean, it could be anything from noise sensitivity, for instance, you know, and so sensory overload is a real issue. And so it’s anything from that to children who are in mainstream that have physical barriers. And so I was in conversation with the school about three years ago, where in the next cohort, the year four cohort, there was going to be a pupil, who only had one arm. But actually, the instrument that they had in school for whole class was guitar. So obviously, we had to think about that, and you’d think that that would be, ‘Well, why wouldn’t you?’.  You know, why wouldn’t that be on anybody’s radar, but actually, there’s so many other things that schools are thinking about, but until you actually get there, sometimes, it’s only when you suddenly are presented with that, that schools think, ‘All right, okay’, you know. But having the forethought actually to have thought about it and we will say, ‘Okay, so should we put another instrument in next year?’, you know, so that actually, or is there a way around? Can we go to OHMI and see if there’s something that they can do for us? And so actually, it’s about inclusion and equality of experience, and why shouldn’t that child be able to experience playing a guitar? Is it something that we can do for them? So I think we’re very much about making everybody’s experience, it doesn’t have to be different for some children, we can make it the same, but we just have to get the right things in place for them.


AH: And I’m really interested in what you said about you trying to encourage your tutors to be differentiating and have those sort of antennae out all the time about young people who might struggle to engage in learning for a range of different reasons. And yet off often they don’t have a statement, but the teacher who knows them well will know that they have dyslexia or autism or they simply have some emotional difficulties or something happening at home, all the whole range of things that can affect kids’ learning. Do your tutors have any sort of formal coaching or tutoring in that or do you just sort of embed in your regular training? 


HB: Yeah, I mean, with our Twilight sessions we will, over the year, we would have one or two of those that would be specifically about, you know, delivering whole class and the challenges that come with that. Because I think, you know, when you go in and deliver whole class, you are a class teacher, at that point you are a class teacher. And that brings with it a huge number of responsibilities, actually, you know, it’s very different teaching to small group teaching. And I’m aware that sometimes, you know, we are sending in very experienced teachers. And sometimes we’re sending in, you know, some of our younger members of staff who are absolutely brilliant, but don’t have, you know, a huge amount of experience and definitely not in a classroom. So I’m really keen for them to have as much expert input to their CPD that we can give. And whether that’s by anecdotal experience, so you know, this, I mean, I’m just thinking of one lesson that I gave, this is going back a number of years now in a whole class, and there was a little girl sitting, sort of in the middle of the four or five rows of children. And every so often, she would look away. And it was only because we’d had a session with somebody around non-epileptic seizures, and I realised the seizures are what they call, absences. And I realised that actually, what was happening with this pupil was that she was having these absences, which only last for a few seconds maybe. What that means for that pupil is that for the time that they’re having that seizure, or that absence, they’re not hearing or, you know, aware of what’s going on. So if you didn’t spot that, and then you ask them to do something, and that pupil then doesn’t do what you’ve just been explaining for the last, you know, five minutes, do you see what I mean. So I think it’s, I’m really passionate that we are open to all of those things, you know, you’ve got to have your eyes and your ears all the time. And there are lots of other situations that I could talk about, I mean, obviously, we’re a multicultural, multi-diverse city, and there are sensitivities that we have to have around that when we’re delivering. There’s a whole range of expert sensitivities that I want our staff to be armed with, so that they can be the very best that they can be for the pupils that they’re teaching. 


AH: Definitely. And it’s such a lot to know, there’s such a lot of possible things that you have to know. And if you, you know, go through primary teacher training, then you get to sort of do elements of that and learn a little bit about different learning needs, etc.. But as a sort of music tutor you often don’t get that until you get into the job, and then have this type of training on the job. So I, you know, appreciate it’s a really rewarding, but incredibly challenging job as well being a whole class tutor.


HB: Yes, definitely.


AH: So I wanted to move us on to marketing and communications. And it’s also one of the things that I noticed most about your organisation. Hubs are meant to be partners with schools, providing services to support children, young people, in many ways, but it does sometimes seem as though we’re having to sell into schools. And I just wondered if you could tell me a little bit about how you market your offer? Because to me, it looks like you have quite a sales-focused operation from what I’ve seen on your website, and on some of your emails, it feels very, very ‘slick’ sounds like a criticism. It’s a positive, you know, it looks really professional. And I know that from some of the things like your head of service did a lovely video the other day on the website about the importance of music. And I know that you have, obviously you have a relationship, and I guess, sort of values-based advocacy approach as well. So just interested to hear about the balance between those two things for your organisation.


HB: Yeah, I mean, I think it is about getting that balance. I mean, obviously, for us as a charity, that is really key. And the two have to work hand in hand, really. So I suppose what we get from the schools and the buying from schools, which is obviously, you know, we want that because we want to continue those relationships with the schools that we’ve had for decades. That actually allows us, you know, that’s absorbed and then allows us to then go on to offer so much of the provision that we you know, we’re able to provide that is free, then to the same customers. So, area ensembles, you know, that we run across the city, which are completely free, and then our central ensembles, which are free, which are sort of grade three onwards up to grade eight. So again, the instruments which we don’t charge for, so, I suppose that the business that we generate that then funds all the other work that we do, which removes the barriers, you know, we talked about earlier on. And I guess the, you know, the branding and the marketing, we have to get that right. And it has to be clear, and it has to deliver the message, our vision and our mission statement really clearly however that happens. You know, whether it’s via pictures, or words or something that we’re perhaps promoting. It has to bring that same message that, you know, we’re here for everyone in this city and that we will do our utmost best to give them a true and authentic and meaningful experience. So I mean, our  marketing team work incredibly hard. I mean, we have a heavy sort of social media presence. But that’s, I suppose not just about selling that’s just about, you know, making people aware of what we’re doing and what we’re about. And that kind of goes back to what I said, you know about when we became Services for Education. And we were no longer Birmingham music service, you know, we are Service for Education Music Service, that’s who we are now, and getting that message across. And then just creating that clear and cohesive message of music, music for all. And they do that really well. In terms of communication, this year we’ve launched our new online order form to schools which is another step in the right direction, making it very easy for schools to order in. We have parent portals for the parents of children in our ensembles, so they have direct communication between our head of ensembles and parents. And so hopefully all of that works really well together to just get the message across that, you know, the work that we’re that we’re doing. 


AH: And you mentioned, tantalisingly, your marketing team, which I’m sure some music services and hubs must be listening to and thinking, ‘Oh, if only!’. How many people are in the marketing team, and obviously they’re marketing the wider services for education. Do you have somebody dedicated to music? 


HB: No, it’s a relatively small team. Probably we’ve got three people who work for marketing. So we’ve got three people marketing, we’ve got a fundraising team as well, which is a team of two. And then we’ve got communications, our comms team, as well. So I’ve got a couple of people on that. So they all work together. And really, it’s in response. So they will listen to what it is that we particularly want to raise awareness of so that we’re just there really, that people don’t forget, you know, what’s going on and what they can be involved with. So we’re communicating with people who work with us, and also the people who might feel that they can support us as a charity as well. 


AH: The income from fundraising like from trusts and foundations or other sources, does that go into the music service? Does it subsidise some of the area ensembles or the instrument hire or something like that? 


HB: No, I mean, the money that’s raised there, so for instance, if I go back to the University of Roehampton course, for instance, it will be used to fund that, or it might be used to fund some of our inclusion projects that we’re working on. Prior to COVID, we’d been discussing some new projects that we wanted to get up and running. So moving into the areas of social and emotional mental health, and also pupil referral units as well. So as we extend our work out into those specialised areas, then certain amounts of the funding would be, so we fundraise specifically for projects. Maybe if we’re having to have instruments, so from OHMI, for instance, some of the fundraising could be used for that, too. So that our offer is more inclusive and more diverse. 


AH: Brilliant, we’ve reached the end of our time, I think.


HB: Have we? [Laughs]


AH: I’d love to speak to you for another couple of hours and ask some more questions. So finally, can you give us three practical pieces of advice or three calls to action for others delivering whole class or involved more widely in music education?


HB: Okay. Yeah, so I think the first one would be for music to regain its true place in the wider curriculum, and for it to be truly recognised and valued in schools. And I know that schools do value it, but I know that it gets squeezed out. It’s not the fault of schools that that happens or has happened. But I would like to see it just being able to take its place at the table again as an equal partner with other subjects. My  second one would be for PGCE students to really have better experience of training and teaching of delivering music so that every school has got teachers who feel confident in delivering general music, you know, singing, singing games and so on. And I think our PGCE provision could be better enhanced, you know, if there was just a little bit more thought given to what teachers need to have confidence in doing so that again music can be at the heart of the school. Not just when an external visitor, you know, like myself comes in, but that it’s there all the time. And my third one, I would just like a recommitment to the whole class programme alongside all other aspects of delivery so that what we provide as music education hubs and music services across the country, that what we can provide is rich and varied and exciting and truly engage our young people so that it becomes a meaningful part of their life, for the rest of their lives. 


AH: Oh, that’s brilliant Helen, thank you. I don’t think anybody could argue with those. And thank you so much for talking with me today, it’s been great to have you on the podcast. I’d like to talk to you for longer – we’ll have to do another one. I say that to everybody who comes on here. Very best of luck with reconnecting with schools and pupils over the coming weeks and months.


HB: Thank you, Anita, and thank you for your time, it’s been really great.


AH: Thank you. If you want to read more about Services for Education, I will share the link to their website and other things we talked about in the show notes, and thank you for listening.

Leave a Comment

Could we help you or your organisation?

Need a freelance writer, freelance editor, or communications support
for your organisation? Get in touch to talk further and/or get a quote.