AH: Hello, it’s Anita here, and welcome to this month’s podcast. In this episode I’m talking with Nick Howdle and Sophie Amstell from Wiltshire Music Connect which is a music education hub. If you don’t know about music education hubs, or you’re listening from outside of England or the UK, I’ll post some information about hubs in the show notes. But basically they’re groups of organisations such as local authorities, schools, voluntary and other organisations who receive government funding in England to create joined-up music education provision in the local area, and they fulfill a number of roles which are part of the government’s National Plan for Music Education. So why I thought you’d be interested to hear about his hub is that it works in quite a different way from other hubs. It doesn’t deliver any music education services itself, and instead it focuses on connecting, upskilling and empowering the music education community in the area. And then the other reason why I thought it would be interesting is that it has been focussing on really understanding and involving its stakeholders and developing targeted communications as a result of what it finds out. So welcome Nick and Sophie, it’s really great to have you here today.
Nick Howdle: Thank you.
Sophie Amstell: Thank you.
AH: Before I go on to ask you about Wiltshire Music Connect, can I ask a little bit about you personally and how you ended up where you are today, and why it’s so important to you?
SA: I’ve been working for Wiltshire Music Connect for just coming up to two years, but my background is arts education in quite a broad sense, so I’ve worked for festivals and dance agencies, and schools and theatres. It’s probably worth saying I wouldn’t describe myself as a musician – I can play the piano very badly – but I work strategically to develop music education in Wiltshire and I am surrounded by musicians. In terms of why I do this kind of work I can probably explain it really quickly and easily with a little anecdote from the beginning of my career. I was working at Brighton Dome Festival with an amazing woman called Pippa Smith, who was my boss at the time, she was the Director of Learning. She’d given my one of my first jobs in the sector, and on that particular day we were standing in the auditorium of one of the theatres with probably around 300 rowdy school children sitting in the auditorium waiting for the show to start, and Pippa grabbed my arm and she said to me, ‘Just have a look at the children. One of those children is about to have their life changed forever by what they’re going to see on this stage. The problem is we don’t know which one it is.’ And that’s really stuck with me because we know that music can have life-changing impact on children and young people for a whole number of reasons, but if we don’t make sure that all children have access to really great music education then those life-changing moments won’t happen. So that kind of spurs me on every day in my work really, whatever I’m doing in the office, I’m hopefully contributing towards those life changing moments.
AH: Ah, that’s really lovely, thank you Sophie. And what about you Nick?
NH: Well, similarly, I’m spurred on by many of the things that Sophie is, and I think because I believe that music is excellent for developing young minds. The jobs that I did prior to doing this job were, I was running Wiltshire Music Service for a couple of years, and before that I was working in London with an organisation called Sound Connections, and a national funder called Youth Music. And prior to that I’d spent a lot of time working as a musician in participatory music making but also in arts and regeneration schemes in south Yorkshire. So what I think I bring to this equation, and what a lot of my thinking has been shaped by a lot of that previous experience, including working on a thing called ‘Music Manifesto’ towards the end of the new Labour government, and some things that followed that which led to the formation of the National Plan for Music Education and the music education hubs.
AH: Fantastic. That’s a kind of really good mix of community development, regeneration, informal music, and formal music.
NH: Absolutely, and as Sophie alluded to earlier, I think that we see a lot of synergy between the work we do here and community development work. Our particular community is music education and our range of stakeholders that sit under that banner, but it is essentially community development work.
AH: That says a lot about the way you work, doesn’t it too. And so personally, why is it so important to you? You’re a musician, aren’t you?
NH: I am, and what I would say that through my processes of being a musician and learning about music myself, is that I’ve gained an awful lot of wider life skills and experiences, and skills and confidence I think. And I guess I see myself as one example of how an individual can benefit from being engaged in something which is of value and has purpose and allows for expression.
AH: Thank you. OK, so getting into the questions. Can you tell me about the model for the music education hub in Wiltshire because it is quite different from most other music education hubs.
NH: Well our model is the way it is because we had to restructure everything in Wiltshire four or so years ago when it became apparent that there was no longer going to be money coming in from the local authority to continue the traditional and really well established type and quality of the county music service. And what we did was to take the opportunity to really try and come up with a new model which would be future-facing, and as future-proof as possible for the period that lay ahead. Which as most people, certainly in the British public-funded sector are aware, is particularly uncertain and riddled with cuts and changes and restructures. So essentially we have a very small team at the centre which concentrates on strategy, that has a stakeholder board which effectively governs it, and the decision-making powers for the hub have been delegated to that board by the local authority, even though the employees of the hub, and there are five of us, are actually local authority employees. Rather than having a team of tutors who work on our behalf, we have an Associates Scheme. Associates are quality assured individuals and organisations who deliver music in a range of different settings, contexts, styles, genres, and gives a really rich, and involving palette I would say as well because new Associates are already joining. And we now have over 150 different organisations and people engaged in that Associates Scheme across the county. That’s well more than twice the amount of people who used to work for the music service. And what we do is we concentrate the use of the resources we have on commissioning, funding or subsidising particular areas of activity. One example being in relation to the music education hubs core role of progression, we subsidise instrumental tuition in schools for young people from families who cannot afford it for whatever reason or are facing particular kinds of disadvantage. The majority of the transactions that are taking place between our Associates and young people in schools where no money [from the Hub] is required, there is no money [from the Hub] and it’s a direct transaction between them. [NOTE: parents pay for their lessons direct rather than through a music service. In the vast majority of cases the money goes straight from the parent to the tutor (sometimes through the school, sometimes not.) That means that the Hub is not involved at all unless it is providing a subsidy for disadvantaged pupils. ]
Because we’re not involved in the financial transaction it’s much safer and more sustainable if there are cuts to music education.
And that means that no-one can ever cut the funding to that. So we’re trying to concentrate funding in particular ways where it’s most needed. In terms of things like ensembles, which is another part of the roles for a music education hub, we subsidise the delivery of ensemble opportunities for a number of different organisations, and increasingly we concentrate our funding on making these accessible to people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. And we embrace some of the more traditional Western classical music ensemble opportunities in the county, including the subsidy that we provide towards the equipment of the county youth orchestra. But we also provide subsidies to people who are working with bands, pop and rock acts, and other things like that as well. We’ve been able to expand the range of things we’ve supported as we’ve done that. We have a themed strategy, we have particular initiatives and the use of subsidy that goes towards singing-related activities, and in relation to our school music education planned work we have a team of cluster co-ordinators who are contracted to work in 13 notional, geographical clusters in Wiltshire to develop relationships with schools and providers within them. So we do everything by trying to get money back out of the door to other people who are doing these things and have a vested interest in making these things work in the county in the longer term.
AH: Thank you for that. That’s really, really clear. I’ve got a question from Twitter actually about Associates, but just before I ask that, I just wanted to be clear about what are the benefits for private music tutors in engaging with you, and what process do you go through to quality assure them?
NH: Essentially, all our Associates are private tutors or the equivalent thereof, many of them are organisations, some people have organised themselves into a co-operative. We have an Associates Scheme. People apply to be Associates, and in order to do that they have to pass certain thresholds of quality assurance that relate, first and foremost to safeguarding and an awareness of the kinds of things to be insured, a commitment to CPD, and an appropriate mix of skills, experience, and in some cases qualifications that give them the credentials to be able to operate safely and effectively as a music educator. Beyond that, what we’re encouraging all the consumers of their work, schools, parents and families, and young people, is to recognise that they have a choice about who they engage with and the basis on which they engage with them. And increasingly to ask them the questions about why a particular tutor is most suitable to a particular cohort of pupils or an individual. So, what we’ve been able to do is embrace a much wider range of practice, of styles, of genres, and as we said earlier, we’ve got over 150 different individuals and organisations by opening the doors in that way.
SA: In terms of the benefits to them, I think it’s work saying that it’s completely free to apply to be an Associate. And assuming that they meet the threshold in terms of safeguarding and quality that Nick’s talked about, they then become part of this wider community. They have opportunities to network with each other and learn from each other’s practice, they get a range of free CPD, they get a free listing on our database so that any parent or school in Wiltshire can search on our database to find the kind of music educator that they’re looking for. So it’s a really great way of them advertising what they do. So I think there are lots of benefits for them.
NH: They can also access our subsidy schemes in terms of instrumental tuition, they can access the instrument hire scheme for their pupils, and they get first crack at engaging with CPD, activities and conferences and things like that. And increasingly we find that the content, a lot of CPD and conferences is actually delivered by our Associates themselves sharing back with the community. We also have Associate representation on our stakeholder board.
AH: Wiltshire Music Connect is a really appropriate name for you because a lot of your work is just about connecting up those people and bringing them into the wider community.
AH: So the question that came in from Twitter and LinkedIn is from Tim Mason, who’s a guitar teacher from Norfolk. I think you might have already answered this question but I’ll ask his question and see if there’s anything else you want to add. He says, ‘There seems to be no collaboration between music services and private instrumental teachers in the UK meaning that private tuition is still the most feasible route for students wishing to achieve [high quality?] on an instrument. Do you talk to private tutors in your area?’
SA: Well I think the simple answer is Yes. Because we’re not a music service so there’s no distinction in our model between music service tutors and other private tutors. So in effect everyone in Wiltshire is a private tutor, and we have an open door policy to all of them if they want to join our Associate network. Absolutely anyone can apply to be an Associate, and that means we have a really great level of ongoing dialogue with our private tutors in this area.
NH: We correspond with all our Associates through ebulletins and gatherings about things we involve Associates in some of grant assessments panels, and also other discussions about particular things, so they’re involved in shaping aspects of their world of work. Effectively we see our role as a music education hub as being about supporting a wider economy in the county which has a value of somewhere between £2-3 million a year. What we want to do is see high-quality practitioners being able to earn a good living and provide good services within the county in the long-term. Our CPD work, and some of the other things we do in terms of making connectivity between schools and tutors is all about developing that.
AH: So would you say that you’re creating the conditions so that if you weren’t to be around – if there wasn’t hub funding from 2020 onwards – the sector would still survive?
NH: We certainly consider that. I don’t think it would be as simple as saying ‘If we weren’t here in two years everything would tick along quite nicely without us’, because of course there’s always jigging along and persuading and encouraging to do in these kind of roles. What’s interesting about our model, and we don’t assume that our model is automatically better than anyone else’s, is that we concentrate on developmental work, and we concentrate on opening the next set of doors down the corridor and looking at what lies beyond the horizon and things like that. And try to relay it back to the people who are actually doing the work on the ground on a daily basis. It’s a strategic role, we do think about how things would happen if we had to scale down our operations. Certainly, some of the connections that have been made through clusters or Associates and schools could continue even if we we’re no longer able to put some of the same level of resources to them as we do now.
AH: You mentioned clusters there, and I know that’s an important part of your model, can you tell me a little bit more about that, how those work?
SA: Yes. As Nick said, we’ve got 13 music clusters across the county, and each cluster has a co-ordinator who works on a very part-time basis for us. The co-ordinator plans and delivers cluster meetings, and they arrange CDP and support each cluster in deciding how to spend their own budget on something that will benefit all the schools, and thus the children and young people in that area. The cluster co-ordinators also carry out annual school visits so we can provide some one-to-one support to schools as they develop music education in their particular context. I think we pride ourselves on the fact that clusters allow us to operate very much on a kind of grass roots up model where the teachers in those schools themselves are deciding how things develop and grow rather than us trying to tell them what they ought to be doing. Certainly the clusters that are working most successfully are the ones where there are really committed teachers who can see the benefits of collaborating across schools. But also where other music education providers are engaged in the clusters, say peripatetic teachers and other music organisations, venues, and that kind of thing. They become a really kind of rich source of information about what’s going on, on the ground, and are really able to direct where things go.
AH: Again, that’s really very much a community development model isn’t it. And so, a question that Ally Daubney asked, she’s a researcher and trainer in music education you’re probably aware of her, she says, ‘What criteria do you apply when choosing what and who to fund in situations where there are multiple options, and is this where clusters and people being empowered to support you to make decisions comes in?’.
SA: Yes, absolutely. It’s a really good question so thanks for sending it in Ally. Of course there are a million ways that music education can happen, and we can’t just throw our limited resources at anything and everything, so it is important to target resources where they’re going to make the most difference. Recently, we’ve been developing a commissioning model where we use our music clusters to identify gaps in provision or particular needs and priorities. And then we make commissions available to our Associates who might want to fill those gaps or to respond creatively to a particular need that’s been identified. To give you an example, earlier this year we identified through our music clusters and a variety of other sources of information, that there was a need for music careers information for young people. So we asked our Associate organisations to put forward proposals for music industry careers events, and we assessed all those proposals and chose to fund the ones that best met that need in an innovative and creative way. The result is that over the coming months, there’s going to be a whole range of music careers events taking place in Wiltshire. They’re all going to be in different locations and they’re all going to focus on slightly different things because they’re being run by different associate providers in different areas who have that really local knowledge and expertise needed to make the event fit that context. So, in answer to Ally’s question, there’s never a ‘one size fits all’ approach. We’re always looking to find quite unique solutions to address a specific need, and so we always create different, specific criteria for every commission that we put out there, and that plays to the strength of our local community. We do also have a development fund, and that kind of works the other way, so that’s so our local providers can innovate and try something new and come to us with an idea if they themselves have identified a gap that might not fit our commissioning model.
NH: I think it’s really important that how this is done evolves over time and is responsive to changes in the wider ecology of the county and other things that might happen, as well as other things we might be able to see strategically over the horizon. I think that one of the constant challenges faced by those providing music education in schools and communities, and within schools themselves, people who work schools, is that they’re constantly up against a number of ongoing daily challenges and practicalities about what they do. A big part of our job is to look over the horizon on their behalf and share some of the things that we can see heading towards them and to anticipate what some of the solutions to those challenges, and indeed opportunities, might be. And I think that is a really important thing and it doesn’t seem to happen enough in a lot of settings. And what we want to do is introduce people to the future if you like, and introduce them to the opportunities and the challenges that the future might bring so that they’re ready for it by the time it arrives.
AH: That’s so important for a strategic organisation as you call yourselves, and also an organisation for community development because far too often you see people being very tactical and reactive, so that’s really good to hear that. And also, in terms of Ally’s question, and the criteria you apply when choosing who and what to fund, you’ve also got a real clear set of outcomes and values, and you make that clear on your website. So I guess the headline criteria would be to do with your outcomes that you’ve outlined?
NH: Absolutely. We felt it was important to have outcomes for the music education hub that weren’t just about the core and extension roles for music education hubs. Because from the outset we felt that getting the right solutions for Wiltshire would be ultimately what was the right music education hub for Wiltshire and what would keep the Arts Council and government happy in terms of the headlines that they need to watch and monitor. So there’s absolutely an alignment between our outcomes and those roles, but we often think about them differently and there are some which are particular to our organisation. So we have outcomes which focus on participation, on progression, on events and performances, on workforce development, but also on advocacy, connectivity, knowledge, information, stakeholder engagement which is crucial to our model, and specifically inclusion which we made a decision not embed or bury within the other outcomes, but to make sure that it stood there on its own. And we monitor how we do in terms of those things against those outcomes as well as reporting to the Arts Council and to government.
[21:59] AH: That’s brilliant, because I know it’s hard for all hubs to have clear, they have more sort of more outputs they have to report on to Arts Council to have the funding, and often those don’t feel very strategic. They feel more about outputs than outcomes if you want to get into evaluation language, and you’ve taken that bull by the horns and said, ‘Right, these are the outcomes which are right for our area’. So anything else to add about the criteria you apply when choosing how to distribute your funding?
NH: I don’t think so, particularly you know. We’ve got stuff that concentrates on need, economic need and social need, and we have things that concentrate on filling identified gaps, and we have things that concentrate on things that might happen in the future. I think it’s incredibly important that within a music education hub’s work it itself has time and a degree of capacity to experiment with models and ideas in approach which might, in five or 10 years time, be the new norm. And that’s really, really important, and that must not be crushed or squeezed out by a politically-driven need to hit what are often some quite staid, possibly old-fashioned indicators about the numbers of this, or the numbers of that. Because if you’re not in the right place in the future, then you’re not serving the community that you’re there to do. And equally we feel it’s really important to be able to set aside a degree of time and capacity to support the stakeholder community and support the development of all these relationships because ultimately it’s them who deliver those wider outcomes and outputs further down the line.
AH: OK, thank you for that. My next question was going to be about what implications your model has for core and extension roles, and you’ve actually already covered that, athough briefly. So for those who may not know, the core roles for music education hubs are whole class instrumental tuition for schools, groups and ensembles and performance opportunities for young people, which might be in or out of schools, progression routes, singing strategy, and then there are optional extension roles which are CPD for school staff, instrument loan service, and large-scale and high-quality musical experiences. So you’ve kind of touched on some of those, but I wondered if you wanted to say anything else about the implications your model has for those, or if you want to pick on any particular core role and talk about how you’re doing that differently.
NH: I think it would probably be interesting to talk about First Access because I didn’t cover that earlier. First Access has been really interesting. Under the music service model, the music service offered First Access to schools in the county, and the music service tutor would deliver a programme of work in a school, usually over the course of an academic year. That input followed a fairly traditional whole class instrumental approach. High-quality stuff, quality assured and this fed the tuition which was then offered by the music service in terms of progression. Originally a lot of that work was offered by the music service for free, and while the number of school it was going into in the county was pretty high, there was quite a lot of variability in how much the schools valued it and felt that they owned it. What we found towards the end of the music service was in fact when we introduced a charge for some of that input, there was considerable drop-off, but schools were valuing the work some more. What we do now under our model is, we will provide subsidy to schools wanting to hire in Associates to deliver First Access in their schools. That seems to work quite well, and we’re roughly providing around 25-30% subsidy for that particular input in schools. But what we’ve also done, in recognition of the way that things evolve, and also schools changing needs and budgetary issues, is we’ve introduced a number of different things into the palette of what’s available including subsidy towards elearning models such as Charanga, the trialling of some online tuition and input delivered through Skype and Skype-based lessons, supporting schools who increasingly actually seem to want to be trying to deliver First Access themselves. Wiltshire has a lot of small schools, less than 120 pupils on the register, and the capacity issues in those schools are quite different. So we’ve found that we’ve made progress in engaging schools with First Access by again increasing the palette and the number of different things that are available to them. Any every year we’re trying to bring a new colour, or shade if you like, into that offer, so it keeps moving. Some schools, I think, are really excited by the prospect of being able to kind of rotate the inputs, and to try different things in different years, and match these to things that their particular year group will respond to best. What’s particularly exciting is when the school begins to see that it actually could, in buying in that input from the Associate that they may choose, and it’s up to them who they choose, is that perhaps they can link some of that stuff to the wider-school agenda, or to other areas of the curriculum quite effectively. Be that inclusion, or particular topics or things that they may be exploring in school, or indeed the very important area of health and wellbeing, is that music doesn’t need to exist in a corner of the school, hidden away from everything else, it can actually be integral to a school’s bloodstream, it’s development plan, and to the wider things it’s trying to achieve.
AH: And so a school can think strategically about their music provision, and how they can look at all areas of the curriculum, areas of development for the young person, and choose a practitioner based on that and vary those practitioners year on year according the schools needs.
NH: If it wants to, equally if its very happy with the ongoing input of a particular provider, that’s fine. The point is that it’s their choice. And the work that the cluster co-ordinators do as part of our school music plan work is really to ask schools questions about how they want to do things, and how they’re considering things, and whether they’ve thought of this or that, whether they’re aware that they could be doing it like this, and to begin to open up the palette of opportunities to them and enable them to make choices and indeed to try different things.
AH: OK, so related to that, John Thompson, hub leader for Sandwell Music Education hub in the West Midlands asks, ‘With increasing financial pressures on schools, how do you balance the need for the highest-quality provision with the pressure to increase numbers of engagement in core roles?’.
NH: OK. I think everybody’s aware of the financial pressures that schools are under, and certainly in relation to things like First Access models I was speaking about a minute ago, it’s really important that there are a number of different options that schools can pick up to do those things. Because the costs of doing those, and the logistical implications of doing those vary. In terms of the quality, I think this is a really tricky one because to a certain extent in our model we’re not controlling all out of the output coming out of the door in the same way that a traditional music service model would have done. That doesn’t mean that the quality isn’t good, the counter-action to that is that we’re encouraging schools and parents, families and young people, to apply more scrutiny to the quality of what they receive, and to make choices that are based on that, and make changes if they feel that they need to. And I think too often the quality argument has been used to close down any discussion about broadening out an offer. That doesn’t mean to say in any way that I belittle the importance of quality, but I think that quality will look and feel and sound different to different schools, to different young people, and in different settings. And what we really need to do is make sure that we offer a variety of choices, and encourage a variety of choices to be available to schools, so they can choose what’s going to be right for them at their particular moment in their course of developing.
SA: And I think we’re supporting schools to make those judgements about quality through our clusters. So we’ve got these communities of teachers and music education providers who are supporting each other in a peer-to-peer model, so they can talk about quality in those clusters. They can look at what’s going on in a range of different schools and compare what’s going on in their own school to what’s going on down the road. And we’re providing a lots of CPD which helps with those quality judgements as well. And I think the CPD is quite key to this because we tend here not to think about CPD as an extension role, but rather as part of all the other roles. Because we’re constantly trying to upskill our music education community to make it more sustainable.
AH: That’s a really good point. That whole thing about both CPD and having conversations with teachers and music providers about quality is so important isn’t it? And as Nick says, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ way to assess quality and it’s really important that we remember that in music education. That’s a whole other podcast, but I think your cluster model really lends itself well to that doesn’t it, to having those discussions.
NH: I think so, and I think it’s important as a community takes ownership of how it wants things to be, the ceiling on these things should constantly being pushed up. And that probably happens on a fairly long trajectory over a period of time, but I think the day when somebody can say, ‘We are the service provider for all of these people in all of these different settings and different styles, we know best and nobody else is going to be as good as us’, is just not viable. In my experience of working in community and participatory arts and inclusion over the last 20 years it’s simply not the case. Quality does look and feel, and sound different in different settings, but it should have some core parameters to that which are about the ability to respond to an individual’s needs, to operate safely and responsibly, and other issues like that. But the language varies hugely between different stakeholder groups and so it should.
AH: OK. And kind of linked to that, in terms of value-for-money and effectiveness, is this model working well in comparison to other hubs and actually that’s a question that was put on Twitter from Richard Jones who’s head of South Gloucestershire’s hub and he asked, ‘Why is your model better than a full service-delivery model?’, which you’ve just touched upon.
NH: I don’t necessarily think that our model is better than the full-service model. We have the model that we have because the traditional full-service model was no longer available. Personally, for a long time, I’ve been a believer in a mixed palette of different things as I’ve said before. I think one of the key things that makes it different is that we’re able to concentrate on strategy, the very precise use of public money you need to achieve particular things, and to constantly be about moving the agenda forward rather than being overly concerned and consumed with day-to-day logistics of timetabling and getting tutors out to particular places. But that’s the model that’s working for us here in this county at the moment is not necessarily the model that would work perfectly everywhere else.
SA: We’ve certainly got a very small, core team as Nick already mentioned, and I think that that has lots of benefits. It enables us to be quite fleet-of-foot, and change course if we need to, and be responsive in a way that a larger full-service model might not be able to.
AH: I realise that time’s going on, so I wondered if we could come on to communications now? This is very much linked to community development, I think. How do you think the way in which you work affects the way in which you find out about and communicate with your stakeholders?
NH: We’ve learned a lot, I think, about the importance of communicating, and about the importance of thinking about how things sound and read to different stakeholder groups. It’s incredibly important to what we do, and it’s been a huge contributor to the success we’ve had in engaging so many people in this new model. And taking them with us on a journey from one place that was no longer going to be viable, to something which seems more stable, inclusive, and broader than it’s been before. We communicate regularly with parents, with Associates, with schools, but we communicate with them in different languages and through different mailing lists and things, and we involve them in the things we do differently. Periodically we need to concentrate on a particular segment of our audience or stakeholder group. Sophie’s done some great work in developing our relationships with secondary schools over the last couple of years, and I think she’s going to say a few words about that.
SA: It’s been really useful to get advice on how to communicate differently with our different stakeholder groups so we start to think about what do they want to hear?, what do they need to know? So we focussed in the last year or so on really developing our communications with secondary schools and that’s been really successful. So we have separate mailing lists for secondary school teachers, we have systems for communicating individually with them, and we created resources to support them specifically in advocating for their subject. And the results of that have been really great. By taking that small, quite limited section of our audience, and focussing just on them, it’s been really, really useful. I think it’s also worth saying that because of our model, and our stakeholder-led approach, when we communicate it’s always a two-way flow of communication between all of our stakeholders. We’re not employing our Associates, so it’s not a top-down communication model, it’s much more democratic than that. We’re encouraging them to communicate with us, but perhaps more importantly encouraging them to communicate with each other as well. So it does feel quite different to other places that I’ve worked.
NH: Another particular thing we’ve developed over the last year so has been a series of leaflets and guidance documents called ‘Why Music?’, some of which are pitched at parents and carers, some of which are pitched at schools covering things to do with the value and importance of music. How it can affect things at transitions, things about careers in the music industry, things about choosing their tutor and all those kinds of things. And that for us is all part of the process of introducing people, or supporting people with the concept that they have a choice about how they do things, and what kind of inputs they want to put together for their children or for their pupils. In each case we’ve involved the stakeholder groups in the drafting and shaping of those documents, and in their distribution. Interestingly, I had a look at the webstats the other day, and the ‘Why Music?’ page on our website, which for anyone visiting our site is in the bottom right-hand corner of our homepage, is the fifth most popular page on the whole site. We have about 1,500 pages on the site in total, including downloads, but it’s well up there in the top. And we’ve been seeing significant interest across the country in those resources because there’s very little in them which is specific to Wiltshire and at the moment we’re trying to gauge from hubs across the country whether or not they’re interested in coming in on that model with us. But again, these are things that we’ve learned about. If you’d asked me whether or not that would be on the list of things that we’d do four years ago, I probably wouldn’t have thought of it. But we followed the chain of things, we listened to what people have said, and we’ve realised in some instances that doing something like that, which is ostensibly a piece of communications work, is actually the best way for us to achieve something further down the line, developmentally and to produce outcomes and outputs from that.
AH: And I like that fact that none of this is guesswork, and none of this is top down – it’s all based on you responding to people’s needs and understanding those needs so we give them exactly what they want in terms of content and resources.
NH: It’s very much driven by that. I think I’d be lying if I said we don’t do anything that’s top down. There is definitely a part of our role, and I’ve said previously, which is about looking over the horizon, about nudging certain issues on and provoking responses to things if we don’t think that people are recognising the implications of them as well as they might. So Yes, we are listening and we’re constantly being shaped by what our stakeholders say and feel, and express to us. But we are also taking an overview because we are the subject specialist organisation for Wiltshire and that’s part of our responsibility and quite rightly people have a right to expect that we will take some leadership.
AH: That’s great, thank you. So I was going to ask you next about what evidence you have that your approach to communications is working, but you’ve kind of touched on that, but is there anything else you wanted to say about that, perhaps in terms of any feedback you’ve heard from people, or anecdotal evidence from people that it’s working?
SA: Well, I’m certainly pleased and proud of the number of requests we get from all over the country to use our ‘Why Music?’ resources. Particularly proud to say we’ve recently had a request to have them translated the into Welsh so they can be used in Welsh schools. We didn’t set out to create ‘Why Music?’ documents that would work all over the country. They were designed for Wiltshire, but it’s great that they’re being used further afield and those messages are useful to people.
NH: I think overall, one of the clearest messages of how that’s worked over time is that we’ve gone from a situation in which initially when we started doing our hub this way a number of people were quite surprised that they were being asked what they thought, and how they might want to engage with it and have a place to deal with that, and people were a little slow or reticent to respond to offers and gestures that we made. Now it’s quite different. When we put stuff out about commissions or particular funds and things like that, people are going and looking at them and deciding whether or not it’s appropriate for them, because they recognise that it’s being done to help them and the work that they’re doing. And we get all sorts of anecdotal feedback on evaluation forms about how useful and engaging and practically useful a piece of CPD may have been, or about how people really value having the values of music distilled for them in a way that they can use in their work. We get great feedback about some of our Associates and organisations from parents or young people who have been really thrilled by that experience. And we get useful feedback about how we might improve our services, and how we communicate and present things as well. And that’s all part of an ongoing evolution. I think that one of the most important things that I’ve learned from this process is that this isn’t about making two or three steps to modernise how we present Wiltshire Music, sorry, music for children and young people in Wiltshire, it’s about recognising that we are on a conveyor belt of ongoing change and everything around us is changing all the time, and there is a constant need to reflect and modernise and think ahead and invest in the ideas that will be the ideas of the future. Some of them will fall by the wayside, but to assume that we’ve done four things as an example and now we don’t need to change anything else would be the greatest mistake that we could possibly make. Wiltshire Music Connect should look and feel different in another four years to what it does now, and it’s certainly very different to what it was four years ago.
AH: I’d love to ask you more about how you went from a stage where there wasn’t much community development, there wasn’t too much two-way communication and input from stakeholders to where you are now. Maybe if you had a tip for other hubs around that who are feeling, ‘Oh, we’re not getting much engagement from schools or students’, is there one particular piece of advice that you’d pass on to them?
NH: I’d say, be brave, be consistent, reflect, try again, and don’t forget to ask them why they don’t engage with it if they don’t engage with it.
AH: Brilliant, I might come back to that in a bit because I wanted to ask you about some practical bits of advice, but it just seemed important to mention that here. So I’m going to go on to something kind of completely different and a bit of a curve ball. It was a question from Twitter, from Russ Tunney who’s a theatre director and writer, and he asks, ‘Which contemporary songwriter and song defines this era, and should be used in educational settings?’.
NH: We have to say first of all that we know Russ quite well and Russ is the director of one of our Associate organisations, but this isn’t a set up. I think for me my contemporary is different to a lot of other people’s contemporary, but thinking about things that have been happening recently, I identify two particular albums which for me were really formative musical experiences. One was an album called ‘Colour of Spring’ by Talk Talk which was masterminded by the genius of the late Mark Hollis who died a couple of months ago. And also an album by Kate Bush called ‘The Hounds of Love’, and to me they were both really brave, risk-taking, genre-changing albums that broke the mould and changed, certainly my expectations of what music could be and sound like and feel like. And opened my mind if you like to new shades and palettes of musicality and certainly if I was advising any young musicians who are creating their own music, whether that’s digitally or using real instruments or combinations of the two, finding your style, experimenting, working towards your style, your musical character, stepping out of your comfort zones is just really, really important. And in fact I find that it comes up a lot in conversation about people’s educational processes and indeed a schools have a duty to music. But I would definitely say, ‘Take these opportunities to go outside your comfort zone and see where it takes you – it’s amazing’.
AH: That’s a brilliant answer Nick.
SA: Shall I have a go Anita?
AH: Yes, that would be brilliant.
SA: I found this very difficult to answer, so thanks Russ for a very difficult question. I think the reason I found it hard is that a lot of the music I like at the moment is actually written by songwriting teams rather than by an individual artist or songwriter. And I think there has been a move towards this in recent years where record labels and production companies have got their kind of go-to writing teams. And the people in those teams are not necessarily household names but they’re people who’ve worked with multiple artists and sold billions of records. And a quick Google to look at some of your favourite songs will turn up some of these names like John Shanks, Steve Robson, Elliot Kennedy, who are kind of behind-the-scenes songwriters. And there’s lots of bad things about that because I think lots of people make tiny tweaks to other people’s songs and expect a writing credit, which is not necessarily good practice. But I think there’s also a lot going for collaborative songwriting, so rather than picking any one thing, I’m going to say that I think that it’s interesting for education settings to really look at children writing songs together and taking that collaborative approach, rather than perhaps sitting in their bedrooms and writing music on their own.
AH: I love your answers, and any answer that includes Kate Bush is good enough for me anyway. So just to wrap up. Finally, can you give us either three practical pieces of advice for listeners, or perhaps three calls to action for others working in music education who are listening? Things that perhaps you’d like to see happen in music education in the next few years?
SA: One of mine is that I would really like non-specialist primary school teachers to be more confident with delivering music. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world where all primary school music was delivered by specialists, but we’re not in that world. And actually, we know that non-specialist primary teachers can deliver excellent music if they’re brave enough and if they ask for help and support.
NH: I would say, be brave, look ahead, make space for innovation, expect to be changing and evolving as you go along, and make sure you take people with you.
SA: And can I throw in the last one? My one is, I would really like to see music mentioned in Ofsted reports. I think it would make a huge difference to how music is delivered in this country. At the moment I think it’s really sad that some of the fantastic music going on in our schools isn’t recognised in Ofsted reports and if it was I think heads would be more interested in it. So I’d like to make a plea to Ofsted to mention music a bit more.
AH: That’s a fantastic thing to end on. Thanks so much Nick and Sophie, it’s been really great to chat to you. I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to talk to me today.
SA: Thanks Anita.
NH: Thank you.
AH: And if you want to read more about Wiltshire Music Connect I’ll share the link to their website and their resources, they’ve got quite a few case studies and evidence, in the show notes. Thank you for listening and have a great rest of the week.