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What hubs are for – guest blog from Bristol

colston-710x473Siggy Patchitt, Education Manager, Bristol Plays Music, gave an impassioned speech to those who attended a Music Education Council music education seminar in Bristol this month, including representatives from Make Music Gloucestershire.  He posted the full speech last week on the Youth Music Network – here’s an edited version written as a guest blog , with some key messages that we may all find inspiring and helpful.

Siggy started his talk by giving a bit of context about Bristol Plays Music, the lead organisation in the music education hub for Bristol. It is in a unique position in that it:

  • is a charitable trust set up by Bristol City Council and Bristol Music Trust (which manages Colston Hall) and recently awarded NPO status from the Arts Council
  • now also runs the music service (following a transfer from the Council to the Trust)
  • also manages the education department at Colston Hall, which has run the Youth Music Action Zone, Remix, Music Leader South West and, currently, the Music Inclusion programme SoundSplash
  • has access to the resources of a regional concert hall

He then moved on to ask, what role do hubs play in the two basic elements of music education, engagement and progression?


First we all need to make the first experiences of music so enjoyable, so interesting, and so engaging that young people are hooked from outset. You’d think this were easy, given how integral music is to young people’s lives. So why is engagement even an issue?

Respecting context, and young people’s views

I think that, when we want something to be engaging, we must respect the context of the activity. The only people who can tell us if something is engaging are those we are trying to engage and, in this instance, that is the children and young people with whom we work. We must consult these experts much more. We, as experienced musical educators, can guide and suggest, prompt and, sometimes, prod but we should never dictate, direct, or instruct without the learners permission.

Participate, explore, reflect – and signposting

This approach is what led us to the Henley review and the ultimate creation of hubs. Education (and, in particular, Music Education) is not something that should be done to a young person. It is something a young person should participate in, explore, and reflect upon.

In some cases we just need to point people in the right direction, and all that requires is a comprehensive understanding of all available activity (!) But that’s what hubs are for.


Progression is like a ball of string – so many strands all interweaving; a complex entity, which needs care and attention lest it become a tangled mess and get dumped in a corner. In the past we didn’t have this problem. We would draw a straight line from A to B and say:

“Ok, so you are here with no knowledge or skill and, over there is where you are going. When you get there you will have mastered the skill so you will then be able to be creative. Don’t worry; I am a master of the skill so I will tell you everything you have to do to make yourself get there. You’re not likely to have any fun along the way but, guess what…you don’t have a choice.”

Progression environments – an intricate tapestry

Today, young people do have a choice and they are voting with their feet and choosing (whether active decision or gut instinct) to disengage. And that is our fault. Today we need to be more creative in how we weave the various strands together to build environments within which young people can succeed. Although these environments can form quite intricate tapestries, they must not sacrifice quality for quantity and must never become so complex as to hinder navigation. This requires a considerable amount of coordination and advocacy….

Coordination and advocacy, support and challenge

And that’s what hubs are for; to join up, to strengthen, to support, to challenge and to champion all the work that is being delivered across each region so that we can present a cohesive offer.

This is not about denouncing the tried, the tested and the traditional. Those who have mastered their instrument and can musically express themselves unhindered in their eloquence are to be celebrated.But there is no single route to any musical journey. Young people’s music education portfolios should be as varied as those of the modern-day music professional.

A rallying cry

Make use of your hub. It makes sense, to us as a music education community, and to others outside it. Ofsted are urging you to make use of your hub. The Department of Education is urging you to make use of your hub. Schools and all other providers must be active members of their hubs.

Our role as partners in music education and in hubs

We are all already members and partners of the Hubs. That is automatic. But it is the quality of the relationship between the hub partners that will determine the success or failure of music education in this country. So we need to support each other. We need to hold each other to account. And we need to push each other to raise the bar way beyond the expectations of the DfE. This is not about delivering the National Plan for Music Education: This is about delivering the National Plan for Music Education FOR BREAKFAST. If we succeed in delivering the bare minimum then we have failed.

Our aims – only achievable together

All hubs probably share the same overarching aims: to reach and engage every single child and young yerson and offer them a range of appropriate and accessible progression opportunities. That’s it. The reason we want to do this is to create a generation that has a lifelong relationship with music. This is something that couldn’t be more difficult when we are all working in isolation; worried about sharing practice for fear that someone will steal our idea and take the credit.

Conversely, however, if we can adopt a shared vision of an outstanding music offer across our areas, it couldn’t be simpler. ‘Simple’ doesn’t necessarily equal ‘easy’ – but whether we know it or not (and, if we know it, whether we like it or not) we are, all of us, in the same boat. And the journey is well under way. And we are lagging behind. If we continue to try to go our own separate ways we will, at best, end up going round and round in circles and, at worst, we will sink.

But…if we can decide today that we are going to pull together in the same direction, we will make our music education truly world-class.

…and THAT is what Hubs are for.

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