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Hubs in focus

In conversation with 3 Music Education Hubs

With Music Hubs waiting for the publication of the investment process for funding beyond September 2024 Richard Jones, MEC Trustee chatted with three music hub leads at either end of the country for their thoughts on how hub funding is being used this year.

Helen Reid is Music Hub Lead for Sound Foundation Somerset the Music Hub for Somerset. SFS commissions work from a number of delivery partners including the Music Service.

David Francis is Lead Officer for Music Partnership North which is the Music Hub for Northumberland and Newcastle. MPN works also works with a number of partner organisations across a core city and a very rural county.

Lewis Gibbs is Music Education Hub Lead for the Devon and Torbay Music Hubs. Excluding the 'Yorkshires' and 'Lincolnshires', Devon is the second largest county by area in England and, like Somerset, is a commissioning hub but does not have a teaching music service per se.

Helen, David and Lewis, what have been your musical highlights so far this year?

Helen: The start of a 2-year programme of delivery and CPD to all of our Autism Bases attached to mainstream schools. This is being led by Live Music Now and is a Youth Music funded project in partnership with Music Hubs in Liverpool and Harrow. We have already had some great feedback and evidence that the programme is making a difference to the pupils in these bases.

David: Our regular partnership with Brass in Concert was a real highlight - seeing young children, from beginners to advanced players from all across our region coming together to take part in a day of workshops and performances at Sage Gateshead. A terrific event!

Lewis: A very recent highlight was our BIG Jazz Day, which brought together over 50 young musicians for a jazz improvisation workshop with saxophonist Ed Leaker, followed by a joint concert by South Devon Youth Jazz, Devon Youth Jazz Orchestra and our guests Wells Cathedral School Jazz Orchestra. It was a brilliant occasion, with some really impressive performances and a mutual respect between the young musicians involved that was inspiring to see.

Since September, in particular, there has also been such enthusiasm from schools to engage with live music. We have worked with English Touring Opera, The Benedetti Foundation, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Project String Quartet and many others to take live music into schools, often in areas of rural isolation. For many young people involved, partly due to the pandemic, this has been their first experience of live music.

That’s terrific and excellent to hear you work with local, regional and national partners, MDS Schools and NPOs as delivery partners. Over the years Music Hubs have striven to open up access to all children. What are you doing to ensure you are an inclusive hub?

Helen: A new draft SEND Strategy for Somerset has been produced after extensive consultation, including families, and the Hub has used this to inform its Inclusive Music Strategy. The Hub has also fed back comments, for example, that it would like music/creativity discussed as part of early EHCP discussions and is awaiting the outcome. It is our intention to forge stronger links with SENCOs and where possible to amend delivery to focus on SEND pupils in the first instance.

David: Having gone through the excellent Changing Tracks training from Hertfordshire Music Hub, we've drawn up an EDI Action Plan and are working to improve inclusion at all levels - recruitment, staff training and support, governance and of course in the work that we do with children and young people, to ensure that everyone can access high quality musical education and experiences.

Lewis: Inclusion is a huge topic and, quite rightly, impacts on every area of provision. There is a lot of expertise in the South West, which we are able to exploit. One of our team has recently completed the Inclusive Practitioner CME qualification through Bristol Beacon, and will soon become our Inclusion Lead. We work closely with Daisi, part of the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England (AMIE), on workforce development and strategy. We also have some wonderful partner organisations, such as The Turning Tides Project, who work particularly with young people with autism and disability labels.

Recently, we have worked with colleagues from within the local authority to provide an opportunity for physically disabled children and young people within mainstream education to try a range of musical activities and instruments. Follow up sessions with the Hub team will provide the opportunity for those that want to pursue this further, with advice and support on adaptive instruments and technology where required.

Like all Music Education Hubs, we’re on an inclusion journey, but there are many reasons to be positive.

You’ve all highlighted strong partnership working but are there any other parterships which you’d like to mention which have consistently delivered over the last ten years?

Helen: Live Music Now for SEND schools and our Autism project – they are specialists in this delivery and have leveraged a large amount of additional money for Somerset pupils from a small amount of investment from the Hub. With regards to the delivery of our singing Strategy, there is the partnership between Somerset Music and Jackdaws. This is an excellent example of how a county music service can partner up with an external music charity to deliver without conflict of interest. Both bring expertise to the table.

David: Our Bedlington and Ashington Building Brass project was undertaken with Youth Music funding and involved working in partnership with schools, community bands and local arts and culture venues including Woodhorn Museum and Sage Gatehsead. We aimed to introduce the brass band tradition to children and young people, as it forms a key part of the heritage in our region. Although the Youth Music funded project has now ceased, the work with schools and wider partners continues.

Lewis: As a commissioning Hub, everything we do involves working in partnership with others, sometimes at a regional or national level, but, more often than not, with an ecosystem of local partners that has evolved since the inception of Hubs. Really importantly, that includes a huge range of ensembles, music centres and progression opportunities for young musicians (too many to list!), which are funded and supported by the Hub. Unlike many Hubs, we don’t directly run these and they work in a variety of ways, often through local arts organisations, community interest companies, charities, youth clubs or schools. This is what gives us the reach to provide opportunities for young people across such a huge area and it’s really important to look after these relationships.

Some of these relationships are long-standing and find their origins in the traditional local authority music service approach that predated Hubs. We have found ways to ensure that larger county groups, like Devon Youth Orchestra, continue to thrive within a commissioning approach. Others are far more recent, such as Jamming Station, which provides opportunities for young bands, solo artists and songwriters in Totnes to connect and grow creatively, through the support of mentors, rehearsal space and opportunities to perform; or Sound Communities, who work particularly with marginalised young people in Torbay, using radio, music and creative media production.

Again, great examples of how partnership working levers in additional funding. Bravo!

As we wait for the next phase of the Music Hub Investment process not only do you have to maintain the current delivery plan but you also have to scope out the unknown. What are your priorities for the rest of the academic year?

Helen: I am very much focussed on the technicalities of what lies ahead. Our delivery partners are excellent and whilst I will be having regular catch up meetings with them I can be focussed on the future so for me it is:

  • NPME2 bid preparation - Big Music Meet in March;

  • Supporting schools with School Music Development Plans – Spring/Summer Terms 2023;

  • Appointing an Inclusion Lead – for Sept 2023;

  • Identify at least 2 Lead Schools (including Academies) which will work with the Hub on design & delivery of CPD/Training and resources, and Peer to Peer programmes.

David: Given our geography we have to ensure that our resources can reach the remote communities of Northumberland as well as an inner-city. During the pandemic we worked hard to develop a suite of online resrouces and we‘re continuing to develop this library to support schools, children and families. We'll be starting to deliver exciting new whole class turntable projects in schools and strategically working with partners to build a Music Hub in line with Arts Council England's requirements to give the best possible offer to children and young people in our area.


  • Supporting schools and MATs to create meaningful music development plans and supporting them to achieve their objectives

  • Working with partners like Take Art to develop our early years music strategy, which will focus on CPD and learning resources

  • Keeping up with demand from schools for live music and performance opportunities…which is a great problem to have!

With the publication of NPME 2 back last summer there have been lots of concerns raised about the future and at the same time you’ve had to continue to deliver. What opportunities and threats do you see in the investment process for NMPE2?

Helen: For me it’s the uncertainty of not knowing what the prescribed geographies might be and its difficult to see many opportunities, but closer partnership working with other Hubs resulting from new formal arrangements and a pooling of expertise could be an opportunity.

David: It’s similar in the Northeast. There‘s an opportunity to build on existing partnerships with other hubs, services and cultural partners in our region which we hope will improve the musical activities and opportunities available to children and young people.

Lewis: There are a number of concerns which we have discussed at Board level, the main one being the impact of having to collaborate from a structural point of view with another LA.

  • Annual grant funding would not be under the control of the LA; the funding for Somerset CYP would still be there but this budget would sit elsewhere and be managed by another organisation;

  • There would be a potential greater risk to the Music Service and other external partners (including small local charities) of securing this grant for delivery from whoever was the HLO, especially if they decided to use alternative delivery organisations;

  • The Hub Lead post would be within scope for TUPE with the risk that it would not be required after transfer;

  • Loss of grant to LA for other central functions.

David: If Arts Council England's 'prescribed geographies' cover too large an area, there are some concerns that centralised hub activities might be difficult for everyone to access and if hubs are too large there is a potential risk that hub structures become an administrative function, rather than resulting in improved or enhanced experiences for children and young people.

Lewis: I could go on about this for a long time, but I’m not going to! The short answer is that the investment process continues to be a huge distraction for Hubs, with an unhelpful drip feed of information from DfE/ACE leading to uncertainty and anxiety across the sector. We cover the largest geographical area of any Hub and already work very strategically, so I am optimistic that we will be able to continue as we are. That said, we have excellent relationships with neighbouring Hubs and, if we are affected, we will make it work.

NPME2 has a particular emphasis on schools with the responsibility for SMEPS now firmly in their court. Do you think your relationships with schools will change under NPME2?

Helen: I think that, through the range of delivery partners in Somerset, we have a good relationship with our schools, but we are keen to give even greater focus to supporting our schools in the NPME2 so relationships could strengthen.

David: This will depend slightly on the size of hubs going forward. Hubs covering larger geographical areas might struggle to maintain the good relationships that existing hubs and services have built up with schools. That said, discussing the NPME 2 and Model Music Curriculum has been an excellent opportunity to create time and space to talk to schools about their music provision.

Lewis: NPME2 is hugely aspirational about what schools should be doing, as it should be in my opinion. While it is well documented that this is non-statutory guidance, the conversations that we are having with schools are very positive – they want to make it work, and they want our help to make that happen. In a recent survey, 90% of the maintained schools and academies that we engage with evaluated the support they receive from the Hub as good or outstanding, and I don’t see that changing.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about Music Education in your Hub?

Helen: As a commissioning hub I’d say that strong partnership working has been the key to success of Hub in Somerset. Relationships have deepened over the last ten years but even though we don’t face the rurality challenges of Northumberland, rural isolation still a challenge.

David: Just to express my pride and gratitude for the amazing team I work with, thank schools and families for their continued trust and support and to celebrate the work of our children and young people who inspire us all on a daily basis.

Lewis: Not really, like David, I’m immensely proud of my colleagues and all the partner organisations we work with.

March 2023

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