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Our work in Alternative Provision - A Case Study with the New National Plan in Mind

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

Music for Good welcomes the publication of the revised National Plan for Music. We are passionate about breaking down barriers and promoting the life changing power of music and commend the plan’s renewed emphasis on inclusion and opportunities for all.

We look forward to continuing to work closely with our partners and local music education hubs to ensure no young person is forgotten about or left behind.

Although the central aims of the plan are strong, we would have liked more focus to be given to delivering work in alternative provision settings, particularly when this work requires a specialist approach. We felt a case study would have been helpful in highlighting best practice. To this end, we would like to share our learning and experience of working in AP settings.

The Model Music Curriculum states that all pupils should receive a minimum of one hour a week of music lessons throughout KS3 and the new National Plan for Music states that Alternative Provision (AP) settings should have equally high expectations.

We must recognise the challenges of working in AP. Young people in these settings face, arguably, some of the biggest barriers to accessing music provision – the fact that music is not a curriculum requirement is just the start. However, with good partnerships in place and the right approach to delivery and practitioner support, we know high quality music provision can be achieved. Youth Music have been supporting us to develop our work in an AP Academy in Cornwall via a 2-year fund B programme.

‘Working in an AP is hectic but brilliant. I think it’s such a valuable place to have music sessions, because they don’t have music provision in any other way. Seeing the transformation in a pupil when they do a really good piece of work, that they are proud of, makes it all worthwhile.’

Giles Wooley, Music for Good Practitioner

AP Setting Profile

Wave Trust is based in the South West of England and provides education for mainstream pupils who are not able to access mainstream provision due to medical and health needs and those who have been permanently excluded or are at risk of permanent exclusion or on an intervention basis. Their Special Academies provide specialist education for pupils with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

Restormel Academy, situated in St Austell, Cornwall, is part of Wave Trust. It provides education for pupils who have been permanently excluded from school or who have been placed on short-term placements. The setting currently has 49 pupils on roll.

As a school we have provided an additional guitar and are looking into ways to fund other instruments. We are also looking to start a choir for some pupils now Covid restrictions have been lifted which will tie into pupils’ D of E award. We have seen pupils request that their additional PEP funds be spent on instruments. They buy guitars with birthday money, and even request enrichment time be spent on additional lyric lessons.

What’s Working?

Being Embedded with Well Established Partnerships

This particular practitioner has been working with this setting since 2013 and consequently has a well-established relationship from which to work. These sessions have previously been funded and supported by the ASONE Music Education Hub but the additional funding from Youth Music has extended the programme to allow the practitioner to be embedded in the setting for a whole school day every week. The hub has also provided instruments for this two year programme. The APA puts in some matched funding for the programme, so it is a partnership between the APA, Music for Good (MFG) and the Hub built on lots of really good partnership work over the years.

Now that they are embedded, the music practitioners are more than ‘the person who just pops in to do music’. Instead, they can strengthen relationships with students and be a consistent member of trusted staff who can have an important role in the holistic, and wrap around care of the pupils. It allows time for discussions with setting staff about how best to support students. E.g. the way they like to learn. This allows real development and depth that has not previously been possible.

‘I was able to have a good catch-up with a staff member about how best to work with A. Gave me plenty of insight into how to approach things differently.’

Extract from Practitioner’s Reflective Diary

Currently pupils are released 1:1 to work with the practitioner on a Wednesday and then also work in groups during enrichment and DofE time on two afternoons a week. Some pupils use playing musical instruments/writing lyrics as a reward or regulation activity with their key workers as and when needed at other times also.

The ambition is to provide a more holistic support around the young people, including supporting transitions, either back into mainstream or into further or higher education opportunities.

Staff and music practitioner work together so that they can involve other lessons in with their music sessions. Working on song lyrics in literacy and album covers in art for example. Pupils have really benefitted from being able to express themselves and process the world around them, both lyrically and musically. The project has been a real asset to the curriculum which previously did not feature music tuition, but also in terms of helping pupils’ engagement, attendance and regulation in school. There is flexibility with how much time they can give the students depending on their mood and how many are in that day. This is good as it can give them more dedicated time and tailored support.

‘There’s real stability for them with him being here for a whole day – that’s important for these young people. They won’t respond to someone coming in for a few, time-tabled hours. It offers them the flexibility they need.’

Staff Member at Restormel APA, June 2022

Being embedded for a whole day also allows the music practitioner the time and flexibility to build relationships with pupils, offer unplanned drop-in sessions with new students, as well as develop new musical skills so they can be as relevant to the pupils’ musical interests as possible.

‘I had this young man who I knew was interested in a music session but every time I saw him he would publicly reject the offer to work with me. I had time to visit him, be flexible with my session time-table and have some free time to downloaded a whole new piece of software. I could then show him how interested I was in helping him make ‘his sound.’’

Giles Wooley, Music for Good Practitioner

Being Equipped for the Setting – Musical, Pedagogical and Personal Skills

Music for Good are specialists in providing music education which is mental health and trauma informed. Their musicians are called ‘Music for Wellbeing Practitioners’ and their skills in supporting social and personal development are just as important as their musical expertise. This is important in a setting like Restormel where 62% of the pupils are pupil premium, 8 have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), and all pupils have additional SEN.

Practitioners have completed a range of certified and in-house trauma and mental health training that informs their work. This equips them personally, socially and musically for the setting. We recognize the importance of supporting our music for wellbeing practitioners properly. Working in AP settings can be challenging in a range of different ways – it is emotionally demanding work. Providing professional supervision, networking opportunities and reflection time is essential for avoiding practitioner burnout. Staying well and reflecting on their practice is an important part of their job description, so we offer a contract and renumeration that allows them time to do this.

‘You must be settled in yourself before you come in and be able to recognize when you’re not. If there’s anything in your personal life that has made you feel a bit unbalanced that morning, park the car up and take ten minutes to settle yourself. Even if that means you will be 10 minutes late. If you are off-centre in a setting which is often hectic it can be really unnerving. That would be my biggest piece of advice.’

Giles Wooley, Music for Good Practitioner

The sessions are tailored to the individual pupil’s needs and use a combination of instrument tuition, singing, composition, critical music listening, and music technology alongside wellbeing exercises and trauma informed conversations.

‘The breathing one is actually alright. Every time I’m being sick and I panic I do the finger breathing you taught me and it helps.’

Pupil L, Restormel AP July 2022

Practitioners utilize a range of musical skills and their personal musical experiences in their sessions and can support pupils to learn about the evolving music industry.

A standard kit list for one of our practitioners:

  • Acoustic Guitar Electric Guitar

  • Ukulele

  • 49 key Midi keyboard

  • Ableton Push Pad Portable

  • chargeable PA speaker

  • Ipad

  • Laptop

  • Ableton Live

  • Logic

  • Paid Spotify account

The midi keyboard is just big enough to be portable and to play beginner piano on. The Push Pad is a great introduction to electronically based music and makes playing music accessible. Ableton for Hip Hop, Drum & Bass, Dance, Drill and other electronic genres, creating tracks from scratch. Logic for recordings and for other more specific genres. The iPad is useful to give a quick musical result with pre-made loops for students wanting to play electronic music for the first time. I find Spotify is essential for listening to music together. The portable PA speaker gives a good quality sound with real bass and the option of not needing to be plugged into power if I’m struggling to access enough power sockets.

Practitioners reflect on the importance of having time to set up the space, and to have kit which is flexible enough to be set up in different spaces. Although practitioners work hard with the setting to ensure they have the same suitable, space each week which supports with consistency and the creation of a ‘safe environment’ for pupils and practitioner.

Practitioners also need a range of pre-prepared musical resources so they can adapt and employ different musical strategies.

‘I often need LOTS of beginner material so I can keep sessions fresh each week with students whose attendance is inconsistent or who aren’t able to practice in-between sessions’ reflects one practitioner. Having plenty of beginner materials (guitar tabs, chord sheets) means you can maintain a good pace in the sessions and these pupils can still achieve musical goals within a single session. It’s also useful when you need to switch methods and techniques to maintain engagement and momentum and this often leads to a longer session and it’s also useful to learn how to cut short a session that isn’t working without it feeling like you are giving up.’

Practitioners also reflect on needing to be aware of how to approach co-creation.

‘Knowing and sensing when the student feels encouraged and when they feel discouraged by my playing. Always something I try to keep and eye on but hard to judge. […] Getting S to settle on a melody and make progress in his new song was hard today. I could have maybe demonstrated less and allowed him some more exploration. It’s a fine line between inspiration and discouraging’

A Relational Approach Leads to a Range of Outcomes

Our practitioners take a person centred approach. They hold the pupils in the highest regard and create a learning space where they meet the pupils as equals – as musicians.

This does not mean that they do not set clear boundaries and expectations, but rather that they are curious about pupil’s interests, they attune to and empathize with behaviour, and they find ways to connect with the young people. Often this is through the music they love but they may also need to take a different approach.

‘I don’t always have musical outcomes in mind, of course that’s the aim, but my relationship with the pupil is, first and foremost, the most important thing.’

Music for Good Practitioner

Regular validation and encouragement are essential, helping the pupils to build their ‘window of tolerance’.

Social and Personal outcomes are seen as just as important as Musical Progress. Song creation and lyric writing support young people to put words to feelings and express and validate their emotions. Professionally produced recordings offer a great way to celebrate positive achievement with setting staff and care givers – relationships which can often be dominated by rupture and conflict.

‘I didn’t know she could sing that well. Half of the staff cried when we heard it, it was wonderful, and we were so proud of her.’

Staff Member at Restormel

‘I just love listening to my song. I really like what I do with my voice at the end. I know Dad was really proud of me. I hardly get to see him, it was great to show him something I did’

Pupil at Restormel

‘They get to release a lot of stuff in this room. They change the way they view something or view themselves. That’s what I see time and time again.’

Giles Wooley, Music for Good Practitioner

Pupils can keep the recordings on their phones after sessions have ended. When they listen to it, it can feel like a big hug. A lasting reminder of how they created a new narrative for themselves – one where they are a positive, reflective, musical person who can overcome fears and collaborate with others to achieve great things.

Listen and share in some of the music young people have created here.

This case study has been compiled by Evaluator Annie Sheen with the following voices captured:

Parents and Pupils attending Restormel AP Academy

Giles Woolley, Music for Wellbeing Practitioner

Kate Martin, Vice Principal and DSL and staff at Restormel AP Academy

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