Developing opportunities for young people with disabilities

Bristol Plays Music, the city’s music education hub, is developing a range of opportunities for young people with special educational needs and disabilities. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - young people section of our online Culture Hub.


Since 2015, Bristol Plays Music (BPM) has been funded by the National Foundation for Youth Music to deliver a strategic programme around music education for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). BPM acts as a facilitation and ‘backbone’ organisation whilst engaging specialist partners in distinct areas of the work.

This programme, ‘A New Ambition for Inclusive Excellence’, aims to develop a sustainable and transferable model for high-quality, inclusive music making activities in a music education hub context. Activities are designed to improve musical, personal and social outcomes for participants and to develop skills and cohesion among the emerging ‘musically inclusive’ workforce. BPM works strategically with music education hub lead organisations across the region to ensure that opportunities extend beyond Bristol.

Music education projects form the programme’s core. For example, in partnership with the National Open Youth Orchestra (NOYO) and Drake Music, orchestras have been set up in special schools across the region which will continue to be run by schools and hubs beyond the end of the funded period.

The work of A New Ambition has provided BPM with an evidence base to inform future work – in particular the National Centre for Inclusive Excellence, which it will launch in 2020. Through conversations, consultation and evaluation, a clear need was identified to support progression beyond music education into the music industry and higher education for musicians with SEND. The national centre will act as the interface between education and industry and will lead change in two key areas:

  • Enriching the existing music education offer for young musicians with SEND.
  • Engaging and supporting a national cohort of committed 16-25 year-olds with SEND who will act as agents of change, working directly with music industry and education partners to design accessible opportunities: this cohort will be called the FLOW Collective.

BPM’s workforce development programme will now be aimed at two distinct groups: the existing music education workforce and musicians with SEND, who are under-represented in the workforce. Bursaries will be offered to musicians with SEND to enable them to obtain a music education qualification. There will also be regular training and networking sessions for music practitioners working in SEND settings.

The FLOW Collective will be delivered in partnership with national industry organisations, each of which will identify and support two young musicians to take part. The collective will inform the development of music industry and education opportunities by taking part in organised consultations. The first cohort will have access to new opportunities and begin to support the next generation of young musicians following in their footsteps. Ultimately, the aim is to support 24 young musicians each year, covering every region of the country.

Phil Castang, Head of BPM, said ongoing support from Bristol City Council was key to future success.

The future of this work is dependent on having an accessible concert hall with facilities that all young musicians can access. In addition to financial support for the transformation of Colston Hall, Bristol City Council has cultivated a climate that supports inclusive excellence.

Key learning points

  • Sustainability must be considered at the outset.
  • Collective impact is an ideal model for partnership work. It is built on five ‘conditions’: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication and the presence of a backbone support organisation. It provides a flexible framework for organisations of different types and sizes to work together on complex challenges.
  • Making use of existing systems is an effective way to increase activity without huge increases in expenditure.

For further information contact Phil Castang, Head of Bristol Plays Music: phil.castang@bristolplaysmusic.org