Nottingham Music Service

Nottingham Music Service runs the city’s music education hub and is committed to ensuring that music engagement is fully inclusive. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - community engagement section of our online Culture Hub.


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The Nottingham Music Education Hub is a partnership of local and regional music organisations led by Nottingham Music Service (NMS), an independent charity. NMS works hard to ensure that music engagement is inclusive: it is committed to narrowing the participation gap between children from different backgrounds and ensuring that every child has the opportunity to learn, perform and progress.

When devising the programme of activity, the team is conscious that not all children enjoy parental support and have instruments at home, nor the necessary transport to rehearsals. The programme does not assume any prior musical knowledge but focuses on working by ear and brings in a range of musical styles, including classical, folk, Bollywood and Afro-Caribbean. 

To address the challenges of progression from whole class ensemble teaching (WCET) to playing in a band/orchestra out of school, the hub introduced a two-day ‘fast-track’ music camp which includes the basics of reading music. This has helped the area band network to grow organically from children coming through WCET. Motivation is kept high by arranging and adapting music tailored to young people’s interests. Targeted support is given to specific groups, including hard-to-reach young people and those with special educational needs or disabilities. An exam strategy was created whereby many children learn the exam pieces through post-WCET programmes, then the exams are part-funded by the hub.

Impact of the activity

NMS has overseen the transformation of music education in Nottingham since it started in 2002, when about 650 pupils were learning instruments. By 2015-16 this had risen to 8,153. Now, 78 per cent of Nottingham’s primary schools have a WCET programme run or supported by the music hub (against the latest national average of 58 per cent). 

Around 32 per cent of young people learning instruments through the NMS (excluding WCET, which is inclusive by nature) are eligible for the pupil premium. The comparative national figure is 3.7 to 7.3 per cent, depending on the size of group. An above-average proportion of young people from BME groups and with special educational needs are engaged in music in Nottingham.

NMS’s programmes are supported in part by the Department for Education, Arts Council England and Nottingham City Council. It also seeks funding from trusts and foundations and is developing regular giving and corporate giving programmes. In 2016, NMS was awarded a Catalyst Evolve grant from Arts Council England to help it attract more private giving.

Key learning points

1. First access programmes are powerful and effective at driving inclusive progression when:

  • School staff are fully involved, learning instruments alongside young people, with inclusive music valued by school management.
  • Programmes are not stand-alone but linked with interactive opportunities to experience, create and perform with high-quality ensembles, older students, staff and experienced musicians.
  • There are inclusive, free opportunities to carry on learning after first access, with accreditation opportunities built in.
  • Primary schools support children to be involved in local ensembles before transition to secondary school.

2. Extra support has had some success in keeping young people playing after transfer to secondary school, for example support sessions before a regular ensemble for those not having music lessons.

3. Music leaders need the skills to engage young people from different backgrounds by using a range of learning styles, with a mix of musical styles and cultures and notation/by ear approaches.

4. Be aware of potential barriers to inclusion, set up situations that make it easier to be involved than drop out and make sure all opportunities are not taken by the first to reply.

For further information contact Ian Burton, Chief Executive Officer, Nottingham Music Service: ian.burton@nottinghammusichub.org.uk


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This case study has been developed in conjunction with Arts Council England