Arts Council England’s approach to early music education

Darren Henley at Triborough Music Hub, September 2018
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Chief Executive of Arts Council England (ACE), Darren Henley, gave a speech at Tri-Borough Music Hub’s Early Years Conference at the Royal Albert Hall on 6 September 2018 in which he made the case for expanding the National Plan for Music Education to include 0-5-year-olds. Here is his speech in full.


The approach of ACE to early education and the role music education hubs can take in supporting this sector

Since I became Chief Executive of Arts Council England, I’ve been determined to see and experience first hand as much of the work we do as possible.

As you may know, music has always been a particular love of mine and I believe in the importance and power of music in the lives of all young people.

I’m always moved and inspired by the dedication and energy of those working in music education.

The Tri-Music Together project brings together highly qualified musicians and Early Years practitioners; exemplifying the impact that our music hubs can have.

This sharing of practice, has built stronger relationships and deeper understanding.

It’s provided a legacy through tools and resources that will continue to raise the quality of music provision in Early Years settings.

This is an example of a successful partnership with a focus on a local place that is able to make its offerings more accessible.

This, we know, is of paramount importance when it comes to engaging the parents and carers of Early Years children.

Projects such as these are crucial steps along our journey towards equality of opportunity, helping everyone reach their potential, regardless of background.

The role of music hubs

The National Plan for Music Education was published in 2011.

It recognised that great music education is a partnership between classroom teachers, specialist teachers, professional performers and a wide variety of other organisations, including those from the arts, charity and voluntary sectors.

The creation of the Tri-borough Hub, and its fellow hubs, was central to the National Plan.

In every local authority area, hubs are now providing opportunities for partnership working and are addressing the inequalities in music provision across the country.

This approach helps target funding to those that need it most – and to have the flexibility to meet the needs of children and young people in a particular area.

Hubs have played an important role in extending music education beyond the classroom.

Projects such as Tri-Music Together and others such as Early Hurly Burly, a regional partnership project between libraries and hubs in the West Midlands, give strong evidence that their work extends to cover Early Years as well.

We’re currently talking to the Government about the next iteration of the National Plan for Music Education, which will take us from 2020.

The plan currently covers 5-18-year-olds but I believe there’s a strong case for more significance to be given to Early Years with investment in music education hubs to expand its remit to cover 0-5-year-olds.

We’re coming to understand just how important those Early Years are.

Youth Music

The Arts Council is not only the fund holder for music education hubs on behalf of the Department for Education but also invests in a number of other music education opportunities for this age group.

One of these is our partnership with Youth Music.

Youth Music supports the Arts Council’s goal of extending access to music-making across the country and providing the right support and opportunities so that young people can progress on their individual journeys.

Early Years is one of Youth Music’s main areas of focus and they’ve been fundamental in providing additional funding for this work.

The Arts Council and Youth Music are now working to further align their work, to develop joint strategies and to support hubs.

Youth Music is an excellent example of how to apply a joined-up approach to musical inclusion.

The recently launched Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England will go still further to support hubs at a local level and to develop a diverse workforce so that music leaders have the right skills and resources to help each young person fulfil their potential.

They’ll work with national organisations like the excellent Drake Music to promote greater inclusivity.

They’ll form partnerships with local organisations and will provide advice, champion the benefits of inclusive practice and deliver activities for and with children and young people in their local area.

The importance of creativity

We live in a country that has a remarkably rich culture where, in the past few years, we’ve seen the creative industries become a real driver of the economy.

All I have seen since joining Arts Council has fired my belief in the potential of the cultural world we support, what it teaches us about creativity and how it that can shape the lives of future generations.

The challenges and the opportunities we currently face as a nation will require new creative thinking.

The importance of creativity for our economy, communities and our education system is something I discuss in my recent book, Creativity: Why It Matters.

Now, more than ever, we need to encourage the flow of creative talent in this country.

Talent is everywhere but opportunity is not and the opportunities that do exist don’t reach many of those most affected by the economic challenges of recent years.

The Arts Council is currently working on two initiatives that explore the importance of creativity – The Durham Commission and the 25 Year Creative Talent Plan.

The Durham Commission will take a broad, strategic view to help determine the role arts and creativity can play in our education system.

And the 25-Year Creative Talent Plan is a research project that will look at the impact of arts and culture in the first 25 years of life.

The Durham Commission

The Durham Commission on Creativity and Education is a collaboration between Arts Council England and Durham University.

It aims to identify ways in which creativity, and specifically creative thinking, can play a larger part in the lives of young people both within and beyond the current education system.

The Commission recognises that art and culture has a distinct and essential contribution in supporting young people’s creativity but creativity is not the sole preserve of the arts.

Creativity and young people’s ability to question, adapt, analyse and invent is just as important in science or maths.

The Commission is taking a clear, deliberate cross-disciplinary approach to embedding creativity across the whole curriculum.

This commission will report back in Autumn 2019.

At the Arts Council, we’re currently in the midst of a series of consultations and national public conversations to conclude our 10-year strategy, Great art and culture for everyone, that runs to 2020, and to build a new strategy for the next 10 years.

It’s likely that the Durham Commission will heavily inform that new strategy.

25 Year Creative Talent Plan

Since I came to the Arts Council, I’ve talked about my desire to develop a Creative Talent Plan.

Running from birth for the first 25 years of life, such a plan would draw together available opportunities, show clear progression routes and direct resources to break down barriers and fill gaps.

It would offer young people the chance to develop their creativity in different ways.

Some might pursue a career in the creative industries or apply their creativity to science and technology.

Some might become cultural leaders; others would simply enjoy a more fulfilling life, shared with those around them.

I’m delighted to say that we’ve now begun work on this.

In partnership with De Montfort University in Leicester, Leicester City Council, The Mighty Creatives (the Midlands Bridge Organisation) and other partners, we’ll pilot an intervention-based programme on a test group of children from birth and follow their cultural development.

We’re starting this year working with 0-1-year-olds and their families.

Because – as I’ve said already – I’m absolutely convinced of the vital importance of early years education in EVERY child’s life – not just for those from families that can afford to pay for it.

Vision for the future

Much has been achieved through the work of the music education hubs and their partners – but we know that, in many ways, we are still at the beginning of this journey.

We’ll be looking to build ever stronger links across the cultural and education sectors; and the importance of your work will be in our minds as we develop our new 10-year strategy.

And we will continue to make the case for the extraordinary value of music and the arts generally in the life of every young person and their family.

Thank you for all that you do. I honestly do believe that your work makes a huge difference in giving young people the best possible start in life.

And that wouldn’t happen without your expertise, knowledge, commitment and dedication.

So thank you.

And thank you for listening to me this morning.

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