Tri-Music Together – one hub’s foray into Early Years music provision

Header photo: Exploring movement with scarves at a Tri-Music Together event

With music education hub funding restricted to five- to 18-year-olds, what happens in the Early Years? EY music specialist and Tri-Music Together EYFS Strategic Lead, Nicola Burke, introduces Tri-borough Music Hub’s bold initiative

I am currently the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Strategic Lead for Tri-Music Together, a two-year Early Years (EY) music project taking place within three West London boroughs (the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham; and the City of Westminster) via the Tri-borough Music Hub. The aim of the project is to improve the music provision for children from birth to five years across EY settings within the Tri-borough area.

Although the National Plan for Music Education (NPME) acknowledges that ‘music teaching starts in the Early Years’ (Department for Education, 2011, p.9), music education hub (MEH) funding from the Department for Education (DfE) is for children from aged five i.e. national policy does not include music-making in the EY. It would be useful to clarify when the funding for five-year-olds starts – children turn five while in their Reception year; therefore, do these five-year-olds receive funding from the DfE while in Reception or is the reality that funded music education actually starts in Year 1?

Nicola Burke and Jessica Pitt
Nicola Burke (right) with Dr Jessica Pitt (left), the evaluator on the Tri-Music Together project

As a passionate advocate of music in the EY, Stuart Whatmore, Head of the Tri-borough Music Hub (TBMH), was keen to explore how the hub could provide music education in the EY across the Tri-borough. Although EYFS is outside the MEH remit, Stuart strongly feels that children in the EYFS have the right to quality musical experiences. By providing music in the EYFS, he also feels that this could better link with Key Stage 1 music provision to ensure better progression and the joining-up of skills.

Like Stuart, I strongly feel that it is every child’s right to have access to quality musical experiences from birth. The fact that the NPME begins at age five is a huge disservice to children from birth to age four.

Even though EY is outside the NPME, I feel that a MEH should be exploring how they can support this age group. People often discuss why there is a need for EY music provision but the same question is rarely asked of Primary or Secondary music provision. Music is, in my opinion, a fundamental aspect of humanity; the concept, therefore, that music provision begins at age five is very peculiar.

Stuart is doing something innovative by exploring how a MEH can support music in the EYFS. Although it is outside his remit, he has taken responsibility to support this important age group. In recent discussions I have been involved in, the focus of the conversation has been around why a MEH should offer EY and it is refreshing for me to work alongside a Leader who is not questioning ‘why?’ but exploring ‘how?’

Through meetings and discussions with partners of the TBMH, the Tri-borough Early Years Music Consortium (TBEYMC) was created. The consortium consists of 14 partner organisations:

  • The Royal Albert Hall
  • Wigmore Hall
  • The Royal College of Music
  • Tri-borough Music Hub
  • The Voices Foundation
  • Chickenshed Kensington & Chelsea
  • Creative Futures
  • Inspire-Works
  • Musichouse for Children
  • The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Children’s Centres
  • The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Children’s Centres
  • Westminster City Council Children’s Centres
  • Tri-borough School Standards Education Service
On stage at the Wigmore Hall
Onstage at the Wigmore Hall for Tri-Music Together’s end of Year 1 celebration day

The consortium was awarded £100,000 by the national charity, Youth Music, to deliver the EYFS project and I was delighted to be appointed EYFS Strategic Lead in July 2016.

The focus of the Tri-Music Together project is on workforce development. We are aiming to develop EY music practice by offering a range of CPD for EY practitioners and teachers and for musicians working in EY. Reflective practice is at the heart of the project and we are all learning from each other at each step of the way.

The project is for:

  • Those working in maintained schools and nurseries
  • Those working in children’s centres
  • Those working in private, voluntary and independent settings
  • The music practitioners who work with the TBEYMC partner organisations

The initial stages of the project involved a mapping exercise to obtain a clear picture of the current music provision in EY settings and the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) needs of EY practitioners, teachers and music practitioners.

Following this initial stage, we have commissioned a range of training sessions to respond to the needs identified from the mapping exercise. Throughout the two years, the project will deliver a host of CPD sessions for EY practitioners, teachers and music practitioners. The CPD sessions include bespoke modelling sessions taking place in settings and centralised off-site sessions:

  • Specific training for EY practitioners to develop knowledge and understanding of music and EY music-making
  • Specific training for TBEYMC music practitioners to develop knowledge and understanding of child development, pedagogy and EY music-making
  • Sessions for TBEYMC music practitioners and EY practitioners coming together to discuss, reflect and share to develop practice
Championing Music in the EYFS at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith
Championing Music in the EYFS at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

A unique and innovative aspect of the project is that it is providing bespoke CPD sessions to address the specific needs of the EY practitioners and the specific needs of the music practitioners. Opportunities to access training such as this are rare. Musicians who are interested in working in EY have little opportunity to access courses to enable them to understand child development and pedagogy. Similarly, EY practitioners and teachers do not receive training on children’s musical development within their child development tuition.

The EY is often considered to be an ‘easy and fun’ age group to work with. Indeed, it can be fun but the rapid human development within this age group is like no other; it is, therefore, not easy and requires deep understanding, knowledge and expertise.

Partners of the TBEYMC along with other music organisations and people across the country are lobbying for EY to be included in the NPME. Tri-Music Together is being looked at by Youth Music as a beacon project for MEHs. Brighton & Hove Music Hub is about to embark on an EYFS project, also funded by Youth Music, and we are currently in conversation with the hub’s Head, Peter Chivers, discussing and sharing strategies.

It is our vision that when EY is included in the NPME, the strategies that we have explored throughout the Tri-Music Together project can be shared and explored by the other MEHs across England.

Header photo: Participants at Tri-Music Together’s three-day course, ‘Championing Music in the EYFS’, at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

Tri-Music Together


Department for Education, (2011). The importance of music: a national plan for music education. Department for Education.

About the author

Nicola Burke has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Music Studies from the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC).

She has worked extensively as a music specialist in a range of Early Years settings and on a range of action research projects across the country. She has written and delivered courses for a range of authorities and organisations, working with both early years educators and parents. She is an Associate of the British Association for Early Childhood Education and a member of MERYC England (Music Educators and Researchers of Young Children).

She strongly feels that everyone is born musical and an integral part of early childhood is music-making. Nicola created the award-winning Tune into Listening free online resource and has also been published in Teach Early Years and Nursery World magazines.



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