Building capacity and expertise through partnership

This case study was first presented at the Music Mark 2019 Conference on Thursday 21st November 2019 by Dr Elizabeth Stafford of Music Education Solutions® and >Dr Graham Cox of Jersey Music Service.
The Partners Jersey Music Service is funded and overseen by Jersey Government’s Department for Education. Its function is to provide instrumental and vocal tuition, ensembles, projects and support to all the schools on the Island, as well as being the lead expert organisation for music education in Jersey. Music Education Solutions® is a consultancy company based in Birmingham, which operates across the UK and internationally. It provides a variety of music education consultancy and training services to teachers, schools, music services & hubs, and arts organisations worldwide.
The Problems Jersey Music Service wanted to roll out a school support programme called MEPAS, however the Music Development Partners tasked with developing and delivering this scheme were new to their role and lacked confidence and experience in the area of supporting schools. In addition, the MDP team had recently reduced by one staff member, who could not be replaced, leading to capacity issues. The Music Service also wanted to roll out a Singing Strategy but at the time had no singing teacher on their staff who could lead on this. The Department for Education asked the Music Service to head up the development of a Jersey Assessment Framework for Music, working with teams of teachers from different schools to create a complete 5-18 framework for assessment across the Island. This was to encompass all the different qualification routes for music, and to take into consideration Jersey’s unique school structure, where children might move school three or four times during their education. Due to the unique nature of music as a subject, the assessment framework needed exemplar videos (whereas other subjects provided written work exemplars), but there was no budget allocated for this, and Jersey’s stringent data laws meant that using school-generated videos would not be possible. Due to Jersey’s geographical location, it is hard to offer the same opportunities for training, development, resource browsing, and networking as there are in the wider UK. In their school development and support role, Jersey Music Service wanted to offer a similar level of training and development to school staff, and their own staff, that would be provided by a music education hub in England.
The Solutions Music Education Solutions® supported the MDP team to devise and deliver the MEPAS programme, drawing on our experience of similar programmes in the UK such as MIDAS. MDPs were able to contribute to the planning process, and take part in the school meetings to audit curriculum music provision, developing their skills and confidence through expert modelling and team working. As the problems of experience and confidence lessened, it became apparent that the capacity issue was a real stumbling block, so Music Education Solutions® started working in a contractor role as well as a consulting role, taking responsibility for some of the MDP work, and carrying this out independently to ease workload for the MDP team. Music Education Solutions® was able to provide a singing specialist to design a singing strategy for Jersey, and also offer a range of live and online training packages, so that schools and teachers could have access to expert singing training. Again this was devised in partnership with the Music Development Partners, giving them the opportunity to gain experience to draw on in future similar projects. Music Education Solutions® drafted the Jersey Assessment Framework, drawing together all the various strands suggested by the teacher panel, and acting as independent arbitrator where necessary! We then worked in partnership with Jersey Music Service staff to develop explanatory videos which would make the assessment scheme understandable to non-specialists, drawing on our expertise in working with generalist primary teachers. Music Education Solutions® helped establish the Jersey Music Conference, managing and promoting this to partners across Jersey and the UK. Using our connections we were able to bring across speakers and exhibitors to give Jersey teachers new ideas and resources that they would not have been able to access otherwise. We were also able to provide a bespoke version of the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators for Jersey Music Service staff, taking into account the differences in legislation and organisation of education on the island.
The Benefits Although external partners are engaged to provide benefits for the contracting organisation, that’s not to say that there aren’t benefits to be had by the external partners too. On this project, Music Education Solutions® obviously benefitted financially, but also in terms of stability, as the long-term, regular nature of the contract helped with cashflow and forward planning. Working with the government of Jersey has also helped to raise our profile on an international level, and the project has also provided opportunities for our UK partners, strengthening our relationship with them too. There have been multiple opportunities to learn new ideas to take back to the UK, and above all the project has provided us with a clear sense of impact since it encompasses all the schools in Jersey. Not many companies can say that they have changed the course of music education in an entire country!
Advice for working in partnership
If you are the organisation looking for an external partner to address your problems, make sure that you are really open to hearing their advice. What you think is the problem may not actually be the real problem – you may be too close to see clearly.
Both partners should ensure that solutions are bespoke to the specific problems that the partnership hopes to solve. Providing ‘off the shelf’ solutions rarely works, and each partner should ensure that the solution is fully tailored to the unique context.
Think about what will happen when the partnership ends. It is tempting for external partners to try to make themselves indispensable, but actually a good partnership should have a clearly defined end point where the organisations can go their separate ways knowing that the problem has been solved.
Partnerships work best when they are equal. Just because you’re the organisation paying for advice, or because you’re the expert organisation providing the advice, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to and compromise with one another on an equal footing.