Effective Partnership Working in Music Education

Claire Stacey, who is currently studying for the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators with Music Education Solutions, discusses the characteristics of effective partnership working - a key requirement of the National Plan for Music Education (England).

They say, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, and from my experience, it really does! This simple and insightful traditional saying means for a child to grow and thrive as they should, it takes a community of people to provide for and interact with a child in a positive way. The support that an extended community family can provide is fundamental to raising well balanced and grounded children. Additional role models beyond the immediate family can help to shape and influence the lives of our young people in a positive way.

In a similar way, I believe it takes a team to train a musician. A wide range of musical experiences, teachers, instructors, environments, and performance opportunities is vital to inspire our young musicians. A meaningful partnership is one of the ways that this can be achieved.

Working in partnership with an external teacher or organisation can be extremely beneficial and effective provided that each partner enters into it with mutual values. Dhillon, (2005) suggests that “shared goals underpinned by mutual values and trust amongst key people in the partnership” are the glue that holds a partnership together.(1)

Effective partnerships are those that:

  • involve working together for mutual benefit.
  • have mutually agreed aims.
  • have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
  • are designed to meet the needs of participants.
  • focus on quality and the legacy of learning activities.

Partnership in education has been a popular strategy for widening participation and inspiring life-long learning for more than 20 years. They are often formed in response to developing education and are sometimes funded by external agencies.(2) The aim is often to learn from others and to develop learning opportunities beyond those which an individual teacher or organisation can offer alone.

Partnerships are particularly successful when the key people involved are looking to expand the experiences and education of their participants rather than benefitting themselves. For example, the Midlands Urban Project in 1999 strongly believed that they would gain from working with others to achieve “benefits beyond the goals of their own organisation and practices”.(3) Having previously been quite competitive, MUP found they had a shared commitment to widening participation in learning and through coming together, they found that they could achieve this goal much more effectively.

The development of Music Education Hubs in recent years is another good example of how partnerships can be effective within Music Education. Whilst there are various types of Music Hubs across the country, their overarching aims remain the same – “to work together to create joined-up music education provision in a geographical area”.(4) This has been further emphasised by the Government publication The Power of Music to Change Lives: a National Plan for Music Education which requires Music Hubs to work in partnership with schools, music teachers and community organisations that provide music education.(5) With key individuals striving to work towards a common goal for young musicians, Music Hubs are successfully reaching out to the wider community and as a result, children and young people are benefiting from additional musical opportunities. I have seen this first hand through a developing partnership with West Sussex Music; both through my job as Primary Music Lead and as the Bandmaster of the Burgess Hill Marching Youth.

It could be argued that having a successful structure in place is one layer of support which a partnership can provide – whether it is providing continued professional development, risk assessment templates, advice or where to source resources. There is, however, more to gain from an effective partnership than admin and leadership support.

When it comes to delivering music activities with children and young people, partnerships are equally valuable, particularly in schools. Music Hubs enable leaders to “draw on a wider team or more diversely skilled colleagues, reducing the need for them to be all things to all people”.(6)

From a young person’s perspective, working collaboratively with partnerships is beneficial due to the added social benefit through the opportunities to meet and play with other people from diverse backgrounds. Young people value the chance to explore different settings and to have access to a wider range of musical activities, or a more advanced ensemble.(7) Therefore, it could be argued that building and maintaining partnerships with others is essential for all music educators, including instrument teachers, community music groups and schools.

In mainstream primary schools, teachers are not very often music specialists and many would say they are not confident at teaching music. With the support of a partnership with the local Music Hub, children can benefit from instrument lessons with specialist teachers or participate in enriching musical workshops. The children enjoy high quality music lessons with a music specialist and the class teachers will learn strategies to improve their own classroom teaching through engagement with the lessons themselves.

Instrument teachers tend to specialise in one or a handful of instruments. Students may attend weekly lessons to learn how to play the instrument and to develop their technique. But through individual 1:1 lessons, children are not going to develop as a fully rounded musician. Teachers would be wise to ensure students have access to wider opportunities such as local ensembles, orchestras, or bands. This is where partnerships are important as instrument teachers could pull upon connections made in order to provide performance opportunities. Perhaps, for example, the local clarinet teacher could arrange for a student to play within a clarinet choir or a woodwind ensemble which would benefit the student immensely.

Community organisations, run by volunteers, are often quite isolated. Sometimes, community music groups are run by people that have only experienced music through the organisation in which they are involved. They pass on their knowledge and understanding of that genre of music to the next generations without deviating from what they know. Through the development of effective partnerships, either with national organisations or local hubs, or even local musicians, these groups can begin to consider what else they can offer, therefore providing children with more opportunities and increasing participation in musical activities. Through my work within the traditional youth marching band world, I have witnessed the demise of bands that do not branch out and the growth of those that are keen to make connections and utilise effective partnerships. The growth of bands is significant and demonstrates the importance of managing effective partnerships when delivering music education to children and young people.

Furthermore, working in partnership with others provides additional role models, members of the ‘village’ which play an active role in shaping our young people as an individual. Whether those role models inspire further musical study and possible career opportunities or provide transferable life skills that have the potential to become life changing skills, they are meaningful and life-long learning opportunities.

As music educators, it is our job to ensure that children have access to a wide range of musical activities. In order to do this, it is important to develop and manage successful partnerships with various other individuals or organisations. It is these partnerships that are going to enable more children to participate in musical activities and for them to meet more role models that will ultimately enable them to become the person they are destined to become.

Claire Stacey, August 2023. Copyright © 2023 Music Education Solutions Limited. All Rights Reserved.

1 Dhillon, J. (2005) The rhetoric and reality of partnership working. 2 Dhillon, J. (2005) The rhetoric and reality of partnership working. 3 Dhillon, J. (2005) The rhetoric and reality of partnership working. 4 Spain, A. (2022) Multi-Area Music Hubs in England. 5 DFE. (2022) The power of music to change lives: a national plan for music education. 6 Spain, A. (2022) Multi-Area Music Hubs in England. 7 Spain, A. (2022) Multi-Area Music Hubs in England.

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