First Access (WCET): A National Picture


On 9th June 2017, representatives from England’s Music Education Hubs gathered at the First Access Forum to share their experiences of devising, delivering and funding whole class ensemble teaching programmes. As the event drew to a close, we asked delegates to answer these burning questions…

We asked: What are your main challenges in delivering First Access / WCET programmes?

The three main issues for delegates were issues around school engagement, funding, and staffing. Many schools buy in programmes for PPA cover and do not engage with the sessions, and some schools do not buy-in at all as they do not see the value of the programmes. Many hubs reported that even schools with good levels of engagement are now revaluating their involvement in these programmes due to budget cuts. In addition, the central funding that hubs receive represents a reduction in real terms on previous years (due to wider economic factors), so it is hard to keep the programmes competitively priced. Hubs reported that staff turnover impacted on the availability of programmes, making it hard to get a teacher of the right instrument to each school. They also noted that staff turnover resulted in a constant need for training, with many new entrants not understanding the purpose and structure of the programmes.

We asked: What are your main priorities for First Access / WCET up to 2020?

Many hubs cited continuation as a major priority up to 2020, and were looking to embed continuation routes as part of their First Access package to encourage schools to commit to providing them. In light of education funding issues, delegates felt that advocacy was a key priority, ensuring that head teachers and governing bodies understood the value of these programmes and saved rather than cut them. Many hubs were also looking at consistency of teaching, echoing the challenges mentioned above regarding staff turnover.

We asked: How can schools and hubs provide the wider ingredients for children’s musical progression beyond First Access / WCET lessons?

Hubs were experimenting with various ways to nurture musical progression beyond First Access lessons. These included logical supporting steps like performance opportunities, ensemble provision and bursaries for further study, but there were also examples of innovative practice including advocating to families, making links with community music groups, and providing online practice resources.

We asked: What other measures of progression could be collected realistically following WCET programmes?

This question caused heated debate! At present the current Arts Council England (ACE) reporting system does not capture data points from indicators other than continuation numbers (although this may change when the system is revised). However ACE do want to know about other points of impact and progression from First Access / WCET programmes. The suggestion was that case studies and anecdotal evidence should be collected and shared with ACE to give a full picture of the impact of these programmes.

Do you teach First Access / WCET programmes? Do any of the issues above ring true for you? Are there any issues that have been missed? Share your thoughts via our Twitter or Facebook page.