Music Education Council Music Education Awards 2016 – Judges’ reports

in collaboration with Rhinegold Media & Events and Music Teacher magazine

Judging criteria

The judges of the Music Education Council music education awards 2016 are pleased to offer their report on submissions from music education hubs (England) and music services (rest of UK).

Who we were judging We recognise that different countries of the UK have systems for music education – in particular, that the system of music education hubs (where the responsibility for music education provision is expected to be shared among a range of partners) is unique to England. Submission forms are therefore tailored for each country.

In practice, of course, good music education provision is universal, and judges found no difficulty in comparing say England entries and Scotland entries.

What we were judging We were looking for well-rounded, inclusive music education offers covering the following areas of provision:

  • Instrumental tuition
  • Singing provision (with a specific question for England submissions related to hub work)
  • Whole class ensemble provision (England-only)
  • Support for musically talented young people
  • Overall music-making provision, including creative music technology and creation of new music
  • Support for disadvantaged pupils (those in “challenging circumstances”)
  • How the need for particular provision is identified
  • The extent of working in partnership with a range of music providers (with specific questions for England on hub partners).

What we were judging against Taking into account each hub and music service’s size and context, we examined nominations against the following criteria.

Key features:

  • The use of a broad range of genres
  • Appropriate affordable progression routes for all
  • A broad understanding of talent, and the ability to spot and support this
  • Pupil-centred activity, taking into account the genuine needs and wants of all children and young people
  • Offers appropriate to the cultural diversity of the pupils in the area
  • A central position for creative music making
  • An inclusive offer for children and young people in a range of challenging circumstances that was appropriate and imaginative

Broad application

  • The key features above are demonstrated across a range of major activities.         

Specific issues

  • The specific issues we ask about in each area of provision are addressed.          


  • Imaginative, creative, exciting provision
  • Ambition, inspiration, and energy!

What we were judging for A well as an overall winner from the submissions, we were also identifying:

  • Good Practice Beacons
  • Areas for improvement (in the submissions)
  • Areas for improvement (in the judging)

The MEC Music Education Awards 2016 winner

This year, we had a shortlist of seven from which to choose our overall winner. Some years we cannot choose a winner – or rather, we cannot choose a single winner, no matter how hard we try. Inclusivity demands that we don’t look for artificial distinctions between submissions – so this year we again have:

Joint winners of the Music Education Council Music Education Awards 2016, announced at the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence ceremony as part of Music Education Expo 2017:

  • Bristol Plays Music
  • Portsmouth Music Hub

 In alphabetical order, this is a summary of the judges’ appraisal of the two winners.

 Bristol Plays Music

Here’s a hub that takes its cues from the Stanford principles of collective impact and collaborative action: easy to say, but hard to pull off. We thought Bristol Plays Music were already well on the road to success, especially with its flagship inclusion strategy A new ambition for inclusive excellence, which has set itself the challenge of transforming music education for children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities, and for looked after children.

This is a bold, cohesive, approach that is delivering impressive work across many areas including inspirational first access provision. A new El Sistema-inspired programme is credited by one school as helping it transform from “special measures to the good school it is today”. And we liked the continuation of the Beat Lab creative music technology programme. Backing this up is a detailed curriculum package for schools and a comprehensive CPD programme. And the hub is using Sound and Music’s Minute of listening pack to support the development of those crucial listening skills.

And the music just flows out; the highlight probably being BBC Radio 3's live broadcast featuring the South West Open Youth Orchestra, The ReVoice neurological choir, Bristol Youth Choir and British Paraorchestra.


Portsmouth Music Hub

An admirable application, in which every single element is strong, and most are tried and tested from previous years. Talented pupils are recognised in a dozen genres, from urban to opera by way of jazz and military.

There is a deep understanding of the needs of children and young people in challenging circumstances. Not only is provision wide ranging – free oboe lessons, rock groups working with hard to reach young people, bespoke instrumental learning for visually-impaired students – but the consequences are thought through: so the hub guarantees to find appropriate ensembles for all young people at all stages of instrumental learning.

We liked the award-winning songbooks. We liked the sheer quantity of music making: here, linked to the history curriculum; there, a beginners’ recorder festival. A community musical; a celebration of the hub’s rock bands. A ceilidh. A choral extravaganza.

And underpinning all this, two things. First, the commitment and passion, coupled to a huge energy, of the hub lead. And second, the partners. A most carefully-chosen set of interests – including a folk organisation, a commercial strategy company, a Friends, and the university – with every partner present for a concrete, known purpose.


The MEC Music Education Awards 2016 shortlist

Our shortlist contains the very best of this year’s submissions. Great music making and learning we expect, but these seven entries also offered a sense of strategic purpose and a deep understanding of the modern role of music service agencies. In alphabetical order, below is a summary of why the judges felt these seven entries should be:

  • shortlisted for the Music Education Council Music Education Awards 2016 announced at Music Education Council Winter Seminar in December 2016:

Birmingham Music Education Partnership

This is a hub that understands its purpose. Its strategy group members each contribute specific expertise: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for professional performance; the vocal strategy of Ex Cathedra; the community music understanding of Quench Arts, to name just three. This group’s remit included identifying gaps in provision. So, Birmingham City University has carried out schools surveys to “provide soft intelligence and identification of need;” and a qualified music special educational needs coordinator undertook a needs analysis of all 26 special schools in the city.

The results are easy to see (and hear). We particularly liked a singing strategy that covers Bollywood to Gospel; the string quartet peer mentoring project; work with the OHMI Trust providing instruments specially adapted for disabled players – and crucially, the ensemble in which these young people can play. Teachers, practitioners and senior leadership teams are supported through the hub’s own online, video based, professional development platform ReelMusic.

As Britain’s second city, much is rightly expected of Birmingham, especially in its responses to diversity. We look forward to even greater progress in future submissions.

Bristol Plays Music See winners, above

East Ayrshire

We liked the music! There is lots of it, and it’s wide-ranging. Rightly making use of local resources, this authority – the only Scotland entry to make the shortlist – has James MacMillan with Drake Music Scotland providing  composition workshops and performances with children with mild to severe educational needs. And more: MacMillan working with five lucky pupils in an in-depth composition summer school, leading to fully-formed pieces later played by the Hebrides Ensemble. And more: songwriting workshops with Jo Mango and Davy Scott (of Pearlfishers/ BMX Bandits fame). Of course, much is not new – but we like the continuation of activities, too, such as  the intensive Kickstart project, which provides almost two terms’ tutoring in a single weekend.

As last year, there were solid ways of identifying need and of bringing a variety of opinions together. Support for pupils in challenging circumstances was carefully thought-through: not just support for music making but support in other non-musical activities through music making. Consistency and sustainability (and of course music-making) are watchwords for this service.

Hampshire  Music Hub

We have to start with the hub’s twin mottos: “no decision about us without us;” “everyone can sing.” Powerful statements that are challenging to live up to – though certainly with concerts for 3,500 pupils, it seems that everyone in Hampshire is indeed singing.

We especially liked the impressive use of the hub’s significant resources, to do more, better, sustainably. A huge range and number of quality partners leads to continuing work with Travellers, with looked after children, and with other disadvantaged groups. Elsewhere we picked out, from a swathe of activity, a composition competition. And we much liked a creative technology project: the hub bought iPads – 80 of them – and, in partnership with Sound and Music, set them to work with 120 students exploring approaches to composition through sound editing and structures.

Portsmouth Music Hub See winners, above

SoundCity Brighton & Hove

With its breadth and strength of vision SoundCity is not just a music hub but an integral part of Brighton’s ambitions for wellbeing, employment and digital skilfulness – all being delivered through music.

And the music activity is very strong, ranging across different sectors, producing diverse impacts in different settings. Thus, the singing strategy (led by Glyndebourne) focuses on boys, with opportunities including a rugby World Cup performance and new Key Stage 3/4 vocal group, performing in some of the ten genres in which singing tuition is available – including spoken word and world music.

More inclusive ensembles are being launched. SoundCity’s Orchestra 360 is a creative music group for young people with special educational needs or disabilities. And, importantly, open also to their siblings and parents or carers.

The underpinnings here include some very sound work in developing a strong youth voice; and a professional development strategy based on peer learning: bringing the wealth of skills and knowledge across the area’s music community to facilitate practice sharing.

SoundStorm Bournemouth and Poole Music Education Hub

Strategic and delivery partners total something like 60 or 70 (we kept losing count). This is necessary because the hub lead has a very small staff. And so this is another example of a hub lead that understands its purpose: to enable, enthuse, advocate, plan. We liked the evidence base for provision: a SWOT-type analysis carried out by schools; commissioned research projects; and the development of a dataset to address the “substantial disconnect between what heads of music in schools know about their students, and the plethora of activities in informal settings.”

We liked the creative spirit: this southern England hub makes links with the University of the Highlands and Islands. There was a competition to write a new football chant for Bournemouth's first year in the Premier League. A music industry programme for 13 to 18 year-olds. These aren’t just projects, they’re strategic projects.

The MEC Music Education Awards 2016 longlist

This is the first year we publicly announced a longlist of submissions that we wanted to take forward in the judging process. Judging these awards gets tougher every year, as standards climb; and we knew we would have to lose many excellent submissions in later rounds of judging. Our commendations of the 13 entries we longlisted showed clearly that any of them could have been our eventual winner, and that they deserved this recognition:

Longlisted for the Music Education Council Music Education Awards 2016

And the commendations for longlisted entries are:

Birmingham Music Education Partnership

Shortlisted: see above

Bristol Plays Music

Joint winner: see above

Devon Music Education Hub

Commended for An early pioneer of hub-type working, Devon’s approach is clear and straightforward. It has a clear understanding of its structure: a strategy group that is representative; a wide range of delivery partners sensibly deployed ensure broad provision. There is acknowledgement that rock and pop musicians can be gifted and talented, too. And the Mix festival continues to showcase the importance of creative music technology.

East Ayrshire

Shortlisted: see above

East Renfrewshire

Commended for Among a huge number of activities, the sound engineering classes at the Saturday Music Centre stood out, not only as part of standard instrumental tuition, but also for its role in supporting pupils at risk of exclusion. Traditional music is similarly embedded in provision. And, quite extraordinarily: a relief work trip to Danbi in Malawi, where pupils taught and performed many Scots songs to Malawi children.

Hampshire  Music Hub

Shortlisted: see above

Lincolnshire Music Education Hub

Commended for Work that recognises the challenges of this county, with its large land mass and east coast areas of multiple deprivation. The delivery partners embedded in the county are key to addressing these challenges, with work in hospitals, on music technology, and with looked after children alongside more traditional offers such as a Carmina Burana in Lincoln Cathedral. There is a strategic approach to curriculum support .

Newham Music

Commended for Its young person-focused approach to needs analysis, with intentions for a youth forum and a parents group, and a central place on the East London Cultural Education Partnership. There are specific offers for marginalised groups such as training for  young, talented, Roma musicians in a culturally diverse and inclusive environment. There is some strong CPD provision.

Portsmouth Music Hub

Joint winner: see above

SoundCity Brighton & Hove

Shortlisted: see above

SoundStorm Bournemouth and Poole Music Education Hub

Shortlisted: see above

Southampton Music Education Hub

Commended for Its broad community-based approach, based on a very strong needs analysis. Family learning opportunities are key to its strategy for working with disadvantaged young people. A project using mobile technology to link young people in Southampton and the Isle of Wight improves compositions skills, develops communication through video blogging, and help schools and the community to make better use of mobile technology.

Tower Hamlets and City of London Hub

Commended for Exploiting the resources available in east London – a huge range of partners, musicians and projects.. The emphasis on cross-arts work (the hub lead is the arts and music education service) especially with dance. Some interesting new music work in contemporary, folk, classical or world genres, and some cross-genre work too.


Good practice beacons

The Music Education Council strives to improve the quality, range and availability of music education for all. It considers these music education awards an important part of this goal.

By running these awards, MEC not only celebrates and recognises those hubs and services with outstanding provision. It can also draw attention to good practice initiatives which shine like a beacon, enabling others to see and to share the best and latest thinking in good music education.

Helping to drive up standards in this way, MEC was delighted to be able to lead a discussion at the 2016 Music Mark conference with a panel of some of those longlisted for this year’s awards. Colleagues were enthused by the presentations from Birmingham, Brighton and Hove, Hampshire and Lincolnshire and. It was inspiring to hear directly from colleagues who are organising and delivering excellent work in their areas and delegates were able to have follow up individual conversations to learn more during networking time at the conference.

For the judges, the main good practice themes we identified in the submissions included:

Peer mentoring An example (all mentions of submissions in this section are examples only) was Birmingham’s string quartet mentoring. Worried your pupils will pick up bad habits? An excellent opportunity to discuss the issue with mentors and mentees.

Meaningful needs analyses A genuine approach to finding out what young people want and need means involving young people themselves, and finding ways to reach beyond the usual suspects. Birmingham and Newham were examples.

Confronting inclusivity head-on It’s easy to talk about inclusivity and diversity, much harder to practice it. It needs to be a whole-area approach, with commitment and understanding right through. And resources. And imagination. Bristol Plays Music shows the way.

Spotting talent in every genre It’s not always easy for someone from one background to be able to assess talent in another genre. But every genre has its talented musicians. Devon acknowledges that rock and pop musicians can be gifted and talented, too; Newham recognises talented Roma musicians.

Laptops are instruments too And sound engineering is an important part of musicianship. The sound engineering classes at East Renfrewshire’s Saturday Music Centre are a part of standard instrumental tuition.

Have mantras. Repeat them And again. Distilling your core values into single sentences that everyone – staff and pupils – can understand and sign up to helps focus, as Hampshire ("no decisions about us without us"; "everyone can sing") can testify. Just make sure that your mantras are inclusive, resilient to ridicule, and above all are demonstrably always put into practice.

Strong and clear strategy Excellent music making and a clear focused purpose go hand in hand. Both our winners, Bristol and Portsmouth (and others such as SoundCity) were testament to this, their purposes being much wider than just music – and yet, totally about music.


Improving and improvements

Getting better Standards of submissions continue to increase. We say this every year because it’s true: the list of good practice beacons, above, is one testimony to this.

Could still do better But there continue to be areas of provision that we feel could benefit from debates to aid understanding. Below are three examples.

Whichever country of the UK you practise in, it is clear that provision can only be better with more collegiate activity. Hubs and music services cannot go it alone but need active, genuine, equal partnerships both with other music providers and with other social and voluntary sectors such as health, criminal justice, cultural planning and many more. We recognise that getting to that point is a process not an event – but we encourage more hubs and services to ensure their direction and speed of travel are right. Strategic planning is vital.

Genuine partnerships with young people are not universal. Our evidence suggests that this is an important element to tackle.

While great strides have been taken in music technology, there still needs to be a better understanding of its purpose. It is a particularly useful instrument for working with some  types of disability or challenge. But the starting point needs to be that music technology is an instrument like all the others, and needs to be learned and played like all the others.

Talent is still too equated with the western classical genre. There needs to be more understanding of how to spot talent across all genres.

You told us

We can’t expect submissions to address good practice if we don’t do so ourselves. So we ask submitters to give us any feedback they like on our forms and judging processes. This year about half made comments (which of course did not influence the judges’ findings either way). We summarise them (many were making similar points to each other) and our general responses [in square brackets] below.

Similar comments were also made at a Music Mark conference panel discussion. Colleagues were enthused by the adjustments that had been made to improve the submission form. In particular the inclusion of reference to curriculum support in schools and the change of submission deadline were appreciated.

Additional questions Please test for sustainability and income generation ability. [Important areas which we do take into account by comparing how much work is reported against our knowledge of the size of the hub or music service. More directly, it would be difficult to specify questions rigorously enough for judges to compare fairly.]

Promoting good practice Can we discuss good practice at Expo, in Music Teacher, with Music Mark, in MEC website case studies? Could we share resources (eg the best collection of First Access band arrangements, or a songbook for mixed choirs) perhaps via a database? [Indeed, the more suggestions for good practice sharing the better. Sharing resources is a potentially excellent suggestion – alternatively the stuff of nightmares. It will need more thought.]

Language Important to keep checking that submission forms use appropriate language for each country. For example, Scotland does not have statements of special education need, it has co-ordinated support plans, which hare not quite the same things. [Agreed. We will modify forms again this year taking these and other similar comments into account.]

Word counts Generally not commented on, but one or two submitters made pleas for increased limits. [Happy to oblige, a little. We’ll ease out counts for 2017.]

Overall, the inclusion of the feedback section in the submission form ensures the awards remain relevant to music education in the twenty first century. MEC is keen to hear of suggestions for the future that enable us to celebrate and share the best practice. 


The judges

The judging panel includes senior figures from formal and non-formal music education, with representation from each country of the UK with submissions. For the 2016 awards they were:

Lincoln Abbotts, ABRSM

Debra King, Brighter Sound

Fiona Pendreigh, music education hub lead

Oliver Searle, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Alex Stevens, Rhinegold Publishing

Chair Kathryn Deane, Sound Sense (at the time of judging)