Partnerships in early years music: Working together

Two large-scale partnership projects in London and Birmingham have recently shown what an ambitious agenda for excellence in early years music education can look like. Project leader Nicola Burke takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the work

Tri-Music Together (London) and Sounds of Play (Birmingham) are two large early years (EY) workforce development projects that I currently lead. Both have embraced a partnership approach to developing practice and provision, enabled by groups of organisations coming together to create consortiums. The partnership approach has proven to have a positive impact for musicians and EY practitioners working in EY settings, and on a strategic level, supporting senior leaders to further their understanding and enabling them to develop their EY programmes.

Tri-Music Together (TMT)

As a passionate advocate of music in EY, Stuart Whatmore, head of the Tri-borough Music Hub, was keen to explore how the hub could provide EY music education across the three local authorities it serves: Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster. Although EY is outside of the official remit of music education hubs, Whatmore feels that EY children have the right to a quality musical experience, believing that this could link with Key Stage 1 music provision to ensure better progression.

Through meetings and discussions with a range of organisations, the Tri-borough Early Years Music Consortium was created. In 2015 the consortium consisted of 14 partner organisations; in 2019 this grew to 17. The partner organisations are:

  • Bi-borough (RBKC & WCC)
  • LA School Standards, Children’s Services Ɂ Chickenshed Kensington & Chelsea
  • Creative Futures
  • LBHF LA Children’s Services
  • Inspire-works
  • Music House for Children
  • Royal Albert Hall
  • Royal College of Music
  • Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Sound Connections
  • The Voices Foundation
  • Tri-borough Music Hub
  • Wigmore Hall
  • WCC Children’s Centres
  • LBHF Children’s Centres 
  • RBKC Children’s Centres 
  • Tri-borough Library Services

Thanks to funding from Youth Music, we were able to offer a range of CPD opportunities for EY practitioners and musicians across the Tri-borough area. Phase 1 of the project in 2016-18 saw us engage with and support 148 musicians, 249 EY practitioners and 120 EY settings. The CPD opportunities we offered included one-day and three-day courses, sharing and networking sessions, INSET training sessions and projects involving musicians working closely with EY practitioners in situ.

The impact of the CPD has been significant, positively impacting the music provision in EY settings, as well as the EY practitioners’ and musicians’ practice. It has also enabled the organisations in the consortium to develop their own understanding of EY and of each other’s roles and the challenges they face. The conversations between the different organisations have been and continue to be rich and challenging. We are all learning together to enable EY music provision and practice to continue to develop.

We are ambitious about sharing our learning and offering support far and wide. We regularly speak at conferences and events, write articles and attend both local and national meetings regarding EY and music education policy. Musical Development Matters forms part of the legacy of the project, and in Phase 2, with further funding from Youth Music, we are continuing to offer a range of CPD for EY practitioners and musicians within and outside the Tri-borough area. We are currently writing a toolkit for Music Education Hubs (MEHs) that will be free to download, and are also offering a support programme for MEHs wanting to develop their EY provision. You can sign up to our database, access the Phase 1 evaluation report, book our training sessions and read about our MEH support programme by visiting our website (


Sounds of Play

In May 2018, Sarah Robbins, CEO of the Springfield Project, Birmingham, approached me to discuss the possibility of developing CPD opportunities for EY practitioners across the city. The Springfield Project is one of five partner organisations that make up Birmingham Forward Steps (BFS), a pioneering health and wellbeing initiative for all Birmingham children aged zero to five and their families. The other four partners are Barnardo’s, Spurgeons, Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, and St Paul’s Community Development Trust.

Following the success of the Tri-borough Early Years Music Consortium and the partnership approach, we decided to be ambitious, adopting the same model and reaching out to organisations in Birmingham from EY and music/arts. We invited them to come together to discuss EY music, with the prospect of seeking funding for a workforce development project. Further conversations ensued and the Birmingham Early Years Music Consortium was created. The consortium includes:

  • B’Opera
  • Barnardo’s
  • Birmingham City Council
  • Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
  • Birmingham Nursery Schools Teaching Schools Alliance
  • City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
  • Centre for Research in Early Childhood
  • Early Years Alliance
  • Kids
  • Mac Makes Music
  • Quench Arts
  • Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
  • The Springfield Project
  • Services for Education
  • St Paul’s Community Development Trust
  • Spurgeons
  • Welsh National Opera

Once again, with funding from Youth Music we are offering a range of opportunities for EY practitioners and musicians over a two-year period (2019-2021). Sounds of Play is slightly different to TMT, with a focus on supporting those working with families in a range of community settings across the city. Birmingham is the largest local authority in Europe and currently has more than 85,000 children aged under five. The city has 10 districts and we have taken a strategic approach by offering CPD in each, to support those working with families across the entire city.

The funding enables us to offer 15 fully funded places on the Certificate for Music Educators (CME) in Early Childhood course ( Ten of these places have been allocated to those working in each of the 10 districts in the city, and our vision is to have EY music champions in each of the 10 districts. As with TMT, musicians will be working closely with EY practitioners to learn with and from each other. The meetings, events and conversations that have already taken place demonstrate just how much the project is needed, and our courses are fully booked within 24 hours. Conversations between the partner organisations have enabled much learning and sharing to take place, and I am confident that this will continue over the next two years and beyond.

This article appeared in the February 2020 edition of Music Teacher magazine, which provides music educators with invaluable ideas for teaching, including substantial online lesson materials and a range of practical features. To celebrate its early years’ issue, Music Teacher magazine is offering Nursery World readers an exclusive 20 per cent discount. Subscribe today using promo code EY20MUT to take advantage of this special offer. Subscribe today:

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