At the beginning of July, soundLINCS were delighted to have over 300 Early Years practitioners, parents carers and children join us for “Early Years Arts in the Park – I can do that!”; an active creative learning event held in Rufford Country Park. Facilitators ran a range of arts and music workshops to create and develop a programme of training activities to inspire Early Years practitioners and their groups.
This fantastic turnout for a Workforce Development event was a brilliant outcome to soundLINCS’ exploration of a new model for practitioner training, an approach taken following the release of soundADVICE!; an external evaluation of soundLINCS’ regional Workforce Development programmes commissioned from Gail Dudson and funded by the National Foundation for Youth Music as part of the Musical Inclusion and Network programmes soundLINCS is delivering.
Workforce Development is an essential part of community music and music education, and a core strand of soundLINCS’ work. The study came about as a result of the increasingly low take up for soundLINCS’ Workforce Development activities across the East Midlands.
It must be said that soundLINCS is no novice to workforce development, having built and maintained its own workforce for the past 16 years, adding to years of experience running various training projects and programmes, including National Foundation for Youth Music’s funded programmes MusicLeader East Midlands, SingUp, Musical Inclusion and Network projects. The company were very much aware that the East Midlands were not alone in their experience of apathetic attendance, as it is a commonly experienced problem, with widespread reporting of a decline in take up for development and training opportunities in the arts and education sectors in general.
With this in mind Gail was asked to consider the philosophy, processes, opportunities and results of soundLINCS’ Workforce Development activity and draw conclusions on how it could be developed in the future to increase interest and attendance. This was achieved through communication with core members of the soundLINCS team and representatives from the East Midlands Hub Lead Organisations, an online survey via the monthly e-information service soundEMission and a detailed study of soundLINCS’ consultation, planning and communication strategies.
The study of soundLINCS’ strategies concluded that a comprehensive process of consultation and planning was performed in order to develop a strong Workforce Development offer which was both well distributed around the region and met the objectives of the funding. It also confirmed that these programmes were being extensively and effectively promoted by soundLINCS and their partners and professional networks.
Despite this, take up was undeniably low. It would have been wonderful if soundADVICE! had waved a magic wand and conjured up an impenetrable successful training / Workforce Development solution. Unfortunately not, however Gail was able to spend time and reflect to create a document that solidifies, documents and evidences the conversations and thoughts which have been rumbling over the years. soundADVICE! suggests that it is still due to both economic concerns and the priorities of the organisations and practitioners themselves, whilst the specificity of initiatives for Children in Challenging Circumstances often catered for too small a market to attract large numbers.
The reduction in both funding and posts over the last few years means that there are now fewer people working in the sector, whilst the practitioners and organisations who remain are more cautious than ever about devoting time or money into a development programme that may mean turning away work or be seen as a risky investment.
The findings outlined that Workforce Development priorities need to have a strong business and social case in order to be received with enthusiasm. A mu
sic practitioner is more likely to take up opportunities when they know that it will result in paid work whilst a Hub Lead Organisation will invest more time and money in a programme that they believe will benefit their social and business targets.
With this in mind, Workforce Development activity should be designed to offer and grow its service in its area. Those involved in the project should not only participate in the training but then go on to form a core team who can help to form a community of practice for the project.
Having these findings formalised, soundLINCS has been able to reflect with confidence, completely reassess the Company’s expectations of the Workforce Development programmes and enter into a series of training frameworks and Workforce Development projects and programmes, closely linking training with projects and other activities intended to bring about improvements in music education. Beginning with “Early Years Arts in the Park – I can do that!” – a free opportunity for Early Years practitioners, child minders, parents and carers to discover creative ways of working with their children and discover how arts can deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage whilst having fun, and providing scope for them to further develop the ideas themselves.
Early Years Arts in the Park – I can do that!”- offered a range of activities, with 10 different workshops (5 arts based and 5 music based) running throughout the day, allowing practitioners to tailor the day to their own needs. The ‘active training’ approach, with the children participating in the workshops, not only gave the Early Years practitioners great insight into how engaging the activities were bespokely for their groups, they also experienced the impact of the session on the children. Quite often surprising themselves as they wrote and created songs with their 0-5 year olds together; recorded new tunes using iPads; and group compositions using a roll of wallpaper and a dice!
Out of the 300 attending a third were EY practitioners, parents and carers giving a ratio of 1:2. They were asked at the end of the day, “Could you do that?” and “Have you been inspired?” The responses were an overwhelming “Yes!” Delegates affirmed, “It was brilliant!” “What really worked well for me as a child minder was the ability of each activity host to involve both my 9 month old and my 5 year old. That was very impressive”. “This should be rolled out in primary schools across the region”. “I can’t believe that my children have written a song – we’ll definitely be singing it at home – I’m thrilled”.
As for the music and arts facilitators, this was a journey for them, duelling up their session to ensure a good balance between delivering music activities for the Early Years and including the extension training element for the adults.
Another interesting fact – the event was run in partnership with Nottinghamshire County Council Arts Service, as had the previous EY training/sharing ‘EY practitioner only’ events which had been organised and eventually cancelled. All the events information had been sent to the same email list. It was only this event “Early Years Arts in the Park – I can do that!” which captured the imagination in a seemingly viral frenzy of interest. At one point over 850 had expressed interest in the day.
Was it the lovely park as a venue? Was it the opportunity for EY practitioners to play and gain new skills? Or was it simply that we dispelled worries about having to close settings or attend outside of work hours to receive development opportunities? And there lies further evaluations and studies, however for the moment we know that settings will divert resources, time and finances to attend activities that involve their young people and are delighted to be trained while doing it!
The day was a great success and hopefully will mark the beginning of a new wave of Workforce Development programmes which will engage practitioners and organisations and resultantly see improved and sustained music education delivery for children across the region.
For further information on ‘Early Years Arts in the Park’ visit https://www.soundlincs.org/project/arts-in-the-park/ or to read the full soundADVICE evaluation go to https://www.soundlincs.org/resources/research/soundadvice/.