Challenges & opportunities in young people’s music provision

26 May 2017

Programmes Manager, Louise Barnell, reports back from Youth Music’s London Grantholder Gathering

Subscribe to our newsletter

Youth Music is a national charity investing in music-making projects for children and young people experiencing challenging circumstances. They fund 350 projects across England working in all genres of music to support those facing economic difficulties, behavioural challenges or life conditions to progress musically, socially and personally. This month Youth Music is holding six ‘grantholder gatherings’ around the country for the staff delivering these projects.

The purpose of this year’s gatherings is two-fold: the morning gives grantholders the opportunity to meet and learn from each other - celebrating best practice, sharing challenges and creating collective solutions; the afternoon is a learning session delivered by music education trainer Phil Mullen on how the (recently updated) Youth Music quality framework can support music leaders and project managers to reflect on their practice and increase the quality of their work.

Programme Manager, Daniel Williams, commented, “it’s not often we all get the opportunity to get together like this, so we wanted to make this a really productive and stimulating day covering some of the key issues facing the sector. We’ve loved meeting everyone and seeing people really dive in and get involved in the conversation! We’re hoping people come away from these gatherings having made new connections, exchanged great ideas and been inspired. We’re also really excited to discuss the new version of our quality framework with grantholders before we publish it in the summer, as well as exploring some of the ways it can be used to reflect on and develop practice.”

Sharing best practice

Organisations in attendance included M.E.L Productions, Spitalfields Music, Trinity Laban, Reprezent Radio, Sound Connections, The Crib and The Garage in Norfolk. Organisations shared best practice in the morning - looking at what works and what universal challenges are presented when doing work with young people in music.

Challenges and areas for discussion centred on five core themes

  • Youth voice
  • Progression
  • Impact Measurement
  • Youth justice
  • Partnerships

Each group worked on four structured areas for discussion which included:

  • The two biggest challenges relating to their area of work
  • The main priorities presenting themselves now
  • The changes that are needed to implement priorities and solve challenges

Each group was then asked to outline collective actions needed in response to challenges.

Youth voice

In the group that discussed the theme of youth voice the main challenges centred upon how to broker authentic young people’s decisions and project focus through their voices and maintain safeguarding. The challenges that presented themselves here were:

- Being clear about timing, and the need to ask ‘why’ when engaging young people in service implementation. If the answer isn’t immediately clear as to why young people need to be involved in decision-making at a specific point, then perhaps it is not the right time for involvement

- Shared language: there is a challenge around the language sometimes used by funders, particularly reductive terms such as ‘disadvantage', 'deprivation' and poverty.’ These terms can leave young people feeling disenfranchised if they feel they are being labelled

- Understanding safeguarding and how to create safe spaces. There is a tension between involving young people at risk in decision-making.

- A lack of capacity sometimes also means that there is less room for music practitioners and delivery partners who are stretched to involve and embed young people’s voices

Solutions and actions to the challenges outlines were then shared across the group and these involved

- Creating a shared understanding of youth voice and sector frameworks to implement meaningful voice. This could be shared across Youth Music and the wider sector

- Looking at each level delivery strategy operations and asking ‘what is the benefit of young people’s voice?’ Being honest that if there are areas where this isn’t essential then that is okay

- Creating a shared language to talk about ‘disadvantage’ and other such labels with young people, so that they are clear about the necessity of using this language but also about its power

- Creating safe spaces to be honest about misunderstandings or challenges in creating genuine voices for young people

- Being patient and spending the time with young people


The second group outlined the following challenges when dealing with progression youth music services and delivery:

- A focus on progression needs buy-in across all levels, not just delivery

- There is a need to ensure that funding doesn’t stop just because organisations are doing well and are established

- There is a disconnect between primary and secondary music services and education, and how young people progress between them is a key concern. Information about attainment and grades are often lost and bursaries differ between institutions and age groups

Solutions to these areas included:

- A need to look at mapping across provision and joined up provision for progression in an area based way. There is scope for A New Direction and Sound Connections to attend to area based partnerships using their knowledge and expertise.

- The creation of a ‘sub hub’ of people that know about progression and options in music careers and pathways was an option discussed

- Music hubs were seen as having a role in engaging conversations about progression and utilising local knowledge on tieing together services and creating pathways

Impact measurement


  • Data collection is tough when there is not a lot of time and a big demand on services
  • It also requires specialised skills and the right avenues to disseminate it
  • Interrogating data and using qualitative and quantitative data to access progression across services raises questions about data sharing, anonymity for vulnerable groups and data protection too.


  • Is data the right word? Does it reduce our findings on young people and music into numbers? Perhaps the word needed is ‘evidence’
  • Having a base of knowledge and information via peer learning would ensure that evidence and impact collection is done in the right way
  • Gathering data and triangulating the finding between partners could present an interesting way of gathered impact and collective evidence

Youth Justice


  • Youth justice is a complex service with a high demand. Music can go far but only so far in transforming lives
  • Mainstream music is legitimising a lot of behaviours that are challenging to young people especially those that are vulnerable and in the justice system long term


  • Peer learning between youth justice organisations is essential
  • Using Sound Connections and A New Direction as networking organisations to connect peer learning and create forums for sharing practice



  • Working out who is best suited to partnerships
  • Finding time to forge partnerships
  • Creating lasting partnerships
  • Landscapes differ from school to school


  • Thinking about how to maintain staff partnerships and staff turnover. What information is passed on?
  • Organisational and funder understanding of what makes a good partnership – distilling this information and sharing it
  • Doing more co-production with young people as they are the key to successful and sustained partnerships
  • Delegating to music leaders and young people to find the time to create successful partnerships