August 15, 2021

Sound Potential Project

Soundabout have been working in partnership with Berkshire’s Music Education Hub, Berkshire Maestros, to deliver the Sound Potential project in Berkshire. This three-year project, which began in autumn 2018, has the overall aim of building a network of music practitioners in Berkshire who have the skills and confidence to work with students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), in particular those with severe and profound and multiple learning difficulties. The idea is that these practitioners will then be equipped to help unlock their students’ musical potential and support their wider development and well-being through music.

In the first year of Sound Potential (academic year 2018-19), we undertook the groundwork for the project by finding out more about the existing music provision in Berkshire for students with complex needs and identifying the training needs of staff. In April 2019, we held a project launch at the Reading Music Centre, which included CPD training for staff, and following this we delivered three further whole day CPD staff sessions across the summer term. A total of 37 staff accessed these initial CPD training sessions, from more than 20 schools and organisations based both within Berkshire and beyond.

Over the academic years 2019-20 and 2020-21, we delivered four individual 10-weeker training projects in SEND schools in Berkshire, each involving one Soundabout practitioner and one peripatetic music teacher from Berkshire Maestros. The first two 10-weekers were delivered in-person at Brookfields School in autumn 2019 and Manor Green School in spring term 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic then hit, which unfortunately impacted the planned delivery of the project for the remainder of 2020. We were delighted that Thames Valley School agreed to host an online 10-weeker training project in spring 2021; since this is an autism specialist school, the emphasis here was on modelling activities specifically suitable for students with autism. In summer 2021, we delivered our final 10-weeker at The Avenue in Reading, involving both online and face-to-face contact.

The music-making sessions, which were at the heart of the training, were tailored in each school according to the age and needs of each group of students we were working with. Alongside the music-making sessions there was time allocated for session planning, reflection and assessment with staff, to support their development as music practitioners. We used a specialist assessment tool called Sounds of Intent in all of the projects to monitor the students’ musical progress and staff were trained in Sounds of intent to be able to make assessments themselves.

Through the four 10-weeker training projects, we have delivered a total of 127 music-making sessions, involving both students and staff, plus a further 14 CPD sessions for staff. We have reached 98 students with SEND and 69 school staff. Here is some feedback from staff involved:

It’s a session where all students are included, where their communication is respected. It gives them a “voice”, and it gives them the opportunity to be in control as it’s student led (Class teacher)

I have found the project extremely enjoyable and particularly enjoyed the collaborative approach. Each member of the team brought something unique from a different point of view… I feel so much more confident working within this kind of setting both as a member of the team and leading the sessions. A big takeaway for me is being able to spot and hone in on small changes and developments with the children. (Peripatetic teacher)

Each of the schools involved in the 10-weekers has been offered follow-up support tailored to their individual settings, such as bespoke training videos for staff. We are organising an end of project celebration for the autumn term 2021, which will be an opportunity for practitioners from all of the SEND schools who have been involved in the Sound Potential project to come together and share their work and learning with each other and with staff from other schools and organisations in the area.

Case study “C”

C was a member of group four, along with three other students with PMLD from the same class. C attended all seven music-making sessions which took place on Thursday afternoons in the school’s training room. The students were hoisted by staff out of the wheelchairs at the beginning of each session onto resonance boards which were positioned together in a block on the floor in the centre of the room. Music was played by the Soundabout practitioner to accompany this transition. C preferred to sit on his resonance board, while his peers lay down. In the early sessions, we observed that C would sometimes shuffle himself off his board onto the soft mats and carpet around the edge of the resonance boards.

With this group, the sessions typically began with a welcome activity with names, followed by tapping/rhythm activities on the board and spontaneous songs following the students’ lead and copying their sounds and movements. We would then explore sound makers, instruments and other sensory objects on the board, before a musical relaxation and singing goodbye. In week one and two, C made some eye contact at points when we were singing his name or and he also made a few random sounds with instruments which were offered to him, such as a single tap on the skin of a drum. He didn’t appear to be very responsive to the tapping on the resonance board in these early sessions. C’s baseline Sounds of Intent assessment was level two in all domains (proactive, reactive and interactive).

In week three, C was very responsive to the guitar and showed a clear preference for this instrument, sitting close to it and becoming vocal. Then, from week four onwards, we observed C engaging more and more with other instruments as well - he would hold them and explore them for longer. In week five, we moved C’s Sounds of Intent interactive assessment up to level three as C started to independently tap the board in response to others tapping the board. He also tapped the drum several times in this session with an emerging sense of pulse.We also simultaneously began to see evidence of reactive level three as C was increasingly responding to repeated patterns in sound e.g. patterns of tapping which started and stopped on the resonance board. He initiated a rubbing pattern on the board in session seven, a new idea which then developed into a whole group activity. C’s hummed vocalisations were becoming more frequent in the later sessions as well. We also observed that C was generally choosing to stay on the boards for the duration of the session, rather than moving onto the surrounding mats or carpet.