A manager's perspective: Cathy's story

Cathy Byrne is the Deputy Head, Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Coordinator and Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) at Ethelred Nursery School and Children’s Centre, on Gundulf Street in Kennington, just a 20-minute walk from the Music as Therapy International office. Ethelred is a maintained nursery school in an area of London with high levels of deprivation, and an intake of young children including those who are on the Special Educational Needs and Disability register, and/or have English as a Second Language (ESL). In 2018, they applied for an Interactive Music-Making Award for their practitioner, Romina (pictured below, with IMM Award instruments).

We were thankful to have the opportunity to ask Cathy a few questions about the course from a managerial perspective - starting with why she decided to apply in the first place. “Hearing about the powerful impact it had at Maytree Nursery School” - a close partner nursery to Ethelred, with whom they have recently federated - was a major factor, as well as witnessing the fruits of an already running three-year dedicated Music Therapy programme, run by Music Therapy Lambeth. Cathy explains that she “would love to offer IMM as a complementary intervention to other children who need support to engage in learning,” which resonates with our experience that IMM/Skill-Sharing projects work well in tandem with other music services, which are often actually the catalyst for one another, rather than in competition.

“The inclusive nature of the Interactive Music-Making approach enables children to participate irrespective of their starting points. Once given the opportunity to be part of a small focused group, children develop confidence and eagerness to participate in learning very quickly. Moreover, the positive regard which they experience in the group has a profound impact on their wellbeing and by extension their learning.”

On the impact of the IMM practical sessions at Ethelred Nursery so far.

Ethelred staff had also incorporated music into non-clinical elements of the nursery’s offer, such as their annual Black History Month celebrations, and this too meant that Cathy and her colleagues became aware of “the way music works to support children’s confidence and communication skills” despite their age, interests or background:

Over the course of a day of music, song and storytelling we see quiet, sometimes withdrawn, children become part of a joyous noisy group of drummers or dancers, demonstrating skills and talents that were previously hidden. In addition to this music can be employed to support children’s progress in any area of learning, be it literacy, maths, science, physical development and, of course, creative and artistic” – On the nursery’s use of music during Black History Month celebration

Yet, despite this enthusiasm for the power of music, the current funding climate means that Ethelred would not have been able to put Romina on the Interactive Music-Making course without the Award fully subsidising the course fees, plus travel or supply cover. Cathy tells us that though they have a “highly trained and qualified workforce, which supports disproportionate numbers of children with additional and complex needs” Ethelred rarely receives the additional funding needed to support them. This means, simply put, that without the opportunity to bid for charitable/external funding there is very little capacity to “develop our provision with powerful enrichment opportunities such as this one.” The prevalence of stories like this in the Early Years sector confirms to us the importance of the Interactive Music-Making Award’s continued place at the forefront of our Under-5s offer.

Cathy’s overall vision for IMM at Ethelred sees this reach continuing to extend far beyond one practitioner, with the aim to have the practice “embedded… as one of a group of interventions we offer to vulnerable children.” Like many other managers involved in the IMM course, Cathy anticipates other staff members supporting Romina to run groups – sharing in her practice, and increasing the reach of her training. This will hopefully extend to training other staff in the coming years – the IMM course has a successful history of seeing practitioners from the same settings enrolled over different years in order to strengthen that setting’s offer.

Romina, who is the Lead Practitioner for the two year-old class, has been running her practical sessions weekly with a group of children from her classroom, whom she knows well, and of whose needs she is well informed. She had reported to Cathy while taking the course that IMM is “particularly effective for vulnerable children who often require a high level of support."

 Excitingly, the children involved have already shown an improved engagement with learning:

“All children showed high levels of motivation and involvement; the activities were strongly supportive of their communication and language skills, requiring active listening and responding; children who had been mostly solitary began to recognise themselves as part of a group.”

 On observing one of Romina’s IMM practical sessions.

Not only has the course impacted the children positively, but it has meant that Romina herself has developed as a practitioner. Indeed, when we asked Cathy what she might tell another manager who is thinking of sending a practitioner on the IMM course, she spoke not only about the children but about the impact it has had for Romina, who “has gained a range of new skills which are beginning to be embedded in her wider practice…. I think this would be an extremely worthwhile investment.” Ethelred’s Head Teacher has also observed a practical session and has given “extremely positive” feedback.  

Do you work in Early Years, and want to find out more about the Interactive Music-Making Award and training? Follow this link to read more on our dedicated IMM site. 

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