The NMC Music Education Awards



Major Trophy

Creative Minds Team at East Ayrshire Council

Telford & Wrekin Music Education Hub

The Paritor Award for New Music

Oxfordshire Music Education Partnership

Glasgow City Music Service

The Incorporated Society of Musicians Award for Music Technology

Newham Music Hub

Diplomas of Merit

SoundStorm:  Music Education Hub for Bournemouth & Poole

SoundCity: Music Education Hub for Brighton & Hove

Devon Music Education Hub

Barking & Dagenham Community Music Service

Mark Pemberton, Chair of the National Music Council, says: “The National Music Council, which “seeks to celebrate and promote the value and enjoyment of music”, comprises a range of national music organisations dedicated to the well-being of the music industry. And what we all share is an understanding of the importance of music education, and in particular the commitment of music educators to ensuring the highest quality access to instrumental tuition and performance opportunities for young people at local level. The NMC’s Music Education Awards have for many decades been the primary means of recognising on a national level the great work done by local authorities and music education hubs. This year’s winners will as ever be an inspiration to others to aim for the highest quality provision for young people in their locality.” 

Dick Hallam, Chair of the Music Education Council, says“MEC is delighted to sponsor these important awards which recognise the imaginative, inclusive and high-quality music provision that so many young people in the UK experience every day through the excellent work of all those involved in music education. They continue to be an inspiration to us all."

Kathryn Deane, Chair of the Panel says: "This year’s submissions again demonstrated above all the creativity that flourishes in music education ...throughout the UK. It is the music teachers, the peripatetic tutors, community musicians, the managers and administrators in countless hubs, music services who not only make music but make music happen in their communities. The NMC Music Education Awards celebrate the achievements of these individuals and organisations."


Report by Kathryn Deane, Chair of the judging panel. 

Submissions to the National Music Council’s music education awards are like despatches from a frontline. Partly because (both in the submissions we received and, like Conan Doyle’s non-barking dog, in those that we didn’t receive) there is often a sense of doing battle - mostly, it has to be said, against those intractable foes Lack of Money. And partly because, safely tucked up in GHQ, our panel of judges can hear the music of what is happening not only in individual skirmishes but across the whole activity. Thus, we understand why there were no submissions from Wales yet again, thanks to that intractable foe; why Scotland produced, proportionately, the most submissions again, thanks to Having Some Money; and why in England things seem to be starting to settle down a little, following the necessary upheaval of the introduction of music education hubs.

Enough of battleground metaphors, which really don’t suit awards that are about creativity, musicality, collaboration. And success: areas of practice that the panel has traditionally been less than enthusiastic over - creative new technology, an approach to progression which recognises a diversity of genres - are improving.

And true, strategic, partnership working in England’s music education hubs is becoming more widely embedded. At least, it is on the basis of the submissions before the panel - and that’s what matters here. If the same is true of the bulk of provision, then there is less to fear for the musical health of children and young people (or adults, in some cases) than might be supposed. If, on the other hand, the submissions represent the best of the practice, then we warmly invite others to share in and learn from these examples.

Where partnerships are concerned, we like to think we practise what we preach. We certainly know that our partners not only add value to the awards and allow things to happen that would be impossible for any one of us working on our own - but, quite frankly, we couldn’t run the awards without their support and joint endeavours. The strength and diversity of our partners also indicates to us quite clearly that the National Music Council Music Education Awards are central to the development of music education in the UK.

The technology doesn’t exist to enable us to mention everyone at once as equally key, so we’ll have to make do with a linear list that implies no hierarchy. The Awards as a whole have been sponsored by the Music Education Council. It’s not the money (though thank you for that!) but the affirmation: these are, after all, music education awards and it is wholly right that the huge and diverse body of expertise, knowledge and understanding that MEC represents should be associated with them. We have sponsors for two individual Awards: Paritor has championed again creative new music; and the Incorporated Society of Musicians similarly music technology. Again we say it’s the thought that counts: music making is the key, creativity is the driving force, and technology is ubiquitous; and these two sponsorships allow us to spotlight the best work in these crucial areas.

Without a panel of judges there can be no awards, and NMC would like once again to thank them most profusely, not only for the day of judging, nor for the hours of preparatory reading - but also for their skill and knowledge, care and consideration, and above all wisdom. This year we were fortunate to again have Leonora Davies MBE, Debra King, Oliver Searle and Lincoln Abbotts (the Music Education Council observer) who also acted as MC at the presentation of the awards. And without an administrator there would be no submissions for the panel to judge.  Thanks too to Gil Limor for his time and effort spent creating the presentation for the event and especially to Darren Henley who joined us to present the awards and certificates to representatives from the winning hubs and music services.

And in the immortal words of the Good Old Days the last word of thanks goes to “chiefly, yourselves,” the music teachers, the peripatetic tutors, community musicians, the managers and administrators in countless hubs, music organisations and music services who not only make music but make music happen. Because you believe in it. Because you think it worthwhile. Because you know its role in wellbeing, and literacy, and social cohesion is only the start. Because you agree with writer and researcher Francois Matarasso: “what is music good for?” he asks. “Playing,” he replies.



Barking and Dagenham

Working in London is a double-edged sword. On the one hand there is the embarrassment of riches that is the learning and participation departments of some of the world’s finest and most diverse venues, orchestras, rock, pop and urban provision. On the other hand there is (for the borough of Barking and Dagenham) the brutal truth of being one of the most deprived authorities in the country, with one of the fastest-growing populations – despite which, attainment is close to the national average.

This, their submission says, is due to a “very strong partnership over the last decade between the council and schools,” an attitude that has infected its hub working. The panel noted it works closely with the school improvement service, that it is well regarded by its local authority and that, above all, it makes full and purposeful use of all those riches of provision. The result is strong all round, with the panel finding gems in whole class tuition (the use of iPads), youth voice (links with Wired4Music), special educational needs and disabilities (a range of provision), and instrumental provision (both breadth and depth). This is music serving its community well.

SoundCity, the Music Education Hub for Brighton and Hove

The opening statement from SoundCity sets out its stall. “Strategic” is used three times and so is “partners.” The mission is to meet children and young people’s “needs.” And to deliver for “all children” the priority areas are those in challenging circumstances including special educational needs or disability; and “progression opportunities for all.”

The panel liked this big thinking, especially when linked to big actions. Strategic partners include Glyndebourne and community music organisation Rhythmix; the youth voice is strong and authentic; the multi-genre support for gifted and talented learners stretches from hip hop (and work with Tomorrow’s Warriors), through jazz (performing at Montreaux), to contemporary classical (Birtwhistle’s Antiphones . . . with the composer in the audience).

Underpinning this creativity is solid CPD for the tutors. This isn’t normally a section of a submission to fire the panel with comments such as “really clever set up, positive and well thought through.” But SoundCity: Connect was another example of big thinking, big delivery. The scheme comprises a professional network for music leaders; a number of hub working groups (each focused on identified areas of local need); and an online forum: these professionals take responsibility for their own professional development with informal CPD and skills-share events being coordinated by members, and peer-learning networks supporting colleagues to develop learning communities. The offer is universal, with a keenness that school-based colleagues and other partners are supported to collaborate effectively; and the thinking strategic - the point of all this is to achieve the best possible musical outcomes for all their children and young people. You want more? How about sharing good practice with Hertfordshire music hub in a regional peer learning programme.?

Within this fine submission the panel felt it right to carp a little. Maybe the musicality of the work didn’t shine through as clearly as in some other submissions; whole class ensemble tuition was a little less convincing. 

SoundStorm, the Hub for Bournemouth and Poole

SoundStorm describes itself as a “contemporary development agency rather than a traditional music service,” with a focus on quality and equity. This does it no favours financially, it says, as it cannot rely on traded income. What the panel can rely on, it seems, is yet another submission full of good stuff: a range of genres, links to WOMEX, compositional work, professional musicians, and much more.

In a great example of David Price’s phrase “musically tasteless”, SoundStorm’s submission manages to mention a traditional county groups offer (orchestras, wind bands, jazz orchestra); improvising jazz band; a steel pan group which plays arrangements of chart hits; and a record label/mentoring scheme that support talent in the rock, pop, dance and rap genres. All in the one paragraph. And caps that by saying “we will establish at least three new ensembles in our conurbation in 14/15.” There’s mentoring for talented DJs and kora players. And – as befits a hub that leads on a Youth Music Musical Inclusion programme – there’s thoughtful, positive provision for pupils with special educational needs or disabilities.

What drives this provision? Not just partnership working – but partnership working that is “central.” Their list of strategic partners is headed by Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, but crucially includes all the region’s other Arts Council England core clients. Schools are represented by both subject leaders and senior staff. And local authority services are key players, too: Youth Services, Looked After Children, Youth Offending, Early Years – all these teams are strategically involved in SoundStorm’s work. This is living the mantra of the “child at the centre,” and another great example of creative musical provision. 


NMC Awards are no stranger to Devon; and this year sees them scoop yet another Diploma. Among the many reasons the panel cited for their decision, it is Devon’s “vast and musical” provision that particularly struck them. Festivals, rock choirs, folk, working with community musicians and more are all in the mix. Last year’s work bringing together schools with people living with dementia has been expanded to produce a new music resource in collaboration with Dementia Carers' Pathways, DCC and a local Academy School. And there was a good mix of work with pupils with special educational needs or disabilities. Whole-class work offered a variety of different models: sometimes a double-edged sword if it means pupils spend too little time on any one approach. And the panel wondered whether the strategy behind Devon’s varied and broad professional development offerings was clear enough.

None of this work is possible without sound structures, leadership and administration. It’s no wonder that Arts Council England chose Devon Music Education Hub as one of its exemplars. It certainly demonstrated to the panel its clear understanding of the difference between strategic and delivery partners; and as we noted last year its management board was recruited openly, is truly inclusive and demonstrates real partnership working. 


The panel has been waiting some time for the moment it could say it had riches to choose from when in celebrating music technology. And this year a number of entries were strong contenders for this award.

But the clear winner was Newham, for not one but two significant projects. The new “Music Lab for technical and educational innovation” sees music, technology, creativity, employability all rolled into one. Its Conductive Music Project turns electronic components and everyday objects into personalised musical instruments. Workshops trained students in practical skills for coding (via the London Music Hackspace), through instrument design, to composition and performance - valuable skills for mainstream school students at risk of exclusion.

And Newham’s AudioLab is an extensive music technology and youth radio training programme with industry and media partners working with over 1,000 children and young people annually, and making the social, educational and therapeutic benefits of music technology accessible to all.


This Award this year is being shared between Glasgow and Oxfordshire: two contrasting bodies of work.

One initiative from Glasgow fired the imagination of the panel. Sonic Bothy is an innovative, inclusive new music ensemble, which brings together musicians with an additional learning need and Glasgow-based musicians. Working across genres to define new ideas and directions in collaborative composition, Sonic Bothy's music is a unique blend of free and fixed compositions. With interests spanning free improvisation, aleatoricism, minimalism, early music and electroacoustic composition, the ensemble seeks new territory in composing for a diverse ensemble that includes strings, harpischords, synth, percussion piano and voice. This was work that snarled at the tidy categories on our form. Adults, yes; special educational needs, impressive; technology, certainly. But above all - it was creative.

By contrast, it was the sum of a number of Oxfordshire’s initiatives that the panel was impressed by. Catch ‘em young: “there is now an element of composing in all First Access programmes.” Women can be composers too: “young women (14-16) undertook composition workshops to develop ideas with John Traill that were subsequently used in his commissioned work Lightbobs.” Never mind the genre, feel the partnerships: “skilled instrumentalists worked with young people from an urban music project. The purpose, to develop workforce capacity to manage cross genre urban orchestra projects led by partner Readipop.” And an Advanced Course: “sixty-plus children and young people aged between 12 and 17 developed compositions with support from John Traill, musicians including Dr. Martin Harry and Jonathan Powell, and mentoring support from Oxford University students.” 


Well, this is getting to be a habit. The third year in a row the panel has decided to award not one but two major trophies. It is not deliberate policy – but when faced with submissions between which (in different ways) there is nothing to choose, it is the right thing to do.

East Ayrshire

It is difficult to find new things to say about East Ayrshire’s consistently fine applications. But not impossible: try “very musical, the application has a flavour about it.” Such praise from our hard-bitten panel members is rarely wrung.

But it continued as the panel appreciated the young person-centred background to the work, with particular value being placed on the wider personal aspects of music-making. This is an authority that takes its music making seriously: music developments, the panel learned, “are intrinsic to the overall plans of the authority and are reflected and referenced in the Education Department Service Plan, Community Planning Process and the Single Outcome Agreement.” More: making music is only part of the educational experience, there are educational outcomes identified in the teamwork of playing together as well.

So that’s music as personal growth, music delivering local government strategy, learning music, and learning through music. But chiefly, it is about music being musical. And how can it not be when in your patch you have world-renowned composer James MacMillan as artistic director of the new festival The Cumnock Tryst, performing with the Greenmill Primary String Orchestra and the Cumnock Academy Jazz Band? The astonishing thing is that this is just one project from eight new or developed projects this year alone. The panel also picked out a project about the last Gaelic speaking village in Ayrshire (it is not a given that submissions from Scotland cite work with indigenous musics) as well as continued work with Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Ragas, Rap and Rubato programme in music technology.

And then there is the collaboration between gifted Park School pupil Lewis Drummond and renowned composer Nigel Osborne. Oh, and Nicola Benedetti feature in a programme as well. To get one such luminary involved with your music making might be considered lucky; to get three suggests hard work and creative cleverness. 

Telford and Wrekin

This hub narrowly missed out on a Major Trophy last year, but progress has been swift and the panel found much to commend this year - especially given the range of challenges facing it: a number of indicators of social deprivation; low rates of arts participation; no Arts Council England core-funded organisations in its patch; and only minimal funding from its local authority. The hub’s response seems to be to do more, rather than less.

The panel was impressed by the considerable weight of its activities: not only a Musical Bridges project, but an In Harmony one, too. By a sense of purpose threading through partnerships: supporting talent and progression here; musical inclusion there; a singing strategy. And by a rich range of creative thinking, which sees the hub equally at home running a Business Breakfast Networking event; supporting young people in creative apprenticeships in an area of high youth unemployment (and winning an award for that); and developing a partnership with three neighbouring hubs: Shropshire, Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent.

As last year, the panel was impressed by the range of consultation methods used, from first-access self assessment and feedback forms to young apprenticeships attending hub steering board meetings. There are good examples here that other hubs might take note of.

There was more: music technology employing the latest apps (and, possibly the first time we’ve seen it, lists music technology as an “instrument”); gifted and talented provision that treats all genres as equally important. And the hub still finds space to run a Young Carers Choir and a dementia arts and music programme.


Last year's awards:

As in previous years, the 2013 NMC Music Education Awards were organised with the support of and assistance from Music Mark and Paritor.  NMC are grateful to the Music Education Council for their renewed support and sponsorship of the Awards. See the full report for the 2013 awards here:

In addition to the major trophy and diplomas of merit, 2013 also saw the introduction of a new Technology Award, sponsored by the Incorporated Society of Musicians, and Paritor sponsored a New Music Award

The full reports (including photographs) of recent Awards ceremonies can be found on the left hand side of this screen, whilst older reports can be accessed by clicking on the links below.

Previous Awards Reports

What previous Major Trophy winners have said about the Awards

Denise Barber, Music consultant and Wider Opportunities Manager - Southwark Music services

"Southwark Music Services won the National Music Council Major Award in 2005 joint with Hertfordshire Music Service. This was an important achievement for us as we are a very small service with no full time members of staff. We appreciated being judged by our merits and not by our size and being recognised for celebrating the talents and meeting the needs of young people in Southwark, one of the most deprived areas in the country. Since the award ceremony I have noticed that Southwark is much more on the Music Education Map with my opinion being sought by national figures such as Howard Goodall (composer and broadcaster) - who presented us with the award and Marc Jaffrey (Music Manifesto Champion) who visited Kingsdale which is our flagship secondary school for music. We hope to apply for the award again this year believing that with the arrival of our new Wider Opportunities Programme we will once again be strong contenders for an award."

Richard Howlett, Head of Hampshire County Council's Music Service:

"This was a great accolade for all we had achieved in the previous years and it meant a huge amount to Hampshire schools, Hampshire Music staff and to Hampshire County Council (HCC). It brought us to the attention of the press - and as a result we had more coverage of our musical events in Hampshire (and later in the year at the Schools Prom) then ever before. Our staff and pupils were very pleased when we were able to display the trophy at a several of our concerts and festivals!

We were pleased that it was a further "hallmark" for what we continue to strive towards - the highest possible achievements for our pupils. In summary - the award "lifted" all those who could share in it. The profile and public image of HMS was very much enhanced. Councillors were able to learn more of the success and impact or our work. More opportunities and support for pupils; music making."

John Harries, Head of Cornwall Music Service:

"Cornwall Music Service have been very fortunate in receiving six diplomas from the National Music Council over the last eight years including a special award from the PRS Foundation for compositional project work. The obvious benefit of receiving such a prestigious award is that of publicity. It is always a benefit to a service to have an outside agency recognising the good work that it does, and through local media parents, schools, governors, and members of the County Council are made aware of this.

The hidden benefits are numerous, perhaps the most important being staff morale. Through receiving these awards they feel more pride in the work that they undertake. They feel they have been thanked by a prestigious body. It also means that they suggest some absolutely brilliant ideas for future projects.

Also, senior officers within the local authority feel proud of the service due to these awards, and there is no doubt at all that as a result of the awards we have gained favour by them.

In 2003, the service received the Major Trophy. Not only all the benefits outlined above were experienced twofold, but the young people who performed in the British Library to an audience of approximately 200 leading British music educationalists were invited to partake in workshops with Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth and to perform the length and breadth of the country, from Strathclyde to Kent and from Belfast to Suffolk - an experience they will never forget.

I commend to you the work of the National Music Council without reservation."

John Treherne, Head of Gateshead Schools' Music Service:

"The Gateshead Council has always supported the work of its Schools' Music Service and taken a pride in the achievements of its young people. Additional funding from the Council has given so many pupils the opportunity to take part in significant musical activities both as performers but also as participants in varied and stimulating workshops.

The award of the Major Trophy was greeted with delight by the teachers who work within the service, and of course the ooportunity to visit the RSA in London and perform in front of Cleo Laine was a great honour.

The Youth Orchestra was subsequently invited to perform in the Council's debating chamber before the Mayor of Gateshead and the full council, and the award was formally received by the Leader of the Council.

Subsequent to this presentation, additional funding was made available to support further initiatives. This has been particularly helpful in facilitating overseas tours by our senior ensembles. The Diploma itself is placed in a prominent position in the foyer of the Dryden Professional Development Centre and the trophy was in pride of place outside the Mayor's parlour. The Gateshead Schools' Music Service was praised in an OfSTED inspection; this major award further confirmed the findings of the visiting inspectors."

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