London Metropolitan University Research Institutes

Engaging Hard to Reach Parents in Early Years Music-making

Funded by

Youth Music


January 2011- May 2012


This research study aims to identify effective approaches to engaging families in early years music-making. The funders of the research, a charitable body: Youth Music, is particularly interested to find out how ‘hard-to-reach’ families become engaged. The research has the following objectives:

  • To identify models of effective engagement in early years music-making with ‘hard to reach’ parents;
  • To establish what components of parent-child early years music-making could most effectively be replicated/disseminated and in which contexts to encourage greater participation; and
  • To track the implementation of these components and assess which are most successful at engaging ‘hard to reach’ parents in music-making.

In order to meet these objectives the research has three main strands of enquiry:

Strand One: a comprehensive review of literature;

Strand Two: an investigation into effective practice in engaging ‘hard to reach’ parents; and

Strand Three: action research to track the implementation of identified engagement strategies and to assess their effectiveness.

Firstly, an extensive review of the literature provides insights into the barriers to parental engagement in early years music-making. Published academic and grey literature on music-making with ‘hard to reach’ parents, including Youth Music research and evaluation is drawn upon. It looks more widely to identify good practice by drawing on literature and evidence of strategies used to reach parents in other types of non-music based programmes.  

Strand Two: Scoping Exercise & In-depth Case Studies

An essential aspect of this research is to gain an understanding of the current nature of parental engagement in early years music-making projects, levels of parental engagement and participation, challenges encountered by practitioners in engaging particular groups of parents; and effective strategies used to enhance the engagement of ‘hard to reach’ groups within early years music-making.  A scoping exercise of early years music-making projects, both current and recently completed projects, will achieve a broad coverage of the views and experiences of leaders across the range of Youth Music-funded early years projects, and add to the robustness of the evaluation by gathering information about other neighbouring services designed to engage families deemed ‘hard-to-reach’.

Leaders of eleven Youth Music funded projects located across the regional areas identified by Youth Music will be interviewed. The interviews will help to identify interesting and/or good practice in engaging ‘hard to reach’ parents, as well as projects that are encountering challenges with particular groups, and will be a valuable source of information for the sampling of projects for the next stage of the study.

In addition to the interviews with YM music leaders information about other related/parallel (non-YM funded) services in the area and general approaches taken to engaging hard-to-reach families (in the form of published/publically available material and through additional telephone interviews) will be collected. Telephone interviews with Children’s Centre managers or Local Authority Music Advisors will provide strategic information about the range of provision available to families in the local area.

Materials and information about a range of services in a given area will be systematically collected with the aim of mapping/scoping the strategies taken to better engage parents. Extensive internet searches will help to build a more comprehensive picture of the activities/approaches taken in the chosen areas. Demographic data available via Local Authorities will be included to ensure that the regions chosen offer diversity (so that various aspects of ‘hard-to-reachness’ are included in subsequent strands of the study).

Case studies of parental engagement strategies in four areas

To complement the scoping exercise and gain a more in-depth understanding of parental engagement in early years music-making in-depth case studies of four areas will be undertaken.  These will primarily be centred on Youth Music funded projects in four different areas in England. Some will include Sure Start Children’s centres, but the range of early years music-making practices in these areas within and outside of formal, statutory provision will be included.

We will use the literature review and the scoping exercise to select a sample of case study areas. A sample of areas will be selected to provide evidence about the full range of early years music-making interventions and challenges to engaging parents. The scoping exercise and literature review will allow for the selection of areas that have used successful or interesting interventions to engage ‘hard to reach’ parents as well as those which have experienced particular challenges to engaging some groups of parents. As parental groups that are ‘hard to reach’ will vary from area to area, informed by the specific socio-economic, cultural and ethnic composition of particular localities, the sample will include a range of urban, suburban and rural locations; and areas with different socio-economic and ethnic demographics.

Interviews will be conducted with music leaders, strategic staff, stakeholders and parents and observations of early years music-making practices will be undertaken in each case study area. Contextual data will also be collected to provide richer insights into the case study areas, for example demographic data on the socio-economic and ethnic profiles of parents and children.

Action Research

The final strand of the proposed research would involve IPSE supporting a small number of Youth Music funded music-making projects to:

  • reflect upon the approaches they currently adopt in engaging ‘hard to reach’ families;
  • systematically assess the impact of altering their approaches to engaging ‘hard to reach’ families; and
  • disseminate the findings from the action research exercise to other music-making projects.

Three, Youth Music funded, early years music-making projects would be identified to participate. The projects would practically apply practices/strategies to engage ‘hard to reach’ families identified in Strands One and Two, and assess their effectiveness. The projects would be provided with an action research ‘toolkit’ to guide and enable effective assessment of the approaches to engaging and supporting ‘hard to reach’ families.

Action research is intended to be iterative so the projects will be required to conduct an initial phase of self-evaluation to establish what practices and strategies they currently adopt in attempting to attract and engage ‘hard to reach families’. Following this initial reconnaissance phase the projects will then be in a position to consider ways in which they might adjust their approach with ‘hard to reach’ families. Changes in approach and delivery will be informed by the research-evidence generated in Strands One and Two of this research.

By supporting projects to more systematically reflect on their approaches, important learning will take place within the projects which can then be disseminated across other Youth Music funded early years projects. In addition to the written reports that the projects will produce dissemination will occur through a series of workshop activities at the final stages of the research.

Findings from Strand Three about the strategies used and their success will be incorporated into the final research report.


Given the importance of the research and the implications of the findings about strategies to engage ‘hard to reach’ families in music-making in the early years (and beyond) findings will be disseminated in a range of ways, to a variety of audiences. In addition to submission of the research report to Youth Music a number of articles will be submitted to academic and practitioner journals and presented at inter/national conferences to ensure maximum impact.



Project team

Dr Jayne Osgood
Dr Kim Allen
Sumi Hollingworth
Dr Deb Albon


Jayne Osgood




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