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Guest Editorials, Uncategorized

What is KS3 Music Education for?

MF at TTM 2Martin Fautley writes:

David Ashworth challenged to me to write a guest editorial entry for Teach Talk Music which didn’t focus on assessment, and was contentious! So this is my attempt to do just that, but I couldn’t leave assessment alone, sorry. So this piece begins and ends with assessment, but does go somewhere else in between!

When people talk to me about assessment, one of the things I normally do is to ask them what their teaching and learning programmes entail. I firmly believe that assessment is bound up with curriculum content, and that to properly understand assessment, we need to understand the associated curriculum.

It seems nowadays to be such an obvious statement that schooling is all about exams and results that it is hard to think about what music education might look like were this not to be the case. In secondary school music, I am sure that for many teachers, their KS3 curriculum arises from assessment, both immediate and deferred. Let me explain. I hear many, many teachers tell me that they see KS3 as preparation for GCSE, and that they “have to” teach certain topics at KS3 so the pupils are ready for the exam at some point in the future. The most extreme version of this was some years ago, when a teacher told me that because there was so much to do in the big anthology of music set works for A level, that s/he started teaching it in Year 7 (this teacher may be reading this!). However, s/he appreciated that the kids didn’t like it, and weren’t really ready for it, yet s/he felt so constrained that they had to do it. How far is it from that (admittedly extreme) position, to the common one wherein many teachers today tell me that they have to start preparing pupils for GCSE in Y7?

It is at this point I’d like to start us thinking about the purposes of KS3 music education. After all, we know that nationally only about 7% of entrants take GCSE music. If the purpose of KS3 music lessons is to prepare young people for the GCSE examination, does this mean that we are preparing, planning, and teaching a KS3 programme that is really only meant for the 7% who will carry on into KS4? Now I know that this will provoke howls of rage from many music teachers, as their whole raison d’être, as perceived by the school, is to produce good exam grades. Indeed, I hear many stories of performance management issues where teachers have problems, through no fault of their own, in this very area. No, what I am raising here is the notion that KS4 music is having a backwards effect in many schools on their KS3 curricula. In the assessment literature this is known as backwash effect, and is a significant issue. I very much doubt (but could be wrong) that GCSE exam boards have done much research on the effects of backwash on KS3 music programmes, but in my work with secondary schools I see this a great deal.

What this can mean in some schools, which admittedly are extreme examples, is that we see a KS3 programme that, at best, ignores, and, at worst, alienates, 93% of the kids who experience it. In many other schools we see common GCSE topics regularly being taught. Now, this, clearly, is entirely defendable. Schools are measured by their GCSE results, and no sensible teacher would ever do anything at KS3 that jeopardises this. But this raises that big question:

What is KS3 music education for?

There are also some subsidiary questions which follow from this:

If KS3 music education is only preparation for KS4, then what is the place and role of the 93% who will not take it?

Has KS3 ‘failed’ these pupils, or have they ‘failed’ KS3?

I don’t want music teachers to think I am having a pop at them, I’m really not, so let’s undertake a small thought experiment:

If KS3 music was the end of all music education, and, like now, there was no final summative assessment or examination, what might it look (and sound) like?

 This thought experiment gives you carte blanche to design a curriculum with no terminal assessment! I know, now that is a thought experiment along the lines of Schrödinger’s cat, and really does require some thinking! No exam, blimey! So, freed from this constraint, what would your curriculum look like? Or, asked another way round, how much of what your curriculum consists of currently would you feel free to stop? How much would you shift towards “doing” music, and what would be the role, in this new dispensation, of “learning” music? Would you adopt, say a “musical futures” type curriculum? Would you look to the USA, and teach band and choir? Would you look to Wider Opps, and teach whole class ensemble music? Would you concentrate on singing?


Let’s add a further challenge into the mix! How portable is this curriculum? Is this your curriculum, for your kids, in your school, now? My back-of-an-envelope feeling is that it probably is, and that this is a really good thing! I think our current focus on “what works” in education misses out the questions “for whom?”, “with whom?” and “in what context?”. Personally, I think it would be nice to celebrate curricula diversity.

Now, let me throw down a further challenge: having done this thought experiment, and considered your ideal curriculum, what’s to stop you implementing it now? How much of what you now do must be done to keep those KS4 grades coming?

But let us finish, as we began, with assessment. I wish to suggest that we have become downtrodden by assessment measures and accountability. Teachers dare not deviate from what they see as ‘safe paths’ of curriculum due to this fear. Said fear means starting GCSE increasingly lower down the school, ensuring that exam results are the focus of everything that we do, and never deviating from this path. But as Einstein probably didn’t observe, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”, and so in some instances, we are so scared, that we keep our KS3 curricula as they are (and, in some cases, ever have been), and hope that things will get better!

Now I know that this thought experiment business might come across as “Ivory Tower” stuff, as thinking about KS3 cannot be divorced from KS4, but I am really worried that music will disappear from our schools, for instance with EBacc effects, and that as music educators we may all be far too busy to notice it happening.

I said above that this piece is not about taking pot-shots at busy music teachers, but is designed to stimulate thinking. And David Ashworth did ask me to be contentious! Anyway, let’s have a collective think about what we are doing before someone with a calculator and a spreadsheet decides they don’t need us to do any of it any more anyway!

Endnote: Thanks are due to some of my (I’m not supposed to say “my”, sorry!) PhD students, whose individual and collective thinking shines through this editorial, I’m not naming you, as you can later take the credit for your own published thinking in these areas, but you know who you are, and thanks. Coffee/Beer/Curry will follow!


Reflective questions

This piece is peppered with questions, so here are a few extracted to think about:

  • What is KS3 Music Education for?
    • Who are the 93%
    • What does/should their music education look like?
  • Freed from the trammels of examination criteria, what would your ideal KS3 music programme entail?
  • How specific to you, in your school, with your kids, is your curriculum?
    • Does this matter?
  • What, if any, are the differences between learning music, and doing music?

Professor Martin Fautley, Birmingham City University 





17 thoughts on “What is KS3 Music Education for?

  1. When we are called to consider purpose we need to back up much further than curriculum content (and even context). Purpose demands an interrogation of “why” and for this a theoretical lens is imperative. As I read, and have read, and heard Dr. Fautley speak, I know that a critical theoretical framing underscores the points he raises. From the questions that he poses at the end of the piece, to his use of a thought experiment in order to consider what could be, thinking through and even interrogating purpose is evident.

    That said, the challenge for all educators in all subjects is not to simply replace one “safe path” for another. Nor is it a matter of throwing out something completely in favour of something else. The thought experiment is pointless unless one critically examines why one makes the choices one makes and to what end. “For whom,” and “with whom” are powerful questions with which to begin. These are questions that point to pedagogical encounters as well as curriculum. I understand what Dr. Fautley means when he says that that curriculum and assessment are bound. However, what inextricably binds everything is one’s pedagogy, or continuing to think about purpose, what we believe it means to be in this world. And how our being in always already intertwined with the being of others.

    Indeed, one can choose to teach “band and choir” as one “does in the States”. I would like to point out, however (as a bit of an US expat), that it’s more than just deciding to teach band or choir; particularly because teaching band or choir has traditionally meant that your curriculum is your repertoire. To that end, many teachers in the US are thinking through the ways in which “band and choir” can be approached more creatively mindfully, toward multiple ends; as opposed to the conductor as leader, student as handmaiden, concert as commodity.

    How we are in the world and how we would like the world to be has got to be more than a thought experiment –in the grand tradition of Hobbes, Locke, Rawls and others it’s a place to start. But for those same philosophers it functions only as that.

    And as a personal note to Dr. Fautley, perhaps, if we interrogate naming (See Althusser and interpellation) students as our “own,” we can certainly challenge the false binary of “teachers” and “ivory tower.” Right?
    Cathy Benedict. cbenedi3@uwo.ca

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by Cathy Benedict | September 3, 2016, 7:06 pm
    • Naming students as our own. Yes, we can all fall into this one. And quite a challenge. If they are not ‘my’ students who claims them? Roger Scruton might say they are ‘knowledge’s students’ – ‘inheritors of knowledge’. The government might oscilate between parents and official curriculum (state) with schools and teachers as servants.
      Others might say they are themselves alone. Here is one of those enduring silent struggles going on and a good reason for some careful thinking that Martin is inviting us to do. So, it’s more than ‘In my school I …’


      Posted by jfin107 | September 6, 2016, 3:04 pm
      • Yes, this is still all too common I’m afraid. Only recently I was in a secondary school where a deputy head apologised by saying that “I’d got my work cut out here as our kids don’t sing” – thus dismissing the aspirations and capabilities of 1200+ children in one short sentence. Six weeks later we had a ‘choir’ from that school blow the roof off a large teachers’ conference….

        The fact is that few of us have any real clue about the interests and aspirations of many of our students. And in the case of music, it is often sadly the case that they tend to keep it well hid. I still remember when I first started teaching, a sixth former telling me straight that he didn’t really play guitar, when I knew for a fact that he was gigging in a very accomplished semi-pro jazz funk band 3-4 nights per week. But I can understand why he kept it low profile. The music department at the time and his musical world might as well have been on different planets.

        So we can’t make assumptions, but if we can aim to establish mutual trust and respect with our students there’s a good chance we can draw them out and work together to make the music department a stronger, more vibrant and essential place..


        Posted by davidashworth | September 6, 2016, 4:10 pm
    • Cathy writes: ‘When we are called to consider purpose we need to back up much further than curriculum content (and even context). Purpose demands an interrogation of “why” and for this a theoretical lens is imperative.’

      Without responding to Cathy’s call we may be doomed to warm words and platitudes about purpose. Why not search out a set of aims appropriate for a music education applicable to all Key Stages with objectives pertinant to particular stages. And this needs a theoretical lens. Then curriculum content can be considered.


      Posted by jfin107 | September 8, 2016, 6:27 pm
  2. ‘What is Key stage 3 for?’ This reminds me of Gert Biesta’s call for more attention to be paid to the ‘what for’ question in view of the deafening clamour surrounding ‘learning’ and what is a culture of ‘learnification’ tied to the measurement of progress. Headteachers speak of their ‘relentless focus on learning’ or is it ‘teaching and learning’? Of course, learning is pretty important but ‘what is it for’? Is it for whatever is appropriate and imminent to this situation, in this place with these people? if so, is this compatible with some greater overarching sense of purpose? Certainly the first could focus on the needs both expressed by pupils and inferred by their teacher while the second could provide some kind of more general anchor.

    I have recently read ‘Remixing the classroom: Towards an Open Philosophy of Music Education’ by Randall Allsup (Oh, how I would have loved to have written this book.). Randall is writing from the ‘States’ and is acutely aware of the dead hand of traditional practices that Cathy refers to, hence the open metaphor. Randall is a philosopher and a practitioner and gives us more than starting points. There are insights into pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. Randall combines vision and sense of purpose with a rootedness in classroom encounters. This I admire.

    Martin’s ‘what is Key Stage 3 for?” is asked in view of this stage being the final encounter with organised music education for the majority of pupils. At the same time Martin more than hints at the downward influence of GCSE syllabuses. For Emily at School21 and Greg at the Isaac Newton Academy GCSE is seen as a closing down of opportunities for their pupils now enthusiastically making music well and exploring identity at Key Stage 3 while others will be searching out a seemless journey through 11-16 and in some (most likely a few) cases seeing good proportions of pupils going beyond Key Stage 3 into GCSE.

    The recent reforming of GCSE involved no serious investigation into the purposes of music education.The stated purpose of the National Curriculum in music reads more like an advert than a coherent philosophy.

    I have no conclusion other than to thank Martin and Cathy for causing me to think and enter into dialogue. Dialogue is not intended to find answers or solutions but rather a means of exposing our thoughts to wider scrutiny. Go for it!

    One proposal I will make in response to Martin’s ‘doing-learning’ question.

    If we frame our purpose with ‘knowing how to …’ our doing will insist on learning.

    And ‘knowing how to make music well’ might be a part of our wider purpose and with a big back story.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by jfin107 | September 4, 2016, 9:17 am
  3. A most provocative piece Martin and which raises some really interesting questions for teachers, schools and indeed, policy makers.

    The issue of “backwash” has probably been a challenge for teachers and schools for some time. The contrast between “content-free” music in the National Curriculum and the more content-prescribed GCSE has always provided tensions for planning.

    The ways that curriculum provision, progression, attainment and its assessment are thought about and planned for can and do take a range of shapes and forms. And to some extent it will be influenced by whether “learning” is seen as being over 3 years (KS3) plus 2 years (KS4), or 5 years (KS3+KS4), or, dare I say, 9 years or even 11 years (KS1+2+3+4).

    The best KS3 teachers I have known over the years have been fantastically successful in providing a rich, deep and meaningful music education for pupils, irrespective of their GCSE choices. They were particularly brilliant at ensuring that all pupils were valued as individuals and as members of teams/groups through the range and nature of the musical experiences and activities. They had an eye to the GCSE specification but it didn’t drive the KS3 curriculum. They were certainly reasonably good curriculum planners (well, most of them) but more importantly these teachers seemed to have some or all of:

    – palpable passion, dedication, energy, intelligence, authenticity, resilience, skill and understanding – as musicians and music educators
    – generosity of spirit, culture of openness, a deep belief that every child is musical and has their own musical identity as well as a “corporate” identity – and a canny ability to communicate it, and support it
    – developed a shared, understood and persuasive vision for music in and out of school amongst governors, senior leaders and staff
    – a developed view of what constitutes musical progress in a context of learning and a curriculum that isn’t necessarily planned as a linear path but not an aimless meandering either
    – the courage to do less, better; (in some schools “broad and balanced” sometimes translates as wide and shallow, the best teachers I’ve known were clear that, from their slightly narrower but deeper curriculum, pupils learned more, for more of the time and got better at music!)
    – agreed a whole-school priority for resources (staff, time, training, money) to support teaching and learning of music in and out of school
    – a meaningful partnership with other schools, both “feeder” primaries, and other secondaries to support each other to improve music education (especially continuity from KS1 through KS2 and then from KS2 to KS3)
    – beneficial relationships with other organisations (e,g, music services, “hubs”, orchestras, choirs, band, community music organisations, higher education, venues etc.) to improve pupils’ experiences.

    Interestingly the numbers of pupils learning a musical instrument (in the formal sense of having lessons from a teacher), seemed to vary widely in those schools, but the percentage opting for GCSE music was usually in the range of 10-25%. In one school I recall it was approaching 40%. (Of course that still means the significant majority of pupils didn’t opt for GCSE music and indeed a significant number were learning an instrument but not having formal lessons with a teacher!)

    But if GCSE is causing the backwash that Martin describes, how does it compare in music with, say, art & design, or PE or…? Is it a bad thing or a good thing?
    Do other subjects affected by the backwash plan in a different way for KS3 and what can we in music learn from it?
    Or, is music different and we need to think again about its role and purpose in schools, and how it is planned for throughout the key stages?
    Are we sleep-walking into Martin’s nightmare that music will disappear from even more schools?

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by nigelmtaylor | September 4, 2016, 10:46 am
    • I’ve really enjoyed reading this contribution from Nigel. There are two statements in particular that stand out and give me cause for reflection:

      ….and indeed, policy makers.

      As the years go by, I realise I’m less sure of who these people might be and how they function. Following the various tokenistic music education ‘consultations’ in recent years, teachers and others have dutifully filled in online forms, hit the ‘submit’ button and watched them float off into the ether. Who reads them, no one knows. What we do know is that having read them, the advice and recommendations of an experienced and well informed teaching workforce are largely ignored, as those in power push ahead with reforms they had intended to implement regardless of consultation outcomes.

      The other interesting point Nigel makes is to do with comparisons with other subjects such as art & design or PE, which indeed would be valuable. As far as I’m aware, there is little public sharing of discussions that may or may not happen between subject associations. Perhaps there is little or no activity in this area? If music ‘subject associations’ are having discussions with policy makers on the kind of issues we raise in our TTM tutorials, it would be really helpful if they would share them with the wider workforce. Apart from EBacc issues, a recent scan of news sections of MEC, Music Mark and ISM websites would seem to indicate that there is little discussion and/or action happening or, if there is, then it is not being shared effectively.

      Enough for now – this is a theme I shall explore more thoroughly in next month’s Editorial.

      Liked by 2 people

      Posted by davidashworth | September 7, 2016, 9:31 am
  4. There’s an interesting question within the backwash concept. If you take a particular definition of back wash (or ‘washback in this quote) “when a test causes a teacher or learner to do something that they wouldn’t otherwise do’ (Alderson & Wall 1993), I wonder what you would really be left with, not only in terms of teaching content but also approaches and pedagogies? How much of ks3 teaching is direct washback, and how much is, for example, reproduction of what and how the teacher learned as a learner? Or how much is suggested and reinforced by dominant musical styles and genres and their associated/ embedded content and pedagogies?

    I’d love to know what responses you would get from young people if you asked them the Schrodinger’s Cat question – what would they be doing in KS3 lessons in a test-free world?

    I sometimes wonder when thinking about other types of testing of music learning whether you would end up with a sort of gestalt effect if you removed testing. Would music teaching and learning be able to focus more on the ‘other whole’ of music rather than having to focus on the sum of its delineated parts, as often represented in exam specs and syllabuses?

    Idle musings….

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by Francesca Christmas | September 4, 2016, 11:11 am
    • Has anyone coined the phrase “washforward” yet or can I have that? It’s a good point you make here Francesca.. Teachers often lean towards that which was successful or interesting for them as learners.

      Even the best teachers need time to learn and experience new things in order to try them. CPD for teachers as a core role of Hubs has been something slightly overlooked as we plough on trying to increase numbers of students.

      Liked by 3 people

      Posted by Ciaran O Donnell | September 6, 2016, 8:31 am
      • Ha! Someone’s had this already I’m afraid, but you’re right to raise it in this context I think… washback/backwash usually refers to the effects of the final activity (i.e. The test) ‘ washing backwards’ in to the teaching. Martin’s post suggests that the exam specs themselves are washing forward in this case, i.e. This is not just the effect a of the final testing activity.


        Posted by Francesca christmas | September 6, 2016, 12:08 pm
  5. Well this one really has got me thinking. But my situation is almost unique in that I only have Year 9 to worry about – as in my school is 9-13. However Key Stage 3 is still very much there for me and I have a few thoughts based on my approach.

    I feel I am often criticised for saying that I want students to enjoy my lessons. People can’t stand the notion that I think that it is all about “fun” or the assumption that my lessons are more “fun” than in their previous school. So I guess I can re-phrase it by saying that it is imperative that students enjoy my lessons. Why? Well because only 30 out of the year group take music – I think more might if the EBacc didn’t exist and money wasn’t so tight in school, but 30 boys is fine by me. So Key Stage 3 music is a year where I have to ensure that i keep the attention of the students, give them some skills that they may have not picked up before and also encourage them to stick with music when they more on into Year 10 – some might be performers or singers who don’t take music GCSE but I want them to stay involved. So my curriculum is based around the idea of giving new opportunities that develop on the foundations that have been taught up until now.

    I guess I could live without classroom music lessons though, certainly after Christmas. I could teach them up until options and then wave goodbye. I am not sure I would want to, but I good. The reason I wouldn’t be worried is because I see the boys that are going to take music engaging in the wider life of the department. Some boys are in every morning playing music and come back at lunchtime to the safe and calm environment of my room to compose. Many of them want to study Grade 5 theory to progress and most of them just love listening to music. These boys are going to take music regardless of what I do in the classroom.

    So I guess being as I do have them for a year and being as those lessons are in some ways superfluous to requirement after options are taken, I may as well ensure that their last memories of music education are good. SO my curriculum is very much suited to my lads and the situation I am in at school and I guess I am teaching it without assessment in mind. I have assessments of sorts, and I give grades and targets and all that. But the boys I teach know from the outset that what I am interested in is them enjoying the experience once a week of engaging with the wonderful world of music making. I must admit I think we often worry too much about the wrong thing, particularly in Year 9 where we want to ensure that students leave us at the end of the year with some memories and some skills.

    Plus we must surely believe, because we quote it so much in this EBacc world, that music is just inherently good for us. That by participating in music we are becoming better people and better learners. The goal of a school should surely be to ensure that students have access to this most wonderful gift of music. Lets be honest that is what it is all about really. We are never going to have all students doing Key Stage 4 music, but imagine if all students had to continue with music simply because we know it will be good for them. I guess that is how we could view Year 9 – an enriching assessment free year that will prepare them for anything – GCSE music included.

    It is so early on in the term that I am not entirely sure I have fully embraced this editorial, so I may come back to it. But for now, there are some of my thoughts on what is an incredibly interesting topic. I must end by saying how much I love teaching music to Year 9…!

    Liked by 5 people

    Posted by jamesmanwaring | September 5, 2016, 8:39 am
  6. Like James, I want to leave my KS3 students who don’t choose music for GCSE with enough knowledge and skills to enjoy music for the rest of their lives. When designing our KS3 curriculum, we made a list of the things we wanted them to a) know b) understand and c) be able to do. Because we can’t insert pictures into these comments, here’s a link if you’re interested: http://tinypic.com/r/2ir89om/9

    I want my students to know how fun/fulfilling/amazing music making can be. I want them to acquire some basic instrumental skills, and know enough about chords, notation (including tab, because it’s so freely available online), and how music is put together to be able to pursue their own musical interests and play their favourite songs. I want them to have some idea about where they can find info and help online if they want to take their musical interests further on their own.

    So yes, I am viewing KS3 very much as a standalone thing. None of the things listed above, though, will do any harm to those who do choose GCSE music. And, because they’ve had such a good time at KS3, they are more likely to stick two fingers up to the Ebac and choose music anyway. Also, those who arrive in Year 7 already with quite a lot of musical experience, what we do in KS3 lessons is often very different, and makes them more rounded and adaptable as musicians.

    I absolutely love the ‘content free’ nature of KS3. It gives me limitless flexibility to respond to my students. It is the ultimately differentiatable subject.

    Liked by 4 people

    Posted by Jane Werry | September 5, 2016, 8:25 pm
  7. To return to Martin’s thoughts for the moment:

    “we know that nationally only about 7% of entrants take GCSE music. If the purpose of KS3 music lessons is to prepare young people for the GCSE examination, does this mean that we are preparing, planning, and teaching a KS3 programme that is really only meant for the 7% who will carry on into KS4?”

    Looked at in this context, I feel that the KS3 question answers itself to some extent. Clearly we cannot just teach a pre-GCSE for two/ three years – it is patently unfair. Obviously there are schools with exceptions to the above, but even if we round it up to 10% that still leaves 90% missing out on the next stage, for whatever reason. That is not a criticism, just a state of affairs, and the gap is likely to increase rather than decrease I suspect. (And don’t get me started on the knock-on effect at A level, already 9% down this year…)

    If you were to ask any teacher, in any subject, where 90% did not continue with it after KS3, how they approached their KS3 lessons, surely their response would be: “in that case, I’d better do everything I can to give them as good an all-round experience as I can while I have them with me. I love my subject and I want to pass that on and, if I haven’t got as long as I’d like, there’s no time to waste”. So it must be for music teachers. We should aim to think of the students not as children but as future adults – what music might they listen to/ attend in the future, long after they have left school, and how can we enhance that experience for them by what we do now? How might we guide them to further listening and playing, and enthuse them to take up an instrument in later life perhaps?

    Yes, this is very idealistic, and will quite possibly never happen, but if we as teachers always have this approach in the back of our minds we will be encouraged to teach with passion and pass on our knowledge wherever possible. We will ensure that every child has the chance to explore and be creative; that they can state that they have composed their OWN music (not just repeated someone else’s); that they know the difference between the brass, wind and strings, and have an idea why composers choose to use them and what effect they might have; that they can listen to a pop song and spot its structure/ bass line/ hook; that they can watch a film and appreciate how their responses are being driven and played with by the score; that they can talk lucidly about why they like a piece of music and dislike another. We all know of children (and adults) who have had bad experiences of music lessons, but what about those who enjoyed them, even if they didn’t take it further? Surely they gained a huge amount from it all? What does ‘take it further’ mean anyway? I doubt they stopped listening altogether. With a few exceptions it is unlikely that we will ever know the influence our music lessons had on the young people who pass through our classrooms, however fleetingly, so we just have to try to have an impact in the little time we have. Many schools now have a two year KS3, or a carousel system, so clearly music teachers cannot possibly hope to ‘cover’ everything they would like, nor should they try.

    As for assessment, the key surely is not ‘what they got’ but why, and how they can improve next time? What worked and what didn’t, why some (students’) pieces are more effective than others, and that it is not all down to subjective response but that there is technique and skill involved.

    In conclusion, all music lessons matter, and all students should have the right to experience and get better at playing, composing and listening to music. Whether that is over seven years right through to A level, or just in the course of James’ Year 9 eight month dash, the aim is the same. And if we as teachers can instil that in our pupils, and pass on knowledge for the future, we are doing our jobs. To paraphrase, if only we could ‘teach like nobody’s watching’ and cover what we believe matters. And, as Jane rightly points out, we can, arguably more than in any other subject in the school. Pupils go on to do GCSE because they are driven to do so, to develop what they know already. That knowledge is cumulative, and they know that, which is why they want to add more. They don’t start the journey at Year 10, they just carry on, and it isn’t a new journey, just a slightly different one. 90% of their mates will leave the train at this point, but hopefully most will have enjoyed the ride and found at least some of the trip worthwhile and interesting. They may not be feel able to join the 10% who are still on the train, but they will wave them off and wish them well. Most importantly, everyone has had the chance of a great ride.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by pgazard | September 7, 2016, 10:17 am
  8. Like James and Jane, I absolutely want students to enjoy my lesson, and discover the pure joy of performing, and creating music with others. I have been fortunate to work in two school and have seen my practice change over the past couple of years. Ten years ago, when I started teaching, there was definitely a focus on levels, and the unsaid rule that Year 9s needed to be level 6 when they finished their musical education. Level 6?! The level descriptors would fill me with alarm and concern – I was not convinced that students were achieving this.

    The OFSTED publications in 2009 (Making More of Music) and 2013 (I think – Wider Still and Wider) gave me the confidence to go to SLT and show them that even OFSTED didn’t like what we’d all ended up accidentally doing in Music. These reports frequently refer to the importance of making music the dominant language of the classroom. I now revel in the fact that we have no booklets or books at KS3. I see the students for an hour a week and I want that hour to be filled with music, not writing anything down. We do have whiteboards when the need arises!

    My priority at KS3, like Jane, is to teach them the basic skills which will enable them to develop further. I want them to lok at their timetable and come to music excited by what we’re doing. This has been helped by some funding from SLT last year so that we have acoustic guitars, bass guitars, keyboards and cajons – I know the department is very lucky. We get Year 7 singing and try to continue that throughout their time in KS3. We follow much of the musical future model of learning by ear, analysing songs as a starter, learning about notation through resources etc.

    For years I have avoided any idea of summative assessment. We regularly record our classes, almost every week and upload onto soundcloud (@wellswaymusic). The evidence for SLT is there, should they want it, students go on and listen, as do parents. It also really helps my planning.

    As for teaching skills for GCSE Music. Yes it’s important (plus the additional pressure for many teachers that jobs are at risk if we don’t recruit enough students) but the most important factor for a student opting for our subject is an intrinsic motivation for Music. Once they get to GCSE Music my lessons in many ways change quite dramatically BUT students understand why this is the case and are excited by the further challenge.

    I think this is a really important discussion and Music teachers have the most exciting opportunity to start shaping their own curriculum. I hope that teachers will not settle for what feels comfortable and continue to have ‘assessment’ lesss. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new dawn…

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Ingrid McLean | September 26, 2016, 7:05 pm


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