Music A level composing - research into teacher attitudes

“On an artistic level, the inclusion of composition in Music GCSE and A Level has been a great success. British conservatoires are buzzing with talented young composers, most of whom must have discovered their passion for creating new music while at school. But at the same time there is notable unease amongst teachers preparing candidates for the composition component of AS and A2 Music, something I can personally attest to after visiting the music departments of many successful English schools in recent times. Teachers are generally realistic people who don’t harbour exaggerated hopes for their students’ exam outcomes. So their thoughts about the uncertainty of the evaluation process expressed in the following article should be taken seriously.

At any level, evaluating a completely new piece of music is a complex task. The authors’ suggestions for renewed focus on the evaluation procedure will I hope be the beginning of a wider discussion about how to do this fairly, without limiting the students’ possibility to produce work which excites their interest in contemporary music.”

Judith Weir CBE, composer

Executive Summary

This paper reports on and discusses the results of a nationwide survey of secondary school music teachers’ experiences in the assessment of composing in UK A‐level music examinations. Data were collected through an online survey in May 2015 and 9 follow‐up telephone interviews. The nationwide survey garnered 71 responses from teachers with experience of A‐level music exams across a variety of state and independent school contexts.

This paper reports that the majority of music teachers have experienced inconsistent external examination marking, and, as a consequence, do not feel confident to accurately predict student grades. It also found that teachers feel external examination assessment requirements are not clear, and that many schools send compositions back for remarking after results are in. Follow‐up interviews affirm that inconsistent marking has a direct impact on how composing is taught at A‐level. Secondary school music teachers face increasing pressure to fulfil requirements set by examination criteria, but also wish to give their students a fulfilling creative musical experience. Past examiners of A‐level composition who responded to the survey reported a lack of confidence in the system and their training. The results bring into question the subjectivity of assessment in this aspect of the music examination and the place of composing and creativity in A‐level assessment.

These results come at a time when governmental focus on ‘rigorous and demanding’ examinations in the arts, and the introduction of the EBacc, are putting an increased strain on classroom music teachers.

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