Graded gains

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
The divide between teaching and assessing in music is closing at last, says Mark Stringer.

In a scheme being piloted this year, instrumental and vocal music teachers in Hampshire schools and examiners from Trinity College London will be sharing in the monitoring and assessment of primary and secondary pupils learning to play an instrument. The scheme, which is also being explored with other music services, including Staffordshire, bridges the traditional divide between those who teach and those who provide external assessment leading to the award of grade certificates.

It will also provide opportunities of continuing professional development for non-specialist teachers in the schools and for peripatetic specialist teachers, both of whom are having to learn new skills as the distinction between classroom teaching and one-to-one tuition becomes increasingly hard to sustain.

The main stimulus for the Hampshire development has been the increasingly rigorous scrutiny of procedures required by bodies such as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Two QCA criteria in particular are being brought to bear. The first is the need for a separation between teaching (which includes testing and formative assessment) and the independent procedure for measuring learning outcomes, that is, examinations. This makes it more difficult for county music services to award their own certificates as in the past. The second criterion is a concern with the reliability of assessment, which involves adopting a range of control measures and examiner standardisation that it is easier for examination boards to put in place than other bodies whose priorities lie elsewhere.

Do grade examinations have a role to play in mainstream music education? The answer is yes, according to Roger Bowers, Trinity's chief executive. But he sees a need for some overhaul if they are to meet the needs of groups in theclassroom as well as individual children learning in their own time at their parents' expense. Among the initiatives Trinity is developing is a programme of continuing professional development for teachers who need to learn new skills and wider repertoires, new approaches to early access for the very young, extension into new families of instruments with a greater emphasis on ensemble playing, and incorporation of more popular genres - where Trinity has a strong relationship with Rockschool (see page 6).

In Hampshire, by no means towards the bottom of the league, only around 5 per cent of children learn to play an instrument. Most of them will not keep it up. The recent Royal Society for the Arts report Arts Education in Secondary Schools contained a damning indictment. "Music, while benefiting from similar status to that of art, attracted the highest proportion of 'no impact' responses, registered a more limited range of outcomes compared with art and drama, had very low numbers enrolling for it at key stage 4 and, relative to other arts subjects, received lowest levels of enjoyment in GCSE courses. Pupil enjoyment, relevance, skill development, creativity and expressive dimensions were often absent. Overall, music was the most problematic and vulnerable artform."

To disprove this worrying conclusion, Trinity is working towards a new alliance between teachers and examiners, assisting teachers to teach more imaginatively, using the grade system to give all pupils a chance to show what they can do, and rewarding them with an externally awarded QCA-approved certificate. Next year the Hampshire and Staffordshire schemes should be in operation.

Mark Stringer is director of music, dance, drama and speech examinations at Trinity College London, 89 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TP. Tel: 020 7820 6100 E-mail:

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