We are living in interesting times in terms of National Curriculum assessment at the moment. Nowhere, I venture to suggest, is this being felt more keenly than in music education. We have long borne the brunt of an over-manipulated system, which suits nobody, and which, as I have detailed in this blog and elsewhere, is open to abuse and gaming (inter alia Fautley, 2008; Fautley, 2009; 2011; 2012;and see also http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14804484). So, music teachers all over the country, and much further afield too, are waiting the results of deliberations undertaken on their behalf. And this is what is currently worrying me, as I will try to explain now.
In music education we have long been plagued by a plethora of having too many organisations. This was noted succinctly by Darren Henley, in his report:
The Music Education world is fragmented and uncoordinated. There are too many organisations that have overlapping areas of interest. These organisations need to join together to create one single body. (Henley, 2011 p.30)
Since then NAME and the FMS have merged to create Music Mark, so that is a reduction of one*! But there are still many others, many with niche interests, and I still feel that we have a ‘fragmented’ worldview. Now, we also have hubs, another of Henley’s suggestions, and that is all well and good. Indeed, I know in some detail the work of many of the hubs in my local area, the West Midlands, and am impressed by their breadth and depth. But nationally we are still fragmented, and I am feeling this as the moment as I try and work on assessment materials which, I hope, will be of use to classroom teachers. I worry that just as I am being pulled in a variety of directions by different organisations to look into assessment, that all over the country music teachers are doing this for themselves. This results in many person-hours being expended on this one aim alone. Which takes me to another of Henley’s recommendations:
We should not allow bureaucracy or organisational self-interest to get in the way of the need to ensure that children in England receive the Music Education that they deserve. (Henley, 2011 p.7-8)
I really, really hope that ‘organisational self-interest’ do not kick-in with regards to any National Curriculum assessment recommendations which are produced. I am currently working with a number of organisations on this, all of whom seem happy to be in what is being ‘the big tent’ of assessment discussions. But as with all tents, however big, there may well be other campers on the campsite! So my hope is that everyone will play nicely together!
I realise that this sounds like I am having a gentle moan, really I am not, I just know from previous work that being ‘fragmented and uncoordinated’ has not always served us well. I hope we can learn from this, and do something about it. I am also aware that there are some in the tent who have not been classroom music teachers. Now I am certainly not saying that they have nothing to contribute, far from it, but I am utterly convinced that sustained engagement with the day-to-day routines of the classroom (I wanted to say ‘quotidian ontologies’, but will save that for an academic journal paper!) are vital to understanding the realities of the competing pressures on assessment which music teachers have to live with. And have suffered under. Now, I know you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, but let’s try and keep the damage to a minimum, and let’s hopefully not get into a ‘mine is better than yours’ or ‘we were here first’ slanging match.
Now, here’s the sting in the tail: I am reasonably convinced we can produce workable assessment principles and guidelines, which the majority of classroom music teachers, across phases, would find useful and helpful. Of course, some will want to do their own thing, and that is fine. But there are three issues, as I see it now:
- We must do this collegiately. It will be no good to have society x guidelines, society y suggestions, and society z protocols. This will open us up to being told we lack a coherent approach
- SLTs must allow music teachers to assess in domain-appropriate ways
- We need to get our act together, and get on with it, and make it work
And it is this last one that bothers me. I am reasonably convinced that, Machiavelli like, one of the reasons that this free-for-all with regard to assessment exists is entirely deliberate, and the upshot after a period of chaos will be that the big edu-business companies are able to swoop in, and offer their own solutions to the problem, which will of course, involve buying their products. And my prediction is that this solution will involve, American-style, computer-marked multiple choice tests. I’ve been to a presentation about these, and if this is the future, I don’t want it here. I’ll blog more on this anon, doubtless!
So, I hope that I don’t upset any vested interests with this blog, but I am very worried that we have a golden opportunity here, and we really must get it right, otherwise edubiz will do the job for us. And we won’t like it then. Not one bit. You have been warned!
*Update – later on the same day as writing this I note that the SMA is to become part of the ISM so that’s a reduction of 2!
Fautley, M. (2008) ‘Assessment in Music Education – Questions and Answers’. Matlock, Derbyshire., NAME (National Association of Music Educators).
Fautley, M. (2009) The impact of the new National Curriculum on music at KS3 Classroom Music, Spring.
Fautley, M. (2011) ‘Problems of Teacher Assessment and Creativity – the Case of Music in the English National Curriculum at Key Stage 3’. Paper presented at British Education Research Association Conference, IOE, London. September 2011.
Fautley, M. (2012) ‘Assessment issues within National Curriculum music in the lower secondary school in England. ‘. In Brophy, T. S. & Lehmann-Wermser, A. (Eds), Proceedings of The Third International Symposium on Assessment in Music Education, Chicago, IL, GIA Publications.
Henley, D. (2011) ‘Music Education in England’. London, DfE/DCMS.