National Curriculum Assessment – Carpe Diem

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 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.

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5 Responses to National Curriculum Assessment – Carpe Diem

  1. davidashworth says:

    Hi Martin

    A well thought out blog, and I share your concerns. Henley is right when he says “the Music Education world is fragmented and uncoordinated” but I think he is wrong when he says “these organisations need to join together to create one single body.” These organisations all have different specialisms and expertise which can only be retained if they are allowed to continue and focus on their core functions. For example Musicians Union is there to champion the rights of the gigging musician, ISM is there for the private music teacher and so on. Trying to combine all these discrete functions in a single organisation is too big and diverse a remit.

    I can see the rationale for combining NAME and FMS into a single organisation, but this has given Music Mark a significant challenge in fulfilling a joint remit. Robin Hammerton is right in saying that Music Mark are the appropriate organisation to lead these discussions because they are our subject organisation.

    There may well be a role for MEC to help coordinate auxiliary input from others, but I still think MEC needs a fundamental overhaul of remit and constituency if it is ever to be an effective body.

    Of course, if we still had a QCA, these problems would not have arisen. They would have just got on with it, as they did reasonably well in the past. The crucial thing about the QCA was not the Q or the C but the A.

    A is Authority and that is exactly what is lacking at the moment. So even if we do come up with some sound recommendations, will there be the required weight and authority to ensure that schools will sit up and take notice? That is the BIG challenge……

  2. Ally Daubney says:

    I thought I would throw my two-penneth worth in here, to agree with some points and perhaps clarify some others.

    To be clear, I am not a member of Music Mark, ISM, Musicians Union or any of the other individual member organisations you mention here, so in that sense I have no axes to grind.

    Martin and I spoke about assessment issues, tents, organisations etc. a few weeks ago and I think there is no doubt that we are in agreement that a cohesive approach is best. That, however, is sometimes difficult. There are two substantial pieces of work work that I know about nearly ‘in the bag’ which any big tent (which, I hasten to add I have now been invited to join) should be aware of. Both have been know about and in progress for quite some time. I expect there are also others.

    The first is the progression framework from the ISM, currently being peer reviewed, written in collaboration with classroom teachers. This builds upon the NC guidance already published and freely available on the ISM website. Just to be clear, the NC guidance was at the request of head teachers and points out what they wanted to know in the format they provided.

    The second is the work of the DfE expert panel, which has been (slowly) in development for nearly a year and must (surely) be publishing soon and to which quite a few of us have (currently or in the past) contributed.

    Any work that any ‘big tent’ does needs to embrace these publications, along with all of the other work on the National Curriculum that the subject associations and others have developed. I am not sure about Music Mark, Musicians Union, SMA, Musical Futures etc. but know that the ISM have published:
    A short guide relating to the new NC for primary
    A short guide to the new NC for secondary
    Draft progression framework mentioned above.
    All on their website at the easy-to-remember address

    I am all for sharing (and I shared this NC work with ISM for them to share unconditionally and openly with others – members or otherwise) and I firmly believe that any ‘Big Tent’ should be building upon the work already done by other organisations. Without such transparency, how can the work be useful to the teachers it is trying to serve and how can it reduce the man-hours Martin describes above? Perhaps David could share some of the work Music Mark have published on the National Curriculum (and the same from the MU etc) so that teachers can be more aware of it. It is, after all, nearly 7 months since the NC was published and schools have been working on their plans for September for a significant amount of time, hence why I am sure that others apart from the ISM must have also published helpful guidance etc. for the membership they serve. I’m not sure of the best place for all of this to be collated (perhaps, or if, indeed, it exists.

    So now to tackle a few misconceptions. In terms of organisations and communities, it is my understanding that ISM, subject association for music, have more classroom teacher members than even NAME had – and that’s before their recently announced arrangement with SMA. I’m not into a tit for tat here – just pointing out facts. Their responses to surveys are always impressive with the range of voices they manage to hear, and particularly impressive in terms of numbers of serving classroom teachers. I have also been working with the Musicians Union (MU) as part of the GCSE work through MEC and know that they too have a good number of classroom music teachers who are members. As a musician with a portfolio career myself I find it a little odd that we try to ‘categorise’ people – I am sure that a significant amount of members of all organisations work in multiple capacities and therefore David’s point on which organisation is for which community is without basis or need (sorry David) and doesn’t help us in the cohesive sense as well as being blatantly inaccurate.

    Subject Associations are those who are members of the Council for Subject Associations. It is as simple as that. I know of at least two who are therefore ‘subject associations for music’ – ISM and Music Mark. I know other subjects also have more than one subject association paying up to be part of the Council for Subject Associations. It is great that such an umbrella exists – we cannot fight some battles alone (cast your minds back to Henry Vann’s fantastic campaign for the EBacc – Bacc for the Future – in which the ISM mobilised troops from across the creative industries, fully utilising the Council for Subject Associations).

    But what I don’t understand is the following. I met Robin Hammerton on Monday and found him to be pleasant, affable and willing to find out about music education, in and out of school. But at the end of the day, he is an HMI who works for Ofsted. Therefore, if Ofsted think something is important – as assessment of music most certainly is – then Ofsted should say so and follow through with this. Yes, I know they do in the Music specific reports – but does assessment in music feature in the general school inspection regime? Anecdotal evidence from teachers I know tells us otherwise – in fact this is blatantly ‘overlooked’, ‘ignored’ – call it what you will – in school inspections. My point, though, is that I am surprised (even shocked) that an Ofsted inspector is telling the sector which organisation should be doing or leading what. Does this really help, given the well known fragmentation in and across music education? And, more to the point, is it in their remit as an HMI?

    So David’s comment “Robin Hammerton is right in saying that Music Mark are the appropriate organisation to lead these discussions because they are our subject organisation” is, in my view, naive and also overlooking the point that we should all be pulling together (putting aside the thorny issue of 2 subject associations), jointly branding whatever work comes out when it has been jointly worked on and collectively owned. MEC – the Music Education Council – has made significant leaps in bringing disparate organisations together, through transparent working processes and working to hear and include a multitude of voices on key issues. To me, this is a (the) big tent. I would be surprised if any organisation invited to the ‘Big Tent’ is not a MEC member (though I don’t actually know) – but really, are they not in a position to lead on this as our collective ‘umbrella’?

    We’re an odd lot in music education. We apparently want the best for classroom teachers, yet, in their droves, they do not join our subject association(s).

    To return to the beginning of my soap box, the progression framework draft the ISM have published was by teachers, for teachers and widely distributed to members and non-members via networks that teachers use. It is, if you like, jointly branded and jointly owned and there is certainly a sense of ownership from SoundCity, my local Music Education Hub in Brighton & Hove, as well as the ISM. If we all play nicely in the tent – be it MEC or a temporary, pop-up tent (in which MEC is integral I hope) – we should strive to stop all this nonsense about what community each organisation serves (not least because it is unhelpful and often inaccurate), but because to get the best from each other we have to pull together, respect each other’s work, relative expertise in an applied sense (I agree with Martin’s earlier point on this) and collectively share and promote any outputs which are co-branded. Because if we don’t all play nicely, as history shows, we are not doing what is best for music education.

    So, to round this off, I hope that:
    1. Each organisation (and the Expert Panel) shares what they have published already (perhaps to date) and we collectively engage with this instead of spending pointless man-hours doing the same thing – perhaps David could start a thread on for this. If there is still a need for another ‘big tent’ then let’s work together on something worthwhile.

    2. We stop calling the big tent work the ‘Music Mark’ work and instead recognise that we are all equal contributors and so co-brand the work, come up with something that collectively shares our expertise and distribute whatever ‘it’ is (bearing in mind the perceived gaps may have already been filled and others maybe not yet even discovered) and share it (as well as develop it) with the teacher communities which we apparently all serve. And make sure that MEC is integral to all of this in a leading role, or there will be more fragmentation.

    3. We become more ‘solutions focussed’ and recognise and appreciate the collective strengths we all have (as well as acknowledging where we don’t have particular expertise).

    I always say I’m a solutions-focussed kind of person, and I really think this is the case.
    For me, we are actually potentially on the cusp of something potential really exciting here. As it says at the end of the ISM draft progression framework, ‘this really is the opportunity to seize the moment and bring musical assessment back into being an important aspect of promoting and nurturing musical development’. So please, organisations in the tent(s) and those still left out in the camping ground, can we all work together here if there really is a need (given that we have yet to establish what work we have all done and what gaps actually exist), leave our individual organisation insecurities out of this and co-own something? Otherwise, why would any of us in any organisation, big or small, subject association or otherwise, want to turn up at another talking shop that actually might do more damage to cohesion than good?’,

    Once we’ve done this we can start on the greater challenges – how to get Ofsted to realise that schools change their spots to meet what they think Ofsted want – Ebacc, league tables, school inspections, accountability – and Music Education needs to be part of this. Without Music being in the inspection ‘tent, it is increasingly difficult to get our voices heard and our subject properly valued.

  3. I’d like to see classroom music teachers having a voice. I don’t feel that any of the plethora of organisations speak for me. if it wasn’t for twitter I wouldn’t even know they existed. I came across ISM summaries through links on twitter & their docs have been very helpful. I have also discovered musical futures on twitter & they have given me free training. I have also taken advantage of sound connection networking events to meet people.

    The big tent sounds like a bit of a circus for the usual suspects. I doubt many primary school music teachers will even know about its existence.

    I agree with comment above that unless there is some mechanism for ensuring music is valued by school it will struggle to survive as a meaningful subject. As it is many primary schools see music as a PPA baby sitting service – not valued in its own right but a way of keeping kids busy whilst the real teachers get non contact time.

    Thanks for the blog post Martin.

  4. You will have to forgive me Ally, but I do seem to hear the sound of tempered steel on whetstone running through your posting!

    You are right – the subject of subject associations is a ‘thorny issue’ and one which we shall be debating on in the near future. Jackie makes a telling point when she says that “I don’t feel that any of the plethora of organisations speak for me”. I agree with her and any organisation that successfully rises to that specific challenge is the one we should ultimately be supporting.

    On our home page on Teaching Music you will find a link to the primary materials from the Expert Panel. These materials have been there for some time. I expect the secondary materials to be available shortly.

  5. davidashworth says:

    You will have to forgive me Ally, but I do seem to hear the sound of tempered steel on whetstone running through your posting!

    You are right – the subject of subject associations is a ‘thorny issue’ and one which we shall be debating on in the near future. Jackie makes a telling point when she says that “I don’t feel that any of the plethora of organisations speak for me”. I agree with her and any organisation that successfully rises to that specific challenge is the one we should ultimately be supporting.

    On our home page on Teaching Music you will find a link to the primary materials from the Expert Panel. These materials have been there for some time. I expect the secondary materials to be available shortly.

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