In which I get ratty about progress and progression in music education – yet again!

I’ve been thinking a lot again about these three words recently:

Progress
Progression
Continuation

This has been particularly the case as I’ve been looking into Arts Council England data on WCET (Whole Class Ensemble Tuition), where the notion of continuation is added to the mix. In a report that’s currently just having the finishing touches put to it for Music Mark, I’ve thought about progress and progression like this:

  • Progress          – to make progress, to get better at something, to have greater depth of understanding or breadth of experience
  • Progression     – to go from WCET to a school band (etc.), then to a band of a higher standing, such as an area band, then a music centre band, or, in some schools, to move through more advanced ensembles within the school, and so on. In other words to make progress as in the definition above, and then avail oneself of progression routes available via the local hub, school, MAT, or whatever.

This then leaves continuation, which, in terms of WCET, is defined by the ACE data return for music hub leaders thus:

For the purpose of reporting continuation outcomes, the definition of continuation is when a pupil chooses to continue their musical education beyond WCET, regardless of the instrument/s learned (for example the child might have had WCET on the recorder, but decide to continue their musical education on the flute).

This is problematic itself, but for the moment I’m going to leave that alone, and just think about the words. What I wish to suggest is that in music education there is a danger that the three are used interchangeably, and I wish to suggest that that just isn’t the case.

Progress, as I see it, is a facet of learning. It can apply to classroom music, as well as to instrumental music learning. It is not a  uniquely defined construct, pupils can get better at, say, performing, without getting equally better at composing. They can better at understanding key aspects of music, say, major scale construction, but not improve their listening. Progress can be assessed, with difficulty, certainly in some cases, but progress here I am taking as attainment over time. Rapid progress is done, well, rapidly, whilst slow progress…you get the picture!

Progression in daily usage I think can mean two things – the way I defined it above, when it really means progression routes, but these can equally be called progression pathways or progression trajectories, whatever, they are about moving on. But – and this is a big but – it can also mean progress (as in my definition above) taking place over time. “Oh yes, young Ludwig’s progression in his ophicleide lessons this term has been remarkable! Indeed, Ludwig may soon be eligible for the county rare instruments ensemble” Which then is a progression route, thus nicely conflating the two!

Why am I banging on about this? Because in music education we have a grave tendency to sometimes inadvertently ‘otherise’ bits of music education we are not closely involved with. So for instrumental music the two meanings can rub along nicely besides each other, whereas for classroom music progression has a very specific and undoubtedly measurement based focus. SLT want to know about it. Assessment schedules are predicated on proving it. This means we need to think very carefully when we use the word about how the listener hears, and ‘en-baggages’ what we are saying, by adding their own understanding.

To which we need to add continuation. What does it mean to start on one instrument and continue on another? How long a gap is needed for continuation to simply not be counted? How about when something lies dormant in an individual, and they only get the chance later to do something about it? What progress has been made in this case?

Now, I’m not saying I’m correct in my definitions, but I am at least trying to disentangle various meanings of the words, and not simply assume that only ‘my way’ exists.

I’d like to close by saying that these aren’t the mad ravings of an academic (well, actually they are, sorry!) but that when we have ‘progression’ brought to the fore in music education, as we do currently, this academic gets really hacked off when people don’t even do the decent undergrad essay thing and define their terms at the outset!

Meantime I shall sit in my Ivory Tower (there’s a lot of those in Birmingham!) and ponder more on continuation.

Until then, hopefully some progress has been made in thinking about these things, and continuation of more blog-reading will follow at a later date!

Pip-pip!

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