In the last half term we were lucky to have Dr Fautley come to speak to music teachers in the local area about assessment. While there are further notes on the session, here I am going to put into words the headlines I took away. I am happy to email more precise notes to anyone who would like to contact me. I took lots!
There was a fantastic turn out and we were all excited, notepads and tablets in hand, to see what he would say. Dr Fautley started by admitting he did not have any answers to the issues in the current debate of key stage 3 assessment, but aimed to provide some clarity in thinking and provoke discussion. For me he certainly did.
On asking who uses NC levels, nearly every hand in the room went up. We all know that levels are not required, yet we still report in them and use them to track progress. Levels were originally designed for the end of the key stage only and Dr Fautley shared some true horror stories about how sublevels are being managed and insisted upon in some schools. In his words ‘sub levels have no status, but are universal’. There is too much evidence of using arbitrary grades based on manufactured sublevels. Is progression linear anyway? Should we be able to track the progress of a music student evenly through key stage 3 through units on minimalism, song writing, Blue and gamelan? Surely if student progress is in a beautiful straight line then something has gone very wrong! It is far more appropriate to map progression of skills that run throughout projects with revisitable criteria. More on this another time.
It is well known that OFSTED want appropriate assessment not the same. The best practice will be when assessment is FOR musical learning and owned by music department who know their cohort of students the best. We need to be brave to do this and stop waiting for someone else to go first! This is backed up entirely by Robin Hammerton HMI where words to this effect can be found on his blog.
What struck me most from Dr Fautley’s presentation was a reminder of the purpose and value of assessment. Who is the assessment actually for? Learning or systems? My favourite comment (I underlined it twice!) We must disentangle assessment of attainment from assessment of progress. It is our responsibility as music teachers to map out a broad, inspiring curriculum for our key stage 3 students with musicianship at the centre. We know our students and their needs better than anyone and should plan for them in mind.
I truly believe that assessment of progress is be ingrained in any good music lesson, all too often we are not even aware we are doing it. I took a mental note to be reminded of how important it is. Assess to inform and to improve musicianship. How do we measure this? I believe it can be in any number of ways, be it using a radar diagram, a progression statement or a number. We need to remember what is important and hold on to that.