Category Archives: Classroom Pedagogy

Key Stage 3 Music Curriculum Planning

This year, like many schools we have been part of a real focus on curriculum planning within our departments. Planning a curriculum has always been something I have enjoyed, thinking about the students I teach and crafting a curriculum to inspire them and progress their musicianship. There are so many examples out there, but I truly believe the best curriculum is one where you have your own unique students and their needs at its core when you plan it.


So what is the purpose of a key stage 3 curriculum? I believe stage 3 music should stand in its own right, however it is an option subject and every student should have the right to access a relevant key stage 4 music curriculum should they wish. With that in mind you cannot ignore the need to plan a rich key stage three pathway to prepare students to access it. For true inclusion we have a responsibility to provide this pathway without the need for external support away from the classroom.


We are now told that knowledge is the new centrepiece of a good curriculum, but for music that is something that takes a little thinking about. On asking colleagues (and Twitter) I have thought a lot and focused this planning on ‘knowing how’ alongside ‘knowing that’, trying to balance the inherent skills that are needed for real musicianship. This balance of knowledge, theory, technical skill, practical aural music making and exposure to a range of musical styles is an art I’ll admit I am yet to master. 


In music we have the joy of selecting themes from a vast range of musical styles to engage and inspire our students, broadly these are the titles of our schemes of learning. In our department we aim to view them as the catalyst through which musicianship is taught. Broken down throughout our schemes are then core musical concepts and these are threaded through the key stage 3 programme of study. In maths students teach core concepts this way: algebra for example is not just covered once but revisited year upon year securing and deepening understanding. This is similar to how we have crafted our music curriculum. Chords for example are introduced and explored through performance and composition in year 7, understanding primary chords and their function. Year 8 sees them identify them as major and minor as well as 7ths as well as understanding their role within accompaniments and ensembles. In year 9 students look at them as devices such as diminished 7ths and how chords can be used in diatonic and dissonant harmony. All under the umbrella topics of ‘Pachelbel’s Canon’, ‘The Blues’ and ‘Film Music’.


It is all a work in progress at the moment and will evolve further this year. I am keen to deepen theoretical knowledge and especially challenge in year 9. I’m very happy to share and discuss planning ideas as we continue this work so feel free to get in touch.



My Music Classroom 2020

It is now the end of February 2020 and I am very aware that it has been a long time since I last blogged here. Like many I have been meaning to so many times, but taking the first step back into it has been harder than I thought. Time has been one restraint, but also I have had some fear of putting a voice out there when I have seen quite a lot of arguments and negativity online recently. I figured neither are good enough reasons really so have to just bite the bullet and get on with it.

Since I was last here a lot has happened. I am still at the same school and it is changing rapidly, something I will blog about. I am now also a mother, my toddler turns 3 soon and I came back from maternity leave four days a week which has been a fantastic decision for me and my family. It has allowed me to remain as a Head of Department and feel fully part of school life, while having a precious day with my daughter to offset the large amount of evenings I have music events. The transition has not been as easy as I have just made it sound, but it is working for us right now.

Things that I plan to blog about in the next few blogs include some of my thinking about deep knowledge in music, some reflections on a recent mock deep dive experience with an HMI, some thinking about oracy in the music classroom and linking it to deep musical understanding and some thoughts about inclusion and pupil premium. I might include some bits on issues that interest me such as women in leadership, equality, well-being and parenthood if such crossover is allowed in the world of edu-blogging. Advice on that welcome!

Thoughts coming soon.


A reflection on my summer resolutions 2014

This time last year I wrote my first ever blog post and came up with some resolutions for the new academic year as inspired by #mufuchat. You can read it here.

1. To keep singing at the heart of my classroom

I definitely kept putting singing first this year, although there is still work to do. Every one of my classes sang this year and even my year 8s and 9s in the summer term, which I have to confess was a first! I piloted some ideas for the launch of SingUp Secondary, which built up my repertoire a little and all my exam classes sang their set works at some point. Some of my favourite lessons on the year came from doing this with sixth form.

This year I plan to encourage more musical communication through singing, trying to embed sung responses when working on compositions. I also want to build up a formal shared bank of singing resources for the department as I rely very heavily on my ‘bank’ of songs I have acquired over the years and know my NQT has sometimes found it hard to choose pieces. Time to freshen up the selection!

2. Not to let exam board requirements dictate non-musical teaching

I taught at least half my year 12 set works via practical work shopping, the vocal pieces were certainly easier, and this felt a little daunting in places as in previous years I had done this for a couple with practical here and there. I worried they were not getting the core content written down and formalised enough. However by exam season their knowledge of the set works was certainly not diminished and I was impressed by their responses in essays. This is certainly something I will be taking forward into the new academic year.

3. To use assessment to critique meaningful musical learning and not for assessments sake

By using Edmodo to give feedback and by using a lot more video evidence my use of assessment is certainly more musical in spirit and is directly impacting on musical progress. I can see this in every lesson. I am however still reporting in levels and completing the half termly data entry using levels. I still feel I am doing the latter for assessments sake and have not managed to connect this to the musical feedback and dialogue that is happening in my classroom.

4. To encourage and inspire high quality listening in students of all ages

I have set a lot of listening homework this year and encourage the students to follow the department twitter account and #bccsplaylist to increase their exposure to more music. Sixth form students have also kept a diary of their listening as a weekly task and this was invaluable in writing the AS sleeve notes. I have tried to do more active listening in class at key stage 3 and tried to encourage ‘listening to’ as opposed to ‘hearing’ the music. I edited a resource that was shared with me a few years a go to create our own literacy mat. I have laminated a set of these in A3 and have them around the room to encourage more extended responses. These have been some simple, but effective ideas but I would like to formalise some more for the new year.

Resolutions for next year still pending!



Life without tables – one year on

A tweet came up in my Timehop today that read ‘I’m bored and ready for a change in my classroom layout, but am I brave enough to ditch the tables?’. Turns out I was and my first class in September arrived to a very large space with all the instruments set up ready to play and no desks. The aim of doing this was to put musicianship at the heart of the room. A room that says ‘we make music’ NOT ‘come in and get a pen out’

The best thing about doing this has been how quickly and naturally the lessons move into practical work and the amount of music making in each lesson has increased. End of lessons can seamlessly move from practical into a plenary. I have also become better at setting more musical starters: clapping, singing and musical warm ups. Listening activities have become much more open ended without a book to take notes so I have really tried to work on the ‘pose, pause, pounce, bounce’ approach to encourage whole class listening. This has resulted in some amazing responses from students, but none of this is formally evidenced. Is that a problem? There’s another blog post right there!

The main issues have arisen from GCSE and A Level lessons where there is a more formal need for worksheets and note taking. Even with practical interspersed this has become clumsy and students are uncomfortable so we are often moving the keyboards to enable them to use them. They are also very grumpy about moving the furniture. As a result there is a regular mess in the room where things are not put back. Things have a less formal place and despite the lower amount of breakages things are constantly being moved and lost.

Despite the mess and lack of order I would not go back now. Having the tables was far too restrictive and I love how naturally my classes move round the piano for singing or shift into groups to discuss an extract. It does make my lessons feel so much more organic and musical. To be honest I am not sure anyone should never trust an ordered or tidy music department.



I have seen a few other educators doing their #summer10 plans for the holidays so thought I’d share my own to kick start the break.

Rest – First on my agenda is making some time to rest. After and exhausting summer term that seemed to be relentlessly busy I am looking forward to drinking hot cups of tea, sleeping in a little, spending time with friends and family and recharging the batteries completely.

Proms 2015 – I bought my Proms guide a while ago and have already enjoyed some cracking music. I am off to the RAH next week and have my concerts set to record many on BBC4. It is the best possible timing for a feast of music!

Blog – In the summer term I completely neglected my blog. I became a twitter-lurker too, reading and not engaging. With the extra time in the summer I plan to give my blog a boost and engage more with other music educators from whom I have learnt so much over the last year. This goes hand in hand with the next item on my list.

Reflect – Having time to reflect is valuable and this will be the starting point for my work this summer. Coming out of a busy year the summer break provides a unique time to reflect on my department and learning schemes. This summer I want to reflect on assessment and Key Stage 4 provision in particular as well as the new years resolutions I made earlier in the academic year on this blog.

Plan – Planning is one of my favourite aspects of the job and I love crafting learning schemes and resources at a leisurely pace. Having time and space to do this often means my work is at its most creative. This summer I hope to plan for a number of classes at school plus this week I am working and collaborating on a new city-wide curriculum that is to be rolled out next year in Bristol.

Read – I love reading. Every term I promise I will read some fiction, but it falls by the wayside and I spend a long time limping through books and backtracking pages when I have left too long a gap. I already have a pile of books to work my way through and will enjoy some complete escapism.

Life MOT – Like many other teachers the summer break in particular is a chance to get things in order from car insurance to household jobs. This summer will see a new patio for our garden as well as a good declutter of the house.

Shaun In The City – I love living in Bristol and plan to make the most of what’s on over the summer including this fantastic charity trail. Shaun hunting is definitely high on the agenda for August!

Preparing the Decks – I am sure this will resonate with many music teachers, but I will be in school for a number of days getting things in order: getting the pianos tuning, refreshing displays, throwing away old headphones and sorting and re-stickering the shelves. There are many small pleasures in there, although that may just be me.

Happy holidays!


Read and Respond Feedback in Music

I spoke briefly my schools Heads of Subject meeting briefly this week to showcase how we are now trying to give feedback in the music department. Thought I’d share what we are doing here as well.

There is a huge sense of pressure on teachers at the moment to provide meaningful feedback to our students that promotes progress. There is nothing wrong with that. I read many horror stories on twitter weekly where teachers are marking books with different coloured pens and marking goes on through the night. Even worse when music teachers are creating reams of written tasks to fulfil this request and evidence verbal feedback. This prompted OFSTED to release the document below last week to reiterate what they do and do not want.

Hopefully that may spell out the end for those dreaded ‘verbal feedback given’ stamps….

In my school we do ‘Read And Respond’ when we show evidence that students have responded to our feedback within their books. Thankfully the colour of my pen is not stipulated. In my music classroom I am giving feedback constantly, I feel like I spend entire days doing nothing else. However I no natural evidence of this, but do not wish to create a paper heavy task purely to prove what I am doing. I have done too much of this in the past already: stickers, trackers, review sheets you name it. These work well for the end of projects, but during an ongoing project they are clumsy and can interrupt music making. Feedback must remain natural, organic and most importantly MUSICAL.

Our new method involves using Edmodo. Into this application we upload video and audio recordings of work at two week intervals into the students’ own profile and shared area. We can then keep a list of video and audio evidence over time of the progression of a piece of work from the stumbling opening week to the final polished performance. Each time there is a recording we provide clear feedback against a criteria and ask the students to do the same for homework. It is working easily and well and already I have a great archive of the terms work for all my students: video evidence of their progress, feedback from me then further video evidence of responding to the feedback. The best bit is that I do not feel like I am doing a job to tick a box and this simply formalising what I am doing already.

It is early days, but this feels like a lasting step forward particularly in my thinking. One method of giving feedback cannot work for every classroom. I still have many things to consider, but initially this is working in mine.


Aiming for full marks

I always find this term hard going. Coursework deadlines for GCSE and A Level are imminent and I am wondering how on earth we are going to get everything in. But we will, despite the crazily busy lunchtimes in the computer room and last minute copying of scores and accompaniment parts, we will get there.

But I keep getting the same types of questions from my students and they puzzle me:

‘How can I get 30/30?’

‘If I modulate will I get a higher mark?’

(5 minutes after feedback) ‘Can you listen again, is it a higher mark now?’

I know I am lucky in many ways. My students care about their outcomes and in a target driven education system they want full marks. Not 28/30 but 30/30. But I am still not sure I know what a 30/30 sounds like in composition. Not until I come across it, then I usually just know. I wish I could articulate how in a neat sentence. The worst situation is when a student completes a fantastic piece of composition and it doesn’t come up as full marks so they have to shoehorn in something to tick all the boxes. Then if we do this, is the process still composition?

Is there a formula for full marks in music? Please do let me know if you have one.


Musical process, not outcome

Following on discussions and thoughts after the Assessment Conference I have been thinking a lot about the way I use assessment for learning. I can be incredibly guilty of assessing student work studiously and in great detail at the end of a project. I do not use recordings and videos enough mid project, usually as I am so conscious of time. The inevitable issue of projects culminating at the end of term when there are usually reports and concerts coming out of our ears! Students ask me ‘can we listen to our work’ and I have been known to answer….’next time’


This thought is giving me a renewed focus on key stage 3. Using Edmodo I have been recording student work regularly over the last six weeks and uploading it to class pages. This has enabled me to both have a bank of evidence of student work over a project and allow the students much better reflection on what they are doing and what they need to do next. Homework tasks now involve reviewing their work and setting targets for the next practical lesson. Students are also able to feedback to each other. Admittedly this is rather clumsy in places, but focussing on the process feels so natural and has given more space to ongoing musicianship. Will post again soon.




Bristol Plays Music Assessment Conference

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.



Assessment at Key Stage 3 in My Music Classroom

For years I have given my students levels in my music classroom and for each musical project an assessment criteria which forms the basis of AFL in my lessons. I then use this for final assessments and to moderate work. I have always strived to keep music at the centre of this process and I am confident that in my department largely the following is happening, regardless of whether or not a number is attached to it:

  • Students know how they are doing and are making progress
  • Students know how to improve their musical outcome

When I add to this that my school is sticking to levels I feel the need to embrace the opportunities ahead of me, yet not throw the baby out with the bathwater now I know that levels are no more.

So what am I doing? Firstly, while I currently still report in levels I am no longer reporting in sublevels. Our assessment criteria have also been reformatted to show the expected standard and those ‘working beyond and towards it’. This has been inspired by some of the work done by the ISM and on their website. In addition I am trying to conciously use less level language and more musical modelling, in addition trying to thread the outcomes at keystage 3 towards keystage 4. I am trialling radar grids as a way of showing progress away from levels. There are definitely exciting opportunities here for us musical education practitioners to unite.

We have a generation of children on our hands who understand levels, have grown up in an eductaion system where everything has been about these numbers. We must take this chance to reinvent how we assess creativity and do it more creatively. This is not so easy when playing a past composition to a year 7 class and the first hand that goes up asks ‘what level did that get?’ To be honest if that is the first thing they respond with then this change is certainly for the better.