GCSE and Music Education’s process ambivalence

This week saw the publication of the subject content for GCSE Music as part of the reformed programme for GCSE, AS and A Level examinations to be first studied in 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/gcse-subject-content

Also published were the Confirmed Assessment Arrangements for Reformed GCSEs, AS Qualifications and A Level qualifications for first teaching in 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398252/2015-01-26-confirmed-assessment-arrangements-for-reformed-as-and-a-level-qualifications.pdf

Central to this are decisions about the balance of exam and non-exam assessment. The difference between the case of Music and the case of Art is striking.

‘GCSE in art and design are currently assessed wholly by non-exam assessment, because of the practical nature of the skills being assessed and the content focusing on the student as the artist rather than on art appreciation or art history.’

‘We propose that marks for non-exam assessment in GCSE, AS and A level music qualifications should be 60 per cent, reflecting the balance between the practical and theoretical elements in the subject content.’

In Art the content recognises ‘the student as artist’.

In Music there are ‘theoretical elements’.

In Art the skills assessed are of a ‘practical nature’.

Are there no theoretical elements in Art?

In Art is there no appreciation or art history?

Of course there is. It is inscribed in the process of art-making.

Art education understands that critical and contextual understanding is developed as part of the student being engaged in artistic processes and made manifest through their art-making. And, of course, this art-making is heavy with theory. Understanding of theoretical elements are made manifest in the out-workings of the student.

Different arts subjects have different histories, different trajectories.

Can Music Education learn anything from Art Education?

Might it have the desire to develop a curriculum and pedagogy that has trust in the process of music-making, trust in valuing the process of making, that is assessing and giving value to process?

Art Education has long set out how this is achieved without loss of reliability and validity while maintaining integrity. Art is a popular subject in part because of this along with its approach to the discipline and rigour of art-making.

Yet, Ofqual concludes that Music Education is not equal to this.

I suspect that there are voices within Music Education who would rather Music Education were not equal to this.

And now on to consider those Areas of Study and the opportunity to imagine the unimaginable. [1]


[1] For further discussion relating to the conceptual formation of GCSE Music see blogs of 29.08.14: 16.05.14; 04.04.14.


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