Music teachers taming the audit culture

@tallgirlwgc MusicEdExpo I don’t want to use sub levels in music but how on earth can I not when ENTIRE school systems are set up around them?

And this after National Curriculum Levels have been abolished and officially viewed as detrimental to pupil progress.

And a space created offering emphasis on formative assessment rooted in a framework of knowledge, skills and understanding. And with a cumulative record of musical achievement, a gift from Ali Daubney and Martin Fautley. [1]

However, schools are moving with caution knowing that the efficient tracking of pupil progress lies close to the heart of Ofsted judgements about their goodness and right to exist. [2]

Nevertheless Teaching Schools are out of the slips with their report ‘Beyond Levels: alternative assessment approaches developed by teaching schools. Research Report 2014.’ [3]

And now a government commission on assessment without levels is announced in response to the hiatus confusion. [4]

Compounding the problem we hear of school systems unwilling to recognize the case of music, defiant in the face of Music Ofsted’s ‘There are no sub-levels’.

And so to Anna’s question:

‘I don’t want to use sub levels in music but how on earth can I not when ENTIRE school systems are set up around them?’

This is the context for the third visit to my case study school where you may recall the music teacher has been given licence with one year 9 class to teach without levels. [5]

On this visit I talk with a small group of pupils from the class and also with Mike the music teacher.

At the beginning of the new school year and after discussion with the class Mike has experimented with the idea that pupils identify as beginner, accomplished or expert in relation to tasks that are described as simple, intermediate or complex.

Hence the matrix:

Beginner               Simple
Accomplished      Intermediate
Expert                   Complex

referenced to what is being learnt, what is of immediate interest. In this way the students are able to identify on the grid what they are setting out to achieve. In this there is no reference to National Curriculum Levels.

Now six months later I am interested to find out how Callum, Sophie, Phoebe, Jai and Alana have managed without levels.

Jai tells me about his expertise at scat singing; Callum about his accomplished improvisations; Alan’a expert bluesy singing and how Sophie learnt to take it more slowly as she moved from beginner to expert as a keyboard improviser.

Overall the group were getting used to this and they seemed content to have quietly forgotten about levels and sub-levels in their music lessons. They were however able to tell me their current sub-levels in other subjects. They gave a unifying nod when Sophie pointed out that in year 9 Level 6 was where they should be.

Mike was coming to the conclusion that the matrix was too complex and that what was evolving was not only a classroom without levels but one without the clutter of any other markers. Instead it was a matter of getting better at things and diagnosing and removing the barriers to progress.

‘We all know where we are at and where we are going’ was the message.

‘But what about the school’s tracking system and termly progress checks?’, I asked.

‘Yes, I am still required to supply a level for each pupil in this class. That’s not difficult.’

It’s just that levels are no longer what Mike and his pupils talk about.


[1]  See

[2] Jane Werry gives a vivid account of how the professional life of the music teacher is circumscribed by the school’s management labouring under the damoclescian sword of Ofsted. See and how this is a obsticle to Jane’s professional flourishing.

[3] See

[4] See Is there a teacher on the commission?

[5] See


One thought on “Music teachers taming the audit culture

  1. Pingback: Music Education and assessment – Music Education Now

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