In this guest blog post, Musical Futures Champion teacher Fiona Sexton explains why she has chosen the Edexcel spec for the new GCSEs in England that come in from Sept 2016.
Change is never easy and, when our effectiveness as teachers is constantly being judged by the exam results our students get, making the right specification choice is a real dilemma. I have ended up sticking with Edexcel, the exam board I currently use and, although I have clear reasons for my decision, I intend to keep the situation under constant review whilst keeping a close eye on the material and training the other exam boards offer.
When I was looking at the performing element of the different specifications my main priority was making sure I could personalise it as much as possible to play to the strengths of each individual. I didn’t want to link performing to areas of study if it could be avoided and I wanted to try to make sure that pupils had the flexibility to choose pieces that they enjoyed and could perform to the best of their ability.
One of the main things I wanted from the composing aspect of the specification was simplicity. I wanted briefs that could be interpreted in a variety of ways and I wanted a mark scheme that was easy to use. I really didn’t want to have to insist on pupils submitting a log of their work or any type of additional write up because I feel that means more precious lesson time writing about what they are doing rather than actually doing it. I looked at the sample assessment materials for Edexcel and was encouraged to see that all the briefs were suitably vague enough to work on a variety of instruments and in a variety of musical styles. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the real versions will be written along the same lines.
I might be being overly optimistic about this but I feel I know what I’ve got to do when I read the Edexcel appraising component in the new specification and this is not something I experienced when I looked at the other exam boards. The listening exam is always a contentious topic and I have colleagues in other schools who don’t currently teach Edexcel purely because they hate the concept of set works. However, I like teaching the current set works and I have been pleased with the outcomes for my students, so I was encouraged to see that Edexcel has again opted for a listening paper that focuses on specific pieces. I try to teach as practically as possible and breaking down a piece into a class performance or as a stimulus for a composition is a great way for pupils to engage with the music and it makes the theory learning easier as well. When I briefly taught AQA I found I was spending significantly more time teaching the listening paper as I felt I had to cover a lot more content, but the set works help me focus my teaching more so that I have additional time to concentrate on performing and composing. I know that the new specification states that pupils should study a range of pieces beyond the set works but this is something I currently do anyway when introducing a new set work and again when preparing for composing in different styles.
By choosing Edexcel I am giving my students the chance to study a range of specific musical genres in depth whilst still allowing them to pursue their own interests through the composing and performing elements. This will not only prepare my students for further study but it will also build a solid foundation of musical creativity that can be part of a lifelong enjoyment of music.
Fiona, Head of Music at Musical Futures Champion School Flegg, Norfolk UK with Ken Owen from Musical Futures Australia
Read more about Fiona’s Musical Futures work at Flegg here