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Research Shorts: Dominants or Diminished 7ths? Assessing Year 7 pupils’ prior knowledge

11th June 2024

This week I’ve been chatting with Mark Phillips about his recent research supporting secondary schools delivering music education. His work has a particular focus on how Year 7s enter into Secondary, something on the minds of all post-Sats Year 6 teachers dealing with transition days, and secondary schools planning on supporting a good transition into school for their new intake.

Mark’s article ‘Dominant or Diminished Sevenths?’ is based on his wide experience of music education across the country, as well as discussions in Devon and Torbay. In it, he challenges the way that some schools assess pupils on arrival, and imagines an alternative, inclusive and musical approach.

He argues that ‘pupils will all have some knowledge of music in their ears and inner voices. Because pupils may not be able to declare it verbally doesn’t mean they have no musical knowledge or that they don’t ‘like’ music. It’s just that we may not be looking for the right kind of musical knowledge in the right places.’

The work was developed in Autumn 2023, Mark worked with eight secondary schools in Devon and Torbay Music Hub, focusing on raising the ambition of secondary school music. Working alongside hub leaders, Mark made two visits to each school at different stages in the term. Together, they observed teaching and learning, talked with teachers and had conversations with headteachers about the factors that promote effective musical learning.

Key outcomes that emerged included the development of holistic musical assessment strategies in key stage 3, and a structured and constructive approach to teaching composing (including the deconstruction of existing works). The project also highlighted the importance of getting off to a good start in Year 7, and whether false assumptions about pupils’ prior musical knowledge could set the wrong direction for the whole of key stage 3.

Mark is a former Advanced Skills Teacher and Head of Music in two comprehensive schools, he was also one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors for 16 years. He was Senior HMI in London for 10 years and spent two spells as Ofsted’s National Lead for Music. Mark is now director of BEAMS (Education and Music) Ltd, working with schools, local authorities, multi-academy trusts, and music hubs on education improvement, giving presentations and leading continuous professional development.

Read Mark’s article in full.

Interview by Dr Sarah K. Whitfield – Research Lead for Music Mark

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