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A-level music students face grading lottery

UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 03 DECEMBER 2015

A lack of consistency in A-level music assessment could mean some students are missing out on top grades, warn researchers at Birmingham City University.

PhD student Kirsty Devaney and Professor Martin Fautley, Director of the Centre for Research Education discovered that music teachers have little confidence in the external examination of composition units at both AS and A-level, with many claiming that grading is inconsistent and unreliable.

The composition element of A-level music typically makes up 30 per cent of the overall grade, meaning inaccurate marking could have a significant impact on a student's final grade.

School of Education

Birmingham City University

The nationwide survey gained responses from teachers with experience of A-level music exams across both state and independent schools and looked at their experiences in the external assessment of composing in UK A-Level music examinations.

From those interviewed, 74 per cent said that they did not feel results from examination boards were consistent, whilst 66 per cent said they felt assessment requirements were unclear, leaving some feeling unconfident in predicting students grades. 

One participant commented on their own experience: "The mark was significantly lower than I had expected. The student, I felt, had real flair and talent in composition and this was not recognised. I had the work remarked and the mark went up significantly."

Another respondent added that the assessment criteria needed to be improved: "The assessment and marking criteria are too vague to be a constructive tool for both the teacher and the student. The criteria are far too ambiguous and need to be considerably more detailed with more quantitative guidelines and targets."

Professor Martin Fautley said:

Commenting on the research, composer and Master of the Queen’s Music Judith Weir CBE said: "On an artistic level, the inclusion of composition in Music GCSE and A Level has been a great success. British conservatoires are buzzing with talented young composers, most of whom must have discovered their passion for creating new music while at school. But at the same time there is notable unease amongst teachers preparing candidates for the composition component of AS and A2 Music, something I can personally attest to after visiting the music departments of many successful English schools in recent times.

"Teachers are generally realistic people who don’t harbour exaggerated hopes for their students' exam outcomes. So their thoughts about the uncertainty of the evaluation process expressed in [the research] should be taken seriously."

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