Effective Teaching in Secondary School Music: Teacher and Pupil Identities

At the beginning of the century, previous research and official school inspection data suggested that a significant proportion of secondary school music was somewhat unimaginatively taught and perceived to be out-of-touch with children's interests. At that time, official school examination data indicated that only seven per cent of secondary school pupils took GCSE music at age 16 years (this has since risen across the decade to approximately 8% in 2009), and there was concern among significant proportions of teachers, pupils, inspectors and policymakers about the 'problem of secondary school music'. Paradoxically, this problem was being debated at a time when music has immense and increasing importance in the lives of many young people. The ESRC-funded study examined 'school music' in relation to 'out of school music', with particular focus on the interests and experience of music teachers. The findings showed that young teachers put increasing emphasis on the value of good communications and interpersonal skills, rather than musical ability, as they go through their first year of teaching (see executive summary and research report below for more details). Recently, data from this research project has been contextualised in the light of ongoing issues concerning teacher recruitment and the experiences of new music teachers as they begin their professional lives (see Welch, Purves, Hargreaves and Marshall, British Educational Research Journal).

Key findings

The vast majority of the 74 PGCE students surveyed followed the traditional academic path to teaching, via university. The older students often had additional performance or instrumental teaching diplomas, and sometimes higher degrees. Over 70 per cent had taught as instrumental teachers, whilst 15 per cent had given workshops or taken part in other outreach activities.

The majority of teachers played two to four instruments, and 90 per cent played the piano or had keyboard skills. They reported that the main influence on their musical lives had been their teachers or parents. They were less likely to have played in county orchestras or brass bands, and few had been active in jazz or pop music.

Teachers' rated possible personal and social aims of music education more highly than purely musical aims, such as providing a foundation for a professional career in music.

The most highly rated skills of music teachers were 'ability to enthuse' and 'good communication skills'.

Music students were more likely than music education students to the value of 'introducing pupils to the Western classical tradition' and 'to provide performers/musicians of the future' than of 'developing the whole personality'. Over the period of the study newly qualified teachers did not change their views of their own effectiveness as teachers or musicians, but they did change their attitudes to teaching. They increasingly emphasised communication and interpersonal skills rather than musical performance.

About the study

The research was conducted by Professors DJ Hargreaves (Roehampton) and Graham F Welch (IoE), with Ross Purves and Dr Nigel Marshall. The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and rated as 'outstanding'.

Selected public output

  • Project executive summary (1000 words)
  • Research report (5000 words)
  • Hargreaves, D.J., Purves, R.M., Welch, G.F., & Marshall, N.A. (2007). Developing identities and attitudes in musicians and classroom music teachers. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 665-682.
  • Purves, R., Marshall, N.A., Hargreaves, D.J., & Welch, G.F. (2005). Teaching as a career? Perspectives from undergraduate musicians in England. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 163, 35-42.
  • Welch, G.F., Purves, R., Hargreaves, D., & Marshall, N. (2010). The experiences of secondary school music teachers in their transition from initial teacher education into their induction year. In M. Biassutti (Ed.), La formazione degli insegnanti di musica [Educating music teachers]. Lecce: Edizioni Pensa MultiMedia s.r.l.
  • Welch, G.F., Purves, R., Hargreaves, D., & Marshall, N. (in press). Early career challenges in secondary school music teaching. British Educational Research Journal.
  • Welch, G.F. (2010). Music Teacher Education in England. Powerpoint presentation slides (PDF format).

contact information

· ESRC website