Faculty reviews and knowledge

A friend of mine sent me the following draft of a faculty review report. He recently graduated from Teach to Lead and is now an Associate Assistant Head with responsibility for Tradition and Knowledge. He is very much enjoying his NQT year and is currently writing a book entitled: “A broken nation: the progressive legacy.” It is hotly anticipated in certain circles.

Faculty Review.

Expressive Arts Faculty



Progressive ideologies have taken a grip of this faculty – this has led to poor outcomes.  The Expressive Arts and PE Faculty have a number of experienced teachers who need to reimagine what is possible with poor students. Poor students deserve a tough love which embraces the challenges of studying theory and introduces young people to the fundamental aspects of musical knowledge found in the classical canon. Afro-American traditions such as hip-hop and funk are unlikely to contain examples of the best that has been thought and said – although they do come a very close second.  Just imagine how good Grime would be if it had a few melodies.

Learning is characterised by low expectations, group work and attempting to engage students with fun activities. There is little attempt to embed knowledge and understanding through appropriate drills and memorisation techniques. Most students are allowed to work in an atmosphere of exploration and creativity.

Teachers need to realise that they have got things about creativity in students very, very wrong having been hoodwinked by the doctrine of progressive constructivist education.  Traditional thinking, knowledge rich loving art teachers are thin on the ground. Thankfully this much maligned minority are finally beginning to find a voice through social medial and are making a stand for all the white middle class males that are under-represented in music education. (Find out more in my blog: “Why study Missy Elliot when we have Beethoven?”)

We are also beginning to see that students need years and years of patient study before they can be allowed to compose. Quite simply, pupils need more rigour, more focus and more practice before being allowed loose to compose their own music. Such activities are futile and do nothing to improve standards.

Many arts teachers still cling to the idea that all students are creative. They often hold the oppressive view that students are already able to express themselves and form opinions and ideas. They forgot the importance of the role of the apprentice and the role of an apprentice in being subservient to his betters. It’s time that the silent majority reclaimed its position in society and made a stand for truth and justice.

 Summary of Findings

Evidence was taken from learning walks, book looks, staff and student voice and analysis of data. Particularly instructive of the issues was this comment from a year 8 student:” I like music – lessons are fun, we get to work in groups.”

Data showed some poor outcomes particularly for disadvantaged students who had been allowed to play the wrong kind of instruments. Orchestral players were nearly all better readers of music. Unsurprisingly they also seemed better adjusted young people.

Music department report

 Music lessons were characterised by group work in composition and performance.  We heard some very unmusical parallel fifths – we gave them an instant demerit. Too many students were allowed to work collaboratively and learn from other students.  In one lesson we saw year 8s attempting to play Salsa in a group. It was clearly an example of untrammelled progressive ideology. The majority of the group were unable to cope with the complex syncopations and challenging part writing. The occasional daydream or floundering music making in a practice room may seem innocuous, but these seconds gradually amount to minutes and hours of learning time lost. Instead we felt drills in keeping time to a 4/4 beat would have developed much better internalization of tempo and rhythm.

In another lesson many students were learning repertoire that they had chosen. This shows low expectation and colludes in lowering standards. For example one student was using an  iPad to watch a you tube video on how to play the riff from rabbit run – dismayed with such low expectations we gave her a copy of sheet music for Schumann’s Kinderszenen satisfied that she would learn some valuable truths about the nature of creativity and endeavour.

Traditional teachers have high expectations for students and don’t rely on modern technology and its engagement traps. Very few intelligent people actually like Grime and its known that students who are allowed to play too much rap end in a life of crime.  No wonder so few students carry on to be world renowned orchestral players.

Very few lessons were characterised by individual study of theory. This led to the low standards in performance and shocking misconceptions in compositions. Students should not be allowed to express creativity through composition work if they do not the difference between crochets and quavers. Many music teachers do not sweat the small stuff. Students who incorrectly resolve a leading note need immediate remedial attention in order to prevent the rot from spreading.

Too much talk of embodied knowledge skirts the issues that students need more knowledge – the right sort of knowledge. Philosophers like Lakoff and Johnson just need to read more widely. Knowledge is knowledge is rich knowledge.

People are too attracted to silly and outdated notions that we are living in post-modern, post truth society in which the powerful shape truth for their own advantage. Let’s reclaim our traditions, the power of truth and bring back common sense ideas and optimal pedagogy to our classrooms.



  • Introduce all teachers to the greats of music – We suspect many music teachers are not able to rank appropriately the ten best symphonies of the 19th century and are seriously lacking in rich knowledge.
  • Remove group work until students are 14 or at least grade 3 standard.
  • Theory and harmony to focus on the rules created by Bach. Studying harmony in the context of modern popular music gives students the wrong idea.
  • All students to learn violin and introduced to a better appreciation of classical music.
  • promote knowledge before creativity.
  • Music teachers to focus on developing a knowldgerichcurrriulcumtradionalandnoexcusesculturewithoptimalpedagogy.



This was an exceptionally dark place.


Remove from the curriculum


In conclusion 

“to recognise that ‘being creative’ is, at least potentially, the natural and normal state of anyone healthy in a sane and stimulating community, and that realising that potential is as much a matter of collaboration and ‘co-creation’ as of splen- did or miserable isolation;”

“to insist upon a vision of creativity that embraces radical forms of re-creation and includes actively engaged kinds of re-vision, re-membering and re-familiarisation (as distinct from the relatively passive notion of ‘recreation’), and thus resists casual notions of divine creation ‘from nothing’ or of purely spontaneous expres-sion welling up from nowhere;”

page 17 Creativity Theory History Practice

The great strength of the concept re . . . creation (which is therefore its greatest potential weakness) is that it draws attention to the possibility of missing or excluded terms. It invites us to see through the existing possibilities to words and worlds beyond as well as between; and it encourages a view of ‘difference’ that is genuinely other- wise. Put another way, it is an invitation to keep on jumping or bridging the gap; for it cannot be permanently filled in, and simply ignoring and then falling into it gets us nowhere.

Finally, I would argue that a concept such as re . . . creation offers a more responsive and responsible vision of ‘creativity’ than that provided by the standard definitions in the specialist literature. There the emphasis tends to be upon the ‘new’, the ‘novel’ and the ‘original’ in their narrowly ‘modern’ senses (see above p. 57). Re . . . creation leaves more room for conserving and sustaining as well as recasting and refreshing, while resisting conservative, reactionary impulses of an unthinking and merely reflex- ive kind.

Page 88 Creativity Theory Practice

Musical Assessment Without Levels

Here’s a short overview of assessment in George Green’s Arts.

Why Badges?

After some discussion with my line manager back in the summer term of 2015 I proposed a system of assessment based on London Nautical School’s Badges system.  Please see here for how this has worked out for this amazing department.

This approach to  assessment is taken directly from this school. So if you want the see it working well take  a visit to their website!


From tracking to formative assessment. 

When working on this new approach with my collegues I felt the main misconception tended to be around the idea that awarding the badge was somehow the assessment. For me the crucial importance was on how it opened up better discussions of quality both for teacher and student and teacher to teacher. This is nicely summed up by the famous quote from Ron Berger:

Most discussions of assessment start in the wrong place. The most important assessment that goes on in a school isn’t done to students but goes on inside students. Every student walks around with a picture of what is acceptable, what is good enough. Each time he works on something he looks at it and assesses it. Is this good enough? Do I feel comfortable handing this in? Does it meet my standards? Changing assessment at this level should be the most important assessment goal of every school. How do we get inside students’ heads and turn up the knob that regulates quality and effort.”

Ron Berger, ‘An Ethic of Excellence’

The badges helped to refocus everyone on how we create space in the classroom to have these kinds of dialogue in the classroom.

It isn’t perfect and we still haven’t finished our catalogue of models and criteria. Still I think the process has been useful.

Here’s the Art’s Assessment policy in its final incarnation. The badge system is also described. There’s an example at the end of this blog too.

Assessment Policy JUly 2016 final

Here’s an example of the tracking sheet in action.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 16.57.20

I really liked the simplicity of recording whether a student has achieved the badge or not. As you can see some badges remained unlocked whilst some badges the majority of the class can achieve. (This spreadsheet has recently been updated and improved by our IT and spreadsheet guru. It now automatically can produce a report summarising all the badges achieved for each student int a class – for reporting purposes)

I’ll return to the Salsa badges in a moment but here’s our basic assessment principles.


Our ten principles for assessment:  

1. Curriculum comes first.

2. Relate assessment to the specifics of the curriculum.

3. Avoid high stakes assessment

4. Use models over criteria, Comparison over absolute judgements.

5. Use critique and descriptive feedback – work together to define the qualities of good work.

6. Oral feedback is an essential, ephemeral process – integral to successful teaching in the Expressive Arts.

7. To capture the workshop nature of the Expressive Arts will require videoing and archiving of work.

8. We need rich formative dialogue based on trusting relationships – feedback that causes thinking rather than emotional reactions.

9: Focus on ensuring that your feedback gets acted upon so that students are given a chance to improve their performance.

10: Start from where the learner is, not where we would like the learner to be – and give feedback that will move the student’s learning forward.



Implementation – support from SLT was crucial. 

I sent a document to SLT outlining the rational behind badges and why I thought it a useful system. As luck would have it 2016 was to be a year of experimentation with assessment systems at KS3 and it was agreed for the Arts to trail this out. In fact PE, DT and Computing also joined us.

Agreement from SLT is crucial and without it the new assessment system would have been impossible to introduce.

Introduction to the Faculty 

I did this quite late in the summer term of 2015. It’s fair to say reception to the idea was received with a mixture of hostility and disbelief. I think we were all exhausted after a long year of change and new developments and the thought of a new approach to assessment was just too much. It was the wrong time to introduce another new idea.

I had some convincing to do.

Summer Holidays

Towards the end of the summer holidays I decided to develop a website to promote the Arts and keep the models and badges together in one place. You can find it here.

Fortunately my music colleague agreed (thank you Travis) to help with designing the spreadsheet and put it together shortly after we got back from the holidays.

Autumn Term to Spring Term 

We trialled a few ideas and added examples to the website. Eventually everyone began to come round to my way of thinking….

Except there did seem many misconceptions with one department even trying to reinvent levels within the badge system. A few more meetings and discussion later and by the Spring term we were mostly aligned…

We have as a faculty a two and half hour session every two weeks as part of our CPL – a great deal of our meetings were given over to giving everyone the time to agree on the main achievements and badges for each SOL. 

A few issues remain unresolved.

Issue 1: Just how do you pitch the difficulty of the Badges to be achieved.

Issue 2: Are we assessing the skill or just the particular outcome from the SOL currently being studied. Can they be the same badge or should they be renamed?

Issue 3: Do students really know what it is they have achieved?

Issue 4: in creative work do models of expectations tend to limit the kind of responses we receive from students? Do students try to copy the model rather than find their own unique voice?

Issue 5: How do we report this back to parents and can the SLT be sure that what the students achieve is really stretching them?

An example from our Salsa unit- Toca Bonito 

Those familiar with Musical Futures will know this as an example SOL from their booklet mark 2.  We choose this SOL as it is challenging and offers ensemble opportunities and some room for improvising.  (AP 1 ) It’s important to maintain the groove which uses some syncopation and interlocking rhythms.

We agreed on three badges  for this SOL (AP 2 – originally 4 but the 4th no-one achieved.)  Three is the maximum we wanted but other departments varied.  At times I argued we should have just one badge with everything else being about how we achieved the main badge. This would result in some students possibly never receiving a formal tracking on their achievements and this was seen as demotivating. So in the end we tended to have a straightforward badge ( 1 point) a more challenging “half way point” and then what we discussed as the main achievement (3 points.)  For our Salsa unit the three badges are basically:

Groove is in the Heart (1 point) playing in time.

Master Blaster (2 points) Knowing your own part really well.

Toca Bonito (3 points) Playing your own part within an extended structure and playing with a sense of style and confidence.

The final badge becomes the example we share and discuss the most. Then as students put together the work we talk about the progress and how they are coming along. We do lots of live modelling as the students work in groups and share what we are after. Students also share and model their own work. Sometimes we might reference the badges – often we just discuss what needs to be done next. In other words lots of  AP 4,  5 and 8,9,10 combined. See below for how this looks:

3 Points

All performers should be in time and play their own part accurately. There should be a clear structure with an introduction, main section, use of the tag.  It should be played confidently and with a sense of style.

If you watch this video you hear the group start with the tag. They play this in unison. Then the drummer plays the main groove and the rest of the instrumentalists join in and play the main tune 4 times. Notice how the players are in time and show a sense of confidence. They are aware of each others parts and follow the structure well.

You can watch it here: (it’s also at GG’s website music badges level 2)


The video is the main reference point for the standards (AP 4) though over time other students are able to share their work as exemplars.

From tracking to formative assessment.

Whilst we continually share the tracking sheet with our students and students do ask what they need to do to achieve the badges the main aim is for the badges to work in the background:

“We are sharing a common goal of excellence. Good assessment is a fundamental part of good pedagogy that is aware of the dangers of reducing complex real life, artistic production and creativity to numbers or abstract criteria.

This is what we are trying to do as a faculty in our approach to assessment – build up our capacity to promote useful conversations with students that move them forward and energise their commitment to, and understanding of the Arts.”


In many ways we don’t need the badges system – for example I never once recorded a level or tracked  assessment formally  in all the time I was HOD in my previous school. (I did enter data but I made it up to show progress) I don’t think it mattered – students knew they were progressing because their music making got better.

However the badges are a way of recording major milestones and achievements and do reveal which parts of the curriculum we feel they have achieved successfully. In this way it is useful to the SLT as long as they don’t need it to show “progress” which it can’t in a straightforward way. For students it’s useful as they know (but see issue 3 above) what they have achieved and what if anything they need to do next. Its flexible – for example we have discussed introducing Onyx specials for a range of more challenging badges and to cater for our complex needs students. Its been good for the department as we can discuss each others work in comparison to our models and this approach has improved moderation. It has opened up dialogue about issues of quality and just how to motivate and encourage all our students to aim high whilst remaining inclusive and responsive to our students.



Ideology and consiousness

I was so engrossed in reading Martin Robinson’s blog and the response from Jon Finney I missed my stop and ended up at Penge West Station – a worrying wrong turn.

I think Martin is strong when outlining how capitalism and the market have created conditions in which knowledge and thinking are subverted so that we struggle to find an anchoring in meaning and truth. I think Martin’s short outline of the issues of capitalism and pervasive influence in structuring our ways of living and its impact on education is useful. However when he moves from this discussion to the way people make sense of this I feel he is much weaker. In moving from the details of the dilemma and issues to how teachers understand and develop pedagogy he fails to give teachers agency.

Martin is making a series of crude and reductionist statements about consciousness and the relationship to ideology and assumes that from outlining a stupid system we can call people stupid.

Just because we live in a crazy market where meaning seems to have been reduced to nothing does not mean that we have become one with the system. Martin seems to be suggesting that teachers are passive recipients of social structures and ideology – “consume with little thought”. In fact our consciousness is in continual mediation between self and the external world and we cannot assume the content of people’s consciousness.

We need a more complex and nuanced understanding of subjectivity and its relationship to power, ideology and social structures; we cannot read peoples’ consciousness from our understanding of the social structures. Martin’s blog here seems to betray a lack of respect for the dynamic way consciousness creates and is created by ideology in its relationship with the material world.

In my view Giroux has a more useful way of framing the pedagogy debate:


“In both conservative and progressive discourses pedagogy is often treated simply as a set of strategies and skills to use to teach prescribed subject mater. In this context, pedagogy becomes synonymous with teaching as a technique of the practice of a craft – like a skill. Any viable notion of critical pedagogy must reject this definition and its endless slavish imitations even when they are claimed as part of a radical discourse or project. Pedagogy in the more critical sense illuminates the relationship among knowledge, authority and power. It draws attention to questions concerning who has control over the conditions for the production of knowledge. Moreover, it delineates the ways in which the circuit of power and authority are constructed within particular sets of social relations…. Pedagogy is simultaneously about the knowledge and practices that teachers, cultural workers and students might engage in together and the cultural politics and visions such practices legitimate.”  


For me Martin in his desire to stress the importance of what is of value – “Just as in an art world in which all can be art the most important thing to say is ‘well, that isn’t art,” he is missing the importance of a pedagogy that: “illuminates the relationship among knowledge, authority and power. It draws attention to questions concerning who has control over the conditions for the production of knowledge.”


For example the cultural intellectual heritage that Robinson draws on is mainly white. He could have drawn on other writers – Fanon, hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and Spivak to make similar arguments – though its possible these authors may have taken Robinson in a different direction and enriched his argument. Whilst being able to say what is or isn’t art is important – although this is something I feel people do quite freely – other important questions need addressing. Such as – why this art now? And whose Art and knowledge are we studying? Who legitimises this as art?


It is not a matter of a choice between Beethoven or Beyonce; do we believe in tradition and meaning or the ephemeral and the relevant. These debates touch issues of power, control and agency and need framing with a belief in the ability of all to possess critical thought and all to be duped and manipulated. I feel we need to broaden our sense of pedagogy as Robinson argues with a sense of values and truth but one that does this with recognition to the way tradition limits and narrows by pretending knowledge is not socially situated.