interview with Catherine Webster of WJEC/Eduqas - Teacher and Musician
This is the second post in a series of interviews with subject advisors from the various exam boards.  We started last week with Marie Jones of OCR and today is the turn of Catherine Webster from WJEC.  WJEC offers GCSE exams for Wales and, for the new specifications, is using the brand name Eduqas for qualifications in England.  You can read my first reaction to the draft GCSE specification here and the A-Level one here.  I'm really pleased that Catherine has joined in the discussion and I'm sure that readers will find her responses to the questions genuinely interesting.

Before we get on with the responses, here's a quick update on responses to the interview requests.  Pearson (Edexcel) has confirmed that they are eager to respond but they would like to wait until their new music subject advisor starts in August.  A perfectly reasonable request!

Despite another attempt to get in touch, I've still had no response from AQA.  Rest assured that I will keep trying to contact them as it would be really useful to have all four boards represented in this series.

What is the name of your subject advisor for music?  

Catherine Webster, Subject Officer for Music:
I am the subject officer for Music, Drama and Performing Arts (which will cease to be a GCSE after 2016). I have been at WJEC for almost two years and have been involved with specification development since the initial stakeholder meetings led by DfE. Before I worked here I was a music teacher for 17 years, in both secondary schools and then a 6th form college in Cardiff where I was Programme Area Manager for Music, Drama and Performing Arts.

Our specification development team, led by me, consisted of a small group of current and newly retired teachers, and between us we have had over fifty years of classroom experience. We have used this experience to create our new specifications, knowing from personal experience what works in the classroom and what doesn't. Our goal was to develop specifications which are inspiring for learners and enjoyable for teachers, allowing teachers and learners to play to their strengths and choose options which suit them.

How does your board support teachers when it comes to selecting the right qualification for their centre?  

We pride ourselves in providing direct access to our subject officers. This means that teachers can speak in great depth about our specifications, assessment strategies, resources and training.

If a music teacher submitted a question to your board, how long would (s)he have to wait for an answer?  

We aim to answer all questions from teachers as quickly as possible. Very often, questions are answered the same day however there are instances where we may take longer to reply.

To what extent does your music subject advisor engage with teachers on social media (including Twitter, Facebook groups and Music Mark's Peer to Peer Network)?

Because we publish the email addresses and telephone numbers of our subject officers and their support team, we find that teachers prefer to contact us directly with their questions rather than coming in via social media. Our Eduqas Twitter and Facebook pages are updated daily covering news about all of our subjects, including Music. To have the most complete and up to date information from WJEC/Eduqas, we encourage all teachers to sign up to our newsletters.
There is also a recently formed (April, I believe) WJEC Music Facebook page. It was started by teachers and, therefore, it is not endorsed by us. However, from what I have seen of it, and I check it regularly, it seems to be very supportive and teachers share ideas. I will also answer questions on there if asked.

For centres struggling to deliver strong results in music, what can your board do to help them?

  • Direct access to subject officers by phone and email.
  • Digital educational resources for the teaching and learning of Music are provided free of charge to all teachers.
  • New centre visits are carried out to ensure they have all the information they need
  • Online exam review tool provides teachers with sample marked papers along with principal examiner comments showing areas of weakness for certain groups of candidates.
  • Annual CPD courses go over marking, standardising of coursework and teacher guidance.
  • Item level data which breaks down their centre's marks and shows them how they are doing compared to others schools and colleges.
  • Post results service where teachers can have papers returned to look at their own candidates answers.
We are also planning new resources for the 2016 specifications including practice questions, guidance on how to teach the areas of study, detailed notes on the A-Level set works, performance packs for the GCSE set works and course plans. We promote an integrated approach to teaching and will link the activities for composing to the various listening topics.

We have launch events for our specifications in the autumn and teachers can book online. We have 'preparing to teach' events in the spring. They are both free and in various locations around the country.

What do you see as the key strengths of your current draft specifications for music?



  • Learners can perform as many pieces as they need to fulfil the time requirement, they are not limited to two.
  • They do not need to perform a solo at all, there is maximum flexibility for learners to choose whether to do a solo or to stick with ensembles.
  • For the teacher, there is one, easy to use assessment grid which covers all instruments. There is a sliding scale for difficulty level, but all of the marks go on performance. Learners can get full marks with a grade 3 standard piece.
  • All marks are for performance, none for talking about it.


  • All composition briefs are linked to an area of study and they are very broad allowing for a range of responses.
  • There is one easy to follow assessment grid for both compositions
  • All marks are for the music composed.


  • We offer wide ranging areas of study which feed into each other, with two set works which are simple enough to perform. The areas of study offer something for everyone.
  • The areas of study build on different elements of music.
  • The western classical area of study has clear links with other areas of study
  • The two set works are approachable, easy to perform and provide some reassurances for the exam.
  • There are two questions on each area of study in the exam
  • It is a listening exam where all questions are based on extracts of music, with and without a score.


  • We send a visiting examiner, taking the pressure off the teacher to administer the exam and giving learners a realistic experience of performing a recital. We do this on our present specification and, when surveyed, teachers expressed a high level of satisfaction and therefore we decided to retain it as an option.
  • Learners can specialise in performing (A-Level only), allocating an extra 10% of the qualification to this. This again is a feature of the current specification, and WJEC was instrumental in bringing about the flexible assessment objectives which allow for this.
  • Any combination of solos and ensembles is permitted, apart from in the extended option where they must play at least one solo. 
Incidentally, the requirement to compose and perform within an area of study, which you picked up on in your blog, is a DfE subject content requirement, which we have to follow. It says all learners must be given the opportunity to perform and compose within the areas of study. Our areas of study are fairly flexible allowing quite a wide range of styles, and they are not bound by the dates given for the listening topics.

[T&M: I believe that Catherine is referring to this quote from page 8 of this Ofqual document

"They must encompass repertoire that allows the musical elements, musical contexts and musical language to be taught in context and allow opportunities for students to demonstrate contextual understanding through their performing and composing."

I am not entirely convinced that the 'opportunity' equates with a requirement to link performance pieces to an area of study.  Of course, I am happy to be proved wrong!]


  • At A level the composition briefs allow learners to compose within a western classical style.  Again the briefs are quite open ended, allowing for a variety of individual responses. This is to allow learners the opportunity to develop the skills required for HE courses in a loose framework, rather than by doing a techniques exercise.
  • Learners can specialise in composing (A-Level only), allocating an extra 10% of the qualification to this. This, again, is a feature of the current specification and WJEC was instrumental in bringing about the flexible assessment objectives that allow for this. 
Incidentally, when I was teaching, I always had a mixture of those opting for performing and composing, with an 80:20 split in favour of performing. Learners loved this flexibility and it gave them a chance to play to their strengths).


  • AS and A-Level are fully co-teachable
  • Areas of study at A-Level are wide ranging and provide sufficient challenge to prepare learners for university
  • A-Level features the music of living British composers, which brings the study of 'classical music' up to date.
  • Appraising papers are designed to be focused on the musical skills at both GCSE and A-Level
  • Essay writing is a feature of the A-Level only 

If Ofqual wasn't a factor, what would you change about your draft specifications? 

This is a tricky question as Ofqual clearly is a factor and we must always work within their parameters. In Wales, we are working to the regulatory requirements of the Welsh Government, so there are slight differences in our proposals for Wales.  All of this is still yet to be accredited but we are hoping for 70% non-exam assessment (NEA) and 30% exam in Wales. If accredited by Welsh Government, the we will used the extra 10% NEA to give learners the opportunity to make critical judgements about their own music (performances and compositions), perhaps including a detailed programme note that analyses the music and the technical demands for their recital and an evaluation of their composition, discussing their musical influences. We feel it is important to follow the National Curriculum pattern of assessment set out at Key stage 3 and would retain the basic structure but with the opportunity to reflect on their own music .

At A-Level, I would have liked the flexible 10% to be in addition and separate to the 60% NEA and to be extended to include appraising. One idea would be to have a project worth 10%, where they could research a particular musical topic that is of interest to them and produce a response, which could be in a musical format or in a written format. This would be a great preparation for HE. Unfortunately, with the present system, this is not possible.

Is there anything else that you want music teachers to know about how you support them?  

Being a small board, we feel that we are best placed to offer music teachers a personal service; our size also gives us the ability to adapt and adopt swiftly in response to customer requests as well as regulator and market forces.
QR codes for music - teacher and musician
This is the first guest post on Teacher and Musician.  I was having a good email discussion with Adam Hall about his use of QR codes in the classroom and it occurred to me that there was a good blog post to be written on the topic.  Adam kindly agreed to write the post that follows.  

Adam Hall - Guest Post - Teacher and MusicianAdam is currently the Assistant Director of Music in an Independent School in the North West with responsibly for leading all academic teaching of music and overseeing the development of choral music. You can find Adam on Twitter and the Peer to Peer Network.

One day in my third year of teaching I sat with my head of department, also a young teacher in his fourth year, and we dreamt of the perfect music department. We had been fully inspired by the Musical Futures model and already had some forward-thinking ideas but we wanted to do something crazy. The tables and books had long been removed from all classrooms and following our most recent clear out, we both agreed that we wanted a completely paperless department.  This sparked the beginning of my love affair with the QR codes (for those of you unfamiliar with a QR code, it is simply a variation on the idea of barcodes. It can store small amounts of data which are ofsted, but not exclusively, website URLs).  

Paperless worksheets

After several hours of experimenting, I finally managed to upload one of our department’s simple worksheets to a dark corner of the internet. I then created a QR code to this rather obscure address and printed it out. Within seconds of scanning the new QR code on my smart device, the worksheet appeared on the screen.  Needless to say, I was excited. 

The only downside to the experiment was that the worksheet was no longer on A4 but had been restricted to the size of my screen!  Equally, I appreciated that not all the students in my classes would have access to a smartphone and, if everyone tried to use the QR codes at the beginning of a lesson, it could well crash the school’s Wi-Fi network. As a result, I didn't include paperless worksheets in my teaching but my excitement for QR coding did not stop. 

QR codes on doors

QR codes on door - teacher and musician
Both my head of department and I were frustrated by the lack of orchestral knowledge demonstrated by pupils in Key Stage 4. To combat this, I made QR codes that linked to relevant YouTube videos and made them readily available to all students.  I put the codes on our office door, corridors and classroom walls and it wasn’t long before students were scanning the codes during break times and learning what that elusive oboe actually sounded like.

Interactive displays

Following the success of my QR fly-posting, I started to create some interactive displays. I knew I could print off some student’s work and display it but music is also about listening! I uploaded (anonymously might I add) students’ work to YouTube and created QR codes that linked to them. We soon had an examples of A*, B and C grade performances and compositions that students could listen to on their smart devices both in and out of lessons. 

Feedback with QR codes

feedback with QR codes - teacher and musician
As the academic year came to a close, I moved to a new school and took my QR coding passion with me. As I didn’t know these students, I got my KS4-5 students to sit a short test in one of their first lessons. When I gave back the tests in the following lesson, I also included QR codes that linked to helpful websites or simple pictures or my handwritten notes on a piece of manuscript paper.  Since then, I have also used QR codes to recommended further listening and provide model essay answers.  I appreciate that most of these resources could simply be photocopied or printed out but I wanted to offer them a wider range of interactive resources to encourage more independent learning. Not to mention that it also cuts down on the reprographics bill!

QR codes on handouts

When I started at my new school, one thing that excited me the most was the Year 7 Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) project, where all Year 7s would come to school armed with tablets and smart phones to enhance their learning. This negated the issue of whether or not mobile devices were permitted in the school and I saw this a great opportunity. My Musical Futures inspired handouts were soon peppered with QR codes featuring links to the song, the lyrics and even extension tasks. 

With QR codes, I could fit a lot more useful information onto one side of A4. Students could now listen to the songs as well as play and sing along within their group work with much more ease and efficiency. My extension tasks were mainly links to videos helping students learn the melodies and counter melodies in songs, which really helped to engage them. 


Like every school, we have publications that go out to parents and carers. I have now managed to include some QR codes of students’ KS5 compositions into the next school magazine. I think it’s the best way to allow parents to hear the quality of work the students have achieved and promote music throughout the school.

QR codes on homework – wider listening and hints

My most recent venture with QR codes has been with homework. In my current school, I don’t believe the music department is implementing homework opportunities to their full potential and I want this to change for the following year. With that in mind, I have created a few example homework sheets that include QR codes. The codes link to YouTube videos for listening, images and plain text. 

Instead of taking students to a website, the plain text option means that a small text box will appear on students’ smart devices. So far, I’ve used this to encode little hints, tips and key vocabulary.  I’m sure the possibilities are endless. 

I'm currently creating listening homework sheets for KS4 where students will scan the codes and answer exam type questions to aid them in preparation for the listening and appraising examination

Collecting data?

I’m keen to start using Bitly links in my QR codes so that I can track how frequently the codes are being used. I think this could lead to some interesting data on the students’ use of mobile technology.  I have also considered encoding an email address as a QR code, which would allow KS4-5 students to email me questions about tasks undertaken in class or their homework queries. This can be very useful as sometimes students can’t always fit their questions into a tweet! 

reading highlights 5 - teacher and musician
This week's reading roundup brings together discussion of assessment, advocacy, SoW design and music services.  Not the most related of concepts but, if there is a theme in this week's roundup, then it is surely 'straight talking'.  All four blog posts are actively avoiding dressing up their message in the 'language of the moment' and, instead, are seeking to discuss things both as they are and how they should be.

Martin Fautley: In which I get really ratty about linear attainment assessment.  Again.  

Click here to read

Martin Fautley writes great material.  His book (Assessment in Music Education) was my first experience of reading anything about assessment that made sense for music.  Martin's blog is also full of great insights, largely thanks to his refusal to accept fads in favour of good sense.  This particular post sees Martin comparing the reality of a child's musical learning to the ridiculous assessment policies that some schools insist upon.  Quite simply, it's essential reading.

David J Elliott and Marissa Silverman: Music = ax2 + bx + c.  Huh?

Picking up where Peter Greene left off (see Reading Highlights 2), this post tackles the frequent claim that music education improves pupils' performance in other subjects.  Drawing on the work of Glenn Schellenberg, Elliott and Silverman suggest that the link between high IQ and music participation is an example of spurious correlation.  Will this impact on the way in which you promote instrumental lessons and KS4 music?  

Jane Werry: KS3: another revamp!  Onwards and upwards...

We've had two weeks without Jane Werry appearing in the reading roundup, so it's great to read this fantastic blog post about revamping her KS3.  I always like to see how teachers go about building their schemes of work and, in this post, I was really interested (and pleased) to see that Jane makes this a very collaborative affair, with her team clearly having a big role to play in its development.  

Emma Coulthard: Music services - someone still loves you...

This month's TeachTalk: Music editorial looks at how the difference between the English and Welsh funding models has resulted in a divergence of practice.  While England made a sudden move to music education hubs, Wales still makes use of music services.  In particular, the need to maintain a self-funding system was of great interest to me and it's heartening to see that the way Emma has achieved this is by developing excellent relationships with local schools.  If music education is a business, then this is the way that it should be conducted.  

teacher and musician challenge 8 - cool down - teacher and musician
The sun is shining, the sky is blue and the temperature is soaring.  It’s perfect beach weather.  It’s awful classroom weather.  If you’re are ludicrously lucky, then you will have air conditioning in your music department but the majority of music teachers will be dealing with sweltering, sweat-scented classrooms filled with children who haven’t yet mastered the art of bathing.  Worse still, the practical nature of music making can lead to rising body temperatures that exacerbate the situation.  This week’s Teacher and Musician Challenge is designed to minimise movement and give you some degree of hope that you can make it through the day without melting into a music teacher shaped puddle next to your piano.

The challenge: cool down

Abandon the practice rooms, put away the instruments and turn off the computers and projector.  Look for anything in your classroom that could be generating heat and turn it off.  All that’s left is the need to make music and probably the least wilting way to do that is to lead an a cappella singing lesson.  Don’t insist on getting the pupils to stand up (but, as always, be fussy about posture) and keep any body percussion to a minimum (perhaps the odd finger click), then lead them in a few simple songs that are bound to lift some spirits.  There’s no shortage of material and this could be a great opportunity to try out some of the arrangements that you’ve had in your head.  Alternatively, why not have a look at the singing activities from Emma Watson in this post about a TeachMeet?

The focus is to stay as cool as possible, so keep it calm, keep it chilled.
teachmeet music - 25th june 2015 - teacher and musician
This time last week, I had the pleasure of hosting a Music specific TeachMeet at Prendergast Vale School in Lewisham.  We had a great variety of presentations led by some fantastic members of the music education community.  This blog post features a quick roundup of what was said.

Solving music education

Richard Branson believes that you should always set yourself "huge, apparently unachievable challenges", so we did just that to open up our TeachMeet.  We decided that we would simply fix music education.  No problem.  

I shared some of the insights I gained from the analytics of this blog and suggested that music teachers are particularly struggling with the following topics:
  • specifications
  • writing schemes of work
  • assessment
  • reporting assessments
  • managing transition
We broke out into a few groups and strove to solve these issues.  Our conclusions can be summarised as below:
  • specifications
    • there was a proposal that a single exam board for music would lead to greater consistency
    • there wasn't universal agreement on this point!
  • writing schemes of work
    • make sure that SoWs aren't just 'taken off the shelf'
    • make sure that SoWs are accessible to students and that you know them well enough to do this

  • assessment
    • we couldn't solve this because schools want so much from us
    • the solution is for schools to accept that music is different and should be treated as such
  • reporting assessments
    • we need to know what a five year old musician can do because then you can report whether they're on or below this expectation
    • comment only assessments would make more sense for music
  • managing transition
    • assessment is a problem for transition because secondary schools often expect a level to be assigned to a child within six weeks
    • the solution is to stop this(!), especially considering that music will typically only see children once a week

Martin Fourie: Teach Music Empire

Martin shared the work he's done to build Teach Music Empire, which is a web based tool to provide structure to pupils' musical learning.  Inspired by the London Tube map, pupils get more choice as they progress through the system.  The motivation was to ensure that pupils of all incomes can access music education.  In Martin's school, he's had 100 pupils use this to improve their singing.  

Emma Watson: singing activities

Emma led us through through three great singing activities.  You can hear each activity here:

The elements of music

Baa Baa Black Sheep


It's always a pleasure to have a singing activity like this at a TeachMeet, so a huge thanks to Emma for leading this session.

Jane Werry: KS3 assessing without levels

Jane didn't hide her feelings about National Curriculum Levels and she showed us the great radar diagram system that she's developed at Hayes School.  She has twelve spokes on the diagrams and changes what each spoke represents depending on the project that pupils are working on.  I'm particularly fond of the way that Jane uses different coloured pens to represent the day that notes were made on pupils' assessment sheets.  It's pleasing to hear that Jane says that "we've really seen the benefits this year".  

Perhaps the best quote of the night came from Jane's presentation:
If anyone watches your music lesson, then they can stick this in their pipe and smoke it because it's all there.  Here's the feedback they've had and there's what they've done about it.  
She also showed us what she's done with QuickKey, which is a tool I'm really keen to investigate futher.  

You can read more about Jane's system here.  

Raphael Tettey: my journey as a music teacher

Raphael told us how he started teaching in the UK in 2001 as an unqualified teacher with no head of department.  When the school became an all-through academy (primary and secondary combined), Raphael went through the GTP and then started teaching GCSE Music but soon moved to the school's primary section, which was obviously quite different to his training.  A few years later, Raph was back to working with Key Stage 4 music classes and quickly had to relearn how to teach music at this level.  

The real message that Raph delivered was the value that he experienced from the Music Mark Peer to Peer CPD programme, which gave him his first experience of networking with music teachers outside of his school, which he found to be invaluable.  

Rico Lowson: Into Film

Rico showed us his work with Into Film, which is an education charity launching a CPD programme about raising literacy attainment through film.  I really liked the 'three Cs and three Ss' mnemonic, which was:
  • camera
  • colour
  • character
  • sound
  • setting
  • story
Rico showed us some of the resources they use and led us through an activity that would normally be delivered to KS2 pupils for the sound element of the three Cs and three Ss.  This activity used a simple grid to ask us to discuss the various features of a movie soundtrack played separate from the clip.  It looks like a system well worth investigating.  

Anna Gower and Jem Shuttleworth: #MusicEdNinjas

Anna and Jem challenged us to reunite the fragmented and under-pressure music education system by becoming #MusicEdNinjas.  To become a ninja (of the music education variety), Anna and Jem suggested that we should:
  • participate in TeachMeets
  • join the Peer to Peer Network
  • participate in MufuChat
  • write a blog
  • attend the CPD that you're entitled to
  • attend music education conferences
  • make use of the upcoming secondary BBC Ten Pieces 

Jackie Schneider: Reasons to blog in the music room

Jackie is a huge fan of blogging, which she uses to keep up to date with music education.  She particularly loves that blogging is "cheap, anarchic and engaging" and that it connects her children with music in the world beyond her school.  She sees the benefits for the pupils as:
  • connecting them to musicians throughout the world
  • giving them a stage on which to show off their work
  • giving them a chance to say what they think about the music they've made in lessons (via comments)
The blog has raised the profile of music at Jackie's school leading to collaborations with SingUp and the composers of the music that the pupils perform.  

Jackie's tips for getting started are:
  • create an e-safety policy
  • work out who your audience is
  • use Twitter to drive traffic to the blog
  • don't steal content
  • the blogging is the work, it's the planning and assessment - if it's extra work, then don't do it

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who attended and to Prendergast Vale for providing the venue.  I really enjoyed the event and, as always, that's thanks to the wonderful people who were there.  

Keep an eye on the events section of the blog to see similar events planned for the future.  

live blog - occupy your curriculum - teacher and musician
Today, I will be at the RSA House to attend a joint event by the RSA and the Institute of Education called 'Occupy Your Curriculum'.  Tom Sherrington of Highbury Grove School will be speaking, which should make it a really fascinating session.  Highbury Grove School has received some very positive coverage for it's music department recently, so it will be really interesting to hear what he has to say about the arts.

This live blog will be updated throughout the session, so keep refreshing to page to learn more!

The live blog