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Interview: Catherine Webster of WJEC

Catherine Webster Interview Eduqas and WJEC - 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.