Monthly Archives: June 2015

‘I Can’t Compose’

Written by Kirsty Devaney, PhD student, School of Education

Composing is a part of the current GCSE and A level examinations. Although composing is a part of the national curriculum not all student have significant experience of composing before they reach GCSE if they decide to take a GCSE in music. The word ‘composing’ to many GCSE and A level music students can be associated with fear a lack of confidence and not knowing where to start.

The Young Composers Project was set up by Birmingham Conservatoire for students aged 14-19 to help overcome these issues and allow students experience professional composing practice and work with current Conservatoire students.

“I want them to have the experience of being a musician: creating, interpreting and responding to music…feeling musical.(Mills, 2002)

The scheme has been an action research project over 16 months with a total of 22 students. Data was collected from:

  • Semi-structured interviews
  • Online open blog
  • Video interviews
  • Student self-evaluation forms & graffiti walls
  • Interviews with classroom teacher

YCP [session 2] -23

Kayla Findings:

Three main contributing factors relating to student confidence are:

  1. Preconceptions of composing
  2. Assessment of composition in school
  3. Sharing their music with others


“That you have to be Mozart to compose” (Mills, 2002)

Students pre-perceptions were that the workshops would focus on notation and that other students would be ‘better’ than them.The mixture of students working alongside Conservatoire composers & young professionals helped demystify composing, diminish stereotypes and show a clear progression route.


We created a safe environment & community for them to experiment with their music without fear of assessment or getting it ‘wrong’.

“I like the way that nothing is deemed as ‘bad’. It’s really great to be in an environment where you can compose whatever you like without fear of people not liking it.” (YCP Student 2014)

Sharing music with others:

At the start of the project students scored very low in confidence for sharing their ideas and said they had received negative remarks in the past. Informal sharing of ideas and works in progress, with positive feedback from peers and tutors, was done in every session.

“All composition pupils feel desperately exposed in bringing their first efforts for scrutiny. A chance negative remark, however, can send them plummeting down…” (Odam, 1995)

The best thing about the group is the mixture of backgrounds…There’s a really good atmosphere.” (YCP Student 2014)

YCP [session 3] -6

Action points:

  • Ensure composing reflects real composing practice (commissions)
  • Combination of open and closed composition tasks
  • Encourage live performances of the music where possible
  • Plan for a mixture of whole group, pair and individual composing work at all stages
  • Allow the opportunity for students share their ideas with the group
  • Give regular positive and constructive feedback without the mention marks or grades
  • Allow students to find their own process of composing
  • Create a safe environment to try out new ideas without fear
  • The need for notation must come from them
  • Introduce living composers & songwriters new music into the lessons
  • Signpost other composing opportunities in the area

My PhD experience – four months in

Written by Shannon Ludgate, PhD Student, School of Education – Early Years

Making the decision to embark on a PhD journey has been the biggest decision I’ve made so far. Being just 21 and starting a PhD, it’s fair to say I felt incredibly under-experienced, questioning my ability to take on this challenge at such a ripe age. Nonetheless after much thought and discussions with my undergraduate peers, family and partner, I submitted the application form with my fingers and toes crossed. After being successful, I have embarked on a journey to research experiences children aged three to four years have, and how this has the potential to enhance their learning (specific area yet to be decided).

With not knowing what to expect with a PhD, particularly as I was introduced to the opportunity with just weeks to read up on and write a research proposal, I searched endlessly on the web and in books to discover what it meant to be writing a thesis, and what it might look like as an end product. Doing a little background reading into these areas provided me with the initial knowledge I would need, with what to expect and what I would be doing.

Regardless of the literature, starting on my first day felt unusual; as an undergraduate, I had a whole network of friends, academics to talk to, and support 24/7. Walking into the office, I was greeted by another PhD student; I felt a little out there on my own. Looking back, I can see the need to adapt to this new lifestyle – reading endlessly on my new topic, trying to find out what had already been researched and where the interesting little gaps were in the literature. Four months on, I can positively say I’ve enjoyed the journey, even though I am only just starting! I am happy to admit I have changed my ideas too many times to remember, but I see it as a refinement process; my ideas are becoming more absolute as I progress. I am really excited to get started, to get out there in the field and start collecting interesting data, but I know there’s a lot to do before.

As the days pass I can see how I am progressing towards that point, and making initial contact with settings to conduct the research has been exciting, I can almost touch it – the beginning of data collection. I know that a great challenge lies ahead of me, and after speaking to other PhD students, I feel somewhat ready for it. I am eager to begin and enjoy this journey, after all, I’m researching something that really interests me and I want to inspire others with my work.

To research very young children’s experiences with touchscreens is such an appealing topic. Having completed my undergraduate in the early years field, this topic held so much interest and everyone I have spoken to has gave an opinion on it. Our youngest children using technology isn’t something that is overlooked; there are people all for it, and of course, those who absolutely dispute against it, expressing health and social development concerns to name a few.

TEE open day October 2010. TEE open day October 2010.

I’ve had great support so far from everyone around me; my supervisor has sat and listened to my ideas, even if they’re not fully formed in my own mind, but expressing them in some way has helped me to realise what I’d like to research. Gaining advice from others is a definite must, and having others to support you on the journey I’ve been told is advisable.

For now I’m keen to begin, although I’m not really sure when I can actually say I’m beginning (of course I began in September), but I know it’s coming soon. My time as a PhD student has been great so far, and I can see the next three years being the most interesting and insightful yet.

Pupils as Partners CPD Pilot

Written by Amanda French, Senior Researcher, School of Eduction

The CPD landscape is changing across health and education. There has been a decrease in Local authority provision, the growth of Academies and Free Schools and the demise of the Local Authority in health and educational community provision means there has been a growth in private companies and training consultants offering CPD in health and education. Against the background of austerity cuts community groups, charities, schools and colleges are increasingly looking to third stream funding provide extracurricular opportunities for their pupils/students, especially in areas of social-economic deprivation where arguably the need for enrichment activities is greatest. Responding to the fact that, schools, colleges and voluntary bodies have not traditionally been offered CPD in these areas, this pilot CPD, funded by HELS, reflects the Faculty’s commitment to community-based education and development.rb1901_BusinessSchoolstock

The project team are based in the Centre for Studies in Culture and Practice in Education (CSCPE).   We are drawing  our belief that children should be at the centre of any bid writing and research that involves them.  However, organisations seeking external funding have not traditionally sought to include children and young adults as vital participants in the bid-writing process. Rather, too often children and young adults are perceived solely as recipients of successful bid writing and even where they may be involved in putting a proposal together they are not engaged in any aspect of  subsequent project management and  evaluation processes.

In contrast, the Pupils and Partners project will deliver participating organisations an intensive, interactive workshop in bid writing and research which encourages pupils to become self-determining and effective co-bid writers alongside their teachers.

It is hoped that this pilot will form a sound basis for the commercial launch of community-based CPD package on bid writing, project management and evaluation. In this way HELS will be developing interactive and partnership-centered capacity building for schools and organisations working with children in our wider community.

Supporting Music in Schools

Written by Ian Axtell, Subject Leader for Music Education, Secondary Partnership Coordinator.

Ian was recently asked by to post a guest editorial article on their website. Here are some highlights from the article. To read the full article please click here

“During a recent school experience review a group of beginning music teachers shared their concerns about the assessment regimes that are now being imposed on some secondary music departments. The hope was that an absence of levels would provide the potential for more freedom, creating opportunities for school based music teachers to assess in ways that are appropriate for their pupils in a range of different school contexts. However, this freedom is being denied and instead music teachers in some schools are now being asked to comply with assessment regimes that focus on generic systems linked to core subjects…In the worst cases, music teachers in schools are being de-professionalised, their voices and opinions ignored in an environment that emphasises a deficit model of teacher performance. This deficit model seeks to identify shortcomings and demands compliance based on a narrow perspective of teaching and learning.”

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 23.15.02“One type of activity for every child is prioritised, usually performing, in the context of a particular musical tradition, often a tradition in which we feel most comfortable. The problem with this reductionist approach is that we are in danger of forgetting what children can bring to their own music education. We also restrict children’s musical thinking so that they only make music in particular ways. Opening up the curriculum and creating the potential for musical thinking that includes more than just procedural knowledge or knowledge of how to play has certainly created some of the most rewarding moments in my teaching career. There is something particularly magical when you can create the potential for learning rather than just tell pupils what to do. This happens most powerfully when pupils are provided with opportunities to compose:

“Composing is part of the ‘real stuff’ in music”
(Mills, 2005: 45).

“I want to encourage pupils to think in other ways, particularly by analysing and evaluating what they hear and then make choices and bring ideas together by being creative. Performing then becomes part of a broader composing process where pupils are engaging with what Benjamin Bloom (1956) would identify as the higher levels of the cognitive domain.”

To read the full article please visit


Bloom, B. S. (1956) Taxonomy of educational Objectives: Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain, New York: David McKay.

Mills, J. (2005) Music in the School, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Evaluating Holiday Kitchen: Learning food and play for families who need it most in the West Midlands

Written by Dr Jane O’Connor, Senior Researcher in Education

A huge issue for many disadvantaged families in the West Midlands, and indeed nationally, is what to do with their children during the long summer holidays. The lack of routine and structure of school and the pressure of keeping their children fed and entertained all day can lead to extra stress on families already under financial and emotional strain. Additionally research has shown that children from disadvantaged families often demonstrate what has been termed ‘summer slide’ whereby their academic achievement levels dip after the holidays if they have had no opportunity to be involved with educational activities in their time away from school.

For these reasons, and in order to complement government investments to meet Child Poverty commitments laid out in the 2010 Child Poverty Act, several charities in the West Midlands got together last summer to run Holiday Kitchens – a structured programme of meals and activities for children and families who need it most during the summer holidays. The Holiday Kitchen programme ran in eleven children’s and community centres with almost 300 participants, supported by a diverse range of community, commissioner, staff, sponsor and volunteer stakeholders.

AA023251The research team at Birmingham City University was asked to evaluate the project in relation to its effectiveness in achieving its three core objectives of: improved social inclusion and aspiration; improved family nutrition and wellbeing and reduced financial and emotional strain. The programme ran for two to four weeks at each centre and provided breakfast and lunch for families as well as a range of educational and fun activities around nutrition, well-being and financial planning including ‘make & taste’, ‘field to fork’ and day trips to local places of interest. Our evaluation showed overwhelmingly positive responses from parents and children and clear evidence that Holiday Kitchen was effective in meeting the core project objectives. The children found the activities fun and enjoyed learning where their food comes from and how to cook simple dishes. One child said:

‘I have found most things about Holiday Kitchen very useful because it has helped me by eating healthy food and not always eating junk food all the time.’

Many mums commented on the way that Holiday Kitchen relieved emotional stress and strain and appreciated sitting and eating together, socialising with other families and just having the opportunity to have fun with their children.

Overall the success of Holiday Kitchen came down to meeting a clear community need in an accessible and fun way. It is hoped that the project is going to be rolled out nationally next summer and that BCU will be on board again to continue evaluating the effectiveness of this simple yet innovative programme.

The full project report is available here if you would like to read more about it:

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 23.24.24

BCU Education Conference – Call for Posters

Here at CSPACE, because we are lovely people, we have put together some helpful info about designing research posters and how to submit it to our Education Conference on the 13th July.

You have until Friday 12th June to register interest to Kirsty Devaney ( and until 3rd July to email your post to us to be printed ready in time for the conference.

We look forward to your submissions!

Poster Design Tips

FQAs Poster Presentations

Enhancing student engagement through online learning communities; publication project: call for contributions

Following the learning and teaching conference held at Cardiff Metropolitan University in April 2015, which looked at the issue of enhancing student engagement through online learning communities, the organisers have begun plans to publish a selection of the papers presented on the day, complemented by relevant and high-quality additional contributions.

The focus of the proposed publication is the ideas and themes addressed by Dr Alex Ryan and Professor Daniella Tilbury in their 2013, HEA publication, ‘Flexible Pedagogies: New Pedagogical Ideas’.  We are particularly interested in exploring the six pedagogical ideas proposed in their work, including, for example, learner empowerment and emancipatory social learning.  We envisage that the book will contain examples of good practice which highlight some or all (or aspects of) these ideas.

The purpose of this email is to invite proposals for potential contributions.  At the moment, we anticipate each essay being no more than 7,000 words (though that is subject to change).  If you are interested in submitting a proposal for consideration, please provide a précis of your essay, explaining in particular how it is linked to Dr Ryan and Professor Tilbury’s proposed pedagogical ideas, of no more than 250 words by 28 June.