Category Archives: Re-thinking Practitioner Education and Professional Practice

Pupil Premium, Academisation and Governance

Written by Dr. Rob Smith, Reader in Education, @R0b5m1th

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Rob spoke on Radio WM during Adrian Goldberg’s show on the 30th March 2016 8am about pupil premium in the light of recent Perry Beeches. BBC WM

The pupil premium policy provides an example of tensions that are at the heart of English education policy at the moment. To start with there are the market structures of competition between different schools. With this marketisation comes a centralised model of governance through data (see for example, Ozga 20
). Schools are required to produce data so that their “pData1erformance” in relation to other schools can be compared. As we know, the consequences of this emphasis on performance data include a narrowing of the curriculum consequent on teaching to the test and the gaming of data. The problem with marketisation is that we may expect schools to be run public-mindedly, in the spirit of meeting all students’ needs, with a public service ethic, but the landscape in which they operate forces them to focus their efforts on being a viable financial institution with a staff drilled in the production of favourable performance data.

The academisation of all schools by 2020 is a further consolidation of the same policy of marketisation. The principle underlying this is that competition “is the rising tide that lifts all boats” (Willetts) – in other words the unfounded notion that competition is a like a force of nature that raises standards in every institution. In my view, this is a wildly one-sided view of the impact of marketisation. But it is important to note that academisation facilitates a more direct funding relationship between schools and central government.

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Within this marketised policyscape, the pupil premium policy is a redistributive policy that acknowledges the link between household income and educational attainment (see Lupton and Thomson 2015, here). In other words, the pupil premium policy is designed to address social justice in education. Pupil Premium is an amount of money (around £1000 per student p.a. in secondary) that is paid to schools based on census data they gather about the househoMeasuring1ld income of individual students’ families. The implication is clear: schools with additional financial resources are in a better position to meet the needs of those students and in so doing to address the inequality in attainment that currently seems to exist.

Now here’s the tension:

What happens when a policy that seeks to tackle social injustice is nested within an overall cultural environment of institutional self-interest?

In the last few weeks, we may have been provided with some answers in the Perry Beeches saga.

Perry Beeches was a shining example of the success of Free School and academisation policies. The principle underlying these policies are that academy chains provide a better template for raising student attainment and that local authority governance of schools needs to end. The performance of Perry Beeches 1 and 2 appeared to provide evidence for this claim. It was only with the poor inspection result of Perry Beeches 3 last summer that the success story started to unravel. This was followed in October 2015, by allegations to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) that Perry Beeches the Academy (Perry Beeches 1) “had recorded pupils on the annual census entitled to receive FSM where no entitlement existed” (EFA 2016, 3). This resulted in an investigation and a report.

I think the report speaks for itself. But I think it should also be read in conjunction with the Ofsted report for Perry Beeches 2 that took place in April 2014. In this report the school was deemed outstanding for leadership and management. Pupil premium was mentioned specifically:

“Over half the students are eligible for the pupil premium, which is well above average. This is additional funding for students known to be eligible for free school meals, those in local authority care and any with a parent in the armed services.”

Furthermore, governance was praised in this area:

Governors ensure pupil premium funding is used effectively to provide additional teaching and support staff, for intervention and enrichment support for the students for whom the funding is received.

Since then, the Chief Executive of the Perry Beeches Academy has resigned from his post but intends to continue as a head teacher. The academy chain is to be taken over by another academy chain. The failings of OFSTED to do anything other than affirm the school as a shining example and early adopter of the government’s academisation policy needs to receive greater attention.Measuring2

As for Pupil Premium, the episode provides yet another example of the worrying effects of the colonisation of educational cultures by a market mentality that is championed by the current government. While bowing to the forces of colonisation may secure funds for schools in the short term, this can lead to a distortion of the truth of the kind we are familiar with in commercial culture.

That can not provide a sound foundation on which to construct a world class education system.

Meet the CSPACE Team – Matt O’Leary

Name: Matt O’Leary

Matt O'Leary - Office Photo - Feb 2016Role at BCU: Reader in Education

Research Interests:

  • Classroom observation
  • Teacher assessment
  • Teacher identity and professionalism
  • Teacher improvement
  • Teacher as researcher
  • Professional learning and development for teachers
  • Vocational pedagogy

Research you are currently working on: The impact of the government’s austerity agenda on further education; the politics and pedagogy of peer review in Higher Education; observing teaching in Higher Education


Research methodologies you are using: In terms of my epistemological and methodological positioning, I am a mixed-methods researcher with understanding and experience of both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection and analysis. The research I am currently working on is predominantly of a qualitative nature (i.e. interviews, focus groups and document analysis)

Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: I am committed to encouraging a collaborative, participatory approach to research, wherever possible and appropriate, as I am mindful of the need to develop researc1h capacity amongst staff in education departments that have traditionally been on the margins of university research activity. One of the priorities for me in developing a research culture in education is the creation of a vibrant and collaborative environment in which staff are encouraged to engage in thinking, discussing and writing about their practice. I have witnessed directly the way in which working collaboratively with and mentoring others can help to develop research and writing skills, along with building the confidence of staff to produce publications. Talking to members of staff on a one-to-one basis to understand their interests, needs and what kind of support is best suited to developing their research and writing capacity, is crucial starting point in creating such a culture.

For me one of the greatest challenges in education research at the moment has to be the issue of IMPACT of educational research. Putting to one side the issue of party politics and the selectivity of successive governments to listen to or ignore the findings of educational research, the research community is still faced with the challenge of making findings more accessible to wider communities.

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Most influential research you have read/seen: I’ve always found Stephen Ball’s work incredibly interesting and a big influence on my own work.

Advice for new researchers: Work hard continuously! There are no short cuts to becoming a successful researcher. Intelligence will only get you so far. It’s about putting in the hours and effort on a continuous basis. It’s also worth pointing out that you’re likely to come up against lots of obstacles and challenges as part of any research project, but don’t let this worry you as it’s a natural part of (research) life and the way in which you respond to them is an important part of your development as a successful researcher.

Mini fact about you: Cycling and cooking are my two favourite pastimes when I’m not working or spending time with my family.

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Personal reflections on the 2016 London Mayor’s summit on music education: wants and needs

Written by: Martin Fautley, Professor of Education, Birmingham City University

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On Tuesday 22/3/16 I attended the London Mayor’s summit on music education, a prestigious event held in the equally prestigious surroundings of City Hall, on the banks of the Thames, overlooking Tower Bridge. Nice! It was, however, a curious event in many ways in my opinion, and I shall try to explain why here.

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My role was to be on a panel concerning CPD and teacher development. I, and some of the BCU music education team, have been working on evaluating the Teach Through Music programme in London (read the reports here), and I was happy to talk about it, as I feel it has been a good thing, and made a differencScreen shot 2016-04-02 at 14.25.37e. But more on that later…

The day began with an address by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, which can read here . This opener set the tone for some of the overall oddness of the day. NG didn’t mention the white paper ‘Educational excellence everywhere’, which had come out the previous week, at all. What he did talk about was a music education which seemed to me to be almost entirely to be about learning to play an instrument, and/or singing. Screen shot 2016-04-02 at 14.17.31

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OK, yes, he did mention the National Curriculum, but seemed to think it was about performing and listening only, composing never got a mention. But then neither did universal academisation, which has the potential to make the NC nugatory and otiose, so maybe the omission of composing is how those at DfE towers want to think of music education? Some nice children singing madrigals, and playing some Purcell and Bach will be very pleasant, won’t it? I don’t move in the rarefied atmosphere of the upper political echelons, so don’t know if it is normal for a politician to do his stuff then go (‘eats, shoots, and leaves’!), but there was no opportunity to ask questions at all.

One primary school teacher heckled from the floor “no forced academisation!” but that was as interactive as it got.

Read the teacher’s own reflections on the day here 

Then there were a series of panels, presenting on various aspects of music education. Then a rather nice buffet lunch, with a chance to talk to people. Networking, and getting a feel for the zeitgeist, is an important part of such days, I always think.Mayor Music 8

Screen shot 2016-04-02 at 14.16.20Following this, in the afternoon sessions, something began to bother me quite a bit, this was a mounting feeling that, as the late, great, Yogi Berra said, “It’s like deja-vu, all over again!”. Music Excellence London (MEL) had just spent a shedload of money on music education in the capital (that’s another issue, I know, especially as I’m writing this in Birmingham), and yet I got the feeling that people in the audience who maybe weren’t teachers didn’t know about this, hadn’t read the work on MEL and evaluation that Trinity Laban, Music Mark, Sound Connections, Alison Daubney and I had done, and didn’t seem to have engaged with what a longitudinal CPD programme might entail. There seemed to be a lot of “well, we can offer a splendid Chinese nose-flute CPD session for teachers”, rather than a joined-up, clearly articulated, research-informed programme, which MEL had entailed.

Now I know I am getting old, but parading one’s ignorance of history used to be something that was looked down on, now it seems to be something that is celebrated. If we had worked like that in ancient times, every few years or so someone would say “look, I’ve invented the wheel”. It struck me that a number of people there from the floor, as it were, were either thinking out loud in public, or making observations that betrayed that either they or their organisation had something to sell, or that they had little conception of what life is really like for a busy classroom music teacher. Alongside this, there seemed to be little knowledge or conceptualisation of what has gone before. When one of the contributors mentioned he had been taught by Brian Dennis, I wondered how many people had read his ‘Experimental Music in Schools’ book of 1970? Or, sadly, I also wondered how many have read, or even know about, the important music education book published the same year by Paynter and Aston, ‘Sound and Silence’? It struck me then that what might be termed the ‘institutional memory’ of music education is in real danger. I said in my mini-talk “we have to both know stuff, and know how to teach stuff”.

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This, for me, is important. And “knowing stuff” includes stuff that we have done before. Whilst we need – and want – new entrants to music education, we also need – and want – them to know something of what has been done in the past. So, the thought that was bothering me became crystallised – why do we seem to be still asking the same questions, ignoring the all the work, research, and words that many people have written (especially my words, I put a lot of effort into them!), and trying to start again?

I had been hoping that the summit would be a high point, a pinnacle, literally, a summit, to look back upon the achievements of MEL, which are, from my perspective as one of the evaluators, very highly significant indeed. Instead it felt to me like we were down at base camp bickering about whether we wanted Kendall Mint Cake or Lucozade, whereas in my view we want – and need – both!

It also reminded me that in teacher education we used to run sessions on philosophy, history, sociology, and psychology of education, but they have long gone. And now as government thinking seems to be that learning to be a teacher involves basically “sitting with Nellie” (which, incidentally, is describeMayor Music 3d nicely and pejoratively by Oxford reference here, there will be little chance of inducting people into the rich community of practice of music education; which is a shame, as both Gove and Gibb have cited Matthew Arnold’s notion of “the best which has been thought and said”, and there is a lot in music education which falls into this description. But then Gove dismissed me and my ilk as “the Blob”, so maybe this is just my blobby thinking!

Anyway, in conclusion, this isn’t meant to be a criticism of the organisation, or of the arrangements, which were all fine, but just the feeling of “here we go again”. I think this is a worry, not just for music education, but for education generally. There is a lot that has been “thought and said”, and it ill behoves us as a sector to ignore, downplay, or negate this. After all, as Burke said “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”!

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Meet the CSPACE Team – Alex Wade

Name: Dr. Alex Wade

alex W Role at BCU: Researcher

Research Interests:

  • Technology and Education
  • Young People
  • Digital Media and Relationships
  • History of Technology

Research you are currently working on:

  • Sexting and young people
  • Use of Simulations in Speech and Language Therapy
  • Fundamentals of General Practice Nursing Evaluation
  • Lunch and Brunch Clubs Evaluation
  • British Videogames of the 1980s

Research methodologies you are using: Genealogy; habitus; simulations and simulacra; dromology; cultural histories.

Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: It continues to amaze me how many areas have so little research undertaken in them. If you can find an emergent, or under-researched area, you can potentially – if you so wish – have a whole life dedicated to research in a topic where it is impossible to exhaust the possibilities. The aphorism, ‘we spend all of our life learning and die stupid’ is never truer than when applied to research – and to education!

Most influential research you have read/seen: Jean Baudrillard’s The Transparency of Evil. In 1993 it appeared to be prescient, now it is prophetic.

Advice for new researchers: Your degree by research is a driving licence that allows you to undertake the real learning that takes place after you pass. You will never have the opportunity to do such an expansive and broad piece of work again (even if you write a book!). So, whether PhD or professional doctorate, it is a reference work and a tool, but most importantly a position that you will return to again and again and is the basis for everything that follows.

Mini fact about you: I can read upside down as proficiently as I can the ‘right way up’, which I understand is one of the pre-requisites for joining MI6. (I may actually be a triple agent . . . . )


Meet the CSPACE Team – Carolyn Blackburn

Name: Dr. Carolyn Blackburn

carolynRole at BCU: Research Fellow, Early Childhood Studies. My role involves research, undergraduate teaching and post-graduate research supervision.

Research Interests: I am interested in the influences on children’s learning and development from a bio-psycho-social perspective. In particular I am interested in relationships between caregivers (both in the home and out of home contexts such as early years settings) and children. I am also interested in relationships between professionals and families and the ways in which professionals work together. My PhD was concerned with early intervention and professional response to young children’s speech, language and communication delays and difficulties. Much of my research has focused on vulnerable learners and families.

Research you are currently working on:

  • Young children’s musical experiences in home and out of home settings
  • Relationship-based early intervention services for children with complex needs

Research methodologies you are using: I favour mixed-methods as it feel it offers the best of both worlds in the paradigm wars. However, I’ve also used action research successfully in a number of research projects and this has the potential to be really exciting. I am committed to the notion of inquiry-based practice and see educators as enthusiastic researchers who are always seeking the best pedagogical approaches to supporting and engaging children. Most of my research has been broadly interpretive.


Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: As we learn more and more about the world we live in with increased globalisation, the potential for future educational research projects about diversity and inclusion is significant. The agenda that focuses on children’s rights opens the door for new ways to think about children and families that moves beyond within child characteristics and challenges us to think about the environments and contexts that we offer to support them.

Advice for new researchers: Always follow your passion, it’s the key to insightful and successful research projects, treat your participants with respect and integrity and report your research objectively (as far as possible) with truth and insight.

Mini fact about you: I can’t read maps (at all), I would love to be able to play the drums (but have poor co-ordination and am tone deaf) and I am determined never to grow up.


Current Developments and Looking to the Future

Sam CWritten by By Sam Clements, Birmingham City University HELS PhD Student and Senior Lecturer at London South Bank University. (also read My experiments with Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG) Technique for more info)

This academic year (my first year as a ‘proper’ PhD student!) I have been carrying out my main data collection (using the ‘evolved method’ developed through the control group pilot study) with a group of nested case study participants. Adopting a nested approach to my selection of six case study participants by selecting individual participants who are at different stages in their training and experience will provide the opportunity for a more comprehensive analysis of the data than if they were all at the same stage.

The virtual worlds activity using CC3 gaming software and associated adapted repertory grids are now completed for all participants and my electronic ‘perception survey’ for the wider teaching community is underway. The purpose of this survey is to infer from my nested case study participants to a larger population. Hammersley (1992) argues that such comparisons with a larger population may allow us to establish some of the representativeness of our single cases. In addition, non-participatory observations of classroom music teaching will be carried out with the nested case study participants. The focus of each observed lesson will be Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP) agreed in advance by the participant and myself, the observer. Observation notes will only describe evidence of teaching and children’s learning in relation to the identified MTP. All findings and constructive feedback will be verbally shared with the participant at the time, and subsequently discussed in the form of ongoing blog via a participant Wiki. Observation notes will be coded and analysed using grounded theory.

4. Example of a control group participant's virtual world

The schedule for observations will be event driven as I will be bound by the school timetable and the frequency of opportunities to teach music will vary by participant. In addition I am expecting my first baby at the start of May so we shall see how I manage my research schedule with or (hopefully) without too much interruption!

Addressing my Final Research Aim

The final part of my research will utilise the idea of teaching through learning, which means that the lens will be on the participant as a learner as opposed to the university or CPD tutor as a teacher of the learner. This variation on the ‘usual’ lens falls within Folkestad’s summary (1998) of a general relocation of focus from teaching to learning. The focus on the learner necessitates a revision of teaching methods, from ‘How to Teach’ (with the ‘results’ of teaching witnessed from the teacher’s point of view), to ‘How to Learn’, and ‘What to Learn’, so for example in this study how different Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP) are perceived, experienced and expressed in activities by the learner (nested case study participant).

Participants’ planned individualised learning will be informed by the grounded theory, co constructed by the researcher and participant, and will be supported by the participant Wiki.

My experiments with Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG) Technique

Written by Sam Clements, Birmingham City University HELS PhD Student and Senior Lecturer at London South Bank University. (15th February, 2016)Sam C

My research interests are music education, the performing arts, creativity, creative partnerships and teacher identity. The working title of my PhD thesis is ‘Defining the X Factors: Enablers and Inhibitors of effective music teaching’.

What is a Repertory Grid?

The type of repertory grid used in my study is an adapted one, where the participant identifies their own elements and is then supplied with a limited choice of suggested constructs from which to select. In a ‘true’ repertory grid the participant would elicit both their own elements and their own constructs. The constructs presented to the control group for their selection were examples of Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP). Participants were required to choose only constructs (MTP) with which they have experience.


Elicitation of the Elements

The elements for each participant were the codes which were generated through their map making activity. Poles of the elements were elicited by the participant to represent the element and its opposite, or contrast (where more appropriate). Young et al (2005) explain that it is sometimes better to ask participants to generate a contrast rather than simply use a literal opposite because it provides more information about how they perceive it in regards to the stimulus.

Selection of Constructs

The MTP with which participants were presented for selection were divided into two categories, initially entitled:

  1. Professional skills level – related to the participant’s musical abilities
  2. Pedagogical skills level – related to the participant’s teaching abilities

Critical Reflection

The questions; ‘What is ‘ability’?’, and ‘Aren’t skills just knowledge in action?’ have long been the subjects of debate amongst educationists. Schulman (1986) and his colleagues in the ‘Knowledge Growth in Teaching Project’ built a model of pedagogical reasoning and action, and a professional knowledge base for teaching that clearly places the emphasis on the intellectual basis for teaching and on the transformation of subject matter knowledge by teachers. They proposed a model of the components of the professional knowledge base for teaching that includes three major categories of content knowledge: subject matter content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and curricular knowledge. A key component of the knowledge base for teaching that gives it its special identity according to Shulman and his colleagues, is pedagogical content knowledge, and this component laid the groundwork for the evolving categories of constructs in this current study.


Within pedagogical content knowledge Shulman includes ‘demonstrations, examples, illustrations, explanations, analogies’, and ‘the most useful forms of representation of these ideas’. In my current study, ‘demonstrations, examples, illustrations’ could relate to constructs around the Musical and the Professional. ‘Illustrations, explanations, analogies and representations’ could relate to constructs around the Pedagogical. What is being measured through my repertory grids is how participants’ aptitude for these constructs is related to their elements.

I consequently revised the construct categories to become:

  • Musical and Professional Aptitudes
  • Pedagogical Aptitudes

The Musical and Professional Aptitudes were selected and then adapted (for appropriate relevance to themselves) by each participant. The source for these constructs was a model of outcomes of music education introduced by David Hargreaves (2007). The Pedagogical Aptitudes were selected by each participant from requirements listed within the programmes of study of the 2013 National Curriculum for Music for Key Stages 1 and 2.


Each participant completed their repertory grid, rating their elements (X Factors) against their constructs (Music Teaching Phenomena). The elements were rated from 1 to 9 where 1 represents concordance with the element and 9 represents concordance with its contrast.

Critical Reflection

I observed that the success of the repertory grid activity was dependent to a degree on the rapport developed between myself as the researcher, and the participant. The importance of a careful management of my own subjectivity became apparent, particularly following the repertory grid activity undertaken with participant 1. Peshkin (1988) claims that to identify one’s own subjectivity the researcher must undertake self-monitoring to note and address areas of concern. Peshkin’s own self-monitoring involved identifying six discretely characterized ‘I’s’ which were aspects of the whole that constitutes him (the researcher) in his particular research context. I therefore began to consider the ‘Situational I’s’ present in the context of this pilot of method.


Following the completion of the repertory grid with the first control group participant, the following principles were applied to the subsequent repertory grid activities with the remainder of the control group: In relation to the ‘Justice-seeking I’ any musical and life events in the participants’ pasts which have had a positive or negative impact upon them cannot be met with judgement (either of the participant or any other individuals involved). The aim of these exercises is not to ‘fix’ the past. In relation to the ‘Non-human research I’, self-monitoring is necessary to ensure that whilst a good rapport is established whilst the appropriate boundaries are observed. The use of ‘leading questions’, or intentionally driving the activity towards the pursuit of rich data must be avoided.


My rationale for the planned method centred on the idea of utilising research exercises which were situated within the participant’s life, rather than the participant being situated within the research project, in order to create a non-agenda-biased context where rich data was elicited on the participant’s terms. Initially that was a failed rationale, as the first version of the mapping exercise failed to elicit any rich data at all. Critical reflection revealed a fundamental flaw in approach; there were barriers to successful execution in terms of the practical aspects of making the map (for example drawing, space awareness, ’thinking in layers’) and a lack of opportunity for participants to reflect, revise and return to their maps in an on-going way. The evolution of this activity to experiment with fantasy gaming software to create ‘virtual worlds’ not only intrigued and engaged the participants and researcher with the possibilities, but ultimately removed the barriers obstructing their success with the task.

The second round of reflection and evolution emphasised to me the importance of using discriminate terminology related to method. Shulman’s (1986) ‘pedagogical content knowledge’ offered a lens through which I could closely analyse ‘abilities’, ‘skills’ and ‘knowledge’ and re-interpret these for greater meaning in my study.

Finally I reflected upon the importance of monitoring my ‘researcher subjectivity’ in the early stages of Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG) interviews. With help from Peshkin (1988), I identified my own ‘Situational I’s’ resonating with this method monitored my own subjectivity during ARG interviews with subsequent participants.

Undertaking the pilot study enabled me to test my method through a three stage process; of implementation, critical reflection, and evolution. The experience provided significant ‘prior preparation to entering the field’ (Sampson, 2004) and the outcome is an ‘evolved method’ which has grown to become a more effective, reliable and valid version of itself.

Thanks for reading! I hope it’s been interesting (if a little long..) I’ll send an update hopefully with some findings, post baby!


Using Gaming Software for Critical Incident Charting with Music Teacher Trainees

Written by Sam Clements, Birmingham City University HELS PhD Student and Senior Lecturer at London South Bank UniversitySam C(15th January, 2016)

Research Background: The National Plan for Music, and the trial ITT modules

In September 2010, Darren Henley, Managing Director of Classic FM, was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education of the coalition government, Michael Gove, to undertake a review of Music Education in England. The Henley Review lays down recommendations for minimum expectations of what any child going through the system should receive in terms of an education in music.

The purpose of developing a ‘National Plan for Music’ was introduced by National planHenley as the means to ‘tackle the patchiness’ in the quantity and quality of music education available across the country. My interest lies with the implications for the ‘core workforce’; that is the primary school teachers, and primary teacher trainees in the classroom. The part of the plan to ‘boost new teachers’ confidence and skill in teaching music’ included the trialling of new primary music Initial Teacher Training (ITT) modules during the Summer break of 2012 following the completion of trainees’ one-year Post Graduate training (PGCE) courses, and before they took up their first posts as newly qualified teachers. These trial modules were delivered by selected ITT providers who successfully bid for funding from the Teaching Agency (now the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL)) to devise, implement and evaluate their modules.

2. Me - Teaching in school

21 institutions were awarded various amounts of funding each; of which London South Bank University was one. My paper presented at the Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Aston Conference of May, 2013, entitled, ‘How can we improve training in music within primary ITT programmes to best meet and develop the competence and confidence of teacher trainees?’ (Clements, 2013) evaluates the short and medium term impact of the music module we carried out at London South Bank University with PGCE students in July 2012, who were then tracked as newly qualified teachers over their first term in school, to January 2013. The paper discusses the implications for the development of training programmes arising from our module, which in turn led to the preparation and validation in March 2013 of a new optional Performing Arts Education module (worth 30 Masters level credits) within our PGCE course.

Incidental Themes arising from the trial modules

My current research investigates themes from the trial music module. What emerged from this module very clearly was the apparent influence of individual musical or other background factors (for the purposes of this study I have called them the X Factors (XF)) on Student Teachers’ ability to engage with and teach different aspects of classroom music effectively. For the purposes of this study I have used the term Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP) to mean different aspects of primary classroom music teaching. It was not possible to investigate these emerging themes during the music module due to the pre-set aims and restrictions of that study, thus leaving me with ‘incidental questions’, which have inspired this current piece of PhD research.

During the music module a number of student teachers appeared to challenge common stereotypes; here are some examples: Those with the XF: High level of formal musical training, were not always ‘the best’ at teaching all aspects of music; issues arose around the following MTP: Ability to improvise with children and The use of freer (and less musically accurate) forms of notation such as picture scores. Student teachers with the XF: No formal training but with a family or cultural musical background, were often found to be the most musically creative in a classroom context (MTP); however psychological barriers arose around issues of musical self efficacy (MTP) and use of tools such as staff notation (MTP).


The aims of my research therefore are to identify and analyse the underlying ‘X Factors (XF)’ influencing aptitude for Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP), to catch the interplay between them, and to devise an effective framework for developing individualised training strategies for teachers at different stages in their experience.

Pilot of Method

I carried out a pilot of my method using a control group to test the planned method for collecting data related to the following research objectives:

  1. To identify and define the internal musical and non musical factors (X Factors (XF)) influencing aptitude for different aspects of music teaching (Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP));
  2. To explore and analyse the extent to which XF and MTP function as interdependent variables.

The method involved two exercises, both related to personal construct theory:

  1. Map making (critical incident charting) exercise
  2. Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG) technique exercise

The control group consisted of four participants all of whom were trainee teachers at the time.

3. Some of my control group - my PGCE students

The two exercises worked in conjunction as tools to uncover what was present, in terms of internal X Factors, and look at them closely – whatever they might turn out to be – rather than having a pre-determined agenda such as those agendas which permeate traditional interviews or questionnaires. Charmaz (2006) describes methods which are too agenda biased as being incapable of generating ‘rich data’. With this method, there are no questions. The participant sets the agenda right from the start, deciding what topics are, or are not, important to be represented and/or discussed.

Participants code their own data, in a way that is meaningful to them.

They elicit their own elements from those codes, generating poles for those elements and their contrasts. This enables the research activities to be situated within the participant’s life, rather than the participant being situated within the research project.

In this method the outcomes of exercise 1 inform exercise 2. Therefore exercise 1 must be successfully completed before exercise 2 can take place.

The method was a little experimental and a pilot was most definitely necessary, as the outcomes proved!

Exercise 1: Map Making (critical incident charting)

The control group was introduced to the idea of mapping an individual’s ‘musical journey’ from birth to date using their own words and pictures/diagrams around a journey line, by showing them an example map. Following this,

participants were invited to make their own maps, representing their own journey in any way they chose, from a straight and smooth pathway to a traumatic path with twists and turns.

The critical incidents shown in their map could include for example, musical experiences in their lives as children, adult music makers and teachers of music. Participants were encouraged to include core life events and personality/identity development within the map. Large poster paper and coloured pens were made available for the participants, who completed this exercise independently. All four participants completed the exercise at the same time, in the same place (a university classroom). It was intended that the X Factors which the map exercise uncovers for each participant would subsequently be analysed to generate codes which would become the unique, personalised elements for the participant’s Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG). These elements would then be rated by that participant against their personally selected constructs (Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP)) in order to uncover connections between them.

Critical Reflection

The control group found the map making exercise difficult – not to comprehend, but to execute. Some participants claimed to be inhibited by their artistic ability (their perceived lack of it) and found managing the space on the poster paper a challenge. They had ideas but struggled to convey these on paper, some started well but then reverted to ‘writing lists’. They felt their outcomes lacked depth, almost as though they were trying to represent in a 2D way 3D concepts, or layers of meaning. All the participants expressed a desire to ‘do the task well’ – two participants requested that they re-draft their journey maps after they had finished them. Two participants stated that they felt they had used too much writing on their map, that it strayed from the main points they wished to portray, and that they needed time and tools to re-focus their work.

The maps produced by the control group had not effectively uncovered X Factors for which any effective coding could be undertaken. The maps were descriptive rather than analytical and stated ‘what happened’ rather than telling the story behind ‘what happened’. It became clear that participants needed the opportunity to reflect, revise and return to their maps in an on-going way. There were barriers to successful execution in terms of the practical aspects of making the map (for example drawing, space awareness) and critical analysis or ’thinking in layers’.

Evolution of Method

The United States television series CSI: New York broadcast an episode entitled ‘Kill Screen’ (2014), CSI NYset within the world of competitive gaming. The main character in the episode creates a virtual world for his avatar (his virtual self), complete with physical and human geographical features which interconnect different aspects of his life. In the episode, the features of this virtual world were selected by the gamer; he selected ideas and icons which had meaning for him and would represent his world, whether that be in the realm of reality or the world of fantasy.

Inspired by this idea I began to investigate software designed to enable gamers to create their own virtual worlds. Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3), (2014), created by Pro Fantasy Softwarepro fant is a map making programme which enables users to create simple maps and worlds for campaigns and games. The software includes a wide choice of fantasy mapping symbols, styles and types so that users can set their ‘world parameters’ such as size and geographical features (terrain type, % of water to land), and introduce features to represent critical incidents, how they are situated within a journey map, and how they are interconnected.

4. Example of a control group participant's virtual world

The software was introduced individually to each participant of the control group. Through the medium of this software the mapping exercise evolved into something which could be executed with relative ease.

Participants were able to successfully import into their virtual world physical icons to represent their musical and life critical incidents, and plot a route to join the icons together to show connections.

They were able to review and revise their worlds in an on-going way over the course of the exercise.

Data Coding

Burnard (2012) makes much use of Bourdieu’s ‘Thinking Tools’ of field, habitus, capital and practice to understand the creative musical practices of the musicians participating in her project. She uses these thinking tools to structure her analysis of how these musicians think, act and create; to understand what their practices are grounded in; and on what capital rests the processes and principles of their practices. These same thinking tools were used as a conceptual framework to aid the participants and I to collaboratively extract and make sense of the X Factors present within their virtual worlds. The answers to the question; ‘How did/does this participant think about, act about, and create (this performance, this composition, this music lesson, this experience)?’ and the question; ‘On what capital rests the processes and principles of this particular practice?’ helped to generate the codes which were elicited from the dense virtual worlds data.

Once their virtual world had been created participants were asked to narrate their journey around it. The significant underlying musical and non-musical X Factors influencing their journeys were uncovered in detail as these narrations were transcribed. After the narration stage the X Factors which had been identified were discussed and the participants organised these into codes. Their codes became the elements (of the self)/X factors which were then used in their Adapted Repertory Grids (ARGs).

Thanks for reading! I think that’s more than enough for now – but I’ll write more, about the ARGS and their outcomes in due course!

Meet Sam Clements

Written by Sam Clements, Birmingham City University HELS PhD Student and Senior Lecturer at London South Bank University.

Sam C

My research interests are music education, the performing arts, creativity, creative partnerships and teacher identity. The working title of my PhD thesis is ‘Defining the X Factors: Enablers and Inhibitors of effective music teaching’.

My long route to full time PhD Study…

I made the decision to begin a PhD in September 2013 having worked for 13 years in education after qualifying as a teacher in the year 2000. My first two years as a PhD student were subsequently undertaken in a (very) part time capacity! I had a full time post as a Senior Lecturer in Education within the Department of Education at London South Bank LSBUUniversity (LSBU), where I was course director of two different undergraduate Education degree courses. In addition I was teaching and leading modules on the primary PGCE course (with all the school supervision that entails) which allowed me very little time left to carry out the reading and research required for my PhD studies. To compound things, having moved to Oxford for my husband’s work I had been travelling up to 6 hours each day into London to work and back since February 2014.

1. Me - Biog photo

Eventually, in the Summer of 2015, it became clear that things could not continue as they were, and I finally decided to give up my job in order to concentrate on my PhD full time from September 2015. A scary decision! I have retained a small portion of my teaching at LSBU, in particular the Masters level module in Performing Arts Education which is an optional part of the primary PGCE course. The subject area of this module is my main area of interest and having written and validated the module in March 2013, I was feeling far too possessive to give it up! However, I have not missed the managerial side of my former job for even one second.

It is a real shame that the culture and way of working within HE often makes it virtually impossible for full time academic staff to carry out any research.

A lecturer in education who does not actively research education makes no sense to me.

I spent two years as Primary Music Consultant for Hertfordshire Advisory Service before arriving at LSBU in September 2011. Prior to this I had accumulated ten years of experience in a wide range of primary education contexts, specialising in music and the performing arts, including teaching posts in the UK and Australia.

A Frame of Mind?

Written by Christopher Bolton, Senior Lecturer in Drama Education, Birmingham City University

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Teaching can often be a lonely job. Despite being in the company of a number of learners, colleagues and teachers, I often felt that what I was trying to achieve in my practice was at risk of being swallowed in the variety of school agendas, policies and processes. This risk of isolation has, arguably, been augmented with the recent election of a group of ‘educated’ politicians make decisions about the future of Britain’s education system. More testing for children; a greater focus on EBaCC subjects; a narrowing curriculum; and little monetary investment in real terms.

With this in mind my spirits were revived when Big Brum Theatre in Education Company, my colleagues at Birmingham City University and I launched our Masters in Teaching and Learning programme (MTL), with the hope of creating both an authentic space for teachers to develop their own reflective practice and planning, and a learning community for those people in which their practice, in collaboration with like-minded people, might be formally accredited. This Community of Practice is intended to link theory and practice explicitly and aims to connect drama teachers across the West Midlands.

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The structure of the MTL will see teachers responding to the artistic input from Big Brum, a world renowned theatre company. In order to develop their thinking further, teachers will then be encouraged to explore, create and deepen their understanding, where it matters, in the classroom with our children. In essence this collaborative relationship between Artists, Teachers and Children will be central for everyone’s learning as we all wrestle to understand what it is to be human, particularly at a time such as this.

There are three groups within our community of practice as can be seen in the diagram below:


Group 1 will commit to involvement in a core group, including completing MTL units for accreditation; Group 2 will commit to involvement in a core group, but without completing MTL units; whilst group 3 will attend occasional meetings and occasionally contribute (e.g. via online conversations.)

From this process of response, creation and reflection participants will create resources that can be used for the wider drama in education community. This might include lesson plans, schemes of work, reflective analytical documents or critical commentaries about the learning. What this will allow is that useful resources for teachers will be created by learners, teachers and artists.

During our first introductory session we discussed the fine balance between the drama form and content. What is it we could be teaching in drama? How might we do this? Implicit within our learning was the feeling that schools are increasingly focusing upon the performance of education and the data that this produces. In the light of Ofsted’s inspection policy,

‘organizations will concentrate their efforts on those things they are judged on’ (Muijs & Chapman, 2009:41),

which means that school leaders may prioritise Ofsted’s needs over the aims of the community, or indeed the children, that the school serves. How might we, as drama teachers, work within this framework?

Furthermore, the issue of preparing young people to work with Big Brum was also considered. Should we prepare young peoples’ ‘mindset’ or should we be helping them into a ‘frame of mind’, from which they can explore the rich content that Big Brum provide? Much of Big Brum’s methodology is open-ended and dialogic, which for some teachers operating in an ‘observation culture’ can be difficult to handle, particularly when this open-endedness cannot always be measured in terms of progress or demonstrated to a non-conscious observer (Giddens, 1991).

From the first meeting I learned that in my role as a teacher educator I might want to focus on how I enable teachers to consider the content of their intended learning just as much as the form that it takes. Linked to this is the notion of ‘frames of mind’; how do I prepare my trainees for learning, given the meta-cognitive way in which my sessions are run?

chris_bolton-130313213637113498Interested? We are always looking to increase our community of practice, should you want to know more then please contact me


Muijs, D., & Chapman, C., (2009). Accountability for Improvement: Rhetoric or Reality? In Radical Reforms, ed.

Giddens, A., (1991). Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity (35)