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Durham University News


Enthusiasm for high school music

(11 November 2016)

Making a positive primary to secondary transition in Music HD

Pupils’ enthusiasm for school music lessons drops significantly during the first year of secondary school, according to new research.

The study shows that most pupils enjoyed music during primary school and looked forward to music at secondary school but their enthusiasm for the subject had faded by the end of Year 7.

Key elements in making lessons enjoyable for the children included practical work, having a choice about the content, a sense of progress, and crucially a good quality teacher.

Teachers’ role is crucial

The role of the teacher was considered to be the key factor in pupils’ experience of music lessons. The importance of the music teacher in supporting pupils’ active musical involvement, giving clear guidance and an element of choice to the pupils is clear from the findings.

Pupils talked about their appreciation of their ‘great, proper teachers’ and teachers helping ’if you get stuck’, as opposed to those pupils who felt they were ‘sent off with a piece of paper and have to do the rhythms but we don’t really get it explained’.

Lead researcher, Dr Dimitra Kokotsaki from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) and the School of Education at Durham University, said: “Good quality music education for children can have real benefits for their musical, emotional, intellectual and social development so this transition from primary to secondary school music tuition should be a positive one.

“The findings show that if pupils’ voices and opinions can be considered in music lessons, it could result in much better engagement and enthusiasm for the subject.”

Enthusiasm and expectations

At the end of primary school, pupils looked forward to the transfer with increased expectations about what secondary school music would offer. Many of them were impressed by the bigger spaces, the range of musical instruments on offer as well as the expertise of their new teachers.

However, the study found that, regardless of the quality and breadth of their musical life in primary schools, pupils’ enthusiasm seemed to wane by the time they got to the end of Year 7.

Practical involvement

The interviews and questionnaires revealed certain factors which can lead to greater pupil enjoyment and satisfaction.

Pupils were eager to be actively involved in practical work in the classroom, as opposed to ‘sitting and writing’. Practical work could be singing, composing, performing, playing an instrument or making music in groups.

They also wanted to have some say about the content and the nature of the lessons, and to feel they were making progress.

Dr Kokotsaki added: “Schools work really hard to make the transition from primary to secondary school as smooth as possible for children but there still seem to be some gaps.

“Giving pupils more opportunities for input and choice can help to enhance their feelings of autonomy, self-esteem and motivation. Combining this with inclusion of certain key elements in lessons could help to sustain their interest in music tuition.”

The small-scale research, published in the British Journal for Music Education, involved 97 semi-structured focus group interviews and questionnaires completed by around 500 pupils in schools in the North East of England.

It is part of a larger project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, aimed at sharing ideas about how the primary-secondary transition in music can be improved and supporting the professional development of teachers through the sharing of expertise.

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