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Measuring success

A few of the students in my private teaching practice have been assessed as autistic.  One in particular is quite extreme on the spectrum; she is a delightful teenager and I love teaching her.

She has limited speech (three or four words at a time) and, shall we say, developing social skills.  But, she is a gifted keyboard player, very musical and knows what she is after when playing.  I often accompany her on Cajun or keyboard – she will direct me as to when to play and when to stop.  She freely transposes songs she knows (as well as her own compositions) through a variety of keys, she has successfully read and played several pieces for two hands from notation (Lavender Blue, The Wheels on the Bus, Jingle Bells and Away in a Manger – all of them during the last 6 weeks), she also sings in tune.

The last time she was assessed at school in music (6 months ago), she was given 1C, which is the level a Year 1 student in primary school  is expected to achieve through class teaching in music.  I have no quarrel with the music teachers at her school.  But I do wander how it is possible that a student who can play several simple, two handed tunes is assessed as being at the level of a 5 year old who has had no instrumental tuition.

In many secondary schools, students of her ability are encouraged to take GCSE Music.  I am not saying this would be appropriate – as her keyboard teacher I’m not in the best position to  argue either way.  But, as a music educationalist, I don’t mind asking:  how is it possible that a student doing so well in individual lessons can be ‘written down’ to this degree by her school?  How do immovable National Curriculum levels help an increasingly diverse group of students realise their full potential through school years?  How does it help to ‘tie the hands’ of teachers so completely in assessment?  And, is this current approach of student assessment, really the best we can do?

Tim Farnhill lives and breathes music and loves to engage and educate aspiring musician to grow. He provides professional music services from private tuition (flute lessons, piano lessons, keyboard lessons) through to conducting, composing and arranging for choirs and orchestras. To find out more about Tim and the breadth of services he can provide, please visit