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Teacher Education and Music Education: an editorial view

The Music Teachers Association's second collective blogging project continues with responses from teachers reflecting on the editorial by Keith Swanwick and John Paynter – ‘Teacher Education and Music Education: an editorial view’ (1993)

About this series

Dr Steven Berryman, Curriculum Lead for the Music Teachers Association (MTA), has launched a collective blogging project working with the editors of the British Journal of Music Education (BJME), Martin Fautley and Ally Daubney.

Martin, Ally and Steven have curated a selection of articles from the Journal highlighting some of the key debates in Music Education in the classroom.

Teachers have an article to read each week, and can submit a response by the end of the week. Responses are gathered together to form one blog post shared on MUSIC:ED.

Teacher Education and Music Education: an editorial view

The Music Teachers Association’s second collective blogging project continues with responses from teachers reflecting on the editorial by Keith Swanwick and John Paynter – ‘Teacher Education and Music Education: an editorial view’ (1993).


The articles in this Issue of the BJME are all focussed on the education of music teachers, though from different parts of the world.

Betty Hanley, writing from Canada, is concerned especially with students’ involvement in their own learning and with the development of student competencies and the ability to be critical; while another Canadian colleague, Hugh Johnston, investigates the importance of feedback and peer-assessment in teacher education, with special reference to acquiring the skills of rehearsing and directing performance groups.


Emily Boxer

Swanwick and Paynter’s article has prompted me to reflect on my own training as a music teacher as well as my experiences working with trainees more recently.

I wholeheartedly agree with their premise that ‘at the heart of music education is the experience of music’ and that therefore ‘the priority for every music teacher is not merely to know a lot about music, but… to know a lot of music.’ The centrality of musicianship for music teachers reminds me of my gratitude for the training I had from the brilliant Emily Sayers at Canterbury University. She was unswerving in her commitment to develop us as musicians. We sang together, led each other, played new instruments, STOMP-ed and composed, all the while broadening our knowing ‘of a lot of music’. Emily embedded into us the importance of being a musician first. When I started teaching I knew that I could lead and teach more easily in my areas of strength but that I also had a responsibility to develop other aspects of my own musicianship. There were no shortcuts; if I wanted to teach my class samba, I had better learn and memorise all the parts, practice leading and experience live samba first.

While I have had the privilege of mentoring many brilliant trainee music teachers, there have also been those who have had significant gaps in their musical abilities and a lack of awareness about the importance of what was missing. It is difficult to develop an NQT who states that they can not accompany their class on any instrument or who does not have an awareness of their poor sense of pulse and sensitivity to an ensemble. As teachers and trainers of teachers, we need to shift our perspectives to acknowledge ourselves as musicians and then get on with developing the additional skills and areas of knowledge that our students need us to have.

My reflection is that the debate should be less about whether the training takes place in universities or in schools (of course trainees need both) and more about the competencies that trainee music teachers must all have, or need to work towards. I would like to see all trainees arriving in their first job already competent in, or at least aware that they need to develop, key musical competencies. These would include all aspects of the curriculum we teach as well as musical leadership skills including accompanying, leadership of singing, ensemble directing and creative workshop leading.

If trainee teachers have all this in place, if they are brilliant musicians, then we can sort out curriculum and behaviour once they are in school. It is much harder the other way around.

James Leveridge

  • Teacher of Music in Newham, London – @jleverEd

Swanwick and Paynter’s (1993) point that ‘here in Britain we face a continual onslaught by those who seem to regard higher education with suspicion and teacher education as largely unnecessary’ (p.7) is one which seems highly relevant today. Many Music PGCE courses, which were around a few years ago, are no longer running. The number of trainee Music teachers studying on university-based training routes (as opposed to school-based courses) has worryingly declined almost every year over the past decade. Before studying for a PGCE, I undertook a range of Music teaching and managed to develop a range of teaching skills; however, it was not until studying for the PGCE that I started to develop a critical and informed approach to my practice.

Although there may be some school-based routes which replicate areas of PGCE courses well, the article highlights a range of areas (in which I still think) University-based training routes are superior to what schools can offer trainees: ‘support of widely experienced tutors’; ‘sharing ideas with peers’; curriculum and assessment discussion; ‘discussion of key issues’. A key question to ask of school-based routes is whether they train teachers to work specifically in their schools or whether they genuinely train teachers for the profession.

Keith Evans

I had forgotten about the special issue of the BJME in 1993 looking at teacher education and this excellent editorial penned by Swanwick and Paynter. But what a fascinating piece to look back on now 25+ years later to reflect on how things subsequently developed and to consider where things might now be heading. I am no longer a practising music teacher but my thoughts here are based on over 25 years teaching music in secondary schools prior to 2006 when I moved to the University of Greenwich to lead the secondary PGCE Musicians in Education programme in collaboration with Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance for 13 years.

What is particularly striking is how much the piece resonates with debates around initial teacher education and music education across the past decade. Even the writers’ swipe at the narrowness of the traditional university music curriculum covering “the factual surface of music history 1500-1883 or, if you were lucky 1500-1934” has echoes of similar criticisms of the school level qualifications reforms a few years ago!

But the heart of the piece concerns the role of universities in ITE; whether they should be involved at all, have relevant knowledge and skills in this area, and the extent of their partnerships with schools. Swanwick and Paynter’s statement, ‘Here in Britain we face a continual onslaught by those who seem to regard higher education with suspicion and teacher education as largely unnecessary, beyond having a first degree and picking up a few tips from a mentor on the job’, pretty much sums up the thinking behind wide-reaching reforms to teacher training under Michael Gove at the DfE from 2010 which led to more school-led routes. It is interesting then that in response to the question ‘Can schools by themselves produce better teachers?’ back in 1993 they were adamant that ‘simply adopting a simple ‘apprenticeship’ model has no empirical or logical support’.

Note also how the article cites poor pupil attainment in the 80s and 90s being attributed to teachers not doing their job properly which is automatically assumed to be the fault of poor teacher training. Isn’t this the reported assumption behind the DfE’s current review of ITE to which UCET (Universities Council for Education of Teachers) has vigorously countered by noting that all ITE providers inspected by Ofsted in the last year for which data is available (2019-20) were judged to be Good or

Outstanding? Of course I am not denying the starting premise for the 2010 White Paper The Importance of Teaching that the most important factor determining a child’s success in education is the quality of teachers and their teaching but to attribute shortcomings in this regard solely at teachers’ initial training is far too simplistic. It is therefore encouraging to see the article weighing up NQT effectiveness against teachers with more experience. Thankfully at the moment there seems to be a renewed commitment to more sustained professional development for early career teachers as well as for more experienced teachers, but whether this is just a welcome return to levels of in-service professional development afforded to teachers in the 1980s is up for debate. (For example, in the 80s, music teachers in Kent schools had access to a fully-funded 5 day residential subject specific professional development course each year.)

I like the way the article uses student teacher evaluations to consider the case for the university component of their training. In my experience the views summarised here (e.g. valuing opportunities to reflect, evaluate, re-evaluate and analyse, as well as acknowledging the importance of professional contacts with teachers in multiple schools) are typical of feedback on well-run university led teacher education programmes. And it also seems remarkable now that in the last century you could qualify as a teacher having only had teaching experience in a single school. While school closures, remote learning, and the enormous pressures over the past 12 months have challenged the provision of the two school model, to have experience in two contrasting contexts has always seemed important in order to appreciate different school demographics, approaches to curriculum planning, assessment, qualifications etc. Nevertheless, in England there is already pressure in some school led ITE to ensure second school experience is reduced to the bare minimum and, taken to the limit, this will no doubt result in teacher training for many being nothing more than an apprenticeship in the philosophy, methods, and practices of a single multi-academy trust. I guess this is what some people want, but will it sustain a supply of well-prepared beginner teachers to work effectively across the whole system?

Underlying the 1993 editorial is the belief that university involvement in ITE provides would-be teachers with the opportunity to interrogate education policy and practice and develop into thinking, questioning and reflective practitioners. Over the years and in genuine partnership with schools I have seen this result in some of the most creative and thoughtful teachers I have been fortunate to work with. But the current review of ITE seems to be a political ploy to force through a particular view of education and learning which can only be achieved through a strictly prescribed and inflexible curriculum of teacher training. I cannot see why universities would be interested in ‘delivering’ something at odds with their core values and which totally undermines their autonomy. Will this be the final straw that results in them withdrawing from ITE?

David House


It is very interesting to note that this article is now some thirteen years old, and gives a picture very much of its time – with an added historical aspect. It is intriguing to follow the course of reflection which obviously led to the writing, in particular the response of teacher trainees and what they did and did not value in their training. I know that when I look back on my own attitude to my PGCE year I am acutely aware of what was then my naivety of the way music would fit into an overall picture of education, but also my awareness that visiting speakers on our course [including one, John Finney then a teacher in Basingstoke] brought an insight from the ‘real world’ that was invaluable. I also reflect on the fact of the importance of continuing development in the early years of one’s career – the importance and role of schools in this must not be underestimated.

I am also left wondering about the situation in other subjects – are teachers of Science similarly caught between the interest in the practical, lab based work and that of ‘knowing’ about a great deal of scientific fact – are teachers of history less concerned about ‘their specialist period’ and more about the approach to the study of the subject. Should we, as music teachers, be less concerned about producing students who are skilled in certain aspects of the subject and more concerned with nurturing inquisitive, feeling-ful musicians who are ready to explore music in its varied shapes, sizes and forms for the rest of their lives.