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Music as pedagogic discourse: An ethnographic case study of one Year 9 class of pupils and their music teacher in a South Wales secondary school.

posted on 2022-10-20, 16:19 authored by Ruth Wright


This thesis seeks to examine the nature of pedagogic discourse in Music and its

relationship to pupils' inclinations to persevere with it as a subject after Key Stage 3. An

ethnographic case-study was conducted in one South Wales secondary school, referred

to as Aberquaver High School, focusing on one class of Year 9 pupils, 9C, and their

music teacher, Mrs- Metronome. It reflects my experience of entering the study as a

music professional and teacher educator and leaving it with a commitment to the

necessity to work from appropriate theory, in this case that of Bernstein and,

subsidiarilly, Bourdieu, through adequate empirical means. In seeking to understand 9C

pupils' intentions to carry on with Music at Key Stage 4, a conceptual apparatus was

required with reach that carried from consideration of how knowledge and policy in the

primary context originates and was shaped or recontextualised through a variety of

offìcial and pedagogic agencies so that it became the text, in this case the programme of

study that constitutes Key Stage 3 National Curriculum Music, from which schools and

teachers, including Aberquaver and Mrs Metronome, read.

Specifically, this study attempts to 'stretch' the boundary between recontextualisation

and reproduction, suggesting that there is no sharp line between those who shape

subjects and deliver them. Mrs Metronome allowed, as teachers are by schools in our

system, to impose her own judgements on her small department's work, brought a

professional dynamic to its pedagogy that could not simply be 'read' from officially

required Music in Wales. A product of Western Art Music tradition and teacher

education, she valued other musics. Constrained by school organisational imperatives,

themselves upshots of National Curriculum and assessment requirements, particularly

as to time, her long service, personal acumen and subject success had allowed her to

accumulate relative resource riches in terms of instruments and ICT facilities- These

were the basis for her characteristic rejigging of more conventional group based

classroom music, coupled with the ability and desire to imbue each pupil with

instrumental skills in a pedagogy strongly centred on music performance and its

evaluation. Such an approach still appeared to have differential gender and social class

effects in a prevailing peer and wider cultural climate of popular and other non classical

musical forms. Despite the variety of musical genres included in her curriculum and her

department's resource wealth, for some pupils, particularly boys, it was not sufficiently

'real music', especially for those denied access to 'real' instruments. Though most young

people avow the importance of music to their lives, in a prevailing climate of the

'usefulness' and vocational sígnificance of school subjects, its choice as a Key Stage 4

subject, here and elsewhere, tend to be further constrained by the limits of school option

choice systems. Nonetheless, Music at Aberquaver still managed to engage

disproportionate numbers across the ability range at GCSE in comparíson with other

Welsh secondaries and achieve good standards. It is argued that these were a function

of Mrs Metronome's recontextualised pedagogic discourse and practice.

Policy is a complex series of events and understandings in need of theoretical

elaboration rather than evaluation tinged, evidence base that is about rather than for

policy change and implementation. The study contains messages for teaching

colleagues, school administrators, teacher educators and other conventionally defined

offìcial and pedagogic recontextualisers, as well as national policy makers, about what

makes better Music that more pupils wish to persevere with for longer. Further research

is, however, required to extend the scope of the present study and examine the

transferability of the findings to other locations.



  • School of Education and Social Policy

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD

Publication year


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