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Secondary music teachers: biography, values and practice

Chris Dalladay

A recently completed doctoral research study (Dalladay, 2014) has explored the role of music teacher biography in the planning of musical activities in the secondary school classroom and its impact on the development of young musicians. En-route, this study has also considered the teachers’ understanding of what, indeed, it is to be a musician. The principle investigation in this study has involved comparing music teachers’ (experienced and trainee) views on the competencies required for musicians and the contexts in which musicians develop with what is actually observed in practice in the classroom.

To take two examples: It has become very clear that the research particiants believe that singing and being involved in singing activities is important in the development of musicianship (ranked 3rd in importance out of 12 competencies), yet singing has been observed taking place in a minority of class music lessons at key stage 3 (KS3) (45%; ranked 7th in terms of observed significance) and, where it was, it tended to be a brief activity with little focus on developing technique or quality (singing duration of around 5 minutes within a one hour lesson). Likewise, regular music practice was an activity in which musicianship was deemed to develop most (ranked 2nd in importance) yet not often did pupils in school have prolonged and regular opportunities within class music time to develop their performance skills (ranked 7th in terms of observed significance).

many secondary school music teachers have developed their own musicianship within Western Classical music genres whilst many young people would tend to be more interested in contemporary popular genres

The results of this study suggest that, in part, these issues lay in the routines and challenges of the school curriculum (e.g. little time devoted to KS3 class music to allow for in-depth practice) but, also in part, they are related to the biography (background, education, musical opportunities, developing identity both as teachers and as musicians) of the teachers themselves. For instance, many teachers in secondary schools currently seem to be of the generation in which singing took a subservient position related to creative work (Bannan, 2002). Also, the study would tend to corroborate that many secondary school music teachers have developed their own musicianship within Western Classical music genres whilst many young people would tend to be more interested in contemporary popular genres (Welch, 2012). Teachers themselves are often aware that their own values, tastes and priorities may influence the basis on which musical learning in the classroom is planned (Spruce, 2012). It would seem, however, that these can come into conflict as they ‘rub’ against those values and practices of schools and policy, such as what the teacher may consider it means to be musical compared with the experiences witnessed in employing or placement schools (Saunders, 2008; Mills, 2005).

The implications for music education and for initial teacher training (ITT) in secondary music are several. To summarise three here: firstly, the need to increase the time available on ITT programmes for broadening the subject knowledge of teachers and for the provision of subject-based (rather than immediate school needs-based) CPD for qualified teachers. Secondly, subject pedagogy sessions in ITT, CPD for exisiting teachers and music classes in school should focus increasingly on developing musicians and the competencies required for this rather than (as can be the case) providing a series of musical and music-related activities which seek to engage pupils and, perhaps, provide a ‘taster’ of what musicianship involves. Thirdly, ITT programmes should be longer than the customary one year to allow trainees more effective opportunity to develop their understanding of musicianship, develop their subject pedagogy and to establish their identities as musicians and teachers.

The full thesis for this study can be viewed at .



Bannan, N. (2002) ‘Developing vocal skills in the secondary classroom’, in Spruce, G. (ed.) Aspects of teaching secondary music: perspectives on practice. London: Routledge Falmer

Dalladay, C. (2014) The biography of music teachers, their understanding of musicality and the implications for secondary music education. Unpublished PhD Thesis: The University of East London

Mills, J. (2005) Music in the school. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Saunders, J. (2008) The music classroom: pupils’ experience and engagement during adolescence. Unpublished PhD Thesis: Institute of Education, University of London

Spruce, G. (2012) ‘Musical ideologies, practices and pedagogies’, in Philpott, C. & Spruce, G. (eds.) Debates in music teaching. London: Routledge

Welch, G. (2012) ‘Musical creativity, biography, genre and learning’, in Hargreaves, DJ., Miell, DE. & Macdonald, RAR (eds.) Musical imaginations: multidisciplinary perspectives on creativity, performance and perception. Oxford: Oxford University Press