Supporting pupils’ progress in GCSE Music – three strategies

An Action Research Project by Catherine Mainwaring (Music)


As I embarked on my second year as a qualified teacher I was faced with a list of ‘to-dos’ that I wanted to achieve. One year into teaching I was faced with the new GCSE course which is littered with a plethora of subject specific knowledge that pupils have not previously had to know at GCSE level. It became clear that I needed to put mechanisms in place to fully support my year 10 and 11 students. Gone were the days when simply “getting them to play something” would result in a grade.

I decided to develop the following three projects:

  1. Setting up a Music Department Website to support students outside of lessons.
  2. Using PLC’s to track year 11 and 10 progress and understanding and to involve pupils in the tracking of their own learning.
  3. Targeted Interventions for Year 10 and 11 students.

Each project would be implemented and developed over 2 terms and then developed into the future once fully set up.

I approached the three projects in a similar way:


  • What did I want to achieve within the two terms?
  • What would the end result would look like?


  • Why did I want to do this?


  • How would I set about establishing the project?
  • How would I sustain the project once it was set up?


  • What impact would the project have on pupil engagement, pupil progress and pupil understanding?

Going Forward:

  • How effective was the project?
  • What would be the next steps with the project as it continues to be implemented with future GCSE cohorts?

Project 1: Setting up a Music Department Website to support students outside of lessons


A google website was set up for students to access in lessons as well as outside of lessons. The website contains:

  1. Lesson PowerPoints so that pupils can catch up on any notes they have missed.
  2. Revision Sections so that KS4 pupils can access exam style questions, revision podcasts, knowledge organisers and revision videos at home to support their revision.


  • Google classroom is a popular resource used in school so pupils and staff are familiar with it.
  • Having an electronic copy of resources cuts down on the amount and cost of printing.
  • Pupils can access the website easily on their phones as it is linked with their school email address.


By attending Google Workshops which were run by the ICT staff in school, I was shown the basics and benefits of using the Google apps, including Google Slides. I have always worked through Google Drive when storing resources so it was just a case of linking up the documents with the website.

Admittedly, I’d sometimes forget to update the website with the most up-to-date resources I was using in lessons, however it soon became an automatic routine. Whenever I was teaching a listening/appraising/ exam questions focused lesson I would direct pupils to the website and show them on the interactive whiteboard where the documents were.

I also decided to dedicate one free lesson a fortnight to check the website and make sure that it was updated regularly.


Pupils were incredibly receptive to this resource. They commented that they liked having copies of their lessons available especially when they had gained time in other subjects or when they completed the work in non-exam lessons.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the more conscientious students benefited more from the resource than the less motivated. When I discussed with the pupils how they used the website, the latter commented that there were a lot of wordy documents and they were more visual learners. Following this feedback I created a section for revision videos that I found on Youtube and linked them to the website. This seemed to engage the boys, especially in my year 11 class. I used some of the videos in lessons as a revision activity.

This would then generate some revision notes and a starting point for the lesson. If students had any questions about the content of the video i.e. vocabulary/ ideas that they didn’t understand, we were able to clarify any misconceptions they had.

Going Forward:

As, with any support mechanism offered to students, there will undoubtedly be some who do not feel the full benefit of it. One current disadvantage of the website is that we have no way (at the moment) of tracking which students have accessed it. This is the main target for the following academic year. Google Analytics seems the likely solution.

Project 2: Targeted Interventions for key Year 11 students


Looking at the assessment data and pupil performance in lessons, I organised some additional interventions for certain pupils. Reasons for these pupils being selected included:

  • Attendance concerns due to either behaviour, illness or other interventions taking place during lesson time.
  • Lack of self-confidence displayed by the pupil.
  • Low achievement in that element of the GCSE course e.g. composing or performance.


Due to the small size of my class I was able to hold 1-1 interventions to fully support the students.


I spoke with the pupils and discussed whether after-school sessions or lunchtime sessions would be easier for them to attend. Some preferred lunchtimes some preferred after-school. I feel this conversation was important because it allowed the pupils to become part of the discussion. I was also in frequent contact with parents to bring them into the conversation and to use their support to motivate the pupil.


There were a few occasions where pupils would agree to a lunchtime intervention and then not turn up. This was both frustrating and sometimes telling of their commitment to the sessions. Group texts and phone calls home to parents helped with this. When the pupils attended and were given 1-1 feedback on coursework and support with exam revision, the impact was significant. Coursework lessons were more structured for those pupils who attended as they were able to work through the to-do list they created in the intervention and were then given more feedback in the lesson.

When completing exam style questions pupils who had also attended revision sessions recalled key information with more confidence and accuracy.

Going Forward:

Interventions during the next academic year will be personalised to target individual students. Rather than inviting the whole class to attend every week, pupils will be divided into pairs and threes where appropriate and will be given specific dates to attend. This will then help them to receive detailed 1-1 feedback on their coursework to enable them to make more progress in lessons. The timetable will also make it easier to track pupils’ attendance and where appropriate, parent contact made. Interventions will have a specific focus depending on the term e.g.

  • Term 1&2: Focus on Composition
  • Term 3&4: Focus on Performance
  • Term 5&6: Focus on Exam Revision

The timetable for the interventions will be shared with students in September. Pupils will receive a copy of this and it will be communicated to parents. Having these dates readily available at the start of the year with termly reminders, clearly shows expectations of pupils and allows them to have a fresh positive start at the start of year 11.

Project 3: Using PLC’s to track year 10 and 11 progress and understanding


Using Personal Learner checklists pupils would rate their understanding of key concepts of a particular topic Red, Amber or Green. This would then highlight for students which areas of a topic they needed to prioritize for revision.


One of the main aims of using the PLC’s with my GCSE classes was to allow them to see what they needed to revise but also to highlight their strengths within a topic. This could then be used to motivate pupils with their revision.


Pupils would complete their rating at the start of a topic and then in the middle and at the end.


While this strategy proved useful with the stronger candidates, some of the weaker pupils became disheartened by the large amount of RED ratings at the start and quickly lost interest.

There were also a number of pupils who were absent frequently from lessons due to external factors and so they would often miss the self-reflection part of the lesson.

The other concern I had about PLC’s was pupils marking a section of a topic as Amber or Red because their friend had or green because they thought they understood that section of the topic when they did not.

Going Forward:

I still believe that PLCs are a clear way of tracking progress with pupils when used effectively. Perhaps my timing of using them in the latter half of year 11 made the task more difficult. This was because I had prioritized the interventions and music website, as I believed they would have a more significant impact on pupils.

Evaluation of Action Research Mini-Projects

Now at the end of my second year of teaching I can feel the benefits of completing the 3 mini-projects this year. The benefits of the music website will positively impact the learning of students for the duration of the new GCSEs.

The interventions will continue next year, however with more of a structure to avoid students missing them. Next year we will arrange a timetable of interventions for pupils to attend 1-1 sessions which will have a specific focus. If they do not attend these then contact will be made with home and this will be logged.

I want to persevere with the PLC’s next year, as I feel that they will have a significant impact on the learners’ outcomes. However I feel that there was not sufficient time in one academic year to create and implement the PLCs from the time originally planned and with hindsight I would have created them earlier.

Featured image:  ‘piano’ by stevepb on Pixabay.  Licensed under creative commons CC0


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