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  • Writer's pictureGavin Stewart

"Do you enter pupils for exams?"

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

It’s the time of year when I receive the most enquiries about starting lessons. One of the first questions I'm often asked by prospective parents is: “Do you enter pupils for exams?” Recently I've been considering the place of exams in my teaching.

So why is this a common question from parents? I think some believe it’s an effective measurement of the child’s progress, which makes their investment worthwhile. Perhaps it’s a way to check the quality of the teaching? Maybe it’s just assumed this is the natural track once lessons have started… Whatever the reason, in my experience the exam system is often misused. It provides a syllabus, not a full curriculum, so it's essential to cover much more than is required at each level; this way the pupil receives a well rounded music education.

Rightly or wrongly, teachers in the UK seem to be judged on their exam record. Perhaps there is some comfort in the fact that every pupil entered for an exam has passed with merit or distinction? I can’t speak for all teachers, but I don’t want to be judged on exam results. Each of those passes formed a small part of my pupils’ musical journeys. I was just the guide.

Exams can be an effective way to motivate pupils and encourage exploration of a wider range of music. The other advantage is that they can enter when they’re ready. I always encourage my pupils to perform, to consider what the piece is about and communicate that to the audience. Every pupil learns at their own pace and in their own way; I'm guided by a framework for each level and create a curriculum for each pupil based on that. My ultimate aim is to help pupils become independent, creative and well-rounded musicians. Exams can fit in with this but are not essential.

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