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National Curriculum

Assessment in music


Making a judgement

At the end of a key stage, teachers should judge which level description best fits the pupil's performance. Each description should be considered alongside descriptions for adjacent levels. When making a judgement at the end of the key stage, you may wish to note the following points.

Making your judgement

  • You will arrive at judgements by taking into account strengths and weaknesses in performance across a range of contexts and over a period of time, rather than focusing on a single piece of work.

  • A single piece of work will not cover all the expectations set out in a level description. It will probably provide partial evidence of attainment in one or two aspects of a level description. If you look at it alongside other pieces of work covering a range of contexts you will be able to make a judgement about which level best fits a pupil's overall performance.

  • When assessing attainment it can be helpful to look at each level in turn to confirm previous attainment and to identify the point at which the learning becomes less secure. The aim is to find examples that highlight learning that has been demonstrated confidently across a range of different experiences and through a variety of different activities.

Range of a teacher's knowledge about attainment

  • A range of experiences is essential for attainment at all levels. Understanding of a variety of genres, styles and traditions is also essential for attainment especially above level 4. Attainment at the higher levels is impossible without depth and breadth of musical study and experience.

Giving pupils opportunities to demonstrate attainment

  • Your pupils will need to use a range of forms of communication to show what they can do.

  • In planning units of work and classroom approaches, you will need to provide opportunities for pupils to display their achievements in different ways, and to work in a range of situations.

  • It is not appropriate to assess performing, composing and appraising activities separately. These activities provide different ways of demonstrating the same aspects of musical learning. The focus for assessing music should be on the musical learning that is being demonstrated through these integrated activities.


Although you will want to be able to explain why you have awarded particular levels to pupils at the end of the key stage, there is no requirement for judgements to be explained in a particular way or to be supported by detailed collections of evidence for each pupil. Decisions about collecting information, about its purpose and how it should be used are matters for teachers working within an agreed school policy.

Progression in music

In music at key stages 1 and 2 the level descriptions show progression in:

  1. controlling sounds through singing and playing - performing skills

  2. creating and developing musical ideas - composing skills

  3. responding and reviewing - appraising skills

  4. listening, and applying knowledge and understanding.

Knowledge, skills and understanding supports attainment in these aspects.

Each level in music begins with an overarching statement, which identifies the key characteristic of attainment at that level. The information here illustrates how this expectation is demonstrated through integrated performing, composing and appraising activities. Progression also occurs within each level in terms of pupils' increasing confidence, independence and ownership.

Progression through demand, range and quality

Progression in music occurs within and across the levels in terms of the demand and range of the learning and the quality of the response.

Progression in demand is demonstrated when pupils move from level to level. This type of progression is cumulative as learning in each level underpins learning in all subsequent levels. This makes it even more important to ensure the initial levels are thoroughly attained in the primary phase.

Progression in range is demonstrated when pupils are able to demonstrate learning within and across a variety of different musical genres, styles and traditions.

Progression in quality is shown through the increasing confidence, ownership and independence of the pupil. It is in this area that teachers will identify talented pupils in music, as they often show considerable confidence and affinity with music from the very earliest stages. Gifted and talented pupils can be identified at every level.

Progression is most likely to occur where pupils are encouraged to consolidate and extend their learning and increase the quality of their response rather than constantly attempt new things. For example, by singing a familiar song again with emphasis on how well it is performed together rather than learning another new song. The need for range makes it important for teachers to make a selection, as it will be impossible for pupils to make sufficient progress across too wide a range of musical styles. Pupils should be helped to move from the familiar to the unfamiliar so that they can extend and broaden their own interests.

About the attainment target

The attainment target in music sets out the knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils of different abilities and maturities are expected to have by the end of each key stage. Attainment targets consist of eight level descriptions of increasing difficulty, plus a description of exceptional performance above level 8. Each level description describes the type and range of performance that pupils working at that level should characteristically demonstrate. The level descriptions provide the basis for making judgements about pupils' performance at the end of a key stage.

The majority of pupils are expected to work at:

  • levels 1-3 in key stage 1 and attain level 2 at the end of the key stage

  • levels 2-5 in key stage 2 and attain level 4 at the end of the key stage.

By indicating expectations at particular levels and by charting broad progression in the subject, the level descriptions can also inform planning, teaching and assessment. Please note, the level descriptions are not designed to be used to 'level' individual pieces of work.

Glossary of terms

Key terms for level 1

How sounds can be made

Different ways in which sounds are made eg by blowing, scraping; electronically; by voice - speaking, whispering, singing; by plucking and bowing strings; using reeds; hitting wood and metal.

How sounds can be changed

Different ways in which sounds are changed eg getting higher/lower (pitch); making longer/shorter (duration); going faster/slower (tempo); making different types of sounds such as tinkling, smooth (timbre); adding/removing sounds (texture). These are known as the musical elements. They can be described through using different given and invented shapes/symbols.

Key terms for level 2

How sounds can be organised

Different ways in which sounds are ordered eg in a melody; in a rhythm pattern; in simple structures eg beginning/middle/end. These ways can be shown through playing a planned sequence of sounds and placing symbols into a sequence.

Key terms for level 3

How sounds can be combined

Different ways in which sounds are made, changed and organised simultaneously eg layering sounds; singing in tune with other performers (matching own pitch to a given pitch); playing rhythmically (matching own rhythm to given pulse).

Key terms for level 4

The relationship between sounds

Different ways in which one sound can affect another eg playing own part while listening to another, recognising which part is most important; improvising in groups where each lets another take the lead; using structures and recognising how each section relates to each other (how in a musical ABA structure the first A leads into B and the second A makes the piece sound complete); exploring beginnings and endings.

How music reflects different intentions

Different planned uses, purposes and effects eg the use of music for dance; the use of quiet relaxed music in airports to calm those waiting; the use of music in shopping precincts; the use of music in football games to unite supporters; the way we select music to match our moods and social occasions such as when we want to be relaxed/excited and singing happy birthday.

Key terms for level 5

Musical devices

Different ways in which sounds have been used in music across time and culture eg the use of repetition (melodic/rhythmic and harmonic), motifs, ostinato, riffs (repeated melodic or rhythmic fragments), sequence (repeating material higher or lower), inversion, retrograde, ornamentation, chords, cyclic patterns, call and response, structures/forms.

How music reflects time, place and culture

Different types of music that have been created in different times, places and cultures and some reasons for these differences eg how the instruments available change across time, place and culture; how venues change or stay the same and how this affects the music (the use of small ensembles for music played in stately homes); how music for social occasions changes over time and across different cultures; how purposes change or stay the same across time, place and culture and how these are reflected in the music.

This content relates to the 1999 programmes of study and attainment targets.

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