Every pupil sits GCSEs, they are an educational gateway… but what if pupils had the opportunity to study something better? Take GCSE Music for example, a creative subject that has enormous potential for opening up new and innovative assessment methods to better reflect the musicianship skills pupils will need to thrive as professional musicians. What if Bradfieldians had access to a qualification in which they are not only afforded the luxury to develop their musical talents on their instruments but are encouraged to go into real depth in their chosen area of interest? SBS: Music will do exactly that.

From September 2024, Bradfieldians will be offered the chance to study Music via the bespoke School Based Syllabus (SBS) qualification as an alternative to the traditional GCSE. SBS: Music will assess pupils’ progress in a more contemporary way. Although the GCSE Music course is 60% coursework, there is scope for much more creativity in the way these assessments are designed, especially when a comparison is made with the new IBDP Music curriculum. Not only will this help them to develop a range of contemporary workplace skills, but the course is designed to allow those who do not always perform at their best in traditional exams to showcase their prowess through other means.

Pupils will have access to a Music course that represents even better preparation for study in the Sixth Form, one that excites them and develops their own musicianship, that intentionally develops digital literacy, self-regulation and complex problem-solving, and offers pupils greater ownership and control over their chosen area of interest. In the context of an Education for Life, where we consider what is appropriate, even essential, for our pupils in 2030 and beyond, we are now able to offer a course that develops the skills and mindset of the modern musician, whether that be concert pianist or dance DJ.

Musicians will have the opportunity to express themselves through the course’s four components: Performing, Creating, Listening and the Special Study, safe in the knowledge that they will not be assessed solely by end-of-year exams but through a broader range of assessments. These will include performances, a viva voce, a digital composing portfolio and a piece of extended project work, in addition to the traditional end-of-course exam.

The Performance element will enable pupils to set themselves targets, document their practice in a journal and reflect on their instrumental progress at regular intervals. Musicians will build up to an assessed performance which could see them take centre stage in front of an audience of their peers or individually in front of their subject teacher.

Musicians will have many opportunities to be creative while putting together a composing portfolio consisting of experiments with musical techniques and devices across a broad range of musical styles. Pupils will progress to design their brief and create a piece of music according to their personal interests, informed by musical research. The Listening and Appraising component enables pupils to study and listen to a wide range of musical styles and genres, identify musical features using musical vocabulary and is essential preparation for A Level Music.

While these three elements vastly expand on the offering in the GCSE equivalent, the fourth component, the Special Study, is new and different but compares favourably with the Extended Project Qualification which is studied alongside A Levels and is a condensed university-style dissertation. Much like an EPQ, the final Special Study product may be an artefact, such as a solo or group performance, a composition, an extended piece of writing or a digital media product.

Pupils will have the freedom to study a selection of repertoire, research the way other performers have interpreted the music and use these performances as inspiration for their own recital. Alternatively, pupils may want to develop their ability to improvise by experimenting with different scales and motifs while recording their progress. They could use the Special Study to gain an introduction to the works of composition, crafting a piece of music in a particular style by emulating a composer in their creative work.

For those with an eye on a future in music production, SBS: Music can introduce Music Technology and the software that powers digital music creation. Pupils can develop their academic research skills by for example analysing the music of female black composer, Florence Price, traditional Hungarian Folk music or the features of protest music around the world.

Worried about what this might mean for university applications? UCAS have confirmed that SBS: Music will formally be an option for a pupil to select on any UCAS application they submit. Beyond that the experiences pupils will enjoy over the two year course will not only form an excellent base for the step up to Sixth Form study but will provide an array of discussion points for Personal Statements and job applications which will help them stand out from the crowd.

Bradfield is proud of its innovation in education and, as part of that, its SBS: Music course. We cannot, however, claim to be at the vanguard. Bradfield is a member of the School Directed Course Consortium, a group of like-minded schools, many of whom have already embarked on similar courses.

For those who enjoy playing, creating, or listening to music then SBS: Music provides the opportunity to express oneself through performing and creating music, and develops lasting musicianship skills. What better way to continue a Bradfield Education for Life?