steven berryman

Blog: Steven Berryman on research-informed music teaching

Dr Steven Berryman, Director of Music at City of London School for Girls, calls for more music teachers to engage with research: ‘a vital tool in our work’.

Being a research-informed teacher is increasingly the norm. Social media allows us to engage with colleagues from across the globe, engage in debate about best practice, share teaching approaches and discover new resources. Social media also allows us to engage with academics and researchers from a variety of disciplines who are keen to investigate aspects of education that can further improve the outcomes for learners.

We are now expected to be research-literate, able to navigate the ensuing flood of material that includes items such as articles, blogs, reports, videos and podcasts and to discern when something is worthy of serious consideration or of dismissal. Research that is relevant to education includes not only that within one’s own subject but also associated disciplines and areas that are relevant to the practice of teaching (such as psychology).

Finding a journey through this huge array of research material is daunting, particularly for the time-stretched music teacher.

My research journey

My own journey with research started with my undergraduate studies, continuing to postgraduate studies for MMus and PhD. Doing a composition PhD meant I was doing practice-based research – and debate on whether composing/performing can be considered research continues (for example, see Ian Pace’s blog post here).

Steven Berryman conducting a chamber choir at Great Hall, Guildhall, London © Clive Totman

Steven Berryman conducting a chamber choir at Great Hall, Guildhall, London © Clive Totman

What interested me particularly was the teaching of composition. Exploring articles in the British Journal of Music Education encouraged reflection on my practice as a teacher and it remains an ongoing interest for some academics (for example, see Tine Grieg Viig’s article here).

The research into compositional pedagogies and the assessment of composition continues to inform my teaching and work with teachers. I have been thrilled to meet teachers on the CPD courses I have delivered and to have visited other schools to meet teachers and facilitate reflection on how we teach composition.

My working life

Research permeates my working life in different ways. I work at a school that embeds research into the professional development of all staff. Collaborative enquiry groups are an important part of ongoing professional development and action research forms part of daily life.

My school recently launched a research journal, CLSG Research & Learn, to celebrate the first wave of research projects undertaken by staff. Engaging with research has instigated many interesting professional conversations and we find some articles challenge our ideas about what is effective in the classroom while others can confirm what we are already doing.

I thrive on this professional dialogue, always seeking out new ways to encourage the best outcomes. Music education has a considerable body of research and offers music educators a wealth of material to provoke discussion, reflection and challenge.

The Chartered College of Teaching

As a Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching and a participant on the Chartered Teacher Programme, I wholeheartedly support the College’s mission for teaching to be informed by the best available evidence – and this evidence can come in the form of published research in journals and books but we can also benefit from the immediate sharing of good practice on social media and blogs.

Music teachers at the launch of a Chartered College of Teaching Music Network

Music teachers at the launch of a Chartered College of Teaching Music Network

I enjoy reviewing books and software and a few of these reviews have been for the College’s member platform (for example, here). The College brings research to life in their Third Space events – where teachers can meet researchers and practitioners to explore ideas published in the College journal – and I attended an enjoyable day in Oxford exploring the development of effective learners. It was at this event that I discovered the work of Voice21 and a growing interest in dialogic teaching. Classroom talk has now become the focus of my Chartered Teacher Programme research project as well as the collaborative enquiry group I lead at my school.

Part of the research project involves writing a literature review and the Chartered Teacher Programme provides the opportunity for the literature review to be read by an academic. Paul Warwick – who has significant expertise in dialogic approaches – reviewed my work and gave very helpful feedback. As part of the programme, we develop research competencies through a series of online modules on engaging with research, devised by the College with the University of Birmingham. These were a revelation for aspects of research I had not encountered before. I felt more confident searching for materials, evaluating their quality and relevance and how to form effective research questions.

A Visiting Research Fellow

As a Visiting Research Fellow in King’s College London’s School of Education, Communication and Society, I have been able to maintain my own links with active research by contributing lectures and joining the ongoing discussions in my areas of interest with postgraduate students and other staff in the department. My connection with the department affords me access to the extensive library resources; preparing and delivering lectures has strengthened my own understanding of arts and cultural policy and social research methods.

The most enjoyable aspect has been supervising students undertaking research for their MA. My experience as a teacher has been of value as much of their research has involved investigating aspects of work in schools. I contribute to the Education in Arts and Cultural Settings MA and this course has direct links with my own work as a music educator.

Visiting Dubai College to work with music teachers on the new A Level specifications

Visiting Dubai College to work with music teachers on the new A Level specifications

My time at KCL has helped to develop new research interests and I am currently undertaking an ethnography of a project at the Royal Albert Hall. I will have the opportunity to share my initial findings with colleagues at KCL in Summer 2019. As a teacher, being connected to a university enriches everything I do in the classroom; I can see the continuum from the youngest pupil to postgraduate, seeing the bigger picture of how what we do in the classroom will connect to the future studies students might undertake.

The RSA Evidence Champions Network

I am excited to be part of the Royal Society of Arts‘ Evidence Champions Network where ‘the RSA is working with Arts Council Bridge Organisations to champion the role of evidence and evaluation in improving the quality and impact of arts and cultural education’.

To quote the Network’s web page, ‘In its first year, the Evidence Champions Network will connect 100 artists, educators, evaluators, cultural organisations and funders who want to support better use of evidence and evaluation in arts and cultural learning. Through the Network, Champions will develop knowledge and skills in evidence rich practice and help spread the word about its value, convening online and in regional hubs, to support practitioners across England.’

Most interesting for me is how this Network now connects all my strands as an educator, as a researcher and as a practitioner of education projects. I look forward to seeing how it develops and how engaging in discussions with colleagues in non-school settings, I will be able to strengthen my approach to music education in the classroom.

An exciting time for teaching and teachers

It is an exciting time for teaching and teachers. With the Chartered College of Teaching, we have the encouragement and opportunity to engage with educational research. Through their Chartered Teacher Programme, we can further our expertise in how to evaluate what we read and use it well to guide our professional decisions. I have discovered a huge web of research that connects to my classroom practice not only through the Chartered College but also through the Evidence Champions Network, my contributions at KCL and my ongoing work in the classroom by engaging in formal and informal discussions with colleagues.

I implore my musical colleagues to reach out and engage with the Chartered College of Teaching. Join and be part of the professional body that is regaining the agency of teachers and teaching. Music particularly needs strong classroom-based advocates to ensure our curriculum remains an essential component of every child’s education. Research can be a compelling advocate for retaining music in schools and being literate and curious of this research can be a vital tool in our work.

Header photo: Steven Berryman conducting Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony (November 2016) © Clive Totman

About the author

Dr Steven Berryman is Director of Music at City of London School for Girls and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Education, Communication & Society at King’s College London (2017-2019).

Dr Steven Berryman is Director of Music at City of London School for Girls and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Education, Communication & Society at King’s College London (2017-2019)

He previously taught at the North London Collegiate School and the Junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music. Steven has examined and moderated for GCSE and A Level Music and contributed composition chapters to two study guides for Rhinegold Education and a chapter for an edited volume from Routledge (2016). He has been a Teach Through Music Fellow and a Teacher Advocate for Music Excellence London in addition to education projects with the Learning Departments of the Royal Opera HouseLondon Philharmonic Orchestra and NMC Recordings.

Steven studied composition at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Cardiff University, gaining a PhD in 2010. Cypher (2010) was selected by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for performance in their Welsh Composers Showcase and was performed by the orchestra in 2011, conducted by Jan Van Steen at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay. In 2011, North London Collegiate staged Steven’s musical theatre work for a cast of over fifty girls, Juniper DreamsOpera Holland Park commissioned Steven to transcribe arias by Donizetti for a dance performance, Dance Holland Park, in June 2012 and, the same year, he worked on music for two plays: Jamie Zubairi’s one-man show, Unbroken Line (Ovalhouse, December 2012), and Corpo: Lixa da Alma (Cena Internacional Brasil, Rio de Janerio, June 2012). Versa est in Luctum was performed in Washington DC in January 2013 as part of the New Voices @ CUA Festival and, in September 2016, LSO Community Choir and students from City of London School for Girls performed Steven’s O Come Let Us Sing as part of Old Street New Beginnings, celebrating fifty years since the joining of the St Luke’s and St Giles’ parishes.

Steven is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Freeman of both The Musicians’ Company and the Worshipful Company of Educators.


Blog: Music Excellence London Teacher Advocate and Director of Music at City of London School for Girls, Steven Berryman

Guest blogger, Steven Berryman, has worked on a wide range of collaborative projects involving schools, venues, charities and other education providers. Here, he outlines his formula for successful partnership working

Joining City of London School for Girls back in September 2015 was an immense joy as I had visited the Barbican hundreds of times since being a student to see concerts, films, dance and exhibitions.

A John Cage weekend during my postgraduate years sticks in my mind as being the best of those experiences. This was my first opportunity to engage with one composer over the course of a weekend and to attend events in different parts of the Barbican Centre. The Musicircus performance in the foyer spaces was the beginning of my collaborative obsession:

‘John Cage’s Musicircus is simply an invitation to bring together any number of groups of any kind, preferably in a large auditorium, letting them perform simultaneously anything they wish, resulting in an event lasting a few hours. There is no score, no parts, nothing specified except the concept. ‘You won’t hear anything: you’ll hear everything’, Cage said.’ (Peter Dickinson, writing in The Guardian, June 2014)

There were performers everywhere and I was enthralled by how music brings people together. We collaborate so readily as musicians in performance and my own desire to collaborate came from my composing.

I wanted students in my school to work with live musicians as I had done as a student and my initial attempts to collaborate involved bringing players to the school. It’s this authenticity that inspires the pupils and I found this particularly evident in non-Western music. I invited a local Gamelan musician to be resident at the school and we devised new music in groups with the pupils. The Gamelan musician then introduced me to a Nigerian drummer and, through the drummer, I discovered a Taiko group and so on. Collaborating with performers in this way brings a great deal of expertise to a subject in which teachers are expected to know a broad spectrum of musical traditions to help cater for our diverse student body. These performers also bring a whole web of connections; we start to build a library of experts we can draw upon to support musical learning.

The City of London Corporation supports eight schools and January 2016 was the first time these schools worked together to put on a concert at the Guildhall. I was new at my school but embraced the opportunity and saw the potential of working together. It was not an easy task. Emails were sent, responses were few and meetings were impossible to arrange as you never managed to get everyone involved in one room at one time! What helped was having someone at the Corporation take the lead and act as the hub. They helped to ensure communication remained open and chased up those who were slower to respond than others. The concert was a huge success and I was thrilled to see students admire the performances of their peers from other schools. The concert moved to Milton Court in January 2017 – another vibrant and exciting event.

I’ve been relentlessly pursuing other opportunities for collaboration across the City Schools since and, more recently, we have been working with VCM Foundation to run a Young Leaders programme for singers drawn from four schools. This cohort of 30 singers has worked with real purpose to develop singing workshop leadership skills and they’ve flourished working with students from different schools. It took a huge marketing offensive to make it known that the project existed. I recommend not giving up and always looking for alternative ways to get the opportunity known to the school you are targeting. Music teachers are rarely at a desk reading emails so try sending messages to Community Service Coordinators, Heads of Years etc.

Collaboration also happens in the way my department approaches our work with students. We all have different areas of expertise and we strive to make the most of our skills to support the girls effectively. Regular conversations about what and, most importantly, why we do what we do is our greatest source of collaboration. Dr Ally Daubney visited the school in Summer 2016 to facilitate further collaboration as we reviewed our KS3 Music curriculum. She encouraged an entertaining discussion about the ‘whys’ much more than the ‘whats’, helping us develop our curriculum for the year ahead. It is this regular collaboration as colleagues, working with external experts, that keeps us restless and always seeking out new approaches to keep the music curriculum right for the girls we teach today, not the students we taught yesterday.

No amount of emailing can replace a good conversation. I made a big effort to meet local organisations when I moved to the City with a view to developing opportunities to enrich the musical education for the girls. The City hosts a wealth of cultural organisations and the Museum of London has been a joy to collaborate with. We had our first ever Year 7 Music Day working with the Fire of London exhibition as the starting point for creative work. After a morning exploring the exhibition, girls worked in groups, facilitated by a teacher, to develop new compositions that were performed at the end of day. Not only was the student collaboration a pleasure to see and hear but also, as a team of teachers, we were able to collaborate effectively. This took plenty of planning to ensure the schedule worked for everyone.

I’ve learned lots of interesting lessons through collaboration:

  • Start with a conversation and not an email: meet people and get to know their work.
  • Understand how the other partners in a project work; investigate what systems and procedures shape how they operate and mould schedules to their normal ways of working. Collaboration is more effective when it feels part of everyday life.
  • Be flexible: if you believe in a project, be ready to be the first to make a sacrifice for the greater good and long-term success of it.
  • Be persistent and know the benefits for the pupils – this is the selling point and the ‘why’ behind everything we do.
  • Win over the management: no project will succeed or progress until it’s been sold to SMT. Be clear on the benefits for pupils and work to make any project an extension of your school’s mission/development plan or the mission of the group of schools.
  • Consider the barriers before presenting to the other partners – be ready to have the answers to questions and solve them without them needing to ask.

We get very wrapped up in our own schools and competition between schools can hamper collaboration. We are so much more efficient if we draw on the skills and knowledge of others and we quickly realise all those worries we had are shared by our colleagues in other schools. More often than not, we have a solution to someone else’s problem; we just need to find any excuse to start a conversation and see what we can share.

Header photo: VCM Foundation concert © VCM Foundation. Steven Berryman has worked with VCM Foundation’s Young Leaders programme

About the author

Dr Steven Berryman is Director of Music at City of London School for Girls.

He has taught in the Junior Departments of the Royal Academy of Music and Trinity Laban and recent education projects include work with Royal Opera House, London Philharmonic Orchestra, NMC Recordings and Rhinegold Education.

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