Assessment of musical skills in SEN settings

I am currently focusing on understanding effective assessment methods and would welcome any advice or feedback.


As a new music teacher in formal SEN education, I have had a lot of ‘catching up’ to do in my new role.

Firstly getting to know the individual students and their interests, abilities, likes and dislikes, and nearly 100 names!
Devising new SEN-specific schemes of work, and adapting and amending these as we have gone along
Developing new material, and together we have tried new activities, enabling me to learn a little more about methods of delivery that work and those that don’t work as well
Fine tuning lesson plans, and in particular focusing on objectives and methods for assessment


I was surprised when I investigated the Music Curriculum that this year there is no formal curriculum set out, the new Music Curriculum apparently arrives Sept 2014. I gave my schemes of work an overall framework, beginning with activities that allowed me to use my strengths and to get to know the students, and then covering a range of musical ‘focus’ e.g. World music, Music for Dance, Cultural Celebrations, Graphic Scores, etc. After the first half term, I responded to the needs of the students and tried to tie in with any key topics being studied by the classes, where possible.

Assessment measures and methods

Identifying development from individual targets - Music lesson can help develop individual skills and personal targets: For example, enhance ability to choose using eye movement, interact positively with others, work independently. Knowing the students’ targets can help to direct activities to enhance the opportunity to develop these skills

Identifying musical skills – With such a range of individual abilities and challenges I felt ‘daunted’ by devising assessment methods for measuring the development of musical skills.

P levels

I investigated guidelines for assessment including the ‘P levels’ system. I found this a little confusing as, for some of my classes with PMLD, there were a lot of objectives that were too complicated or irrelevant. It was a bit overwhelming! I included a list of P levels in my SoW for each class, but in truth wasn’t really sure they were totally relevant.

I was asked by the school to develop a list of musical skills that can be assessed. For example: Rhythm skills, aural skills and specific instrumental skills. This helped me to focus on specific skills and activities that supported the process of developing these skills.

Discussion with others

From an observed lesson I was able to identify a list of simpler lesson objectives that were more ‘focused’. E.g. Being able to stop together, keeping a beat with the pulse, responding to musical stimulus with vocalisation, using a ‘switch’ to take part, playing guitar with some accuracy.

Key thoughts so far

1. Discussing with others: Very helpful to discuss assessment with others and observations are stressful but helpful
2. Having clear and simple objectives: Very clear and focused objectives such as ‘copy rhythm’ or ‘stop together’ are helpful
3. Including these simple objectives in planning helps to focus the assessment of student’s progress

Further training

I am looking forward to spending a day shadowing a music teacher in January, in another SEN school in the East Midlands. The school has been rated outstanding by OFSTED and the music teacher has a great deal of experience of music education in SEN schools. The teacher felt that a day focusing on the area of assessment of skills within music lessons would be a useful exercise for both of us and I am hoping this will help to develop my skills and focus my aims and objectives to ensure more purposeful lessons in all of my different musical work, particularly in my role with the Musical Inclusion Team at NMPAT.


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Kareni's picture

Have you looked at the Sounds of Intent? This is a free online framework developed from 10 years of research which supports the musical development of children with complex needs. It helps to assess musical development across three domains - interactive, proactive and reactive. And there are lots of video clips to show what each level looks like.

We have started using it in some of our Live Music Now residency projects in special schools. It has helped our musicians to identify children's musical abilities and provided ideas to support pupils' progress to the next level. It has also generated useful discussion between school staff and the visiting LMN musicians around musical progression. I know that many special schools are now using Sounds of Intent as a tool for monitoring and assessment.

It would be worth getting in contact with Soundabout Charity as they are currently offering support to special schools interested in using Sounds of Intent .

Good luck with your new role!

KateR-zoladay's picture

Thank you Karen for the link and info, Sounds of Intent looks like a really helpful methodology, I think it will be very helpful for me and I am sure the school will be very interested in this and the Soundabout Charity also. Very much appreciated, Kate

Toby@YM's picture

Hi KateR-zoladay, thanks for your post and hope you get some useful responses. I've re-posted your blog in the Music-Making, SEN & Disability discussion group (have you joined this group?)

KateR-zoladay's picture

Thank you Toby, that is really helpful and I will join the discussion group. Best wishes Kate

Nick Wilsdon's picture

It's also worth mentioning that Sound of Intent has some great built in functionality on the website to allow you to review/evaluate your work on an ongoing basis. Secondly, it can also be conversted across to P levels, so you can measure how a musician is developing using Sounds of Intent and then tranlsate it to P levels where necessary!

Sally Z's picture

Dear Kate
I've been slow in joining this group but delighted to see that others have suggested Sounds of Intent as a part of addressing your concerns. I've been part of the research team from the project's inception and am currently delivering the (free) full school staff training to schools in England. I'd happily discuss the scheme which, whilst focussing on progress, also addresses through its examples the whole realm of music education from teacher planning to pupil experience, from pupil experience to teacher hearing the results.
Have fun!

KateR-zoladay's picture

Hi Sally, thank you, I am working on the assessment process with the school and have discussed Sounds of Intent with them, they were very interested and I will get in touch if we need support with this. Much appreciated, Kate