Lead by an A level examiner and former Head of Music, this course, first delivered in the Autumn of 2020 and described by one delegate as ‘truly inspiring’, is designed for all teachers of GCSE and/or A level Music, regardless of exam board.  It begins by examining common features amongst all assessment criteria across all exam boards, seeking to create an alternative system of board-wide criteria for outstanding compositions, through which compositions can be assessed and shaped during the compositional process, rather than through a mark scheme designed to assess a final product.

This will be followed by a detailed examination of what students need to demonstrate to examiners at  A level, including looking at the definitions of key assessment terms used in the highest criteria, and exactly why they are used..

The course then explores ways in which to reduce the impact of subjectivity upon composition across all exam boards. Alternative approaches to composition briefs will be examined that allow students to maximise efficiency, yet write with greater technical skill for the highest marks. The need to balance creative freedom with academic rigour will be discussed, and three examples of free briefs will be dissected.

Proven strategies for weaker or underconfident students will be suggested, along with ways of developing compositional skills across KS3-5, with the aim of encouraging a love of composition, underpinned by an understanding of the creative process. Immediate and practical suggestions for composition planning will be explored, along with discussion of final steps for more completed compositions, including ways of achieving idiomatic writing, and alternative ideas for creating good recordings. Three outstanding composition examples will then be discussed.


  • Developed their teaching to raise standards in composition
  • Learned a range of effective approaches for different ability students
  • Gained confidence in tackling the compositional process
  • Improved understanding of assessment criteria and how to use them
  • Discussed ways of delivering composition as part of co-taught or linear programmes
COURSE DATE Online | Tuesday 08 June 2021
  • Head of Music
  • Teachers of Music, both new and experience
IN-SCHOOL You can also book this as an In-School Course
  • A specially prepared folder of 50+ pages full of detailed notes, practical advice and guidance
  • Notes prepared by the educational experts leading the course
  • Expert produced PowerPoint presentations
  • CPD Certificate of attendance


1000 – 1045: Beginning at the End

  • Comparison of marking criteria across the exam boards for A level
  • Common assessment criteria; Super-Criteria and a SuperGrid?
  • What students ultimately have to demonstrate to an examiner at A level
  • Summarised feedback from all of the exam boards
  • Common issues raised by examiners
  • Immediate priorities

1045 – 1130: The Beginning – A Very Good Place to Start

  • Unpacking composition briefs; three examples
  • Own-choice briefs; three examples
  • Types of composition briefs
  • Researching briefs
  • Strategies for the weaker or underconfident student
  • Balancing creative freedom and academic rigour
  • A level without having taken GCSE
  • Analysis vs. composition

1130 – 1145: Coffee break

1145 – 1300: Developing Compositional Skills

  • Hidden aspects to the mark schemes
  • Questions, questions, and more questions – getting students thinking
  • Key terms and more considerations
  • The philosophy behind composition and understanding the creative process
  • Writing idiomatically
  • Graphical methods and alternative ideas for the planning stage
  • Developing student skills – integrating listening, analysis, performance and composition

 1300 – 1330 Lunch

1330 – 1400: Monitoring and Feedback Processes

  • Verbal feedback vs. written feedback
  • Minimising time for teachers but maximising feedback value
  • Marking an incomplete composition with validity
  • Monitoring processes
  • Daring to write up later
  • The power of assessment scales

1400 – 1430: The Refining Process

  • Making a composition outstanding
  • Pedantry – notation, typesetting, formatting and annotating
  • Final presentation of the score and alternative formats; communicating to the examiner
  • Producing a good quality recording – alternative ideas to Sibelius exports

1430 – 1530: Discussion of Four Outstanding Examples

Alexander Aitken

Alex Aitken is an A level examiner with Edexcel, and was also on the review team for the GCSE textbook, having written the analysis for Defying Gravity. A former organ scholar of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, he has been teaching for fifteen years in a variety of schools, as well as privately, and is formerly Head of Academic Music and Choirmaster at Stowe School. His unique, innovative and holistic teaching approach has consistently yielded outstanding A level and GCSE results across all components of the specifications and this, alongside wider educational work, has led to being in great demand as a visiting leader of INSET days and departmental reviews in schools across the UK. Alex is currently the Children’s Musical Director and Cover Conductor for Mary Poppins in London; a role he combines with other freelance work as a musical director, pianist and organist (notably with MK Chorale, the National Youth Music Theatre, National Children’s Choir, and CBSO). Alex has composed scores to numerous short films, which have premièred at both BAFTA and the London Film Academy, and holds Licentiate diplomas in piano performance from both the Royal Schools of Music and Trinity College London, and the Associate diploma in organ performance from the Royal College of Organists.