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 A level Music, regardless of exam board.

The course includes 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, and how these can be integrated into the composition process. This also provides valid and accurate data for tracking and assessing within the department.

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 under-confident students will be suggested, along with ways of developing compositional skills across A Level with the aim of encouraging a love of composition, while at the same time maximising potential to access the best possible marks.

The final sessions focus in detail on ways of making a composition outstanding, final presentations, communicating to the examiner, exploring immediate and practical suggestions for composition planning, 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.


  • Take away proven strategies, approaches and monitoring processes for composition at A Level
  • Find out more about assessment criteria and what students ultimately have to demonstrate to an examiner for GCSE and
    A Level
  • Gain new techniques, approaches and strategies for composition briefs
  • Take away strategies for the weaker of under-confident composition student
  • Take away strategies to support students taking
    A level without having taken GCSE
  • Questions, questions and more questions – getting students thinking
  • Find out more about how to maximise feedback value
  • Take away top practical advice on making a composition outstanding
COURSE DATES London | Tuesday 15 November 2022
  • 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


10.00 – 10.45am: Beginning at the End – summarised feedback, common issues raised by examiners

  • 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

10.45 – 11.30am: Unpacking Composition Briefs

  • 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

11.30 – 11.45am: Coffee break

11.45 – 1.00pm: Moving to Advanced Compositional Skills: writing idiomatically, hidden aspects to the mark schemes

  • 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

1.00 – 1.30pm: Lunch

1.30 – 2.00pm: Maximising Monitoring and Feedback Value

  • 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

2.00 – 2.30pm: 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

2.30 – 3.30pm: 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.