The autonomy of private instrumental teachers: its effect on valid knowledge construction, curriculum design, and quality of teaching and learning

Barton, D. C. M. (2020) The autonomy of private instrumental teachers: its effect on valid knowledge construction, curriculum design, and quality of teaching and learning. Doctoral thesis, Royal College of Music.

Abstract

This research aims to open doors into the world of private instrumental teaching. As well as examining the varied nature of the profession and the work private teachers undertake, it seeks to uncover more about who private teachers are and the way they view that work which they carry out. Notably, in view of their position outside of institutional frameworks, the research seeks to understand the factors which influence what and how private teachers teach, and in particular, the way they perceive pupil input. Despite the widespread and important role private instrumental teachers play within the music education sector, they inhabit a position which has often been described as isolated; their work taking place behind closed doors. Whilst the nature of one-to-one instrumental teaching has been examined in a variety of contexts, notably higher education, private teachers occupy an almost unique position, operating outside of institutional control. Private teachers have previously been seen as difficult to reach, and researchers have voiced concerns that research into private teaching may be seen as an invasion of teachers’ privacy. From a social constructivist position, and situated within an interpretivist paradigm, I conducted three unstructured interviews with private teachers. These provided the foundation for research which was then expanded to include an online survey of private teachers which received 486 responses. Using an iterative approach, ensuring constant dialogue between data gathered and existing literature, interview and survey data were thematically coded and analysed, and key themes identified. Whilst private teachers were committed to the work they undertook, responses suggest they were often uncritical in their practice. The dataset indicates an emerging dichotomy between the autonomy private teachers possess and their ability to manage that freedom, leading to communities of practice which do not function at as high a level as they might. This research makes a valuable contribution to an under-researched area of music education, highlighting a number of implications for practice. At a time when state-funded music provision is under threat, it is essential that key stakeholders better-understand the role private teachers play as part of the wider music education profession.

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