PhD Research


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

Research Questions

  1. What constitutes valid knowledge in the context of private instrumental teaching?

  2. How is the private instrumental teaching curriculum designed in order to facilitate the construction and realization of valid knowledge?

  3. How does the autonomy of the private instrumental curriculum support and challenge the quality of teaching and learning?


Despite the widespread and important role private instrumental teachers play within the music education sector, they inhabit a position which has been described previously as ‘isolated’; their work taking place behind ‘closed doors’. Whilst previous music education research has examined the nature of one-to-one instrumental teaching 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.

This research aims to open doors into the world of private 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.

Using a grounded theory approach, three semi-structured interviews provided a basis for research which was then expanded to include an online survey of private teachers which received 500 responses. Ensuring constant dialogue between data gathered and existing literature, interview and survey data were 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, resulting in dysfunctional communities of practice.

This thesis makes a valuable contribution to an area previously under-researched, highlighting a number of implications for practice. At a time when state-funded music provision is under threat, it is essential we seek to better-understand the role private teachers play as part of the wider music education profession.