An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Bandon Grammar School
Bandon, County Cork
Roll number: 62060R
Date of inspection: 8 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Bandon Grammar School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Music and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
All first-year students in Bandon Grammar School have one period of Music per week, along with one choir class. Students then choose between choir, computers and Music in second year and study Music to Junior Certificate level. Music is not available in Transition Year (TY) at present, although a Music module was available in previous years. To date Music in senior cycle has been slotted in wherever it could be situated, but next year Music will appear in an option block with History, Home Economics, Business Studies and Physics, with the proviso that there must be a minimum of six students to form a class. The variable nature of provision is cause for concern and, despite the fact that it is acknowledged that Music is a worthwhile component in education, the subject has been consistently struggling to achieve viable numbers in both junior and senior cycles at the school.
Timetable provision in both junior and senior cycles is not in line with departmental recommendations, is cause for concern and is likely to be a contributory factor to the small uptake. Allocation comprises two lessons per week in each of second and third year and this is considerably less than that recommended in the Junior Certificate Music syllabus, which states: “It is recommended that three forty-minute class periods per week … be made available in each of the three years of the Junior Cycle as a minimum requirement for teaching this course effectively.” In senior cycle beyond Transition Year, Music currently operates on an allocation of three periods in fifth year and two double periods in sixth year. This is also below the recommended allocation in the guidelines in the Leaving Certificate Music syllabus which states: “The syllabus is designed so that its objectives can be realised through two years (180 hours) of classroom study … It is recommended that not less than three hours per week be made available in each of the two Leaving Certificate years as a minimum requirement for teaching this course effectively.” It is recommended that ways of redressing this shortfall be examined as a matter of urgency and prioritised in future planning for the department.
Other musical activities also take place in Bandon Grammar School. The two timetabled choirs perform at concerts, school worship, school events and plan to travel to Prague in Autumn 2006 to participate in the choral festival there. Previous successes at other choral events include first place at the Chester Music Festival 2005, so interest in this type of activity is high. The school also has an annual talent show and two heavy metal bands, and at present individual tuition in piano and violin is available. As so many students have requested tuition in guitar, management is exploring ways in which this can be implemented. This is commendable, as any interest expressed by the students in Music should be built on as a means of developing the subject and raising its profile in the school.
The school hall is used for choir classes. This is acoustically sound and is equipped with choir risers and a piano. Other lessons take place in an English classroom, which is suitably equipped with resources such as classroom instruments, a digital piano, audio resources, television and video recorder, and an overhead projector. Further supports include a laptop computer with Sibelius and Auralia software installed and access to a data projector when required. One wall is adorned with posters and charts about Music giving some awareness of the subject and is to be commended. For other lessons free rooms are used, and a portable sound system is available for these instances. The school is to be commended for the manner in which this department is resourced, given the small numbers currently studying Music. It is important to state that a continuing enhancement of the available resources would also help foster an interest in Music and possibly contribute to a significant increase in its uptake.
Detailed, organised documentation outlining the course content for each programme was presented. This planning is significantly constrained by lack of time. The planning documentation seen outlined programmes of work with insufficient time allocated to each topic and no scope for re-visitation, reinforcement or consolidation. It is a tribute to the teacher that courses are covered, but the students rarely experience meaningful music-making activities, as everything is taught to the examination and without an exploration of the essence of Music. These intense programmes of work for the individual classes leave little opportunities for musical development and creative initiative. The students’ encounters with Music involve coverage over understanding, leaving them little time to internalise and integrate their musical experiences and are contrary to the underlying principles of Music education and to learning in general. There is always the risk that in both junior and senior cycles these students will not move beyond a basic level of competence in terms of their understanding and use of knowledge, which is of considerable concern.
From observation of teaching and learning, it must be stated that the restricted time allocation noted above had a very important bearing on classroom work. Thus the pace of each lesson was accelerated in order to cope with these circumstances. This restricted curricular time is having an adverse effect on student learning and is frustrating for the teacher. That said, a warm friendly atmosphere obtained, with the teacher striving to engage the students through a variety of activities and resources. Students were frequently questioned to ascertain some level of learning, although this was mostly to do with content rather than understanding, and praise was used effectively to acknowledge their efforts.
Lessons mostly began with some type of starter-activity such as vocal warm-ups for the choir lesson, a dominoes-type game based on music theory, and rhythmic exercises using body-percussion. These were efficiently structured but nevertheless rushed through in order to proceed with the main objective of each lesson.
PowerPoint presentations were used in some lessons, with the focus being on Irish traditional music and instruments of the orchestra in these cases. Students read from these slides but an over-abundance of text containing a surplus of technical information meant that the learning gain from this type of stimulus, as opposed to reading from a textbook, is questionable. Furthermore, the paucity of aural examples to illustrate the instruments and styles introduced means the effectiveness of this powerful resource is minimised. Refinement of the material on the slides, supplemented with pertinent aural examples would do much to enhance the very rushed method of instruction caused by the limited class contact time available. The student demonstration of different dances, which were played on the tin whistle, showed, for example, how the level of attention increased with this mode of instruction and should further emphasise the importance of the sound before symbol philosophy.
In a lesson focussing on the impending Junior Certificate examination, the pressure to cover material came to the fore once again. Thus three choice listening categories (Dance Movements, Movements from Classical Symphonies and Theme and Variations) were introduced for the first and only time in the course of forty minutes. Basically this was a quick run-through of the material, which comprised both information and musical extracts, again implying coverage over understanding. Both students and teacher are commended for the manner in which they cope with this situation but their obvious frustration is noted.
In light of the current situation, it is recommended that the teaching and learning of Music be balanced as much as is feasible in favour of meaningful musical experiences. It may be possible to maximise the use of choir time for example, especially in first year. It should also be possible to remove the anomaly of choosing between choir and Music in second year to allow the students more accessibility to music-making activities. Should Music be introduced in TY, further development of skills and understanding would ensue which could allow for further development at senior cycle. Furthermore, although not ideal, it may be necessary to use the individual instrumental tuition in the school as an opportunity to raise the profile of the subject and promote active participation in musical activities.
On the evidence of the classes observed, students have developed some knowledge, understanding and skills that are appropriate to their age, level and ability. Students’ folders and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation and were generally neat in appearance.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer, and the mock examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate students in the spring, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Examples of this include questioning in class, regular homework, and completion of worksheets. These assessment structures contribute in some way to promoting student achievement, but are hindered by the aforementioned time constraints. From observation of lessons, examination of student work and interaction with students, it is evident that students are being challenged to achieve what can be achieved within the limited scope of the time available.
The school has an open communication policy for parents and in addition to reports issued after formal examinations at Christmas, spring and summer, regular parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Although Music is available at both junior and senior cycles, at present it is not available in TY. Generally, its future is uncertain with a constant struggle for numbers.
Timetable allocation for Music is not in line with syllabus guidelines and is significantly below that recommended in both junior and senior cycles.
This restricted time allocation has a very important bearing on classroom work with a modification of teaching methodologies necessary.
The available resources are generally used appropriately to support the teaching and learning of Music. The absence of a dedicated room for Music is noted.
Plans to include Music in senior cycle options for the next academic year have been put in place and are welcomed.
The value of Music in education is recognised by management but the subject’s development at the school is in need of urgent review and improvement.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The timetabling provision for all classes should be rectified as a matter of priority.
Strategies to encourage greater participation in Music and to increase significantly its profile within the school should be devised. In this regard, it may be worthwhile re-introducing some type of music module in TY which could raise awareness of the subject and highlight possibilities for inclusion at senior cycle
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of Music, and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
It should be noted that all provisions of teaching time and resources for Music has ben provided privately by the school without Department of Education & Science contribution. It is regrettable that the tone of the report did not strike more of a note of encouragement of the efforts being made to foster a minority subject. Beyond First Year the only timetable option open to the school to expand the Music time provision is to place it in one of three competitive option blocs. The school authorities fear that this would reduce to nothing the uptake of Music in some year groups.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Planned timetabling of Music in Transition Year and Fifth Form is in place for 2006-07.
A number of pupils have been facilitated to join the recently formed Bandon Youth Orchestra. The Cork Youth Orchestra now stages an annual concert at the school to encourage interest. A very impressive drumming work shop took place in September. Musical items are included in several regular school events to give young school musicians a public forum. Music practice up to 9.00 p.m. is facilitated.
The school will survey junior and incoming pupils to ascertain which subject option group would be most conductive to a satisfactory rate of uptake for Music. A dedicated well-equipped Music room is desirable but depends on an addition being made to the Schedule of Accommodation offered by the Building Unit, DES, for a proposed school extension.