An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Nagle Rice Secondary School
Doneraile, County Cork
Roll number: 62210K
Date of inspection: 20 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Nagle Rice Secondary 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 teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Music has a high profile in Nagle Rice Secondary School and is available to all students in all years as an optional subject. All first-year students engage in a three-week taster system in September after which they choose between Music, Home Economics and Business. Despite a smaller uptake this year, attributed to a smaller intake in first year, a third of the student cohort usually opts for Music in junior cycle. The optional Transition Year (TY) programme includes a Music module which the students follow for the entire year. In senior cycle, students choose from an option block of four subjects which are adapted each year to suit student needs. Thus, in fifth year this year, students chose from Biology, Business, Technical Drawing and Music, while in sixth year the choice was between Physics, Accounting, History and Music. Students who did not study Music for Junior Certificate but have an aptitude for and an interest in studying it at Leaving Certificate are also facilitated, which is commendable. Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students can also choose their key assignments from two modules – Music 1 and Music 2. The uptake of Music is healthy for both cycles although there is a gender imbalance, with the girls outnumbering the boys by approximately five to one, despite there being slightly more boys than girls in the school.
Timetable provision for Music is in line with departmental guidelines, with all classes having the required allocation. Fifth-year and sixth-year students can also choose between choir, Physical Education (PE) and study and have one double period a week. In addition management timetables teachers to allow shared class groups and facilitate team teaching between members of the music department. This allows teachers to focus on their individual strengths. This facility is laudable and contributes to the overall collaborative ethos which exists in this particular department.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, other musical activities take place during the school year. The school has a traditional group which performs for many events in the course of the school year such as the school mass, Christmas carol service, open night and the awards night. The choirs also perform for many of these events and also participate in the confirmation ceremonies for the local primary school. In addition, the students regularly contribute to the life of the school through the various fundraising activities which take place there. A notable event this year is the India Immersion Project with which the school is particularly involved. The students’ music experiences are continually enriched also by trips to concerts and visits to the school from outside musicians and performers. This year trips to such performances as the Cork Pops Orchestra, Liam O’Connor, Beauty and the Beast, Mama Mia and Phantom of the Musicals have been arranged for the students, as well as percussion workshops for the first-year and Transition Year students. This range of activities is commendable and does much to raise the profile of Music in the school. The music teachers’ commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are to be applauded.
Nagle Rice Secondary School has a dedicated music room laid out in traditional style. This room is bright, acoustically adequate and suitably equipped and resourced. Resources include a piano, electronic keyboard, a range of classroom instruments including fifteen recorders, sound system, television, video recorder and DVD player, a range of CDs, videos and DVDs, sheet music and text books, an overhead projector (OHP), and a computer and printer. The students also have access to the computer room where Print Music 2000® is installed. The walls are decorated with a variety of posters, pictures of instruments, articles about Music, and photographs of first-year students with their favourite instruments. These all contribute to a heightened awareness of the subject and are to be commended.
A few shortcomings were immediately noticeable in relation to resources. One pertains to the speakers for the sound system, which are positioned incorrectly. The positioning of these speakers militates against quality aural development as all audio sources come from the left of the room from the students’ point of view. It is recommended that the speakers be positioned on the wall, on both sides of the whiteboard as it would, in this case, improve the situation considerably and allow for appropriate aural stimulation for all students. The OHP appears to be too low for comfortable operation by the user and thus it would be beneficial if raised to a more appropriate height. The many cables and wires strewn along the floor by the whiteboard and teacher’s desk could also become a safety issue and would benefit from being taped down or reorganised in such a way that they are not encroaching on the performing area.
There exists an impressive level of collaborative planning for the development of Music in Nagle Rice Secondary School. This planning takes cognisance of the relevant curricular principles of performing, composing and listening. Comprehensive programmes of work scheduling the topics to be covered were presented. These were relevant to the syllabus and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the level and the ability of the students in question. Subject planning with broad plans for each class group, a summary of work to be completed and proposed assessments were also presented. These plans were thorough, showed evidence of much deliberation and were interesting and challenging for the students. The TY programme for example included choral singing, the basics of guitar playing, Irish and ballroom dancing and many opportunities for cross-curricular activity. Planning of shared class groups was also thorough. At junior cycle one teacher is responsible for the course content while the other ensures the practical requirements are met. The fifth-year music students are timetabled for a computer class so that they can choose to do the technology option in Leaving Certificate if they so wish. This is commendable and ensures students are introduced to a broad range of musical experiences while at the same time are fully prepared for the State examinations.
The music teachers work effectively as a team, planning programmes of work for the school year and organising the various music activities that take place in the school. From discussion with the teachers it was found that considerable thought has been given to the accurate and effective delivery of all music courses in the school. There is regular contact and co-operation between them in the sharing of collective facilities and resources and in the day-to-day implementation of the syllabuses with their classes.
In all lessons observed, clear objectives were evident, there was continuity from previous lessons, and appropriate resources and stimuli were utilised. In general, a high level of planning for performing was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials – sheet music, accompaniments, worksheets, audio resources etc. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.
The music teachers are also members of the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and attendance at its meetings affords them the opportunity to keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at second level, to keep up-to-date with ongoing curricular innovation and to network with other music teachers. In addition, teachers avail of any ongoing training courses which contribute to their overall continuing professional development (CPD). This is commendable and it is hoped that management will continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for CPD in music education that arise in the future.
All lessons observed were presented in a coherent and confident manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set. There was a good rapport between the students and the teachers in a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated atmosphere with good use of humour. The music teachers created a positive learning environment through effective organisation and management of learning activities. Students responded very well to this positive climate for learning and participated with enthusiasm wherever challenging opportunities were presented. There was a good level of student engagement in lessons seen, and students’ contributions to class discussions were valued, with praise used effectively to acknowledge their efforts.
In all lessons visited, a wide variety of methodologies and examples of active music-making were seen. Lessons were well structured and paced accordingly. The material chosen in all classes was pitched at the level of the students and the pace of learning was commensurate with their ability. Strategies linking aspects of the curriculum were utilised to very good effect with the areas of performing, composing and listening integrated in a musically-focussed way. Lessons focusing on prescribed material for the State examinations were particularly effective as students engaged in such activities as preparing parts for performance, rehearsed these parts, or in one case were encouraged to compose and create their own parts and play along by ear. In one lesson, all this work was consolidated with students comparing their performance to the original recording, in this case the Beatles’ “When I’m 64”. This is commendable practice.
All lessons observed had some elements of performing. This was at a suitable standard for the levels visited and all classes seen were on target with the syllabus requirements. The activities seen included ensemble playing and Irish traditional playing on tin whistles mainly, but also some fiddles, flutes and uilleann pipes were used. Many of these lessons involved some aspects of rehearsal where students learned new material by rote and refined and reinforced this learning over time with performances noticeably improving as the lessons progressed. The variety of competent performances combined with different arrangements, such as beginning with a student solo and others joining in, or two- and three-part tunes, ensured total engagement by all students. This total student participation, with supportive and assured accompaniments by the teacher, enhanced the quality of these performances and were commendable. Observation of students’ practical work, at all stages, showed that whilst some were challenged, few students were unable to cope with the demands of the Music. This focus on building the role of Music as a subject and giving students the opportunity to take part in and enjoy practical music-making is entirely appropriate. Furthermore, the variety of repertoire from slow airs and laments to jigs, reels and hornpipes not only extends the range of musical experience of the students but is also highly effective in developing critical listening skills and ensures that students are suitably prepared for many aspects of the State examinations.
Examples of sound music methodological practice were observed in all classes visited with well-prepared materials, and teaching that was supportive to all students. Good teaching was characterised by engaging and motivating the wide range of abilities of the students and facilitating collaborative and peer/peer interaction and learning through well-structured and varied activities. This was fully borne out during a session emphasising examination practice for example, which focussed on the Irish Traditional Music question for Leaving Certificate. After the answers to the question were written up on the whiteboard and various aspects were reinforced, discussed and elaborated, an example of peer learning ensued when students became involved in the teaching. In order to resolve some uncertainties the students were having in identifying Irish dance types, the teacher called upon two students to perform examples on the accordion and the banjo. These students then ‘tested’ the other students to ensure they had learned how to differentiate between, in this case, a jig and a hornpipe. The manner in which this was introduced is commendable. In addition, this atmosphere of autonomous learning with the teacher as facilitator and enabler is highly commendable and contributes to students taking responsibility for their own learning.
The performing, listening and composing elements of the syllabus are very well addressed in Nagle Rice Secondary School, and the ways in which they are linked and integrated are impressive. The varied activities and innovative methods used to reinforce learning as well as the structured approach to the more examination-orientated aspects of the syllabus which allowed for suitably challenging situations and yet were accessible to all students, are to be commended.
The teachers’ music knowledge, skills and experience are extensive and this ensures high expectations and a challenging learning environment for the students with subsequent good standards of performance. In all classes observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to an acceptable standard. Some groups exceeded the required standard for their level and this is to be commended. Students’ folders and manuscripts showed evidence of organisation, were generally neat in appearance and contained detailed course material, a range of repertoire and a variety of worksheets and tests.
Student progress is measured in a variety of ways, includes house examinations in November and sixth-year students receive a progress report at Christmas. Junior and Leaving Certificate students sit mock examinations in the Spring, and all remaining groups sit house examinations at the end of the academic year. In addition to these regular assessments, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Examples of this include questioning in class, regular homework, completion of worksheets and various types of ensemble performance. The fact that, from second year on, students experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the State examinations, that in senior cycle experience similar assessments in technology, and have mock practical assessments at both Junior and Leaving Certificate, is also noted and highly commended.
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 identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers 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.