An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Loreto Secondary School, St Michael’s
Navan, County Meath
Roll number: 64370T
Date of inspection: 28 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 29 June 2006
This Subject Inspection Report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School, Navan. 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 two days 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 was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
The Music department in Loreto Secondary School, Navan currently has a staff of three-two permanent (PWT) teachers and one temporary wholetime (TWT) teacher.
All music classes in Loreto Secondary School are of mixed ability. First-year students sample Music, Art and Technical Graphics as blocked 12-week modules and then make their final selections at the end of the year. To support students making these choices and to ensure that all fully comprehend the implications of their selections, students can seek assistance from their class tutor, the guidance counsellor and their respective subject teachers. Prior to entry in September, senior management visit a number of primary schools in the locality to provide information to students. In addition, an open night is held annually in the school in April for parents and students. The uptake for Music in junior cycle is very healthy.
In senior cycle, the uptake fluctuates from year to year. The level of subject-choice support increases for students who are entering senior cycle, either to enrol in the Transition Year programme or the Leaving Certificate programmes. An information night is held for parents and a booklet is provided to complement all presentations made at this event. Once again, all the relevant departments are available to provide any necessary extra support. To maximise the options available to the students, the school offers an open menu from which students select their preferences. The timetable is then created around these subject choices. Such a system ensures that the students’ needs are taken into account.
The timetabling allocation to music is in line with the requirements of the syllabus in both junior cycle and Leaving Certificate. Also, the combination of both single and double periods assists greatly towards ensuring adequate time for practical activities, particularly in senior cycle. In both regards, the school and its management are commended.
Transition Year (TY) is optional for students but all TY students study Music. No previous experience of Music is required due to the curricular programme that is delivered, which is in keeping with the ethos of TY. These students are allocated four periods weekly, including two choir periods, and such provision is commended.
There is no set budget for Music but all needs are met subject to requisition. The school also ensures that more expensive needs are catered for through long-term planning. This includes the recent acquisition of a PA system and a CD player. The school is supported by generous sponsorship by external sources. Such charitable donations have also added to the resources in the Music department, such as, for example, the recent procurement of a new upright piano and a glockenspiel.
Provision for Music is good. There are two dedicated specialist Music rooms, a music technology room, and a concert hall, which can be used, for example, for events including choir examinations or concerts. The Music department has access to a number of pianos, CD players, over-head projectors, white boards and stave boards, percussion instruments, music stands, CDs and videos, large amounts of sheet music and a variety of songbooks. The technology room houses a midi keyboard, computers, two printers and a good level of storage facilities. The department also has further access to 28 computers in the computer room. This level of provision is commended. Management supports the Music department by providing some funding for travel and subsistence costs for any conferences that staff may wish to attend. These have included a Music Technology course and those provided by the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA), membership of which is highly recommended as a useful way of encountering other Music teachers in a support network.
The Music department provides a wide variety of music activities for all students. For example, a Centenary Choir was established in 2004 to participate in competitions and occasional events such as the Opening Year Mass. The school orchestra, historically a significant feature of the Music department in Loreto Secondary School for decades, was re-established in 1997 and now consists of 35 members and also performs at school events. Other activities include concerts, musical productions (in conjunction with a neighbouring school), a traditional Irish music group and various trips to the National Concert Hall (NCH). Students can also avail of instrumental and vocal lessons which are facilitated by the school on a rotational basis. Such planning ensures that students do not miss too much valuable teaching time in their subjects and the Music department and the school is commended in this regard. It is also acknowledged that these lessons could not occur without the support of all staff. The variety and breadth of activities offered to students ensures that musical tastes are catered for and the Music department is commended for its generosity, dedication and commitment in this regard.
School Development Planning is ongoing in Loreto Secondary School, Navan and has now extended into curricular areas. Co-ordination of the Music department is commendably shared by two members in rotation. Formal planning times are set-aside during the year for all subject departments and minutes from all meetings are kept. Management also initiated a review of curricular planning and requested all subject departments to submit a revised plan. This very good practice of timely reviews is commended as an effective element of planning.
Evidence was found of extensive planning documentation. A department plan was available which outlined aims, objectives and resources, planning for students with special needs and planning for different cultures including, for example, the use of music from different countries in lessons. Individual yearly plans were also evident and these varied from the very good practice of topic-related targets to broader schemes of work with references to teaching methodologies. Opportunities for collaboration among teachers regarding the sharing of best practice on teaching strategies could now be exploited, with a view to including a range of such methodologies in the overall department plan. In that context also, teachers should explore the full range of possibilities that Music technology has to offer. A Transition Year Plan, outlining details of the music module for students, was also available on the day of the inspections.
Good planning is also evident in the level of music activities on offer to the students. Such a wide variety of activity could not be provided so successfully without an appropriate level of advance planning and the department is commended in this regard. Planning for all lessons observed was very good. In some cases, planning beyond the textbook was evident as teacher-devised handouts provided were clearly aimed at complementing the students’ learning, and this good practice is commended. Advance planning and preparation was equally evident in the very commendable level and quality of acetates and worksheets that were used in lessons. The good practice of sharing the learning outcomes with students occurred in all lessons observed. All records of attendance, homework assignments and assessments were evident on the day of the inspection.
Six classes were visited during the course of the inspection: four junior cycle groups and two senior cycle groups. In addition, at the request of the department, an orchestra rehearsal, the senior choir and a traditional Irish music group were also visited. In all lessons, a very good rapport existed between students and teachers. Discipline was very well maintained. An atmosphere of mutual respect existed which contributed to the very good learning environment that was in evidence.
The classroom atmosphere was enhanced by visually stimulating material. Professionally produced printwork materials included posters with items of musical interest, such as orchestral instruments and significant historical eras in music. Student projects on the composer Grieg and various Irish pop groups were evident and enhanced the displays on the wall. This project work provided an additional outlet to re-enforce learning while simultaneously provided skills for students to use their own initiative and work independently from the teacher, which is a commendable practice. All lessons had a clear structure, were logically sequenced and delivered at an appropriate pace. The good practice of recalling previous content before progressing onto new material was a feature of all lessons.
A variety of methodologies was incorporated into lessons. In some lessons, the traditional “lecture” style prevailed. This was evident, for example, in a senior cycle lesson where students were led through an analysis of an orchestral work through individual and group questioning followed by note taking by the students themselves. This style of teaching was appropriate but could be enhanced if complemented by pupil-led, practical activities. For example, while it was necessary to draw students’ attention to important themes on the score theoretically, an element of performance could be integrated into the lesson by an individual or group performance of the musical themes. This would encourage students to engage with written music both aurally and practically.
An example of sound methodological practice occurred in a junior cycle lesson which introduced a particular category of music. A wide variety of samples was played for the students to encourage them to work out particular qualities within this style of music for themselves, a practice that is commended. Very good links were made between some of the excerpts and music that students had performed during choir lessons and also between musically technical concepts and some of the music extracts that were played.
Lessons which allowed students to work in groups led to a learning environment that exuded enthusiasm. This was evident in a junior cycle lesson where students participated in a quiz which was modelled on the well-known television programme “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” All questions had been devised by the students’ themselves in a previous lesson. The quiz was structured around a particular aspect of the course and the lesson served as a stimulating revision of previously acquired material. Group-work allowed students to collaborate effectively and is a strategy that can be used for other activities such as listening and composition.
Composition, an integral component of the Music syllabuses, occurred in some lessons observed. Compositions were generally negotiated with the students through questioning and all responses were duly noted on the board. In some lessons, students clapped through the rhythm patterns of the melody which ensured that composition was engaged with musically. Performing compositions will allow students to comprehend more fully the essential components in melodic or harmonic composition and, as a medium for learning, should occur as often as possible. Students could perform melodic compositions on their own instruments, at the piano or vocally. Therefore, in that context, it is recommended that the Music department develop its teaching strategies further by integrating performing into composition where practicable.
Practical activities were features of some lessons observed. In a choir lesson, good warm-up exercises occurred before progression into the main part of the lesson itself. Students were required to move arms, shoulders, and create different facial expressions, which were innovative and stimulating for the students. In another lesson, students performed recorder tunes to backing tracks as an alternative form of accompaniment. The material chosen in all cases was very appropriate and clearly enjoyed by the students themselves. Students were also provided with the opportunity to choose the material themselves, which increased their sense of engagement with their own learning, a practice which is commended.
In all lessons observed, good questioning strategies were employed, where questions were either directed to specific students or let out to the entire class. In some cases, students were probed for opinions which led to innovative discussions on the topic at hand. Allowing students to engage with music in this way is good practice.
The board was used effectively in all lessons to highlight key concepts, note students’ responses or record compositions.
Formal assessments are held for first, second and fifth-year students at Christmas and summer. Mock examinations are held for third and sixth-year students in February. Written reports are issued to parents of all year groups following these assessments. If requested, additional progress reports are issued subject to individual requirements. Parents also have the opportunity to meet with teachers at parent-teacher evenings and are kept informed of students’ progress through the school journal, which must be signed each week. The Music department also sets end-of-topic tests as an additional mode of assessment. Continuous monitoring and assessment occurs during practical and written activities in lessons.
Homework was set in all lessons observed. Questioning and examination of students’ work indicated that students were at the appropriate level and in some cases, written and oral responses were of a commendably high standard. Monitoring of students’ work by teachers occurs regularly, and in some cases, students were provided with useful and affirming comments, a practice that is encouraged for all members of the department. A review of certification data indicates that students are generally encouraged to participate at the highest level of which they are capable and participation at higher level is very good. The Music department is commended in this regard and is encouraged to maintain such successful trends.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 principal and with the teachers of Music at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.