An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School
Ozanam Street, Waterford
Roll number: 64971W
Date of inspection: 14 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady of Mercy 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, deputy 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 enjoys a high profile in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School, and is available to all students in all years. First-year students choose four from a list of seven subjects and study these for the Junior Certificate examination. The uptake at junior cycle is healthy, with two groups formed in each year. All Transition-year (TY) students study Music appreciation, and an open-choice system operates at senior cycle, with groups formed according to the ‘best fit’ approach. With the exception of fifth year, the number opting for Music during the current year remains consistently high. This development is attributed to the increased numbers that have opted for TY. Timetable provision for Music is in line with departmental guidelines, with all classes having the required allocation.
The commitment to extra-curricular Music activities in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School is extensive and impressive. Rehearsals take place before school starts, during morning break and lunchtimes three to four times a week, and on a needs basis. The school has a traditional Irish group, a choir and a chamber group who perform at the many events throughout the year. The annual calendar of Music events is packed with activities for every month of the school year. These range from the school Mass, Healing Arts scheme, carol singing and services, feiseanna in Cork and Waterford, choral festivals and competitions in Cork and New Ross. The school also cooperates with the local boys’ school for their annual school musical and, at the time of this inspection, had just finished a very successful run of Les Misérables. The students’ Music experiences are also continually enriched by a variety of trips to such places as The Coleman Irish Music Centre in Sligo, to performances in the City Hall in Cork and by visits to the school from outside musicians and performers for concerts and workshops. Students perform on a regular basis for the rest of the school community and this was experienced first-hand during the inspection, when a fitting performance of traditional Irish Music was enjoyed during morning break as part of Seachtain na Gaeilge. This is commendable and does much to raise the profile of Music in the school. A system of individual instrumental tuition in flute, piano and voice also operates in the school, as well as group lessons in guitar and recorder. This system enables students to attend instrumental tuition during lunchtime and after school, and complements the curricular activity provided by the school. In addition, the vibrant parents’ association in the school regularly calls upon the Music department for various events, and acknowledges the valuable contribution these activities make to their daughters’ aesthetic and cultural education. Music teachers and management are complimented for the considerable investment into these musical experiences for every student in the school. Both the Music teachers’ commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are to be applauded. This consistent participation of the whole-school community is indicative of the standing of, and the keen interest in, Music in the school and is highly commendable.
Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School has a designated Music room, which is appropriately equipped and resourced, and includes both a digital and acoustic piano, a range of classroom instruments, African drums, a drum kit, sound system, a computer and peripherals installed with Sibelius and Irish Music software, music stands, Television, VCR and DVD, choir steps and whiteboard. Some of these resources were acquired recently and it is hoped that the computer will have proper internet access soon. In addition, there is an extensive stock of audio resources and sheet music, and the walls are decorated with a variety of posters, pictures of instruments, student projects and homemade instruments. These all contribute to a heightened awareness of the subject and are to be commended. Adjacent to this teaching room, are two practice or instrumental teaching rooms and an office for the Music teachers’ use, which includes a computer and a piano, and ample storage space. This extensive investment in resource provision is testament to the wholehearted commitment of all those involved, and is deserving of the highest praise.
Given the extent of the practical music-making in the school, the absence of a suitable performing area is regrettable. It would be expedient if, during the long-term planning for the school, due consideration was given to tackling this situation in order to provide an appropriate venue as soon as is practicable.
There exists a good level of collaborative planning for the development of Music in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School. The Music teachers work effectively as a team, planning programmes of work for the school year, and organising activities for the many extra-curricular groups. This planning takes cognisance of the relevant curricular principles of performing, composing and listening. From discussion with the teachers, it was evident that considerable thought has been given to the accurate and effective delivery of all Music courses in the school. There is regular contact and cooperation between the teachers in the sharing of collective facilities and resources and in the day-to-day implementation of the syllabus with their classes.
Comprehensive programmes of work, scheduling the topics to be covered, were presented. These were relevant to the syllabuses and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the students’ level of ability. Subject-planning outlining the broad plan for each class group, included a summary of work completed, assessment sheets and worksheets, and an organised and comprehensive stock of support material suitable for all levels. As school development planning (SDP) is at an advanced stage in the school, a thorough curricular audit has taken place and detailed documentation was presented, outlining all aspects of the running of the Music department, including a calendar of Music events for 2005-06.
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, such as 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 general Music education at second level, to keep up-to-date with ongoing curricular innovation and to network with other Music teachers. In addition, the teachers are willing to avail of any ongoing training courses which would contribute to their overall continuing professional development (CPD).
In all classes visited, a comfortable and warm atmosphere was maintained. 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.
A wide variety of methodologies and examples of active music-making were seen in all classes visited. Lessons were well structured and paced accordingly. Materials were well prepared and the teaching was supportive to all students, ensuring that all lessons were pitched at the appropriate level and that the pace of learning was commensurate with their ability. The repertoire chosen, both for performance and listening, was attractive and accessible for the age levels concerned and the resources chosen contributed to the quality of learning and are to be commended.
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 both vocal and instrumental performance. Very good teacher demonstration, accompaniment, relevant rote learning and good rehearsal technique, where awkward passages were isolated and worked on, were some of the activities seen. Whole class performances of the Music provided convincing evidence that most students are capable of maintaining their own part in group music-making, and showed that whilst many were challenged, few students were unable to cope with the demands of the Music. The ensuing confident singing and ensemble playing is to be commended. 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.
Strategies linking aspects of the curriculum were utilised to very good effect especially through appropriate practical elements. In a lesson focusing on a set song from the Songs from Operas, Operettas, Cantatas, Oratorios and Stage Musicals category for example, links were made with the recent production of Les Misérables. As many students had seen the musical, meaningful connections were made between this and elements of the Junior Certificate syllabus. The teacher skilfully elicited information from the students and forged links with their own experience in order to reinforce the concepts introduced. Thus students watched excerpts on DVD, listened to attractive extracts from a variety of pieces, and studied brochures and programmes from many musicals. They recalled their own experiences of watching different shows and, after an interesting discussion with insightful comments from the students, successfully categorised these according to type – operetta, musical etc. The repertoire introduced ranged from such pieces as Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute and Cosi fan Tutti to Calamity Jane, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Wizard of Oz and Grease. This linking of activities and active participation by the students is commendable and does much to ensure a broad musical development rather than a narrow focus on examination material.
The teachers’ subject knowledge and skills impact well on students’ musical thinking, attitudes and skills, and when the more examination-orientated aspects of the syllabus were addressed, examples of sound music methodological practice were observed at all times. A variety of strategies and approaches was observed, making effective use of resources to ensure that students were actively engaged in the lessons. Both preparation and revision of melody writing involved close scrutiny of student work, accompanied by a systematic review and sound guidelines for the examination. At all times this work had an aural emphasis, with a multiplicity of examples played by the teachers and commented on by the students. This highly effective method is recommended and involves all students in a very musically focussed way.
The extensive resources available in the Music room are used to very good effect and contribute to the very effective learning environment. It is recommended however, that ways in which an overhead projector (OHP) could be used effectively in a Music-teaching setting be explored, as it would greatly enhance the learning situation. Not only would it minimise the writing up of complicated harmony questions on the whiteboard, but it could also be used to produce more student-friendly resources and handouts. This could enhance student engagement and allow for more appropriate student posture when performing on instruments or singing, for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way. Moreover, as there is a technology option in the Leaving Certificate Music syllabus, some consideration should be given to exploring this option further and looking at other ways in which suitable software could be utilised within the classroom setting. Acquisition of appropriate resources in the Music room to include further development of ICT is thus recommended, along with attendance at any suitable training courses for the teachers.
In the main, students in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School are exposed to a wide variety of musical genres through performing, composing and listening, and these are linked and integrated in a balanced way. The varied activities and methods used to reinforce learning which allow for suitably challenging situations and yet are accessible to all students, are to be commended. On the whole, 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. Music was presented as a vibrant living subject and the subsequent enjoyment, enthusiasm and effective learning situation were commendable.
The teachers’ Music knowledge, skills and experience ensure high expectations and a challenging learning environment for the students with subsequent high standards of performance. In all observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to these high standards. Students’ folders, workbooks 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. Homework, which includes regular recorder practice, listening and composing exercises and project work, is given on a daily basis and mostly corrected the following day. A system of continuous assessment, which includes homework, tests at the end of a topic, and practical work, exists for all classes. It was good to note that, in addition to a grade, many of these assessments received a comment or words of encouragement from the teachers. This is to be 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 school also has a new very well-designed student journal. This allows for careful monitoring of all aspects of a student’s progress, academic and pastoral, and is indicative of the commitment of the whole school staff to helping all students achieve their potential.
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 teachers of Music, the deputy principal and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.