An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta


Department of Education and Science



Subject Inspection of Music




Saint Aidan’s Community College

Dublin Hill, Cork

Roll number: 71101G



Date of inspection: 3 May 2006

Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006




Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations





Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music



This Subject Inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Saint Aidan’s Community College.  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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.




Subject Provision and Whole School Support


Music in Saint Aidan’s Community College is available to all students in all years as an optional subject.  All first year students study Music for one period a week and in second year choose two subjects from Home Economics, Art, Music, Materials Technology (Wood), Technical Graphics, Metalwork, Business Studies and Spanish for their Junior Certificate.  Music is also optional in Transition Year (TY), with students choosing three subjects from a selection of eleven.  Students have an open choice in senior cycle, choosing three subjects from a list of sixteen and the school forms blocks which give the ‘best fit’ based on student preference and mindful of timetable and staffing constraints.   The number of students that opt for Music in the college is viable, but the proportion of girls taking the subject is significantly higher despite the fact that there are more boys in the school.  This gender imbalance is regrettable and thus it is recommended that strategies be put in place to encourage a higher uptake of Music by boys.  Timetable provision for Music is in line with departmental guidelines, with all classes having the required allocation.


In addition to the curricular opportunities, a wide array of extra-curricular musical activities exists in the school.  Lunchtime concerts, the awards ceremony, Christmas concerts, the parish carol service and open night are just some of the many activities that continue right throughout the school year.  A music marathon is held in the third term as a fundraiser, with money raised going to charity and for the purchase of essential school equipment.  A very successful music club facilitates guitar and drum lessons in the school, and from September 2006 onwards, liaison with the County Cork School of Music under the auspices of the Vocational Education Committee (VEC) will begin, with the aim of providing tuition in other instruments.  This is commendable and is seen as contributing to a changing profile of Music as a subject in the school which may provide the impetus for a new developmental stage and also help redress the gender imbalance. 


Saint Aidan’s Community College has a dedicated Music room which is bright and acoustically satisfactory with desks laid out in traditional style.   The TOMAR fund has enabled the school to purchase a range of musical instruments and facilitate the scheme of guitar and drum lessons mentioned above.  An adjoining room allows ample space for storage of these instruments and equipment such as electric guitars, drum kits, keyboards, amplifiers, music stands and a range of audio-visual equipment.  The department has a good stock of classroom instruments, audio resources, sheet music and books on a wide range of musical genres.  A piano, albeit in a state of disrepair, is situated at the back of the room, and a computer workstation with Band-in-a-Box and Sonar software installed is also in situ.  The walls are adorned with posters, charts, student project work, newsletters and information sheets on various aspects of Music.  These all contribute to a heightened awareness of the subject and are to be commended.  This extensive investment in resource provision is indicative of the wholehearted commitment of all those involved and is deserving of the highest praise.


This well-resourced room also has an overhead projector (OHP) correctly positioned with a suitable projection area and allowing good visibility for the students.  However, the arrangement of the other teaching resources in the room is cause for concern.  As this room was a former language laboratory, the teacher’s console is still in place and taking up a lot of space.  The sound system is positioned in the far left of the room in a storage cupboard with the speakers directly on top, thus implying that all audio sources come from one direction from the students’ point of view.  In addition, the doors of this cupboard open out in such a way that the signal from the remote control is obstructed.  The computer workstation is also crammed into this space.  This means that for a significant amount of each lesson, all teaching takes place over in this area.  It is recommended that the room be re-arranged to optimise the use of resources.  Some suggestions include removing the console as soon as is practicable, attaching the speakers on both sides of the whiteboard and re-designing or re-positioning the storage cupboard with the sound system so that the remote control signal is not obstructed, thus allowing the teacher to move freely around the room.  Additionally, it is recommended that the computer workstation be moved to the back of the room where sockets are available and there is more space.



Planning and Preparation


Subject planning takes cognisance of the relevant curricular principles of performing, composing and listening.  Detailed material outlining yearly schemes for each programme was presented.  This was relevant to the syllabus and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the ability level of the students in question.  Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, included a summary of work completed, and an organised stock of support material, assessment sheets and worksheets suitable for all levels.


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 all lessons was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials – sheet music, accompaniments, acetates and relevant audio resources etc.  This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.



Teaching and Learning


In all lessons observed, a secure, enthusiastic and work-orientated atmosphere prevailed.  Material was presented in a coherent manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset.  High expectations of attainment and behaviour were set.  There was a warm friendly rapport between the students and the teacher at all times with a high level of student engagement in lessons seen.  Students responded well to this positive climate for learning and participated with enthusiasm wherever challenging opportunities were presented.  Students’ contributions to class discussions were valued, and praise was used effectively to acknowledge their efforts.


A wide variety of methodologies were seen in the lessons observed.  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.  Many strategies were employed to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process.  In these lessons, a collaborative learning environment allowing peer-peer interaction ensued, where the Music teacher provided guidance through various stages, elicited ideas from the students and provided a stimulating and challenging music-learning environment.  Thus in a lesson focussing on rhythm, for example, students were encouraged to suggest different types of patterns and to come up to the whiteboard to notate same.  The final set of patterns was subsequently used to reinforce and consolidate learning through questioning and performing by both the students and teacher.  Support material available included students’ own ‘rhythm envelopes’ where students identified patterns played by the teacher by referring to their collections.  In addition, evidence of their competence was further provided when two students performed their own rhythm composition using body percussion in a manner that showed it had been well-practised and refined by the students themselves.  Other performances seen included the learning and subsequent singing of ‘Hey Jude’ through relevant rote-learning and rehearsal technique.  This activity was also open-ended enough to allow students’ opinions to impact on the musical interpretation of this song.  This use of the sound before symbol approach and the synthesis of performing, composing and listening is commendable and does much to ensure a broad musical development and is highly effective in developing critical listening skills.


In the lessons focussing on revision and preparation for the State examinations, a variety of strategies and approaches was observed, making effective use of resources to ensure that students were actively engaged in the lessons, whether the revision was focussing on recall, review or test questions.  The resources and activities chosen were suitable for the age levels concerned, consolidated past work, contributed to the quality of revision and are to be commended.  Well-designed, clear and legible acetates, which were frequently colour-coded and in the main avoided an overload of text, were utilised to supplement existing information and provide a focus for listening activities.  Suitable audio extracts were ready and set, hampered only by the shortcomings in the positioning of the audio equipment outlined above.  Differentiation was observed where students at different levels of attainment were assigned work at levels appropriate to their ability, with examination classes working on different aspects on both the ordinary and higher level past papers and referring to departmental marking schemes.  Information was presented with a high degree of clarity and skilful teacher explanation and shrewd advice on examination techniques were observed.  This focus on examination performance, whether it be for the State or in-house examinations, coupled with sound advice from the teacher on the nature of answering, ensures that students are extremely well prepared for their examinations and are very familiar with the process.


Despite the shortcomings relating to the positioning of the resources and other matters discussed above, in the main resources were used appropriately.  When these difficulties are addressed, the effectiveness of these teaching aids will be considerably enhanced.   Competent use of the OHP was observed.  Its use could be further enhanced if it were used during performance also.  One such way would be to put words of songs on an acetate sheet to improve student posture, as they were frequently hunched over their textbooks while singing. 


The performing, listening and composing elements of the syllabus are well addressed in Saint Aidan’s Community College, and they are linked and integrated in a balanced way.  The commitment to the sound before symbol philosophy, the varied activities and methods used to reinforce learning, and the collaborative way in which the more examination-orientated aspects of the syllabus are addressed, allowing for suitably challenging situations and yet were accessible to all students, are to be commended.



Assessment and Achievement


The teacher’s Music knowledge, skills and experience ensure 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 these 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.  Examples of this include questioning in class, regular homework, project work, completion of worksheets and examination papers, and practical assessments.  These assessment structures are conducive to promoting student achievement.  From observation of lessons, examination of student work and interaction with students, it is evident that students of all abilities are being successfully challenged and reach satisfactory levels of achievement in Music. 


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 and information evenings take place for all class groups. 



Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations


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 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.