An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Skerries Community College
Skerries, County Dublin
Roll number: 76078Q
Date of inspection: 23 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Skerries 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 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.
The Music department in Skerries Community College is in a period of transition due to temporary staffing arrangements. The effective response to challenges involved is due to the conscientious determination of its existing part-time personnel to meet the current needs of the students. Through meticulous planning, teachers are successfully driving students to maximise their full potential and are highly commended in that regard.
The uptake for Music at both junior and senior cycle overall is very encouraging and the number of girls and boys choosing the subject is very well balanced overall. With careful planning, combined with the obvious commitment and enthusiasm shown by management, this position may improve over time, as is already evident in the increase in uptake in the current first-year class group. In that context, it is recommended that management, in collaboration with the subject department, continue to plan for increasing numbers of Music students.
Music is an optional subject for all students and all classes are of mixed ability. Support systems are in place to ensure that students are provided with guidance in selecting subjects in both junior and senior cycles. Information evenings, complemented by the provision of a booklet, are held for parents of incoming first-year students, as well as transition year and fifth-year students. Subject teachers and the Guidance department are available to provide additional support to students and to explain the implications of their subject choices.
Timetabling allocation for Music is good. Four periods per week are allocated to all students at junior cycle and in some cases, a combination of single and double periods has been provided, which is good practice. In senior cycle, transition year students (TY) receive three periods (one single and one double), and fifth- and sixth-year students receive five periods, a combination of single and double classes in both cases.
Provision for Music is good. There is one large dedicated specialist Music room, containing a variety of equipment and resources. Such equipment includes some pianos, an organ, acoustic guitars, drum kit, TV with video and DVD equipment, CD player and a large quantity of books and resources. In addition, a computer, sound desk and overhead projector are also available for the exclusive use of the Music department. This support for the department and the array of resources provided is commended.
All subject departments are allocated a budget annually. Commendably, management supports the Music department in that membership of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) is funded by the school and attendance at conferences is facilitated.
Historically, the Music department has consistently provided students with the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of musical activities. Such provision has included the production of concerts, school musicals, and participation in the County Dublin VEC Festival of Music concert, which is held annually in the National Concert Hall (NCH) and in which students from all County Dublin VEC schools are selected through rigorous auditioning, and brought together for this event. Other activities include the annual Battle of the Bands, participation in various liturgical ceremonies during the course of the year and graduation ceremonies at the end of the academic year. An orchestra, consisting of piano, violins, flutes, timpani, guitars and mandolin, has been formed and, with the school choir, is available to perform for school occasions as the need arises. The Music department is planning to develop both orchestral and choral activities and increase capacity for student participation. The department is commended for the commitment and dedication shown in the provision of such a variety of activities for the benefit of the students and, as a result, in catering for their wide variety of musical tastes.
School development planning is ongoing in Skerries Community College with some policies already in place. Planning has now extended to curricular areas. A Music department plan presented on the day of the inspection reflected the immediate teaching and learning needs in the subject as identified by staff at the beginning of the current school year. Individual teaching plans presented outlined broadly the subject content for the year for the relevant classes. Opportunities to collaborate on planning, preparation, teaching methodologies and the sharing of best practice should be taken where possible as part of long-term planning for a strongly coordinated department into the future and as the staffing situation stabilises.
Lessons observed were individually well planned. The provision of additional handouts and worksheets to support the learning of music highlighted the level of advance planning that is a feature of the department. Records of homework assignments, attendance and assessments were made available on the day of the inspection.
Four classes were visited during the course of the visit, involving two groups at junior cycle and two at senior cycle. In all lessons, a good rapport existed between teacher and students. Discipline was well maintained. Students were challenged and motivated in all lessons and a very high level of teacher expectation existed. Students were constantly affirmed for their efforts, and when necessary, correction of errors was handled sensitively. There was a strong atmosphere of learning in all lessons visited and students were generally kept engaged with the content by the variety of teaching methodologies employed.
The classroom atmosphere was richly enhanced by the provision of a fine range of professionally- illustrated printwork materials and by work produced by the students themselves. Illustrations of musical bands and instruments of the orchestra, including a large poster with the notes of the piano, added colour and stimulus to the learning environment. The presence of the projects and posters produced by the students, and the nature and quality of this output, were evidence that students are given the opportunity to work collaboratively and to develop the necessary skills for self-directed learning. Such an approach to learning is commended and should continue to be implemented. The Music room also contained a historical reminder of the various concerts and shows that have occurred, as a large quantity of photographs was expertly displayed on the walls. This also enhanced the environment while also serving as a visual reminder for students of the importance of participation in music-making activities.
All lessons observed had a very clear structure, were logically sequenced and delivered at a pace appropriate to the students. Lessons which began with a brief recall of earlier material ensured that students’ previous knowledge was reinforced before new material was introduced. Evidence of good teaching practice was seen in lessons where the delivery of the content was varied. For example, in a lesson devoted to Irish dance music, students were provided with a vocalised expression of the rhythm of jigs, and the reel was demonstrated by a practical performance of a well known tune. All theoretical concepts pertaining to dance music were documented on the board and were duly recorded by the students. Skilful management of questioning strategies regarding traditional and non-traditional instruments, where students’ opinions were welcomed, led to an open and frank discussion about Irish music. All responses were noted on the board. At this point, the inclusion of listening exercises to complement the learning and which alluded to the theoretical components in the earlier part of the lesson, also ensured that students engaged musically with these concepts. A further teaching strategy used was the synthesis of performing and listening activity whereby students tapped rhythm patterns which were a component of one question set for the class. This strategy provided students with the opportunity to respond musically to such a question, as well as providing the necessary skills to tackle examination questions in general.
There was evidence in lessons observed that variety of content can help to ensure that students are engaged as fully as possible. For example, a lesson at junior cycle included the integration of rhythmic dictation exercises, listening assignments and a composition component. Similarly, at senior cycle, a lesson contained melodic composition, listening component and Irish music, which also included a listening assignment. Once again, this planned variety of activity ensured that students’ attention did not wane and this strategy is very much commended.
A further example of sound practice was seen at senior cycle where, as part of the listening component, students engaged with aspects of the music harmonically, thus linking their knowledge of chordal progressions to a listening activity. Melody writing was extended beyond mere theory as all contributions were documented on the board and subsequently performed on the piano. Such a practice is laudable and worthy of increased use. Composition and listening assignments provide an ideal opportunity for students to work collaboratively in small groups or in pairs. Such a strategy leads to students learning from each other and prevents the lesson from being entirely teacher-led. Therefore, it is recommended that the integration of pair work and group work activities be further developed as additional teaching and learning strategies.
Formal assessments are held for first, second and fifth-year groups in February (in conjunction with the “mock” examinations for third and sixth-year classes) and in the summer. All classes are issued with written reports at Christmas, based on class work and assessments, and following all formal assessments. Parents also have the opportunity to meet with teachers and management at parent-teacher meetings or by individual appointment. The school journal is used to keep parents informed of students’ progress. Continuous assessment and monitoring also occurs during lessons.
Homework was set in all lessons observed. Questioning strategies varied between those that were closed, requiring a “correct” answer, and those which were more open-ended and which led to discussion. In some lessons, when students were working on listening assignments, the frequency of questioning and “checking in” with individual students throughout the exercise ensured that students’ methodologies in tackling the tasks were appropriate. Such extensive monitoring could now include students’ written assignments in copybooks and manuscripts in order to enhance the good work already being done in this Music department.
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.