An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Ardee Community School
Ardee, County Louth
Roll number: 91441T
Date of inspection: 8 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardee Community 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 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 music teachers.
The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
The music department in Ardee Community School, which caters for 568 students, is staffed by two permanent, fully qualified teachers. Music enjoys a high profile and is available to all students as an optional subject. Timetabling allocation for second and third year students is in line with syllabus recommendations. However, current arrangements for the provision of Music for first year students are less than satisfactory. Students who wish to sample Music are withdrawn from Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) class every alternate week for a number of weeks. In order to comply fully with the requirements of circular M12/01 which states that CSPE is an obligatory subject for all Junior Certificate students, it is strongly recommended that this practice is discontinued. The school has given assurances that this matter will be addressed for 2007/2008. As the time allocation to Music in first year currently falls short of the syllabus recommendations of three periods per week, the music department generously provides additional lessons during lunch periods. Such interest and dedication is highly commended.
An open menu of subject options for junior and senior cycles is provided and this is commended. Transition year (TY) is currently unavailable for students but planning is underway to provide it. This provision could provide opportunities for all students to sample Music and broaden their educational experiences in keeping with the spirit of TY. Planning is also in place to introduce the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme in due course. The uptake for Music is quite healthy at both cycles. Overall, the gender balance is good although, within classes, it fluctuates. Timetabled provision is in line with syllabus recommendations and it is noted that fifth year students receive an additional period per week. However, as part of the review regarding curriculum provision, consideration might now be given to allocating a double period to Music in junior cycle which would readily facilitate the synthesis of the three disciplines—listening, composing and performing—of music.
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 choir which performs at many events. A senior folk group is also available. The school enjoys close links with the Ardee Concert Band and optimises the skills of its members who are students in the school. These students participate in the school brass and reed group and have performed for many school activities. The choir also links with a school in County Wicklow and they have performed together in concerts. Students have also participated in the National Chamber Choir composition workshops and have recently enjoyed significant success. Other activities include participation in all liturgical services, school graduation ceremonies and the annual school recital. The 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 schools’ support in facilitating such activities are to be applauded.
Each member of the music department has a dedicated music room. This provision is highly commended as it facilitates curriculum planning more readily. The larger of the two rooms has a dedicated performing area where choral activities can occur easily. The second room being long and narrow is not quite as flexible. The two rooms contain an array of posters and murals, both professionally produced and hand-crafted, and various other items of musical interest. Notice boards contain information about events and activities pertinent to Music. Resources for Music are very good and include stereos, two computers with printers with Sibelius IV music software, a class set of tin whistles and recorders, a drum kit, stave boards, white boards, upright pianos, keyboards, CDs and text books. The rooms also contain a supply of cupboards and both rooms are linked by a storage room, where further storage facilities are available. These all contribute to a heightened awareness of the subject and are to be commended. As part of long term planning for Music, consideration might now be given to the further development of information and communication technology (ICT) within the music department so that students can access music technology during music lessons more readily. It was noted that the speakers for the sound systems are positioned incorrectly. The positioning of these speakers militates against quality aural development. It is recommended that the speakers be positioned on the wall, on both sides of the white boards, so as to allow for appropriate aural stimulation for all students.
Senior management readily facilitates attendance at the annual conference of the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA). These conferences provide opportunities for teachers to network with fellow professionals and engage collaboratively. In addition, the school also subsidised attendance at a conducting course in Maynooth. Both members of the department have acted as assistant examiners for the State Examinations Commission, a most worthwhile experience as it provides a useful insight into the mechanics of state examinations. This could not occur without the support of senior management and this is acknowledged.
Formal subject department planning has been initiated in Ardee Community School. The music department reports that there is no subject coordinator and all planning is done collaboratively. Formal department meetings occur three times per year but minutes to date have not been kept. To assist in long term planning for the music department, it is recommended that a record be kept of all meetings from this point forward. Commendably, the music department also holds weekly meetings during non class contact time.
A music plan was available on the day of the evaluation. This contained a statement of aims and objectives for music education in Ardee Community School, along with broad, long-term plans for each year group which commendably indicated the planned progression through each term and the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that are available for students in the school. This plan can now be enhanced by further collaboration on the inclusion of the following: defined topics to be covered, suggested methodologies that would be used for their delivery, an indication of the resources available for the teaching and learning of Music, and the inclusion of a timeframe for revision in preparation for formal examinations.
Considerable time has been spent by the music department developing handouts and worksheets to complement available textbooks. These are useful resources but have not been fully optimised by the department. For example, the establishment of a filing system in the available storage room could ensure that all resources can be accessed readily while simultaneously ensuring that duplication of such materials is avoided. Therefore, it is recommended that the music department develops a filing system which would allow for all resource materials and assessments to be accessed more readily.
Individual planning for lessons was most satisfactory and there was a good level of planning regarding the integration of practical activities into composing and listening lessons. This is commended.
Four lessons were visited during the course of the evaluation: two at junior cycle and two at senior cycle. All lessons were presented confidently. However, a statement of objectives for each lesson was not provided. Stating the aims and objectives and desired learning outcomes will ensure that students will understand more readily what is expected of them regarding their learning. Commendably, very high expectations of attainment and behaviour were set and students, in general, responded accordingly. However, it should be borne in mind that such standards may not be possible for all students to achieve and methodologies may need to be adapted accordingly.
In general, students were warmly encouraged and affirmed and clearly a very good rapport was generally evident in the lessons. The pacing of lessons was appropriate and suited the range and abilities of the students. Commendably, there was a good balance between music-making activities and theoretical activities. In one lesson which contained a wide variety of activities sound methodological practice was evident. Students’ knowledge regarding the components of good melody writing was assessed through questioning. This neatly led into a class discussion regarding rhythmic and melodic notes that were then documented on the board. These patterns were clapped by the students and the melody was then performed on the tin whistle. The standard achieved was age appropriate. The lesson then progressed to a listening component and students’ comprehension of a particular technical feature of the music was checked before they analysed the music itself. This is excellent practice as it provides students the opportunity to reinforce previous knowledge before encountering new material.
Practical activities are clearly attributed significant attention by the music department in Ardee Community School and students were highly accomplished in this regard. For example, during one lesson observed, students performed their pieces in preparation for their state examination practical examination. All were very confident and very capable and additionally, in the case of music technology, were equally well equipped to demonstrate their knowledge with relative ease.
The three disciplines of music were expertly integrated into lessons. In one lesson observed, students’ knowledge of their prescribed work was reinforced through clapping and melodic dictation. A handout containing various rhythmical patterns from the music was used as a further tool to strengthen their knowledge of the music while concurrently enhanced their aural skills. Through questioning, students were able to competently identify components of the music which were duly documented on the board. Students were consistently affirmed in lessons and strongly encouraged to fulfil their potential at all times. The learning atmosphere was warm and there were instances when the very high level of teacher enthusiasm clearly impacted positively on the students’ learning.
The performing, listening and composing elements of the syllabus are very well addressed in Ardee Community School and the manner in which the disciplines in music are being linked is impressive. The variety of activities and methodologies used to reinforce learning which were suitably challenging for the students are to be commended.
Students’ progress is measured in a variety of ways including formal house examinations, mock examinations for Junior and Leaving Certificate examination classes, practical assessments, questions and monitoring of homework. Detailed profiling of students has begun whereby teachers have identified their strengths and weaknesses and developed a tracking record for their students. This is very good practice and this is encouraged.
Students are provided with useful constructive comments to aid their improvement. Materials in many cases are being stored in A4 folders which can be a useful means of ensuring that all notes, worksheets, handouts and music are filed appropriately. Upon examination, the extent of materials that was accessible varied considerably. Therefore, there is a need to increase the level of monitoring of folders to encourage students to enhance their organisational skills.
Students are at an appropriate level in the three disciplines of music. Composition concepts are rooted in real music and students are equipped to engage with this discipline competently. All practical activities are well organised and in some cases, the performances were outstanding. Questioning of students indicated that their analytical skills are developing at an appropriate pace commensurate with age and experience.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management accepts the finding of the inspectorate relating to the subject inspection in Music. Music has always enjoyed a high profile in Ardee Community School and management will endeavour to see this continues. The extra curricular provision for Music will continue to be encouraged and supported. The timetabling arrangements for first year Music has been changed and will form part of the option choices for incoming first years.
The Board of Management commends the two teachers in the Music department for their dedication and hard work in their subject area. This has contributed invaluably to the high profile the subject enjoys in the school.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Minutes are now being kept at the weekly subject meetings. The Music plan is currently being updated in line with the recommendations made in the inspectors report.
The timetabling arrangements for First Year Music have been addressed and it is now a subject option for all students and has been allocated three periods a week.