An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Midleton, County Cork
Roll number: 62370J
Date of inspection: 25 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Midleton 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 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.
Music has a good profile in Midleton College, and is available to all students in all years as an optional subject. All first-year students study Music and choose between it and Art for the remainder of junior cycle. Transition Year students choose Music from five modules, the others being Horticulture, Environmental Studies, Journalism and Arts and Crafts, while fifth-year students choose between Chemistry, Physics, Agricultural Science and Music for their Leaving Certificate. In addition, there is a timetabled choir slot for both first-year and Transition-Year student cohorts. A healthy proportion of students opt for Music throughout the school, with a good gender balance.
Timetable provision in junior cycle is not in line with departmental recommendations and is cause for concern. Allocation comprises one double lesson per week in each of second and third year and this is considerably less than that recommended in the Junior Certificate Music syllabus, which states: “It is recommended that three forty-minute class periods per week … be made available in each of the three years of the Junior Cycle as a minimum requirement for teaching this course effectively.” Both management and staff are aware of this and are looking at ways of redressing this shortfall. It is recommended that this be prioritised in future planning for the department.
As well as the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a variety of musical activities takes place during the school year. A sense of music permeates all school activities, experienced at first hand during the inspection with the whole school community engaging in congregational singing for morning assembly. Plans are also in place to allow students perform music of their own choosing at Friday morning assembly in an attempt to showcase students’ individual talents. There is an annual Christmas show which is usually an adaptation of well-known shows and is a popular whole-school activity involving significant numbers of students and staff members. In addition to the two timetabled choirs, the school has a Festival Choir, comprising some sixteen members, which rehearses during lunchtime and performs at the many school events and concerts arising in the course of the year, such as the carol service, Easter festival, prize day and the summer music evening. The school orchestra, established two years ago and consisting of fifteen members, rehearses one evening per week for an hour and a half and it too performs at the many events throughout the year. A range of instruments is also available to the students for practice. Such is the standing of musical activity in the school that two prizes for Music (the Mrs EF Bennett Memorial Prize for Music and the BD Cairns Prize for Singing) are awarded at the annual prize day.
A system of individual instrumental tuition in piano, violin, cello, guitar, flute and voice also operates in the school and a significant proportion of the student cohort avails of this scheme. This system is organised on a rota basis to avoid continual interruption of any one lesson and complements the curricular activity provided by the school.
This wide range of activities is commendable and does much to maintain the profile of Music as a subject in Midleton College. As it is, the reports in the annual Midleton College Magazine bear testament to the standing Music has in the school. The Music teachers’ commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are to be commended.
The Music facilities in Midleton College comprise two small instrumental teaching rooms equipped with two old pianos, access to the hall for choir practice, and use of a tiered demonstration room. It is in this room that all curricular activity takes place. This room is bright and acoustically satisfactory, but as storage is limited and it is not a designated Music room, all resources specific to Music teaching need to be brought to the room as required, with the exception of a digital piano which is in situ. The department has the use of a laptop with Encore software installed, a variety of audio resources, sheet-music and texts and a portable sound system but no classroom instruments. The room is equipped with an overhead projector (OHP) and screen, and is wired for a data projector but an absence of any posters, charts or displays of student work pertaining to Music means there is no sense that this is a subject-specific area, which is regrettable given the profile Music has in the school. Midleton College is in the process of undertaking an ambitious building plan and it is hoped that cognisance will be taken of this situation and that the future development of the facilities for Music will be kept in mind.
Within the Music department of Midleton College, duties are clearly defined, with both teachers having distinct responsibilities. Despite this, however, there is a certain level of collaborative planning and regular informal conversations occur along with planning for the extensive instrumental tuition programme in which they are both involved, in organising accompaniments for the practical examinations at both Junior and Leaving Certificate level, and in coordinating the many extra-curricular events.
With regard to curricular areas, 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 level of ability of the students in question. The Transition Year (TY) programme is varied and interesting with some attempt to integrate the three curricular areas of performing, composing and listening, although there is a particular emphasis on listening. There is evidence of good planning in senior cycle with purposeful sequencing of material and with elements of the course covered at appropriate times throughout the two-year cycle. 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.
In junior cycle, all preparation is examination bound to the extent that no other opportunities for musical development exist. This is as a result of the restricted time allocation referred to above. The intense programmes of work for these individual classes are based solely on examination requirements and leave little opportunities for musical development and creative initiative. Thus the students’ encounters with Music involve coverage over understanding, leaving them little time to internalise and integrate their musical experiences and are contrary to the underlying principles of music education and to learning in general. There is always the risk that at junior cycle these students will not move beyond a basic level of competence in terms of their understanding and use of knowledge, which is of concern.
In all lessons observed, a secure, comfortable and work-orientated atmosphere prevailed. Material was presented in a coherent and confident 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 teachers at all times. There was a high level of student engagement in lessons seen, students responded very well to a positive climate for learning and participated with enthusiasm wherever challenging opportunities were presented. Teachers valued students’ contributions to class discussions and used praise effectively to acknowledge their efforts.
With the exception of the TY choir who were learning new material after the Easter festival, lessons focussed mainly on revision which was entirely appropriate for this time of the year. A 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. In the lesson focussing on preparation for the impending State examinations, for example, very good responses from the students to the type of questions posed by the teacher demonstrated their total familiarity with the material and the requirements of the examination paper.
The teachers employed many strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. There were good starter activities, whether these were vocal warm-ups or involved organising the tasks for the lesson, and a very good consistency to the structure of the lessons. Materials were well prepared and the teaching was supportive to all students. 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.
Revision of material involved working on examination-type questions and worksheets from a variety of sources. Good use of the OHP was observed with solutions readily available for the more theoretical aspects of the syllabus. Although some aural reinforcement was utilised, it is recommended that this be increased in order to consolidate and reinforce the musical concepts in question. For example, when students were attempting to differentiate between various types of Irish dances there was more concern with identifying these from the written notation rather that the sound and the ensuing confusion and tendency to guess, mostly incorrectly, were all too apparent. In order to make students’ musical learning more meaningful, more emphasis on the ‘sound before symbol’ approach is recommended.
The performing, listening and composing elements of the syllabus are well addressed in Midleton College, and they are mostly linked and integrated in a balanced way. In the main, a positive learning environment was evident in all lessons observed, and it contributed to some enjoyment of Music for the students. This environment, the use of varied learning methods and strategies which were used to increase and develop their aural awareness, understanding and appreciation of Music, are commendable.
The teachers’ Music knowledge, skills and experience ensure high expectations and a challenging learning environment for the students, with a consequent impact on standards of performance. In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to these high standards. Students’ folders, notes 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. Thus a system of continuous assessment, which includes homework, tests at the end of a topic, project and practical work, exists for all Music classes.
The school has a positive, 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. Furthermore, an informative monthly newsletter produced by students taking the TY module in Journalism, is distributed to all members of the school community.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Music enjoys a good profile, is available to all students on an optional basis and is supported by in-school management.
Time allocation is not in line with curriculum guidelines at junior cycle and is significantly below that recommended.
Good standards of teaching and learning, and a warm positive classroom atmosphere were significant aspects of the lessons seen during the visit.
Students displayed a good level of motivation and had a positive attitude towards Music. Observation of students’ work indicates that the skills developed are appropriate and are of a good standard.
The available resources are generally used appropriately to support the teaching and learning of Music. The absence of a designated room for Music is noted.
Student involvement in extra-curricular music activities also impacts greatly on their musical development and the Music teachers’ commitment to all these activities in the school is deserving of the highest praise. The school’s support in facilitating these experiences is also commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The timetabling provision for junior cycle classes should be rectified as a matter of priority.
Resource provision for Music should be considered in the new development plan with a view to providing a designated Music area in the future.
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.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board of Governors are pleased top receive confirmation of the high standard of music teaching in Midleton College. The 2006 timetable allocation for music at Junior Cycle has been increased two hours forty minutes per week, as part of an ongoing curricular review, in line with the recommendations contained in the Inspection Report.