An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Music



Mercy Heights Secondary School

Skibbereen, County Cork

Roll number: 62490T


Date of inspection: 3 May 2007

Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007


Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations




Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in MUSIC




Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mercy Heights 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 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 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.


Subject provision and whole school support


Music is available to all students in all years as an optional subject in Mercy Heights Secondary School. All subjects are offered in first year, with students choosing two subjects from Science, Home Economics, Spanish, Art and Music at the end of the year. In the past, the Transition Year (TY) programme included a music module for all students with the additional option of a more in-depth study of the subject. This year, however, the module has been dropped. The school is encouraged to re-instate this module in order to heighten the awareness of Music as a subject in senior cycle and also to allow all students to maintain some contact with Music in their second-level education. An open-choice system operates at senior cycle, where students choose six out of fourteen subjects and groups are formed according to the ‘best fit’ approach. Collaboration with the local boys' school also allows boys to study Music for the Leaving Certificate. Timetable provision for Music is in line with departmental guidelines, with a good spread of contact time throughout the week. The number opting for Music continues to grow and both the music teacher and management are commended for their efforts in developing its profile in the school.


In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, a variety of musical activities take place during the school year. Traditional Irish groups and rock bands play for events such as Seachtain na Gaeilge, talent shows, masses, open nights, awards day and so on, while the choir performs at carol services, masses, retreats and graduation evenings. Students have also been involved in the Battle of the Bands TY competition and the school produces a musical on a bi-annual basis with very successful productions of such shows as Oliver and The Wizard of Oz. This range of activities is commendable. The music teacher’s commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are highly commended.


Music lessons take place in a dedicated music room which is bright and acoustically adequate.  A very good stock of resources is available: a wide range of classroom instruments, piano, keyboard, drum kit, sound system, audio resources, sheet music, TV, VCR and DVD player, and a computer.  The walls are decorated with a variety of posters, pictures of instruments, posters of previous musical shows and a colourful mural painted by the students. These all contribute to a heightened awareness of the subject and are to be commended.


Although the music room is very well equipped, space is at a premium. The teacher has tried to make the best use of the available space by arranging chairs with attached writing areas in a semi circle towards the back of the room but even so, ways in which the teacher and students can interact in a music teaching setting are extremely limited. The overhead projector (OHP) appears to be too low for comfortable operation by the user and thus it would be beneficial if raised to a more appropriate height. Space around the OHP is extremely restricted due to the position of the drum kit and other instruments but there is no other available space in which to put these instruments. In addition, there is an inordinate amount of glare and the curtains on the windows are insufficient to counteract this. Blinds would probably alleviate this situation. The speakers for the sound system are positioned incorrectly with all audio sources come from the left of the room from the students’ point of view. It is recommended that the speakers be positioned on the wall, on both sides of the whiteboard as it would, in this case, improve the situation considerably and allow for appropriate aural stimulation for all students. Students practise in the room during lunchtime and for security reasons all instruments are stored here, adding to the already cramped conditions. Space is needed both for teaching in a classroom setting and for practice and performing. It is recommended that long-term planning be put in place taking cognisance of the logistical needs of this very effective department. In time, the frustration that builds up from working in these kinds of conditions impinges on enthusiasm and goodwill. As it is, so many of the students in the school are involved in music activities, and the numbers opting for the subject are continually increasing, that not to plan for further development within this area would be regrettable. Whilst acknowledging that space is an issue, the ongoing development of resources should be continued, including further development of information and communication technology (ICT). Though it may not be an option at present, it is recommended that whenever feasible, consideration be given to relocating the music room to a site with sufficient space to allow for a flexible teaching area, permanent performing area and ample storage.

Planning and preparation


There exists a good level of planning for the development of Music in Mercy Heights Secondary School. A music plan containing programmes of work and scheduling the topics to be covered was presented. These were relevant to the syllabus and the requirements of the examinations, and took into account the level and the ability of the students in question.


Subject planning outlined the broad plan for each class group, included references to the various syllabuses, appropriate methodologies and a stock of support material and resources 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 good level of planning for performing was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as sheet music, accompaniments, worksheets, and audio and visual resources. This indicates that short-term planning is at a satisfactory level.


The music teacher is committed to continuing professional development (CPD) and keeps abreast of all information pertaining to music education at second level, keeps up to date with ongoing curricular innovation and networks with other music teachers whenever possible. This is commendable and it is hoped that management will continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for CPD in music education that arise in the future.


Teaching and learning


In all lessons observed, a secure, 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. A warm, friendly rapport prevailed between the students and the teacher at all times, with good use of humour. There was a very good level of student engagement in lessons seen, and students’ contributions to class discussions were valued, with praise used effectively to acknowledge their efforts. Effective questioning to named students was employed to evaluate prior learning and to reinforce recently learnt subject matter.


The teaching observed employed many strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. In a lesson focussing on backing chords, for example, student knowledge and experience were used to support learning wherever possible, and this was broadened and expanded through detailed questioning, explanation, clarification and encouragement from the teacher. At all times, an aural focus was maintained with elements of music-making central to the learning process. Students and teacher discussed possible solutions, with decisions made as a result of keen listening rather than justification of the theoretical parameters. Comments like ‘Listen to it again and see what you think’ abounded, with students playing a range of chords on guitars and piano and proffering insightful opinions as to the suitability of these progressions. When the decisions were made, a performance of the exercise ensued, consolidating the work covered and integrating the three components of performing, listening and composing. All these activities contributed to a stimulating and challenging music-learning environment and are highly commended.


A collaborative learning environment allowing constructive and productive peer-peer interaction and purposeful group work was observed, where the teacher guided students through various stages and facilitated this effective autonomous music-learning environment. Student knowledge and experience were used to support learning wherever possible, with some notable examples including students playing a variety of dance tunes on the fiddle and flute as an aid to understanding the differences between a jig, reel and hornpipe and links made by the students to other areas of Irish traditional music. In this way a range of material was revised such as dance tunes, instruments used in Irish music, the Belfast Harp Festival and Sean Nós. This work was further reinforced through a listening question, the format of which was familiar and accessible to all students. The ease with which they used expressive and technical language to analyse what they heard or had learned was commendable.


When revision of coursework was undertaken, once more all students were suitably engaged. The development of skills to undertake the dictation question in the Junior Certificate examination was approached in a musically focussed rather than mechanical way. This is commendable as it once more allows the focus to remain on the music as opposed to the ‘skill and drill’ tactics usually associated with this area. The teacher gave sufficient guidance to tackle the four-bar pattern with student contributions welcomed and affirmed. Students' aural competencies were suitably developed and appropriately checked and evaluated throughout the activity. The revision of prescribed material was carried out through student performances with the set songs for example being performed by the entire group. Supportive and assured accompaniments by the teacher and students on piano, guitar and drums enhanced the quality of the playing and singing, which is commendable. After each performance of such songs as Amhrán na Cuiginne, Click Go The Shears, Yesterday and Can’t Help LovinDat Man, the students were questioned on the features particular to each, with an elaboration of the answers by the teacher. This ensured that the process was thorough and complete. Furthermore, this focus on building the role of Music and giving students the opportunity to take part in and enjoy practical music-making is entirely appropriate especially in light of the cramped conditions outlined above.


The subject knowledge and skills evident in the music teaching observed impact well on students’ musical thinking, attitudes and skills, and when these were utilised, a wide range of interesting musical activities was introduced. These varied activities and methods used to reinforce learning, understanding and appreciation of music, and which allowed for suitably challenging situations and yet were accessible to all students are commendable. 




In all lessons observed, students were generally confident and capable, and performed to a good standard. Students’ folders, copybooks and manuscripts showed evidence of good organisation, were generally neat in appearance, and contained detailed information sheets, coursework, and worksheets.


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 written, aural and practical work, is given on a regular basis and is mostly corrected the following day. Other examples include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and projects, end-of-topic tests and practical assessments. Students also undergo practical assessments similar to those encountered in the state examinations. These methods allow for careful monitoring of a students' progress, provide sound guidelines for performance in these examinations, and are indicative of the commitment of the teacher to helping all students achieve their potential 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 take place for all class groups. There is also a willingness on the part of staff to meet parents at any stage if they have concerns about their daughter’s progress.  

Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • Very good standards of teaching and learning, employing sound musical practice, and a positive classroom atmosphere were significant aspects of the lessons seen during the visit.
  • Students displayed a high level of motivation and had a positive attitude towards Music.  Observation of students’ work, both practical and written, indicates that the skills developed are appropriate and are of a very good standard.
  • The available resources are used as appropriately and effectively as possible to support the teaching and learning of Music.
  • Student involvement in extracurricular musical activities also impacts greatly on their musical development. Teacher commitment to all these activities and the school’s support in facilitating these experiences are highly commended.


As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

  • It is recommended that, whenever feasible, consideration be given to relocating the music room to a site with sufficient space to allow for a flexible teaching area, permanent performing area and ample storage.
  • The ongoing development of resources should be continued including further development of ICT.
  • It is hoped that management will continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for CPD in music education that arise in the future.


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.