An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Gormanston, County Meath
Roll number: 64420I
Date of inspection: 26 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Franciscan College, Gormanston. 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 deputy principal and subject 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 has undergone staffing changes for this current academic year. This music department consists of two teachers, who each take responsibility for either junior or senior cycle students. For the longer term, in order to allow teachers the opportunity to experience the delivery of both music syllabuses, it is recommended that senior management review this policy at an appropriate time for all concerned in the delivery of music.
Commendably, music has played a role in the curriculum in Franciscan College, Gormanston for a number of years. Music is currently offered as a compulsory subject in junior cycle for students perceived as being of lower ability. This policy fosters an incorrect and unjustifiable perception regarding the nature of students who should study music. In addition, such a policy does not take account of the needs of other students who may also wish to study this subject at junior cycle. In that context, it is strongly recommended that senior management act without delay on its commitment that such provision will be reviewed in 2007, and that the current system of compulsory streaming for music in junior cycle be reviewed at the first available opportunity. In senior cycle, all classes are of mixed ability. The allocation of periods to music for junior and senior cycles is in line with syllabus requirements.
The uptake in senior cycle has reduced this year and the current policy of streaming in junior cycle may partially account for this new trend. This is an opportune time to review this recent phenomenon and to collaborate on ways in which this uptake could improve. It is recommended that the music department, in consultation with senior management, devise strategies that will help to enhance the uptake in music.
Transition Year (TY) is an optional programme for students but all TY students study music. In addition to classroom activities, TY students, commendably, can experience a variety of music styles, including participation in the annual school musical and in workshops such as Songschool.
Students who wish to study English as a second language (ESL) can enrol in Gormanston College. These students attend classes across a range of core and optional subjects including music. Levels of musical expertise vary. Additionally, English language skills also differ, as observed during the course of the evaluation. The school should make every effort to ensure that these students receive an appropriate level of English language support to enable more effective integration into the content of music lessons.
Music is adequately resourced overall in Gormanston College. The provision of a dedicated music room for the exclusive use of the music department in conjunction with seven additional practice rooms is welcome and commended. Unfortunately, the size and dimension of the room and the nature of the furniture prevents students from moving around easily. Resources include a variety of textbooks, CD’s and DVD’s, and a stereo. Two cupboards are available to store materials. An upright piano and a bodhrán are also housed in the music room. There is no computer available to teachers in the music room. The provision of a computer would significantly enhance the planning process and allow teachers to integrate ICT into lessons more easily as an additional teaching and learning tool. Students are unable to study music technology, a component of the Leaving Certificate syllabus, due to lack of access to ICT facilities or music software in the school. In addition to the sound educational benefits which music technology provides, it can often help to attract students into the subject, particularly at senior cycle. In that context it is recommended that senior management, in consultation with the music department, review the current provision of ICT and as part of long term planning, initiate strategies for its future development in the teaching of music.
In addition to the core curricular work provided by the music department, students’ musical experiences are also enhanced due to the level of co- and extra-curricular activities available in the school. Instrumental lessons are open to all students who wish to study piano and classical guitar. These lessons are rotated, a system which ensures that students do not miss lessons in the same subject each week. Such provision could not occur so successfully without the full support of senior management and staff, and this is acknowledged. Other musical activities on offer are choir, rock bands, Clann Féis (where students are put into groups and assigned a family name for this in-school activity), trips to concerts and participation in workshops. The range of activities available takes account of the variety of musical tastes and this is commended.
Teachers, who are members, are afforded the opportunity to attend the annual Post Primary Music Teachers' Association (PPMTA) conference and commendably this is partially subsidised by the school. Conferences provide an invaluable opportunity for mutual collaboration with other fellow professionals to discuss and share good work practices. Membership of the association is recommended.
Formal curriculum planning has begun in Gormanston College. Currently, teachers are working independently on their schemes of work, which were available in some cases. Excellent practice was evident where plans included, for example, detailed schemes of work for the entire year with an indication of deadlines. In addition, worksheets and other learning resources to be used during the forthcoming year, a detailed stock list of all resources, assessment assignments, and an outline of other modes of assessments were also incorporated into this very comprehensive plan. To date, no formal collaboration within the music department regarding planning has occurred. Opportunities for sharing good practices should now be optimised as such teamwork will benefit everyone involved in the teaching and learning of music. Therefore, it is recommended that members of the music department work collaboratively on department planning from this point forward.
A very comprehensive TY plan was also made available. Planning for the students was in keeping with the spirit of TY and commendably aimed to introduce students to a wide variety of music genres. Excellent practice was also evident in the TY plan as strategies for students with special needs were included.
Planning for the integration of practical activities into lessons was a hallmark of this department and, as a strategy, is commended. Content planning for individual lessons, however, was diverse. Where the content was varied, students were kept more engaged and motivated throughout the lesson. Handouts and worksheets designed to complement students’ learning were integrated into lessons. This is an indication of the teachers’ commitment to extend learning resources beyond the confines of the textbook and the music department is commended in this regard.
Four lessons were inspected during the course of the evaluation: two in junior cycle and two in senior cycle. Lessons were clear and followed a logical direction. New concepts were well explained. Students were challenged by the content and high teacher expectations regarding behaviour was evident in all lessons. Students were equally motivated to incorporate technical terms when questioned, a strategy which further enhances a challenging student learning environment. Lessons were driven and led by teachers in all cases. There is scope to further develop strategies which encourage students to assume more control over their own learning. For example, where students clearly have good practical abilities on their chosen instrument, these students should be encouraged to perform a composition for their peers, where performance by the teacher currently would be the norm. Allowing students to study and analyse a short melody to enhance their own compositions prior to the process would further develop their higher cognitive thinking skills. This would also encourage them to develop their own opinions regarding features of good melodic composition independently from the teacher.
Composition was taught through theory and performance where students clapped rhythms and sang melodies, and/or melodies were played for them. This synthesis is good practice and its continued usage is encouraged. However, a double period devoted to melodic composition should be avoided. References to state examinations should also be avoided at such an early stage of the academic year so that students are motivated by the subject itself.
The music department daily faces the challenges of working with lower stream students in conjunction with students whose first language is not English and whose previous knowledge of the subject varies considerably. Such challenges were reasonably well met. While current policy exists, these classes will further benefit by the use of carefully structured and differentiated group work, which will enhance student learning and allow monitoring of all activities more readily.
Practical classes were well structured and students were commendably given ample time to familiarise themselves with the music. The material chosen was generally at an appropriate level for the ability of the students. Commendably, well-known pieces including the theme tune from Eastenders were used and this appealed to the students themselves. Such an activity could readily link to a listening exercise using, in this instance, the full instrumental version of the theme tune, which will further cement students’ knowledge of the music.
In all lessons, a very good atmosphere prevailed as students were praised and affirmed for their efforts. The classroom itself is considerably enhanced by the variety of charts and posters on display and this is commended. Posters included orchestral and Irish instruments, tonic solfa and its respective hand signals, and numerous posters of musical shows including Evita and Miss Saigon.
Formal assessments are held for all students at Christmas and Easter. First, second and fifth-year students are assessed in October and summer. Mock examinations are held for third and sixth years in February/March. Further feedback is provided to parents through the school journal, reports and at parent-teacher meetings. The music department also assess students through homework assignments, practical performances and class tests. It is commendable that practical performances form a percentage of all formal examinations.
Students are also assessed through teacher questioning which was dominated by those requiring a closed answer. It should be borne in mind that open-ended questions allow students to think about, and put in practice, technical concepts learnt in lessons and as an additional mode of assessment, are encouraged. Students in some classes are expected to store material in A4 folders, which encourages students to manage the diverse range of materials efficiently. These are monitored meticulously and constructive comments to aid improvement are provided. This is good practice and its enhanced use is advised. All practical performances are assessed during lessons and amendments made as necessary.
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 deputy 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
There is no specific policy regarding the assignment of teachers to classes in any subject.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
1. Policy regarding the assignment of students to classes in first year is currently under review and new arrangements will be in place for September 2007. It is expected that all first years will follow a common curriculum.
2. The IT suite has been upgraded, and now has controlled access to the internet. It can be booked by teachers of all subjects for their classes by contacting the IT co-ordinator.
3. It is intended to provide a number of notebooks and digital projectors for general classroom use during the course of the next academic year. These will be available for collection in a general resource room.