An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Saint Angela’s School
Roll number: 64990D
Date of inspection: 2 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Angela’s 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 teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the 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 was given the 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 to this report.
Music is available to all students in all years as an optional subject in St. Angela’s Secondary School. Students choose their subjects for Junior Certificate in the March prior to entry, with Music available in two option blocks - Science, Art and Home Economics in one block and Business and Spanish in the other. All students in the compulsory Transition Year (TY) have one period per week of what is entitled ‘Music Appreciation’. The option blocks for the Leaving Certificate vary to maximise students’ preferences, with Music placed in the block that facilitates the majority of those students wishing to take the subject and is often slotted into blocks three or four. Thus in the current fifth-year Music is against the block containing Geography, Accounting, Spanish and Business, while in sixth year, the subjects are Geography, Business, History, Economics and Religious Education. Uptake for the subject is very good, especially at junior cycle where its placing in two option blocks has resulted in over a third of the student cohort opting for Music. There are also healthy viable numbers at senior cycle which is commendable. Timetable provision for Music is in line with departmental guidelines with an appropriate spread of contact time during the week.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and examination preparation, an impressive variety of musical activities takes place during the school year. The school’s choir, orchestra and traditional Irish group rehearse during four lunchtimes per week throughout the school year. The standard of performance and variety of repertoire provides a comprehensive range of music-making experience, as evidenced during the inspection. The various groups were impressive as, in the course of the evaluation, they performed such pieces as The Sleeping Beauty Waltz, Pie Jesu, King of the Fairies, Les Avions en Papier, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Banish Misfortune and Oh What a Beautiful Morning. Other events where students perform include liturgical ceremonies, school talent shows, open night, end-of-year events, including the Grand Finale School Concert, and Seachtain na Gaeilge. The students’ musical experiences are continually enriched also by trips to concerts and competitions, and visits to the school from outside musicians and performers, for example the choral festival in New Ross and percussion workshops. Students also link up with a local boys’ school for its annual musical and attend lectures on acoustics and the physics of Music in the Waterford Institute of Technology. Thus, even if it is not part of their subject options, the majority of students in St. Angela’s Secondary School experience some type of music-making activity as part of their second-level education. This range of activities is highly commendable and does much to raise the profile of Music in the school. The music teachers’ commitment to these events and the school’s support in facilitating such activities are deserving of the highest praise.
Music lessons take place mainly in a dedicated music room with the refectory doubling as a second music room in the event of a clash. The music teachers have access to the study hall also where some lessons as well as choir, orchestra and traditional group activities take place. The main room is suitably resourced with good quality audio equipment, audio resources, sheet music and texts, piano, a range of instruments including a drum kit, and a computer with music software such as Sibelius and Finale Notepad installed. The second room is equipped with a piano, a whiteboard with staves, and access to portable audio equipment. The study hall is equipped with a laptop and data projector, audio-visual resources, audio equipment and a piano. The department has access to a range of audio-visual resources including an overhead projector (OHP) and some computers in the school have suitable music software installed. The walls in both rooms are adorned with posters, charts and students’ projects, all of which heighten an awareness of the subject. This extensive investment in resource provision is indicative of the wholehearted commitment of all those involved, which is commendable. It is recommended that the ongoing development of resources be continued, especially in the area of information and communication technology (ICT) in order to optimise the students’ music learning experiences.
There exists a good level of planning for the development of Music in St. Angela’s Secondary School. School development planning (SDP) is at an advanced stage in the school and a music plan was presented which included planning for students with special educational needs, cross-curricular planning, planning for a culturally diverse society and homework and assessment procedures. Long-term curriculum planning consisted of lists of content to be covered with each year group. Some schemes of work were also presented containing more specific content to be covered. It is recommended that future planning include consideration of student learning strategies and of ways of encouraging students to reflect on their learning. Planning to include some broader aspects of musical development is also recommended with a focus on precise medium-term and short-term targets and the inclusion of more active-learning methodologies. Planning could also be developed to facilitate more integration of the core activities of performing, composing and listening within the classroom context. It is recommended that both long-term planning and schemes of work be developed now with these areas in mind, and ensure that material from the State Examinations Commission informs but does not dictate planning. It would also be important to ensure that all programmes and schemes of work are working documents that are regularly reviewed.
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 short-term planning was evident in the prior preparation of relevant materials such as sheet music, accompaniments, worksheets, and audio resources, which is commended.
The music teachers are members of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and attendance at its meetings allows them to keep abreast of all information pertaining to music education at second level, to keep up to date with ongoing curricular innovation and to network with other music teachers. This is commendable and it is hoped that management will continue to support and facilitate any opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) in music education that arise in the future.
In all lessons observed, a secure, work-orientated atmosphere prevailed, with high expectations of attainment and behaviour evident. A warm, friendly rapport was evident between the students and the teachers at all times. Material was presented in a coherent manner and the purpose of each lesson was clearly established from the outset. There was a good level of student engagement in lessons seen, and students’ contributions to class discussions were valued, with praise used effectively to acknowledge their efforts.
The teaching observed employed a range of strategies to engage the students and include them in all aspects of the learning process. Where the lesson focussed on examination questions, every aspect was explored, teachers circulated to ascertain students’ understanding, and good questioning was employed as a means of clarification, explanation and encouragement. This ensured that the students were very well prepared and familiar with examination procedures and techniques, which is commendable.
In lessons that had a performing element, relevant rote learning, good rehearsal technique, where awkward passages were isolated and worked on, and assured teacher accompaniment were some of the activities seen. In order to improve the overall ensemble, a regular beat was maintained by either a student using a percussion instrument or a teacher counting over the playing. It is preferable to minimise the latter as often it is questionable as to what the students are actually listening to in order to keep in time. At times the activity was open-ended enough to allow students’ opinions to impact on the musical interpretation of these performances. This is commendable as it allows students to enrich their learning in a musically-focussed rather than a cognitive-centred way. In general, these whole-class performances of the music provided convincing evidence that most students are capable of maintaining their own part in group music making. Observation of students’ practical work, at all stages, showed that whilst some were challenged, few students were unable to cope with the demands of the music. This focus on building the role of music as a living subject and giving students the opportunity to take part in and enjoy classroom-based practical music making is entirely appropriate, and highly commendable. It is recommended that this focus be utilised in as many settings as possible in order to extend the range of musical experience of the students and to ensure a broad musical development rather than a narrow focus on examination material.
When new concepts and content were introduced, teachers relied on clear explanations and demonstrations. In order to optimise learning, it is recommended that ways in which these methods could be expanded to include more active involvement by the students be explored. In some instances, too much emphasis on mechanical exercises and the theoretical nature of music meant that the main objective was lost. There was a tendency to approach concepts in reverse order, providing all the information first and then introducing the sounds. It is recommended that the ‘sound before symbol’ approach be explored to allow students experience a more meaningful exploration of the parameters of music. This would also open up opportunities for further music making activities encompassing the three areas of performing, composing and listening and form links with all aspects of the course in a more musically-focussed rather than cognitive-centred way.
In the main, the available resources were used appropriately in an integrated way to support the teaching and learning of music. Although the music department does have access to an OHP, enhanced use of this resource is also worth considering. Its use, coupled with suitable software could produce a stock of resource material which would greatly enhance learning and would allow for a more efficient use of teacher time in the long term. Additionally, both the computer and OHP could be used to produce more student-friendly resources and handouts. This could enhance student engagement and allow for more appropriate student posture during ensemble performance for example, as the required visual stimuli could be displayed in a more effective way.
The performing and listening elements of the syllabus are very well addressed, and in one instance students integrated the three curricular areas of performing, composing and listening when they performed their own melodic compositions for each other on the recorder. It is recommended that more integration of these three principles be developed to ensure a better balance between performing, listening and composing. In this way, more opportunities for creative expression and experimentation from the students would evolve and there should follow a more favourable balance between students’ musical development and their preparation for the examinations.
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, worksheets, recorder repertoire and song sheets.
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, and practical recorder assessments. Students also experience practical assessments similar to those encountered in the state examinations, which is commendable. The results in the Christmas reports are an average of the first term’s work, while common end-of-year papers are set for non-examination students in the summer. It may be worthwhile considering a range of different types of assessment for Transition Year students. Given the nature of the TY programme, some project and portfolio assessment ought to be considered. This may be more in keeping with the aims of the music appreciation programme as outlined in the music department plan. Some form of practical assessment, rather than just an end-of-year examination which focuses on listening and formal dictation, is also recommended.
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.
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 and Staff welcome the overall positive report on the teaching and learning of Music in the school.
The main strengths identified in the evaluation are consistent with the Board’s and Staff’s views.
In particular, the Inspectorate’s finding that a professional approach is taken by the teachers is appreciated.
We will continue to build and develop these strengths.
We note the considerable reference in the report to emphasis in class on examinations. We wish to point out that the inspection took place in the month of May, just a few weeks before State and House examinations were due to start. At that stage of the academic year, it would naturally be assumed and expected by parents that emphasis on revision and preparation for examination questions would inform.
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 Management is committed to the continued support of teachers in their ongoing professional development and in implementing change as recommended in the inspector’s report.