An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Portmarnock Community School
Portmarnock, County Dublin
Roll number: 91324P
Date of inspection: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Portmarnock 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 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 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.
Music is an optional subject for all students. First year students make their selections prior to entry in September and choose between Art and Music. At the end of first year, students finalise their options for the Junior Certificate examination and choose between Business Studies, Technical Graphics and Music. These bands can change annually. The uptake of Music in first year is excellent but lower in second and third year. The school hopes to increase this uptake.
Transition Year (TY) is a non-compulsory programme and Music is an optional module, of ten weeks’ duration, within this. This modular format takes account of the wide range of students’ experiences through the inclusion of an advanced course for students who studied Music in junior cycle. This is highly commended. The uptake of Music in senior cycle is very good. In particular, it is commendable that the number of boys and girls studying Music is very well balanced. Timetabling allocation for Music in both cycles is in line with syllabus guidelines and the combination of single and double periods readily facilitates the integration of practical activities.
A classroom and a performance stage are available for the teaching and learning of Music. Resources distributed between both locations are very good and include a whiteboard, stereos, two computers with Finale Notepad installed, one overhead projector, TV, pianos, laminated posters illustrating theoretical concepts, the orchestra and composers, and photographic displays of past events. The addition of posters of individual orchestral instruments and traditional Irish instruments will enhance this provision. As it was early in the year, there was no evidence of student project work on display. Developing students’ abilities to work independently from teachers through project work is very good practice and as a strategy is recommended.
The music department has undergone substantial changes during 2007. Three permanent teachers are at present on leave and the music department is temporarily being staffed by two teachers, one of whom has no formal qualification in Music and no prior experience of teaching curriculum Music. The second teacher, while fully qualified and experienced in the teaching of Music, has been primarily working in another subject department. While this is the best arrangement in place in these circumstances, the importance of having qualified teachers delivering the subject has to be stressed.
Despite their newness to the music department, the interest and commitment of this newly formed team is very evident, especially in the provision of extra-curricular music activities for the students. One teacher is a member of the Post Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and has attended conferences. Attendance has been funded by the school and such provision is commended. Membership of this association provides a useful opportunity for networking with other fellow professionals and, as such, is recommended for all teachers of music.
In addition to the core curricular work that is ongoing in lessons, students are afforded the opportunity to participate in a wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. These include a school choir, traditional Irish group, a whole school talent show, the school musical, trips to concerts and participation in workshops. These activities do much to enhance the musical experiences of students and could not occur without the commitment and dedication of both teachers, who are highly commended. In addition, these activities also do much to add to the positive profile of Music in the school.
School development planning is ongoing and has extended to curricular planning. Currently, management suspends teaching for one class period each month to facilitate subject department planning. However, such provision reduces class instruction time for students. Therefore, alternative systems for facilitating subject department planning should be put in place at the first available opportunity. Minutes of these meetings have been kept by the music department. The music teachers also meet during non-class contact time. Such collaboration is laudable.
The music department has developed a plan which was available on the day of the evaluation. This included a policy statement, homework requirements, a list of resources, yearly schemes and cross-curricular planning. This plan will be greatly enhanced by further collaboration regarding teaching strategies and resources for the various elements of the course, the synthesis of the three disciplines—listening, performing and composing—into lessons, and the methods of assessment of student work. A TY plan was also available and it will benefit from further development. The department is encouraged to access the support available at www.slss.ie.
Individual planning for lessons varied. Best practice was evident when a variety of activities was included in lessons and when there was a high level of teacher preparation. It is recommended that this would occur in all lessons. Lessons were also most successful when planning included some synthesis of the three disciplines.
Four lessons were visited during the course of the evaluation, two at junior cycle and two at senior cycle. In all lessons, a very good rapport existed between students and teachers. In some lessons, objectives were clearly stated. This good practice is advised for all lessons so that students have a clear sense of the direction of the lesson and a thorough understanding of what is expected of them.
Lessons which were carefully planned, well sequenced and appropriately paced, containing a variety of content and methodologies, were most successful. This was particularly evident in a junior cycle lesson observed. Commendably, links were made between Music and Science in determining how Music is made. This cross-curricular approach to the delivery of the subject is good practice. This lesson contained composing and performing activities. Such variety helped to sustain the students’ interest. In addition, the integration of practical activities to reinforce students’ understanding of notation was effectively managed. A second lesson observed contained an interesting approach. In order to draw attention to rests to the students, the teacher performed a melody on the piano and walked away at the appropriate time. Students identified immediately the objective of the exercise.
Lessons which were not adequately prepared in advance were less successful. This happened despite the inclusion of varied content. In one lesson observed, students were presented with a listening activity and worked individually on this assignment. However, the extent to which the students were capable of tackling the question had not been pre-considered and the exercise did not achieve its potential objective. This must be avoided at all times. Commendably, pair work occurred in this lesson as four students were required to input themes from their set works using music technology. However, the remaining students were inadequately provided for and their level of engagement clearly decreased very quickly. The inclusion of music technology in the lesson is a commendable strategy as it reinforced the students’ understanding of their set work in conjunction with their knowledge of music technology. Nevertheless, it is essential that all students are occupied at all times through careful planning in advance of lessons. It is strongly recommended that attention be paid to this.
Regarding performing, a lesson which began with practical activities indicated that students are being well taught in this discipline. In this lesson, which was well paced, students were led through a performance of Spring by Vivaldi. Commendably, students performed a two-part version of this piece very well. Students were brought around the piano in small groups, which allowed the teacher adequate opportunity to identify any problems which arose. The remaining students were required to listen during all performances. The second part of the lesson centred on composing activities where students attempted to tackle certificate examination questions. Questions posed to the teacher by some students indicated their lack of comprehension of important technical concepts necessary to tackle the exercise. This again highlights the importance of checking students’ knowledge and understanding prior to setting them directly on task and this is recommended.
Formal assessments are held for all year groups at Christmas and summer. Mock certificate examinations are held for third and sixth year students. Practical activities form a percentage of house examinations only. To enhance students’ experiences of mock certificate examinations, it is recommended that marks should be allocated for practical activities in all such examinations. Three reports are issued each year. Parents are also kept informed of student progress at parent -teacher meetings and through the school journal.
Music students are assessed through questioning strategies, tests, monitoring of tasks during lessons and homework assignments. In some cases, the assessment for learning model was very evident as students were provided with useful and constructive comments to aid improvement. Further information and advice regarding this approach can be found at www.ncca.ie.
The standard of students’ responses, both written and oral, varied as expected in mixed ability settings. The standard of practical performances was good and indicated that good progress is clearly being made in this regard.
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.
Published June 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management, in collaboration with the teachers of the Music Department, reviewed the Subject Inspection Report of Music produced on the 17 April 2008.
The Board would like to commend the Music Department for the very positive report received. Considering the changes which occurred in the Music Department, at the beginning of the year, the teachers concerned were faced with a considerable challenge – one they dealt with extremely well.
The Music Department was commended for many things, all of which are a reflection of the amount of planning carried out by a dedicated staff, in conjunction with the resources provided by the Board. The Board is delighted to see the positive references to gender balance, the wide range of extra-curricular activities etc., viewing this as a reflection of the professional approach taken by staff. Likewise the Board sees this as the school’s educational philosophy in action.
The Board of Management would like to thank the Inspector concerned for her support and positive comments.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Subject planning meetings have been held.
A meeting with the School Principal has been held.