An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Crumlin, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60841M
Date of inspection: 28 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rosary College, Crumlin. 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 two days 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Rosary College currently caters for 131 male and 130 female students. The school participates in the Department of Education and Science’s Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan for educational inclusion. It operates a School Completion Programme (SCP), an initiative designed to improve the levels of successful completion of second level education among students.
The music department is staffed by two, fully qualified, specialist teachers. The school encourages and supports the music teachers’ attendance at continuing professional development events. Both teachers are members of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and they have attended many conferences which afforded opportunities for networking and engaging with fellow professionals. This commitment to continuing professional development is commended.
Timetabling arrangements for Music in junior cycle and in senior cycle are in line with the recommendations of the syllabuses. Music is a compulsory subject for all first-year students. From the beginning of second year, Music is offered as an optional subject. The arrangements in junior cycle and in senior cycle for choosing optional subjects are appropriate. The uptake of Music throughout junior cycle and senior cycle is very good.
The music department makes every effort to accommodate students in senior cycle who have not encountered this subject before. While it is not a pre-requisite for students to have studied Music in the junior cycle, beginning the study of the subject at this point could pose particular challenges. It is recommended that school management and the music department ensure that prospective senior-cycle students and their parents are provided with good information prior to making this choice. This information should outline the requirements of the syllabus and the level of commitment required of students with no prior experience of the subject in order to achieve success in certificate examinations.
Budgetary arrangements in the school are supportive of the subject. There is no pre-determined budget for Music. Instead, direct requests are made to school management when resources are needed. This system is reported to work well. Each music teacher has been allocated a spacious room for the delivery of all music lessons and storage facilities are very good. Resources for Music are satisfactory but the absence of a stave board in both music rooms was noted. This is a crucial resource for the teaching and learning of composition. As resources allow, it is recommended that the music department acquires a stave board for each room. The acquisition of percussion instruments would also be very beneficial for the music department.
Very good efforts have been made to create a learning environment that is attractive and stimulating for students. Some hand-crafted posters are on display; these include illustrations of orchestral instruments and theoretical concepts. At the time of the evaluation, the music department had ordered professionally produced material to add to these resources. Provision for information and communication technology (ICT) is satisfactory.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and preparation for certificate examinations, students have the opportunity to participate in the annual school concert and all liturgical ceremonies in the school. Management is supportive of this work and recognises the contribution made by the music department. Very close links have been established with a neighbouring primary school. For instance, students of both schools combined to sing Christmas carols in the local area. The vocal and instrumental talents of students from the two schools were used. This kind of collaboration between the music departments of both schools is highly commendable. In this instance, it provided a very beneficial musical experience for all students involved.
School development planning has been initiated in Rosary College and the services of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) have been used to facilitate this process. Formal subject department planning is at a very early stage. The school should now progress this work, making optimum use of the SDPI during the planning process. This is recommended.
It was very clear that there was a high level of collaboration between the teachers in the music department. In addition to the formal planning meetings held in the school twice each year to facilitate subject department planning, the music department also meets informally at regular intervals. However, minutes from all formal meetings were not available on the day of the evaluation. It is important that minutes are maintained from all such meetings and that this information is included in the subject department plan.
A music plan was available on the day of the evaluation. This contained information regarding the organisation of the department, long-term and short-term schemes of work and the music activities that are available in the school. It is very good to note that considerable thought has been given to the aims, objectives and to the modes of assessment that will be applied to all topics in music lessons. However, this information should also be linked to the methodologies that will be used to achieve these aims. In addition, further thought should be given at the planning stage to the manner in which the three disciplines of Music—listening, composing and performing—can be synthesised in lessons. The inspectorate report Looking at Music, which is the result of an analysis of forty-five subject inspection reports, provides useful advice for developing a music department plan. This is available at www.education.gov.ie.
The music department has made every effort to ensure that students engage with all of the disciplines of Music prescribed in the syllabus. However, in some cases, a blocked approach to the delivery of particular topics has been adopted. For instance, it was noted in one scheme of work that all eight prescribed songs were to be completed during the first term. In order to ensure that students have a good balance of music experiences each year, it is recommended that their encounter with each of the three disciplines is spread evenly through the curriculum plan.
Music technology is an optional component in the music syllabus for the practical element of the Leaving Certificate examination. In addition, it can be used as a strategy for the teaching of composition in senior cycle. However, music technology is not yet offered to students in this school. The music department is fully committed to developing skills and expertise in this area with a view to introducing this component. This is strongly encouraged.
Individual planning for all lessons was found to be very good. Considerable time and effort has been devoted by the teachers to acquiring or creating many worksheets and handouts to support students’ learning. All teaching resources are readily available for lessons. This is good practice.
Four lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation; two in junior cycle and two in senior cycle. A warm and caring atmosphere was created by the teachers in the classes visited. Classroom management was firm but sensitively handled. In all lessons observed, students were introduced to the topic of the lesson and to the intended learning objective at the outset. This is very good practice as it provides students with a focus and a structure for the lesson. A roll call was taken in most lessons observed. It is important that a record of student attendance be kept in all lessons and this is recommended. In all lessons, there was very good continuity with prior learning.
Teaching and learning was supported by the use of varied methodologies, many of which facilitated active and participative student involvement. These included the integration of practical activities and group work and pair work. These latter strategies were particularly effective because careful consideration had been given to the formation of the groups. This was evident in the successful participation of all students.
In composing lessons, students were provided with some useful strategies to tackle melody writing and backing chords. For instance, in one lesson, students were provided with the opening two bars of a melody. Through questioning and whole-class discussion, students negotiated strategies for tackling the exercise. In pairs, the rhythm of these two bars was clapped by students who subsequently performed the melody on the recorder. As a strategy, this is very good practice. However, despite the individual attention that was given to each group, some of the students lacked the confidence and ability that is needed to sight read music fluently and this impacted on their enjoyment of the lesson. It is essential that thought be given to planning for the different abilities of students when practical work is included in a composing lesson. This can be achieved, for example, through the integration of differentiated activities in the lesson. This is recommended.
Practical activities were incorporated into all lessons observed. In one lesson, very good links were made between a listening activity and a recorder activity which followed immediately. In this lesson, students were introduced to the song On Raglan Road and were requested to identify some specific features. This section of the lesson moved logically into a practical activity where students were taught how to play the music on the recorder. Students independently filled in the notes on a worksheet and after a short period of time, the teacher called out the correct notes. As this phase of the lesson progressed, it was evident that the worksheet task was very challenging. Some students were not able to name the notes accurately or to make the necessary amendments themselves. Care should always be taken to monitor students as they work so as to ensure that they are all able to move successfully into the next phase of the lesson. This is recommended.
Standards of competency in the subject varied, which is to be expected in a mixed-ability setting. Questioning strategies used in music lessons ranged between those which required a specific answer and those which were more open-ended and encouraged students to engage with material at a higher cognitive level. This is good practice.
In most lessons observed, there was a notable level of absenteeism. This was also reported by the music department as being an ongoing issue. High levels of absenteeism can prevent students from reaching their full potential in Music. If this trend continues, students will miss out on valuable educational experiences within Music and there may be a substantial impact on their learning. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the board of management and senior management address this issue.
Formal assessments are held for first-year, second-year and fifth-year students at Christmas and summer. Mock certificate examinations are held for third-year and sixth-year students in the spring. Reports are issued following all formal assessment. Practical assessments form a percentage of all formal assessments.
The music department requires students to maintain all handouts and worksheets in folders. However, on the day of the evaluation, the quality and quantity of materials made available to the inspector by students varied considerably. In addition, a sizeable proportion of students did not produce any music manuscripts. This was reported as being an issue for the music department. It is good that the music department are setting high standards and challenging students to assume responsibility for retaining their own materials. However, it is recommended that the music teachers explore strategies to address the difficulties some students have with maintaining their materials. For example, it may be necessary for teachers to maintain the students’ folders and manuscripts in school from time to time. This will ensure that students are fully prepared for lessons and will also provide good opportunities for monitoring their work.
Homework was set in all lessons observed. However, the music department reported that the completion of homework exercises by students is a constant challenge. This is a serious issue as students must develop an ability to tackle assignments independently from the teacher. Therefore, this is best dealt with as a whole-school issue by senior management and all staff as part of school development planning. They could engage in a review of the school’s homework policy to ensure that it is appropriate to the students in this school. As part of any such review, thought should be given to devising strategies to encourage students to complete homework. For example, a merit award scheme might be considered.
There are indications of an upward trend in uptake at higher level and this is commended. The school should now conduct a regular audit of examination results, including the uptake by students of higher-level and ordinary-level courses, and analyse the internal trends over a period of time. This information would be very useful for planning and for the setting of learning targets in the music department. This is recommended.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was 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, January 2010