An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Music
Old Bawn Community School
Tallaght, Dublin 24
Roll number: 91336W
Date of inspection: 21 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Music
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Old Bawn Community School, Tallaght. 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 the 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 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.
Old Bawn Community School currently caters for 438 male and 359 female students. The music department is staffed by one, fully qualified, specialist teacher. This is set to increase to two teachers in the next academic year. Music, in the junior cycle, was reinstated on the school curriculum in 2005 after a gap of two years. Since then, the uptake of Music has been steadily increasing. Music has a high profile in the school and is available to all year groups.
Timetabling arrangements for Music are in line with the recommendations of the syllabuses. However, the timetabling of some double classes in Music is such that they span the lunch break. In order to allow for continuity within music lessons, it is recommended that the school endeavour to avoid this arrangement in future.
In this school, Transition year (TY) is an optional programme in senior cycle and TY students are obliged to study a module of Music. This module is rotated with Drama and Art and receives an allocation of ten weeks. One double period has been allocated for Music. Each year, TY students provide the music at their annual graduation ceremony and have opportunities to participate in whole-school music activities.
Prior to entry in September, first-year students make their subject selections from a menu of subjects and option bands are formed around their choices. Currently, Music is banded with Materials Technology (Wood), Business Studies, Art, Home Economics and Materials Technology (Metal). Students entering fifth year are also provided with a menu of subjects and option bands are formed around their selections. These arrangements are satisfactory.
The uptake for Music in 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 management and the music department ensure that prospective senior cycle students and their parents are provided with appropriate information about the challenges involved 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.
Very good information and communications technology (ICT) facilities are provided in the school. A data projector, an interactive white board, two computers and one laptop are available in the music room and Sibelius III, a music notation package, has been installed. These facilities are used by the teacher to create and store materials designed to support student learning. The music teacher also has access to computers in the school computer rooms, as the need arises. This is used for web-based research. Consideration might be given to the provision of a regular timetabled slot in the ICT rooms for senior cycle music students so that music technology can be used by a greater number of music students. This provision would also facilitate the integration of music technology into lessons beyond the requirements of certificate practical examinations.
The school encourages and supports the music teacher’s attendance at continuing professional development events. The music teacher is a member of the Post-Primary Music Teachers’ Association (PPMTA) and has attended many conferences which afforded opportunities for networking and engaging with fellow professionals. This commitment to continuing professional development is commended.
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 very well. Music lessons are held in a large spacious room and students can move easily for practical activities. A separate practice room attached to the music room is also available to the music students. This is very good provision. Very good efforts have been made to create a learning environment that is attractive and stimulating for students. Many subject-related posters, both professionally produced and hand-crafted, are on display. These include illustrations of orchestral instruments, theoretical concepts and traditional Irish instruments. Two notice boards are also available in the music room. Resources and storage facilities are very good.
In addition to the curricular aspects of the subject and preparation for certificate examinations, a wide variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities in Music is available for the students. These include the Gospel Choir, the annual school talent show, liturgical ceremonies, the annual Arts Week, graduation and prize-giving ceremonies. During Seachtain na Gaeilge, the music department organises a concert for students in the neighbouring primary school. In particular, the music department organises and manages a daily Buskers Corner in the school hall so that students can perform for their peers during lunchtime. The recent formation of the Music Student Committee is intended to provide opportunities for students to assume responsibility for the organisation of this and other music events. The commitment of the music department in facilitating all of these activities is commended. Management is supportive of these activities and recognises the contribution made by the music teacher in facilitating such a broad range of music experiences for students.
Formal planning meetings are held in the school each term to facilitate subject department planning. In keeping with good practice, minutes are maintained for all meetings. A detailed music plan was presented on the day of the evaluation. This provided substantial information regarding the organisation of the music department. It includes broad long-term and short-term content plans. However, the plans presented do not indicate how the three disciplines of Music—listening, composing and performing—are being synthesised in lessons. It is recommended that the short-term schemes for Music should link content to methodologies, student learning outcomes and the modes of assessment being used. This will ensure that the very good practices that are happening on the ground are reflected in school documentation.
Planning documentation indicates that the delivery of listening, composing and performing disciplines are spread throughout the year. The music plan also provides plenty of opportunities for engaging with un-prescribed listening. However, in second-year, all subsequent analysis and feedback is undertaken orally. It is important that students’ critical analytical skills are developed, for example, through the provision of worksheets. This will ensure that there is a permanent record of learning from all such activities. This is recommended.
The TY programme provides opportunities for students to learn about Music across a range of genres. The adoption of a historical approach is a notable feature of the module. Topics in this regard include the philosophy of Music; an examination of historical eras and the lives of key composers from the baroque, classical and romantic eras; and the development of Irish music. It is recommended that the TY music programme be broadened. This could include popular music which is a very good way of engaging students. Consideration might also be given to the integration of music technology in lessons, given the level of expertise that exists within this department. It is good to note that there is a practical component in the TY programme.
Individual planning for all lessons was found to be very good. Considerable time and effort has been devoted by the teacher to the creation of many worksheets and handouts to support student learning. In most cases, these were appropriate to the level and ability of the students. However, in one instance, the standard of the worksheet was too high. It is recommended that all such resources are tailored to meet the needs of the students and that they challenge them at an appropriate level. All teaching resources have been meticulously filed and are readily available for lessons. This is good practice
Three lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation, two in junior cycle and one in senior cycle. A plan of work for the term was presented to the students in all lessons. A clear statement of the theme of the lesson from the outset introduced students to the topic to be studied. This is very good practice as it provides students with a focus and a structure for the lesson. In all lessons, there was very good continuity with prior learning. A warm and caring atmosphere was created by the teacher in lessons observed.
Teaching and learning was supported by the use of varied teaching methodologies, many of which facilitated active and participative student activities. These included group work and pair work and the integration of practical activities. Group work and pair work were very effective in the lessons observed. This was due to the careful consideration which had been given to the formation of the groups which, in turn, led to the active participation of all students. In contrast, whole-class discussions were less successful when the more vocal student was allowed to dominate. It is important that all students be provided with equal opportunities to participate. This could be achieved by requesting students to raise their hands prior to responding or by directing questions to individual students. These strategies could lead to classroom discussions which engage more students.
Students were provided with opportunities to use their initiative and creativity. For instance, during a composing lesson, students sang the notes of the triads in order to reinforce their aural awareness of this theoretical concept. In a second lesson, students engaged with the prescribed song Click go the Shears by singing as a class group. The particular practical skills of some students were fully optimised. These students supported the teacher’s piano accompaniment by performing backing chords on guitar.
In one lesson observed, it was noticed that a minority of students did not participate in any singing activity. It is important that all students are involved in all practical activities, including singing. Care should be taken at the planning stage to ensure that the range of practical activities in a lesson provides opportunities for all students to participate with confidence. For instance, the integration of a percussion instrument could be a suitable accompaniment to singing.
Teacher-devised resources supported the learning in all lessons. However, in one lesson, a detailed analysis of their prescribed work was presented to the students at the start of the listening activity. Students would benefit more from such resources when they have been given time to explore and discuss the material first. Summary information should only be provided as a final synopsis of all learning that has gone before.
Good learning was evidenced by the quality of practical performances and by responses to questions, which varied as appropriate in a mixed-ability setting. Questioning strategies used ranged from those which required a specific answer to those which were more open-ended. Open-ended questions encouraged students to think analytically at a higher cognitive level. The increased use of this questioning strategy is encouraged.
In addition to regular assessments at Christmas and summer and the mock certificate examinations for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students in the spring, formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Assessment strategies include questioning in class, completion of worksheets and practical assessments. Homework, which includes written and practical work, is given on a regular basis. In some cases, marking strategies consisted of a ‘tick’ to indicate completion of the assignment. Overall, corrections were not signed or dated. Best practice was observed when comments indicating strategies for improvement were provided. This approach is recommended
The music department expects students to store and maintain all their own music resources and materials. These materials generally take the form of written assignments and handouts. However, this requires attention by the teacher as it was observed during the evaluation that standards regarding the organisation and maintenance of work varied considerably. It is recommended that the storage of students’ resources and materials be monitored on an ongoing basis.
In addition to reports being issued after formal assessments, annual parent-teacher meetings take place for all class groups. Patterns of achievement in certificate examinations are good.
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 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.
Published, November 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board welcomes the very positive report on Music in the school and applauds the conscientious Music Department on developing and maintaining high standards within the subject
while developing a wide reaching and inclusive extra-curricular schedule
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 welcomes the recommendations made in the report. The principal has commenced a series of meetings with the Music Department to examine the incorporation of the recommendations
in to planning for future academic years