An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Tralee Community College
Tralee, County Kerry
Roll number: 70550H
Date of inspection: 20 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Tralee Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Construction Studies (CS) and Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Tralee Community College, under the auspices of Kerry Education Service (KES), enrols the major part of its students in Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. The college provides its second-level students with a wide choice of technology subjects. The second-level technologies curriculum in the college comprises Engineering and Technical Drawing in senior cycle and Metalwork and Technical Graphics in junior cycle, together with the focus subjects of this inspection, CS and MTW in senior and junior cycle respectively. In the current school year there are no students in first year. All of the students in second year and third year study MTW and Metalwork while most also study Technical Graphics. The management of the college and KES are commended for the provision of such a comprehensive range of technology subjects.
Collaborative subject planning is facilitated in the college by means of regular subject department meetings including meetings of the technologies department. There is a convener, selected by the teachers of the technologies subjects: MTW, CS, Technical Drawing and Technical Graphics. Agendas and concise records of the meetings are prepared. Individual members of the technologies teaching team act as subject co-ordinators for particular subjects and take responsibility for compiling the relevant subject plan. This is good practice for which the technologies subjects teaching team and management are commended.
There are clear, well-structured plans for each of the technologies, including CS and MTW, based on document templates prepared by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). In addition to programmes of work for the respective subjects, these plans include material on a comprehensive range of other aspects of the relevant subject provision, reflecting the planning work done to date by the subject teaching team.
Management and the technologies subjects teaching team are commended for taking advantage of the comprehensive programme of continuous professional development (CPD) introduced in preparation for the introduction of new senior cycle technologies syllabuses. This CPD is provided by the Technology Subjects Support Service, t4, www.t4.ie. Given the expected impact of syllabus change on teaching across the full range of technologies, particularly in the area of 3D parametric modelling computer-aided design (CAD), it is urged that all teachers of CS and MTW, as well as teachers of the other technologies, be fully facilitated in continuing to take part in this CPD programme.
In junior cycle, MTW is allocated four class periods per week in second and third year, configured as one double-period and two single-period lessons. In senior cycle, CS is allocated five class periods in both years, configured as two double periods and one single period. The allocation and configuration of teaching time for both subjects, and its distribution across the week, support the effective teaching of the respective syllabus.†
The CS and MTW teaching team consists of three teachers who are also deeply involved in teaching allied subjects at PLC level in the college. While teaching and learning at PLC level is not part of the focus of this inspection, it was noticed that a calm and well-ordered atmosphere was pervasive in the building and this helped support a similar atmosphere among the students in junior and senior cycle.
Tralee Community College is commended for the support provided for CS and MTW in terms of class materials, tools and equipment. While there is no formal subject department budget, requests from the subject teaching team are dealt with in a commendably positive, supportive and timely manner by school management and KES. In the context of further developing subject-department structures, it is desirable that the technologies subjects teaching team continues to be encouraged to play an increasing part in the planning of their respective subjects. As part of this encouragement, it is urged that the possibility of providing annual budgets be considered. These budgets should be matched to the recurring costs of materials and consumables in the respective subjects, including CS and MTW. Care in the spending of such an annual budget might lead to extra savings which, if available to the subject department, would provide further incentive for careful planning.
There are three wood workshops in the college. Each of the workshops and their adjacent storage areas were tidy and well organised when visited. Appropriate, well-maintained tools and equipment were available for the use of students. While the workshops had not been fitted with effective dust-extraction facilities, commendable efforts had been made to provide some level of dust control by means of partially effective arrangements. It is commended that KES was actively engaged in the process of providing the necessary dust-extraction systems at the time of the inspection. It is recommended that the design and fitting of these systems be expedited.
The current safety statement in the college was reviewed within the last school year. In addition to this general school safety statement there is an additional statement headed Health and Safety in Technology Rooms which deals specifically with the MTW and CS subject department. This latter statement covers procedures to be followed in case of injury, in case of blood spillage and general procedures for the safe use of electrically powered equipment. Also included are copies of five notices, displayed in the workshops, that list the safe operating procedures for individual machines. It is recommended that the document Health and Safety in Technology Rooms should be expanded to include all aspects of health and safety in the wood workshops and be incorporated into the school safety statement.
While older computer hardware which had been based in the workshops is no longer usable, all students have access to the computer room for one class period per week to study ICT. There is also a lunchtime club which CS and MTW students use on occasion to word-process their student design-project books. Internet access is available in the computer room for student project research. Students have made good use of the available facilities and it is urged that the opportunity which will be presented by the installation of hardware and software to support the teaching of the new syllabus in Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) be fully exploited. While initially these resources are being supplied primarily for use in the teaching of DCG, it is envisaged when they are deployed that they will also be available for the teaching of 3D parametric modelling CAD to all students of CS and MTW.
It is the policy in the college to provide a wide range of subject options in junior cycle and currently all students in second year and third year have chosen to study MTW. It is commended that subject-option bands are based on the preferences expressed by students, particularly in view of the small number of students involved.† Commendably, this practice will pertain in the case of students who may apply in the coming school year. In senior cycle, students are presented with subject choice within four option bands which include CS, Technical Drawing and Engineering in separate subject option groups. This arrangement provides students with a wide choice within the technologies, meeting the needs of the small number of students involved to an admirable extent. The college is commended for availing of the opportunity presented by enrolment trends to reduce class sizes and so to facilitate excellent support for the varied learning needs of students.
The technologies subjects department has adopted good practice regarding long-term planning for each of the technologies including CS and MTW. Formal planning takes place at scheduled meetings held three times annually. Meetings follow an agreed, written agenda. Outcomes are recorded in a clear, concise format. These records include a statement of specific tasks assigned individually to members of the department. Discussion at meetings is wide ranging and includes matters such as the selection of text books, support for students whose first language is not English and health and safety in the workshops. Planning of programmes of work for CS and MTW is done in conjunction with the development of the respective subject plans and progress made in this work is reported to the technologies subjects department planning meeting. This planning is in line with the requirements of the respective syllabuses. To further enhance the very good work done on subject planning, it is urged that more detail be included in the relevant subject plans on the teaching methods and approaches found to be most effective in teaching specific parts of the CS and MTW syllabuses. Given the quality of learning and teaching seen in the course of the inspection it is clear that discussion and sharing of the most effective teaching methods and strategies being used, and their inclusion in the relevant subject plan has the potential to affirm the subject teachers and provide a guide for further development.
The response of the CS and MTW teaching team to the special educational needs of their students is clear and effective. While the advantages of smaller class sizes has provided a favourable context for the teaching team, careful planning and detailed preparation ensured that effective learning took place in the lessons visited in the course of the inspection. The appropriate application of teaching strategies encouraged through the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) did much to ensure success in the MTW lessons. In one of the lessons visited a team-teaching approach involved a learning-support teacher and the MTW teacher working closely together in a theory class. This approach was very effective, due in a large part to the high quality of preparation for the lesson by both teachers, their longer-term planning and the support of the college as a whole.
The CS and MTW subject teaching team is commended for its continued success in planning for the maintenance of the very good teaching facilities and resources in the college. It is recommended that the use of ICT, in particular the use of the newly introduced 3D parametric modelling CAD, continue to be focussed upon in planning for both subjects. In addition to the deployment of the CAD hardware and software within the technologies, and their effective use for student design and project work, the feasibility of installing the software package in the computer rooms should be investigated. If possible to achieve, this would allow students to access a powerful CAD application during their computer classes and could reinforce their learning under the guidance of their computer teacher. It is also urged that the opportunities presented to introduce the use of multimedia resources for the teaching of MTW and CS be embraced. The use of the extra resources made available through the introduction of the new syllabuses, such as the data projector when used in conjunction with broadband internet access, has the potential to further enhance the experience of the subjects for students at all levels.††††
There was a good level of awareness of the importance of health and safety in each of the workshops. Safe operational areas were demarcated around machines. Large, professionally produced safety notices were prominently displayed. Appropriate personal protection equipment was available for use. This is very good practice which may be further improved by placing appropriate, colour-coded standard safety signs adjacent to each machine where this is not already done. It is recommended in addition that notices listing specific procedures for safe operation be placed adjacent to each machine where this has not already been done. Being mindful of the educational value of keeping students aware of the reasons for following safe practice, it is also suggested that simple notices be placed close to the safe operational areas already demarcated. These notices would remind students of the implications of safe operational areas for those using a machine and those moving in its vicinity. Detailed information is available in Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, Department of Education and Science, 2005), available on www.education.ie.† This publication should be consulted when reviewing such issues of health and safety within the workshop.
Each of the lessons visited in the course of the inspection was well structured. The purpose was clear from the outset and each lesson was developed coherently. In each case the pace of the lesson was appropriate to the abilities of the students and to the content.
The range of teaching strategies adopted was effective in keeping students engaged with the work being undertaken. In a senior cycle CS lesson students drew a vertical section through the eaves of a slated roof. The teacher assembled actual components on a bench to demonstrate the construction involved. Explanation of the detail was greatly facilitated by reference to the assembled components. As the students progressed with their work they were affirmed by reference to the drawing which the teacher placed on the blackboard. As in each of the other lessons visited, very good use was made of appropriate questioning techniques to keep the students engaged and to reinforce their learning. In a junior cycle lesson, word lists were displayed to strengthen the learning of new terms. Vocabulary relating to the investigation of a written design brief was quickly revised at the beginning of the lesson. This revision was reinforced by reference to the relevant word list. This was especially useful for students for whom English was a second language. The care taken to support the learning of all students is affirmed.
There was an appropriate level of discipline in each of the lessons. This discipline was based on an easy acceptance by the students of the behaviour expected in the workshop. The atmosphere in the lessons was relaxed and friendly while the focus was on learning at all times. Students were secure and showed respect in their dealings with their teachers and among themselves. The surroundings in the workshops were attractive and stimulating. A range of subject-related† materials was displayed, including completed student project work and photographs of earlier projects. The atmosphere was conducive to learning. The ready response of students to questioning by their teachers showed that learning was taking place.†
Students were fully engaged in the activities of the lessons visited. They were led to an understanding of the concepts and facts involved in the theory and drawing lessons. Teacher demonstration of practical woodwork skills was effective in allowing the students to complete their own work to a high standard. In a junior cycle practical lesson, students were involved in deciding a decorative feature for the top of a compact disc holder. The teacher suggested and demonstrated a number of possibilities. Following a class discussion, students proceeded to work with care and attention to mark out and complete their chosen decorative feature on their own pieces. It is commended that students were encouraged to use their initiative and creativity in completing this work. It is urged that all such opportunities continue to be taken to keep student design at the centre of MTW as provided for by the syllabus.
There are formal school-based examinations at Christmas and in summer. Pre-examinations are held in spring for state-examination classes, in third year and sixth year. In addition to these examinations, periodic topic tests are administered about once a month. Studentsí design projects are marked on completion. The results of tests and project marks are aggregated with the formal examination marks at Christmas and in summer and this commendable assessment practice is consistent with that provided for in the syllabuses.
In junior cycle, students participate in the JCSP. This provides a framework for curriculum and assessment within which students complete MTW subject statements which are included in their profiles. This provides them with valuable affirmation of their progress in the subject.††††
Teachers of CS and MTW consistently keep records of studentsí achievement, homework and attendance. These records are shared with individual studentsí parents at twice-yearly parent-teacher meetings. Communication with the studentsí homes is further supported by term reports following formal school examinations and through entries in the studentsí journals. Parents are requested to sign a studentís journal regularly. In addition parents may make an appointment with the principal at any time to call to the school to discuss a studentís progress† The procedures for maintaining contact with parents are consistent with best practice.
Students showed enthusiasm and curiosity for CS and MTW in each of the lessons visited in the course of the inspection. The skills and knowledge displayed by students were appropriate relative to their age and ability.
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 Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) 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
Inspection Report School Response Form
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 need to install dust extraction equipment in the workshops as a matter of urgency has been brought to the attention of Kerry Education Service.