An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of
Materials Technology (Wood), Construction Studies, Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing
Saint Brigid’s Vocational School
Loughrea, County Galway
Roll number: 71280J
Date of inspection: 9 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 29 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Brigid's Vocational School, Loughrea, Co. Galway. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Materials Technology (Wood), Construction Studies, Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Technical Graphics (TG) are offered as junior-cycle optional subjects in this co-educational vocational school while Construction Studies (CS) and Technical Drawing (TD) are offered as follow-on senior-cycle optional subjects. Senior-cycle students study CS and TD as one of a combination of optional subjects for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Students in Transition Year (TY) also study MTW/CS and TG/TD modules as part of their programme.
The school makes every effort to ensure that students and parents are well informed of the programmes and subjects available to them and that students' choices are accommodated. MTW and TG are offered as part of a taster programme of optional subjects during the first six weeks of first year with students making their final subject choices at the end of the taster programme. An open choice system operates when students are selecting optional subjects for fifth year. These systems are designed to facilitate the needs and interests of students and are commended.
MTW and TG classes receive a timetable allocation that is appropriate for the delivery of the junior-cycle syllabuses in each subject area. Following the taster programme the allocations consist of double- and single-class periods for all three year groups in junior cycle. Timetabling arrangements for the subjects are designed to optimise the use of the specialist rooms and the available subject teachers for students' benefit. CS and TD receive a generous allocation in senior cycle and this allocation also includes double and single class periods. MTW/CS and TG/TD receive equal allocations over the course of the TY programme and the inclusion of these technology subjects in the school's programme is commended.
The school has one MTW, one CS and one TG/TD room. A general classroom is also used for theory lessons. The specialist MTW and CS rooms are relatively small and congested, but are adequately equipped with hand and machine tools for the delivery of the MTW and CS programmes. Dust extraction systems are provided in both rooms and numerous examples of students' project work and posters related to wood technology are displayed. Leaving Certificate CS building detail project work is also conducted in an external store room. When the size and congestion of these specialist rooms is considered it is recommended that procedures to monitor, audit and review occupational health and safety issues in them on a regular basis, in line with Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-Primary Schools (2005), are developed as a matter of urgency. The TG/TD room is spacious and well-equipped with individual, tilting drawing benches but the visual aspect of the room, together with the teaching and learning environment, could be improved by displaying TG/TD-related charts and examples of students’ work.
Currently there is no computer provision in the MTW or CS rooms. Five old computers are located in the TG/TD room but these are not functional. Although the school's computer room may be accessed by students of MTW, CS, TG and TD appropriate drawing software for use in the subjects is not available there. It is recommended that access to appropriate computer software be provided, either in the specialist classrooms or in the school’s computer room as soon as is practicable.
School management is supportive of MTW, CS, TG and TD.
The school is actively engaged in the school development planning process and MTW, CS, TG and TD teachers, together with the Metalwork (MW) and Engineering (ENG) teachers form a technology subject department. A high level of co-operation and peer-group support was evident among the MTW, CS, TG and TD teachers during the inspection. Teachers meet formally at the start of and informally on a regular basis during the school year to discuss subject-related issues and reports on the progress of these meetings are made to the principal.
Short-term individual programmes of work in line with curricular requirements have been developed and are being implemented by the MTW, CS, TG and TD teachers. While this level of individual planning is commended it is recommended that a formal plan for the subjects be collaboratively developed. In addition to programmes of work for the different year groups in the different subject areas the plan could include references to timing of lessons within the scheme, methodologies to be employed, resources required, time allocations for practical and project work, textbook use, IT in the subjects, homework strategies in line with the school's policy, provision for differentiation, assessment strategies, on-going continuous professional development of teachers, provision for the subject into the future, among other issues.
There have not been any opportunities for in-career development in the subjects in recent years but it is recommended that in-service opportunities related to the introduction of the new syllabuses in senior cycle are availed of when these become available.
The cross-curricular involvement of the MTW, CS, TG and TD teachers with colleagues from other subject areas and when teaching students from the different programmes available in the school results in increased levels of collaboration among teachers and is commended.
All MTW, CS, TG and TD classes are of mixed ability and students sit examinations at a level appropriate to their abilities. Teachers liaise with the school's learning support team when planning for students with special educational needs and this is commended.
Requests for material resources and items of equipment for the subjects are made through the principal and these requests invariably receive favourable consideration.
The school’s behaviour code was implemented and an appropriately ordered learning environment was created and maintained during all lessons evaluated. All learning activities were well managed and students were motivated and challenged by them. Lessons were coherent, had clear aims and objectives, were well structured to ensure continuity and progression through the syllabuses and were appropriately paced for the class groups evaluated.
Teachers employed appropriate methodologies in terms of students’ abilities, needs and interests and a range of strategies was used. For example, demonstrations of a high standard were employed during practical, theory and drawing lessons. Such demonstrations allow students to observe teachers modelling the proper execution of woodworking, construction and drawing procedures, processes and skills. Formal demonstrations to whole-class groups, to individual students and impromptu demonstrations to highlight salient points were used. The principles demonstrated during lessons were presented incrementally, with teachers scaffolding student development in the topics being covered. This practice is commended.
During the inspection third-year students were engaged in completing project work for State examination purposes. The design-and-make process was being emphasised during practical activities, students referred to their working drawings and their work displayed a level of competence appropriate to a range of abilities and was commendable. Progression through the earlier stages of the design process was evident from students’ portfolios. Leaving Certificate CS students were also engaged in the realisation stages of their project work for State examination purposes and a variety of woodcraft and building detail projects was being undertaken. Efforts should continually be made however, to enhance standards of students’ practical and project work. Issues related to health and safety are addressed at appropriate times during lessons. Teachers' organisation, management, facilitation and safe conduct of the complex processes and procedures associated with undertaking a large number and variety of junior and senior projects is commended.
Classroom routines were evident during lessons evaluated. These are particularly important when MTW and CS practical lessons are being undertaken and during TG/TD lessons where they also serve to ensure a well-organised, well-managed and safe learning environment for students. These practices are commended.
Textbooks are used for MTW and CS theory and also for TG and TD but these were not heavily relied upon during lessons evaluated. A wide variety of resources has been identified and/or developed by teachers and is used effectively to complement texts, for reference purposes, to supplement lesson content, and for homework assignments. This approach is commended.
The teachers used appropriate wood/building technology and TG/TD terminology continually during lessons and students also communicated effectively using this terminology. Familiarity with and appropriate use of terminology is an important part of the technological process and the approach adopted in the school is commended.
Global and directed questions, including higher-order questions, were used to revise previous lessons, to introduce new topics, to direct student attention and to summarise. Use of this variety of questioning is commendable.
Chalkboard presentations were used effectively during lessons to focus student attention and to support their learning. This is commended.
Teachers moved easily around the classrooms and engaged with individual students, assessing progress in the completion of classroom tasks. This is an essential aspect of practical, theory and drawing lessons. This teacher-student interaction also helped to ensure that students remained engaged with lesson activities and allowed the teachers to offer assistance to individuals when it was required. This practice is commended.
The quality of students’ understanding was reflected in their ability to ask and answer questions and in the competencies exhibited in their individual work on lesson tasks. The quality of students’ work was of a standard consistent with the range of abilities in the classes evaluated.
The content of junior and senior students' notebooks and drawing folders in MTW, CS, TG and TD was appropriate. Freehand and ruled drawings were of a standard that displayed a mastery of the knowledge and competencies associated with a variety of syllabus topics in the subjects, across a range of abilities, and was commendable. Efforts should continually be made however, to enhance standards of freehand and ruled drawings in order to emphasise their salience as forms of technological communication.
An excellent student-teacher rapport based on mutual respect was evident during lessons. This helped promote an atmosphere where students appeared secure in the knowledge that their contributions to and participation in lessons were being encouraged and welcomed. Students readily engaged with classroom activities and their work was appropriately affirmed by teachers. Students were knowledgeable, appeared enthusiastic and motivated in an atmosphere that was conducive to learning.
Opportunities for students to engage in independent and collaborative learning were built into the lessons evaluated. This is commended.
All students in St. Brigid's Vocational School are continually assessed. Assessments take place at the end of every month and formal house examinations take place at Christmas and prior to the summer holiday. Junior and Leaving Certificate students also sit a mock examination in the second term. A range of other assessment modes related to subject-specific objectives is also employed and practical, written and drawn classwork and homework is routinely assessed, commented on, graded and attainment levels are recorded systematically. Records of assessments are used to identify trends in students' achievement, to inform teaching strategies and to address the needs of individual learners. These practices are commended.
The results of students’ achievements are communicated to parents by means of school reports following assessments, Christmas, mock and summer examinations. Parent-teacher meetings are organised each year and these allow parents to meet subject teachers and discuss students' progress.
Further contact with parents may be organised within school systems or the MTW, CS, TG and TD teachers may occasionally have direct contact with parents, should the need arise.
Students displayed a high level of enthusiasm and curiosity for the subjects during the inspection and their skills and knowledge levels, relative to age, ability and class level were appropriate. Students in the classes evaluated engaged enthusiastically with the inspector.
An analysis of the school's Junior and Leaving Certificate examination results is undertaken each year and this analysis informs school planning in the subject area.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 Materials Technology (Wood), Construction Studies, Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing and with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.