An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Metalwork and Engineering
Bridgetown Vocational College,
Bridgetown, Co. Wexford
Roll number: 71610E
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Metalwork and Engineering
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Bridgetown Vocational College, Bridgetown, Co. Wexford. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Metalwork and Engineering 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 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.
Provision is made for technology education in the curriculum of the school through the inclusion of Metalwork at junior cycle and Engineering at senior cycle. At senior cycle, Engineering forms part of the Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). It is commended that all students are presented with the opportunity to choose to study a technology subject.
There is an appropriate time allocation for Metalwork and Engineering in junior and senior cycle respectively. These allocations include four class periods per week at junior cycle and six class periods in the Leaving Certificate. Students following the LCA programme are allocated four class periods per week divided into a triple lesson and one single lesson to complete each module within the vocational specialism. This provides adequate time for practical, project and theoretical work to be accommodated.
Students entering first year must select optional subjects from three subject bands. Currently Metalwork is on two of these subject bands. This allows students to choose any combination of subjects. This open choice is commendable. Students are also facilitated to change their chosen subject options if necessary. School management has considered providing a taster programme of all optional subjects in first year and it is suggested that this be frequently reviewed to ensure students make the best possible subject choices. At senior cycle students’ preferences are surveyed and subject option bands are devised based on these preferences. This is commendable.
A large proportion of boys study Metalwork and Engineering in junior and senior cycle respectively. Presently a very small proportion of girls study Engineering in the LCA programme with no girls studying Engineering in the established Leaving Certificate. Due to the positive role models formed by the Metalwork and Engineering subject department, the school is in a very strong position in relation to the promotion of the subject to all students. It is recommended that school management undertake research as to why girls are not choosing the subject, and together with the subject department develop strategies to encourage them to do so at junior cycle. This in turn would have a knock-on effect at senior cycle.
The home-school-community-liaison co-ordinator has initiated an open day for incoming first-year students. This allows students to sample a number of subjects and to have any of their or their parents questions answered. The guidance counsellor has a number of strategies in place to inform students when making subject choice for senior cycle, such as an aptitude test carried out in third year, individual meetings with each student, a meeting with parents in relation to post-Junior Certificate options and a comprehensive “Planning for after the Junior Certificate” pamphlet for each student. This commitment to student guidance at critical times in their school lives is commendable.
There are two Metalwork/Engineering rooms in the school. The original room dating from the 1960s is well maintained considering its age. The school has received funding for health and safety purposes as per circular letter PBU 5/2005 for this room. As of now a full risk assessment has taken place, and a number of risks have been identified, but no Conformité Européenne (CE) compliant machinery has been purchased.
The newly built Metalwork/Engineering room has yet to be equipped with machinery. It is recommended that school management together with the subject department formulate a strategy to carry out the refurbishment of the old room and the equipping of the new room that would minimise the disruption of practical class contact time for each year-group during this transitional phase.
The subject department receives an annual budget from school management for the purchase of consumables and for the servicing of machines. The allocation of an annual budget is good practice as it allows for planning at subject level and gives the subject department a responsibility in relation to procuring materials.
School management encourages and facilitates staff to attend continuous professional development (CPD) courses. School management has further promoted CPD by facilitating the involvement of a member of the subject department in becoming a presenter with the Technology Subjects Support Service (t4). This commitment to CPD within the technologies will be of great benefit to the students and the teaching of the technology subjects within the school. Professional development is also encouraged at a whole staff level by the variety of seminars and presentations organised by the school. This ongoing dedication to CPD is commendable.
Teachers of Metalwork and Engineering form a department group in Bridgetown Vocational College. This group formally meets three times each school year, and regularly on an informal basis to discuss subject department planning issues. The subject co-ordinator convenes these meetings and records decisions and tasks identified. This practice is beneficial to subject planning and in turn to whole school planning.
A clear long-term plan for the teaching of the subject should be further developed and integrated into the School Plan. It is suggested that key long-term development issues be identified and prioritised. The subject plan outlines the key learning outcomes aspired to within the department. Individual teacher plans are clear and comprehensive, allowing teachers to assess their own progress and a co-operative approach to planning exists within this new subject department.
Subject teachers are informed of students with special educational needs and those requiring learning support at the start of each year. The subject plan for Metalwork/Engineering also contains a section outlining a number of strategies reported to be used when dealing with students with special educational needs, such as the use of visual aids for all project work.
A number of resources have been identified and developed by the subject department including working drawings, overhead transparencies, worksheets, student notes and examples of student projects. There are also many colourful posters displayed in the original room that allow teachers to highlight key concepts and terminology in relation to health and safety. This commitment to health and safety, especially when targeted at the junior cycle students, helps to foster a genuine appreciation of correct workshop procedures. To further build on this good practice the subject department should also include standardised health and safety signage in both rooms.
There was evidence of planning in each lesson observed during the course of the evaluation. In the theory lessons observed, notes and question sheets for students were prepared in advance, and in the practical lessons observed material blanks, pictorial representations of the finished article and working drawings for each student were also prepared. In addition, all equipment and tools were readily accessible for students and for demonstration purposes. This level of lesson planning is commendable.
In the practical and theory lessons observed, a clear learning objective was shared with the class at the beginning. This was evident in a junior cycle lesson observed, where the students were gathered around the teacher’s desk at the beginning of the lesson and were issued with their instructions regarding the manufacture of a soap dish. This focused the students on the task and allowed for the reiteration of important points. This type of re-focusing was carried out a number of times during the lesson to ensure all students were kept on task. This is to be commended as very good practice as it allows the teacher to guide the students but also allows them to undergo experiential learning.
All lessons observed were clearly structured so that the content and pace of the lesson were appropriate to the class group, the subject matter and the time available.
In the majority of theory lessons observed teachers varied their methodologies, resulting in interesting and diverse lessons. This was particularly apparent in a senior cycle Engineering lesson introducing the process of drilling. In this lesson, short concise notes were supported by: clear diagrams on the blackboard; practical examples of counter-sunk and counter-bored holes and constant referral to the pedestal drill for reference. This varied approach was a particularly effective strategy. It is recommended to further build upon this good practice that the subject department investigate ways to incorporate information and communication technology (ICT) into lessons to further diversify students’ experience in the subject.
Individual and global questioning techniques were also employed during the lessons observed. This allowed teachers to assess the students’ understanding of the subject matter and to alter the teaching strategy where necessary.
Effective teaching methodologies were also evident during practical lessons observed, including demonstrations to both the class group and to individuals throughout the lessons. In most instances, the correct use of tools and equipment, processing techniques and use of the appropriate terminology was demonstrated. These demonstrations were clear and effective and consolidated previous student learning. The distribution of working drawings to students, combined with the pictorial drawings of the finished article were also very effective teaching strategies. The use of visual aids was particularly evident in a junior cycle lesson where household artefacts were used to highlight common uses for plastics. Students were then set a homework task based on these plastic components. This emphasis on the links between technology and society is to be commended.
Classroom management was effective and conducive to a safe, orderly and participative learning environment. In all lessons observed the teachers sensitively maintained discipline through positive interactions, constant circulation among students and through the implementation of a seating plan. In a practical lesson observed the use of job allocations meant that students formed the habit of storing tools correctly and cleaning the engineering room after each lesson.
In all instances teacher-student interactions were mutually respectful. Students received varying but appropriate encouragement and almost all student responses were affirmed. The majority of students were industrious and interested, and a genuine work ethic was evident throughout the lessons.
During the evaluation, there were a large number of high quality student projects on temporary display in the new engineering room. It is suggested that the subject department explore the possibility of a display case for quality student work. This could be a very good method of drawing attention to individual students’ projects and highlighting their achievements.
In all lessons observed, students demonstrated an eagerness to co-operate and engaged in all classroom activities and discussions. The practical work assigned to students was challenging and achievable. This work was of good quality and indicated a level of learning consistent with the skills necessary to complete the syllabus.
Student assessment occurs through both formal, end-of-term examinations, and through informal assessment techniques employed by the teachers including: in-class questioning; monitoring of student practical work; homework; theory tests and end-of-term class tests. Records of student progress are kept by teachers and were available throughout the evaluation.
First, second and fifth-year students sit practical examinations at Christmas and written theoretical examinations at the end of the academic year. In third and sixth year, students sit ‘mocks’ immediately after Christmas while they are completing the project and practical elements of the state examinations. It is suggested that in non-examination year groups a mixture of theoretical and practical aspects of the course be examined simultaneously in order to align more closely with the aims and objectives of the subject syllabuses.
Common assessments are used at junior cycle as all teachers currently teach all year groups. This allows for common planning and demonstrates the collaborative nature developing in this department.
The results of assessments are recorded and sent to parents biannually. The communication of student progress is also carried out through parent-teacher meetings and through the student journal. This practice is commendable as it gives parents an accurate reflection of student development.
Student project work was also monitored carefully and progress was individually profiled with feedback given to students. Homework is given and corrected regularly. It is suggested that positive or constructive feedback be given to all students in relation to homework. This would improve the quality of the homework and consolidate learning and thereby improve student understanding.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Metalwork and Engineering are available to students at both junior and senior cycle and there is an appropriate time allocation that allows for adequate time to complete practical, project and theoretical work.
· The Metalwork and Engineering department is currently modernising with the refurbishment of the old room and the equipping of a new room imminent.
· Management actively encourages CPD, and teachers have become involved by attending and delivering in-service courses.
· There is a wide range of supports in place for students and parents in relation to subject choice at both junior and senior cycle.
· Time dedicated to planning is utilised by the subject department to prepare detailed subject plans.
· The subject department works co-operatively and collaboratively and has compiled a wide variety of teaching resources that are regularly integrated into lessons.
· Classroom management is effective and conducive to a safe, orderly and participative learning environment.
· Teacher-student interactions were engaging, purposeful and mutually respectful.
· The overall quality of student project work was of a high standard and demonstrated considerable student learning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that school management and the subject department explore ways to increase the uptake of Metalwork by girls at junior cycle with a view to raising its profile at senior cycle.
· It is recommended that school management together with the subject department formulate a strategy to carry out the refurbishment of the old room and the equipping of the new room that would minimise the disruption of practical class contact time for each year group during this transitional phase.
· It is recommended that the subject department investigate ways to incorporate ICT into the teaching of Metalwork and Engineering.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Metalwork and Engineering and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.