An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)

REPORT

 

Cashel Community School

Cashel, County Tipperary

Roll number: 91497A

 

Date of inspection: 18 September 2006

Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

Report

on

the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)

______________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Cashel Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) 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 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 the 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.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Cashel Community School provides a comprehensive range of programmes and subjects for the young people of the town and its surrounding areas. The technologies are well represented in the curriculum. In addition to Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Construction Studies, the focus subjects of this inspection, Metalwork and Technical Graphics are offered in junior cycle and Engineering and Technical Drawing are offered in senior cycle.

 

Collaborative planning by the MTW and Construction Studies teaching team is facilitated by the provision of time for subject planning meetings at the beginning, the end and once or twice in the course of the school year. One of the subject-teaching team is recognised as subject-department co-ordinator. It is commended that the subject team is well supported by the school in achieving and maintaining effective collaboration in planning. The advancement of the process of school development planning to the development of curricular areas is commended. Active subject-department planning and review has taken place for the past two years.

 

Continuous professional development is provided at the beginning of each school year and occasionally at other times. The subject team reports particular benefit from training sessions for the Leaving Certificate Applied programme. Occasional staff development is provided dealing with the special educational needs of specific groups of students within the school and this is commended.

 

In first year all students study each of the optional subjects available in junior cycle, resulting in a reduction of the time allocated to each. In the case of MTW this entails an allocation of four class periods per week for half the year. In second and third years four class periods per week are allocated. Class periods are distributed across the week in a one double and two single period configuration. In Transition Year one double period is allocated to Construction Studies for a twelve-week module. Leaving Certificate classes have a weekly allocation of five periods in fifth year and six periods in sixth year while Leaving Certificate Applied is allocated two periods for the first two sessions and three periods for sessions three and four. The timetable for each class includes a double period to facilitate extended practical work. In all cases the allocation of periods and their configuration in double and single period classes is appropriate and supports the effective teaching of the subjects concerned.

 

The arrangements for requesting and acquiring materials and equipment for the teaching of MTW and Construction Studies in the school are effective. The subject-teaching team often discuss and agree on their requirements before quotations are presented by the co-ordinator to the principal. As a rule all requests are met and will only be refused if the resources do not permit. While the school and the board of management are commended for the timely provision of materials and equipment in response to the requests of the subject department, it is recommended that the option of providing an annual budget for the purchase of materials and consumables be examined. The adoption of such an approach might provide an added incentive for detailed planning by the subject-teaching team.

 

There are two wood workshops in the school. These are base rooms for two of the subject teachers while a third teacher moves between both. The senior workshop is larger, designed primarily to accommodate classes for Construction Studies. It includes an area for the assembly and finishing of projects and a glazed area for dust-free surface finishing. Both of these areas are less intensively used than the main area which houses twelve two-student work benches and wood-preparation machinery. It has two storerooms attached. The junior workshop, designed for the teaching of MTW, is smaller and wood-preparation machinery further restricts its usable area.  The teaching team reports that workspace is very limited in both but especially in the junior workshop. In particular, when used to teach Construction Studies classes it has insufficient space for senior students and their project work. Solutions such as the provision of a separate wood-machining room or the extension of the junior workshop into the adjoining classroom have been considered but these solutions are not immediately viable, teaching space being at a premium in the school. It is recommended, given that the other solutions considered are not achievable in the short term, that all options be explored regarding the most efficient use of the space available within the workshops at present. It is recommended that full advantage be taken of the full floor area of the senior workshop by removing completed student-project work and repositioning the benches, making use of the assembly and finishing area for this purpose. It is recommended, where possible, that the senior workshop be used for the teaching of Construction Studies to senior cycle classes, particularly when these classes are large. It is recommended that the junior workshop be used for teaching smaller junior cycle classes where possible. The workshops were well supplied with equipment and were well maintained at the time of the inspection visit for which the school and the subject-teaching team are commended.

 

The school and the subject-teaching team are encouraged to work towards the identification of a room for teaching the theory and drawing elements of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies. Such a room, equipped with a data projector and computer, could greatly enhance effective teaching. In the context of imminent senior cycle syllabus change and the introduction of parametric modelling based computer-aided design (CAD), the school is urged to consider the development of appropriate computer facilities in such a room for the teaching of CAD.  Given the demand arising from the use of computers in all three technology subjects in the school, it is recommended in addition that the feasibility of installing CAD software in the computer rooms be examined to allow teaching of the technologies to take place there.

 

The school’s health and safety statement is due for review and it is envisaged that a recent room-by-room survey, the results of which will be reported to each teacher, will be taken into account in the review. The active approach taken towards the forthcoming review of the statement is commended and it is recommended that the MTW and Construction Studies subject teachers be actively involved in it.

 

In second year and in fifth year students choose four subjects to study, in addition to the core curriculum, from the full range available in the school in junior or senior cycle respectively. The arrangements in place for student choice are commendably open and transparent. Towards the end of first year and again of third year or Transition Year, students choose the subjects they wish to study from an open list of all options. Subject option groups are then devised to ensure maximum success in offering students their chosen subjects. This practice is responsive to students’ preferences and is commended for giving priority to their wishes within the constraints of the resources available.

 

It is the policy of the school, included in its mission statement, to provide equal access for boys and girls to the full range of academic, business, scientific and technology subjects that are on offer in the school. This policy is fully realised throughout the school, in first year and Transition Year by providing students with experience of all subjects, and in both junior cycle and senior cycle by means of open subject choice with subject-option groups devised anew each year. The school is commended for both its policy and practice with regard to subject choice.  However, while the gender balance in MTW is much better than the national norm, this is not the case in Construction Studies. It is recommended that the school and the MTW and Construction Studies subject-teaching team continue to be mindful of the very small numbers of girls studying Construction Studies and through encouragement to seek to move towards a better gender balance in this subject, particularly in light of expected syllabus changes.

 

Students are well supported to make appropriate subject choices both in junior and senior cycle. The provision of experience of all optional subjects in first year provides information on which to base decisions. Likewise, those students who take the Transition Year option are provided with experience of the senior cycle optional subjects on which to base their preferences.  In addition, evening meetings are arranged with the parents of students about to make subject choices. Staff members such as the principal, guidance counsellor, year head and programme co-ordinator attend these meetings and address the parents. Students are supported in class groups and individually by the principal and the guidance counsellor. The level of support provided for students’ subject choice is commended.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

Regular MTW and Construction Studies subject-department meetings are held. The outcomes of these meetings are reported to the principal. The meetings typically involve consideration of the work undertaken with classes in various years and the format and content of house examinations.  It is commended that common examinations are set for classes in the same year group. The methodologies and teaching strategies employed to deliver the subject content are also discussed although this discussion tends to be less formal. It is recommended that the discussion of teaching methodologies, strategies and approaches be formally represented in subject-department planning meetings. Subject planning is reviewed at the end of the year and any changes to be made as a result are noted for action in the following year, ensuring continuity.  Programmes of learning to be followed by each class have been agreed and documented by the subject-teaching team. These programmes are in line with the requirements of the respective syllabuses. Ease of movement and equality of esteem among students is supported by this careful programme planning which also helps efficiency by avoiding duplication of teacher effort. Less formal, but equally valuable, close collaboration between the subject teachers takes place on a daily basis.  By working closely together, the subject team responds appropriately to short-term and long-term requirements for effective teaching of MTW and Construction Studies in the school.

 

Given the importance of information and communications technology (ICT) in most areas of life and in particular in the world of technology, it is essential that students experience it as part of their study of MTW and Construction Studies. At present this does not happen. It is recommended that opportunities presented by the introduction of new syllabuses in senior cycle technology subjects be exploited fully to introduce CAD to all MTW and Construction Studies groups.

 

There was a clear emphasis on safe working in the practical lessons visited. In one lesson where the use of the wood chisel was being introduced, students were given concise instructions on the safe handling of the tool and this was reinforced in the course of coherent, well-structured teacher demonstration. In another lesson during which the chisel mortiser was being used by students, personal eye protection was available and was used. However, it is recommended that the use of safety signage in the workshops be increased. In addition to standard colour-coded pictorial signage for the use of personal protection equipment, it is recommended that printed safety notices listing the procedures for the safe use of each machine be displayed adjacent to the particular machine. These notices should also indicate those machines which are not for student use. It is also recommended that general rules for safe behaviour within the workshop be displayed prominently. In the context of school workshops, safety signage and notices serve an educational function in addition to the communication of safety information. In light of this it is desirable that every opportunity is taken to draw students’ attention to best practice in this regard.  It is recommended that safe operational areas be identified around each machine in the workshops and demarcated on the floor. The students’ attention should be drawn to the purpose and implications of these areas by means of notices placed in their vicinity. The 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, should be consulted in detail when reviewing health and safety within the workshop.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

In each of the lessons visited in the course of the inspection, the teaching methodologies adopted were appropriate to the abilities, needs and interest of the students. There was a clear purpose to each of the lessons which was clearly stated at the outset. They were well paced and were carefully and coherently structured. 

 

An interesting range of teaching strategies was adopted. Students engaged in practical work at the bench were affirmed and encouraged as the teacher moved among them, reinforcing the lesson content following demonstration. The high quality of demonstration by teachers observed in the course of the inspection was notable for its coherent structure and effective delivery. The emphasis placed on the development of traditional woodwork skills and on safety, in the overall context of student learning, is commended. In one lesson, group work was effectively used as a means to engage students in investigative learning. Student presenters, charged with presenting particular topics to the whole class, were identified in advance. The subject-teaching team is commended for its openness to the development and use of teaching methodologies and strategies that meet the needs of the students most effectively. The team is urged to continue to plan and innovate as shown in the course of the inspection visit. It is suggested that consideration be given at the planning stage to the most effective way to maintain student engagement when working in groups. Prepared questions or prompts might be used to guide group investigation or discussion without directing or prescribing the outcome of the work in a rigid way. Such guidance would help to ensure that students stayed on task and would avoid the teacher having to supply extra information in an unplanned way. It is suggested also that a range of source materials be built up over time for investigation by students. This might include newspaper articles, magazines, books, websites and printouts.   

 

In the lessons visited the students worked in an orderly and disciplined way. The learning environment was managed effectively providing students with appropriate surroundings in which to work.  Discipline was intrinsic to the students. They displayed respect towards each other and their teachers. While it was clear that the expectations of the code of discipline were being met this was being done willingly. The work undertaken in the lessons visited was interesting and provided a suitable challenge for the students involved.

 

Students displayed a good knowledge of the work being undertaken and were confident when questioned and effective in communicating their knowledge. Their practical skills were well developed in terms of their age and ability.

 

 

Assessment

 

There are formal house examinations at Christmas and in summer in MTW and Construction Studies as in all subjects in the school. Pre-examinations are held in spring for students sitting State examinations. In addition to these examinations, students’ work in MTW is assessed on completion of each design project. The teaching team is encouraged to continue to keep the design process at the heart of MTW by laying due emphasis on its proper use when assessing project work. The average of each student’s assessment marks is aggregated with the theory test mark to arrive at the overall examination mark at Christmas or in summer. 

 

The mode of assessment is similar to the mode adopted in State examinations and it is appropriate. Common examination papers are used in MTW examinations which is commended. It is recommended that a common, structured method of aggregating continuous assessment marks and test results be investigated for Construction Studies, similar to that used in junior cycle. Keeping students aware, through regular feedback, of how they are doing as they complete each project or piece of work can provide them with a powerful incentive to improve, particularly if the weighting used to aggregate the marks is known to them in advance. In addition to formal assessment, students’ progress in class is monitored closely by teachers and they are affirmed and encouraged as appropriate. The MTW and Construction Studies subject teaching team have an agreed approach with regard to homework which is set and corrected regularly. 

 

Records are effectively kept of students’ attendance, achievement and homework. Students’ assessments and test marks are recorded in the teachers’ journals and these are available at parent-teacher meetings held annually for each group of students. Formal school reports issue twice yearly following the Christmas and summer examinations.

 

In Cashel Community School the enthusiasm of students for MTW and Construction Studies is evident in their sustained interest in opting to study the subjects. 

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

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 Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.