An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
St Augustine’s College
Dungarvan, County Waterford
Roll number: 64890W
Date of inspection: 30 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Augustine’s College, Dungarvan. 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 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.
St Augustine’s College, universally known in Dungarvan as The Friary, continues a long tradition of educational provision for the young people of the town and the surrounding areas. Originally a boarding school for boys, the college has evolved as a co-educational day school since the beginning of the 1990s under the trusteeship of the Augustinian Order.
In addition to CS and MTW, the subjects of this inspection report, the technologies curriculum of the Friary also includes Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) in senior cycle and Technical Graphics (TG) in junior cycle. The provision of this range of technology subjects is commended.
A programme of continuing professional development (CPD) is provided for the whole staff. Among other areas such as fire safety awareness, this programme has recently focussed on school development planning with input from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The teachers of CS and MTW have also been fully involved in the in-career development programme provided for the introduction of the DCG syllabus through T4, the technology subjects support service, www.t4.ie. The technologies teaching team is also involved in CPD in SolidWorks provided with the support of the teacher professional network at the local education centre. SolidWorks is the parametric modelling computer-aided design programme being introduced nationally as part of the DCG and technologies curriculum. Management is commended for supporting, encouraging and facilitating the in-career development of the teaching team. It is commended that both teachers of MTW and CS are involved in teaching in both senior and junior cycles. This arrangement helps to equalise the teaching load, in particular when students are preparing coursework assignments in preparation for state examinations, and reinforces full involvement by the teachers in subject department planning.
MTW is allocated four periods per week in first year and second year. Until two years ago, this subject had alternated annually with TG, as an option for incoming first-year students. As a result of this there was no third-year MTW class at the time of the inspection. It is commended that both subjects are now included in the subject options for all students entering first year, in response to the preferences expressed by students. In senior cycle, five periods per week are allocated for CS in fifth year and sixth year. The time allocated to each MTW and CS class is distributed equitably through the week and in each case a double-period lesson is included to facilitate practical work. The time allocation and the suitability of the units of time are in line with accepted best practice. The equivalent of one period per week is allocated in Transition Year for CS.
The woodwork room has, together with much of the college, benefited from recent refurbishment. At the time of the inspection it was admirably neat, tidy, bright and welcoming. New benches and equipment added to the overall attractiveness of the facilities of which management and the subject teaching team are justifiably proud and for the provision of which they are commended. A compact wood machining area has been developed adjacent to the woodwork room with a large glass panel in the separating wall providing clear lines of sight. This room makes very efficient use of the available space and its layout has benefited from careful planning. Further development of the CS and MTW teaching facilities is envisaged including the addition of space for a larger materials store and the extension of the wood machining area as resources allow. Steps towards the achievement of these objectives are applauded. The very recently developed DCG room is also well-appointed, bright and welcoming and is a credit to the care and attention to detail of management and the subject teaching team in its design and execution. Commendably, this room is used for teaching elements of the MTW and CS syllabuses, as appropriate, taking full advantage of its facilities for teaching the range of technologies in the college.
The safety statement of the school, based on a professionally conducted hazard identification and risk assessment, deals comprehensively with the arrangements put in place by management to fulfil its responsibilities in health and safety awareness and organisation. The commitment shown in this regard is commended. The safety statement includes a section on safety in the woodwork room.
The information and communications technology (ICT) facilities available in the college are of a very high standard, having been upgraded immediately before the inspection. ICT forms a central part of the infrastructure for the teaching of MTW and CS in the school. The development of a specialist room for DCG in the current year, funded to a large extent under arrangements for the introduction of the syllabus, has provided very suitable hardware and software for the teaching of all the technologies. SolidWorks is being integrated into the learning programmes of all students of the technologies and this is commended. In addition to the thirty personal computers (PCs) installed in the DCG room, there are four PCs in the woodwork room all with broadband internet access. It is commended that the school has also funded identical hardware, to the specification of the Department of Education and Science, installed in the school’s computer room, particularly as this arrangement makes it possible for students to access the SolidWorks software when working in this room. The teachers of MTW and CS each have laptop computers which they use very effectively in conjunction with fixed data projectors when teaching in the woodwork and the DCG rooms.
All students receive an introduction to MTW in the first half-term of first year, as part of the school’s taster programme, which also involves TG, Art, Music and Home Economics. On completion of this programme, students choose one of these subjects to be studied to Junior Certificate. This experience of the optional subjects is a valuable means of support for students in making their choices. Further support, guidance and advice is provided by the first-year head who also undertakes the administration of subject options. The school’s guidance counsellor is available to provide further support if this is needed. The support offered to students to make subject option choices in junior cycle follows good practice and it is commended that all students have the opportunity to study MTW. To further improve the level of choice offered to students in junior cycle, it is urged that consideration be given to broadening the range of options, perhaps by providing a second option group from the subjects already in the school’s curriculum. The design of these subject option groups would ideally be based on the expressed preferences of each cohort of students, being mindful of the constraints of staffing and timetabling.
In senior cycle, students choose three optional subjects, one from each of three subject option groups. These subject groups, having been rearranged in the past to find the best arrangement, have remained fixed in recent years. While it is reported that the present grouping of optional subjects has been successful, it is recommended that students initially be given the opportunity to make an open choice from all the optional subjects being offered, the subject option groups being then designed to reflect their preferences to the greatest degree possible, taking account of constraints such as staffing and timetabling. Such an arrangement has the advantage of providing an immediate response to variations in students’ preferences from year to year. In addition to the support provided by experiencing each optional subject in TY, which is undertaken by the great majority, students also benefit from guidance modules and presentations by the principal and deputy principal. Parents are invited to open evenings at which they are presented with information and guidance regarding the subject choices to be made by students. The guidance counsellor focuses predominantly on meeting the needs of the senior cycle, including the support of students making subject choices. The range of subjects provided and the supports in place for students in making choices are commended.
Collaborative subject planning is actively pursued and management facilitates this in all subject areas including the technologies, providing subject planning time in the course of specific days set aside for school development planning.
As is common practice in the school, it is envisaged that co-ordination of the subject department of the technologies will be rotated among the teachers of the technology subjects. This practice commendably provides for a sharing of the work of coordination and also provides for continuity in the development of the subject department. Subject department planning has made commendable progress in the college over the past two years, during which time the various subject teaching teams have developed written plans, following staff development days facilitated by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). This process has led to the formulation of a plan for the subject department of the technologies, which details the programmes of work being undertaken in each of the subjects. These plans are in keeping with the requirements of the respective syllabuses. The subject teaching team of the technologies is commended for the progress made in planning for its subjects. It is urged that the development of the subject plans continue to focus on consideration of the most effective teaching methodologies and strategies to be adopted for teaching specific topics and areas of the syllabuses. Great advantage can be gained from the sharing of approaches Great advantage can be gained from the sharing of approaches found to be most effective from the experiences of both the teachers in the subject department and other subject areas. It is suggested that the teachers of some related subjects, such as Art might be invited to join with the teachers of the technologies for subject department planning sessions, when a variety of teaching experiences might be pooled to the advantage of all.
All classes in MTW and CS are of mixed ability and the work, in particular the project work, being undertaken by students in the lessons visited was differentiated in a natural and inclusive manner to allow all students to succeed at a level appropriate to their abilities and interests. In the lessons visited, materials prepared by the teachers allowed students to work at their own level, providing support where required but also providing appropriate challenge for more able students. This was particularly noted in the case of lessons which developed the students’ sketching and creative design skills. It is suggested that strategies to provide extra supports for literacy, such as the display of new terminology in the classroom, be investigated. This investigation will benefit from collaboration with the learning support department. The involvement of the technologies teaching team with other areas of learning, such as the annual musical and collaboration with the art teacher on the framing of students’ ceramics work, is commended.
Planning for the effective use of ICT in the teaching of MTW and CS is of a very high standard and is leading to remarkable success in the integration of ICT into teaching and learning. This planning has led to the design and fitting of the exceptionally well appointed DCG room and of particular note is the progress made in developing digital teaching and learning materials. Content covering many topics in both subjects has been prepared as PowerPoint presentations with voiceover. These materials are being stored on a server and are accessible, by means of an onscreen menu, from any of the school computers. In addition to teaching materials for use in class, revision materials are being developed for individual study by students as reinforcement of work done in class. These arrangements have the potential to provide exceptional support for students’ learning. The teaching team of the technologies is commended for this development.
The provision for health and safety in the woodwork room was very good. Signage in use included standard signboards for the mandatory use of personal protection equipment and some signboards which included precautions for the safe use of particular machines. To further improve the signage, it is recommended that appropriate standard safety signboards be placed adjacent in each case to the machine to which they refer, where not already in place. It is further recommended that ancillary signs, listing the procedures and precautions to be followed for the safe use of individual machines, be placed adjacent to the respective machines. Safe operational areas are clearly demarcated on the floor of the wood preparation area in line with best practice. The display of suitable explanatory notices, on the floor, drawing users’ attention to the rationale for safe operational areas and the implications for movement in the vicinity of machines is commended.
A wide range of appropriate teaching methodologies and strategies was deployed in lessons observed. These methodologies and strategies often ensured that the various learning styles of the students were supported and in each case they suited the interests and experience of the students. In a first-year MTW lesson dealing with design, the theme of flight was explored by the students. Ample opportunities were afforded the students to develop original design ideas, working in pairs and groups at different times in the course of the lesson and sketching proposed solutions. The development of ideas was supported by very effective teacher-prepared materials, which broke down the process of designing into manageable steps, ensuring success for each student. The inclusion of age-appropriate approaches to the theme, such as the variety of form in the design of paper aeroplanes and the flight achieved by a remote-controlled toy, enhanced the interest of the students and maintained a lively learning context. The use of such active learning methodologies is commended and their further application is encouraged in theory lessons, particularly in senior cycle.
In each of the lessons visited, the purpose was made clear from the outset. In each case the work of the lesson began with a brief, focussed revision of related work done previously. The lessons were developed in a coherent and carefully structured manner. The pace of the lessons was appropriate at all times and they were brought to a coherent conclusion by means of a quick review of the work done. Continuity with previous lessons was further enhanced by the setting and checking of relevant homework in each of the lessons visited.
It was obvious, in each of the lessons observed, that discipline was intrinsic to the behaviour of the students. Communication between teachers and students and between the students themselves was based on an easy, mutual respect. The expectation of good behaviour was based on this respect which was willingly given. Students were secure and happy in each of the lessons visited. They were affirmed by their teachers while being presented with suitable levels of challenge and being motivated and supported as appropriate. The display of colourful, printed, subject-related materials on the cabinet doors in the woodwork room provided enhanced interest for the students. The atmosphere in the lessons observed was conducive to learning. In each of the lessons observed, students displayed levels of knowledge and understanding of the relevant subject consistent with their ages and abilities, while their responses to questions showed that learning was taking place. Students showed impressive levels of enthusiasm and curiosity for the subjects and these were enhanced by the variety of stimulating teaching materials in use in the lessons.
Formal assessment consists of regular class-based assessments, on a monthly basis through the year, and summer examinations for classes other that those sitting state examinations. Mock examinations are organised for students undertaking state examinations in third year and in sixth year. While the monthly assessment tests generally cover work done in the previous month, the assessment prior to Christmas is summative and constitutes a class-based Christmas test. In both MTW and CS the assessments involve students’ practical and project work as well as theory. The summer examination result consists of an aggregate mark, about half of which consists of an assessment of project work. This approach is consistent with the assessment modes provided in the respective subject syllabuses and follows good practice. Less formal assessment was a central element of each of the lessons visited, as the teacher moved among students as they worked offering affirmation, help and encouragement as appropriate.
Students’ attendance, attainment and progress are recorded systematically in teachers’ diaries supplied for the purpose. These records are carefully maintained and form the basis of reports to parents which are sent home following formal school assessments. The records also form the basis of communication at the annual parent-teacher meetings. Further communication takes place at information nights hosted by the school for parents of students of each year group. These arrangements are commendable.
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 teachers of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2008