An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Meánscoil na mBráithre
An Trá Mhór, Contae Phort Láirge
Roll number: 64923L
Date of inspection: 10 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 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 CBS Secondary School, Tramore. 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 subject teachers. The board of management was given the 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 to this report.
CBS Secondary School, Tramore provides a broad education for the boys of the town and the surrounding areas. The imminent amalgamation of the school with the neighbouring Stella Maris girls’ secondary school promises to usher in a new period of opportunity and challenge for both schools. In addition to CS and MTW, which form the focus of this inspection report, the technologies curriculum offered in CBS also includes Metalwork, Engineering, Technical Graphics and Design and Communication Graphics (DCG). The school is commended for this balance in its curriculum. The exchange of some students with Stella Maris, providing senior-cycle students of both schools with a wider choice of subjects in advance of amalgamation is commended.
There is a well developed subject department structure evident in the organisation of the technologies in the school. Formal meetings of the teachers of MTW and CS are facilitated, together with meetings of the other subject departments, at staff days.
Management is commended for facilitating the active involvement of the teachers of the technologies including MTW and CS in the programme of continuing professional development provided through T4, the support service for the technologies. The commitment of the teachers in availing of the opportunities presented is similarly commended.
Due in part to the popularity of MTW and CS among students, it has been necessary for teachers of other subjects, including a teacher of another technology subject, to be timetabled to teach some MTW. These teachers have been very effectively supported through their induction to teaching the subject, for which the teacher of MTW and management are commended. This arrangement is acceptable as an interim means of providing for the teaching of MTW. The expected inclusion of Technology in the curriculum of the amalgamated school, and other developments in staffing, can be expected to provide opportunities for a rebalancing of staff in this context.
The allocation of four class periods per week for MTW and five periods per week for CS is consistent with the time needed to complete the respective syllabuses. The periods are suitably configured as double and single periods to support the effective teaching of practical, drawing and theory lessons.
The single woodwork room in the school is well equipped and carefully maintained. Dust-extraction units have recently been installed and new woodworking machinery has been purchased as required. The room was well laid out, neat and tidy when visited. An enclosed roofed area outside the woodwork room is provided for students to work on practical building work. This area was brightly lit and well organized at the time of the inspection. Students had started the realisation of an impressive range of projects, representative of aspects of wall construction, concreting and roofing. The drawing room, recently upgraded for the teaching of the new DCG syllabus, is also used for the teaching of the drawing and theory elements of MTW and CS. This is a bright, well fitted and suitably equipped pre-fabricated classroom well suited to its purpose.
All the facilities and resources encountered in the course of the inspection were well maintained and carefully managed. This is a credit to management and in particular to the care taken by the teaching team of MTW and CS.
The information and communications technology (ICT) facilities provided for learning and teaching within MTW and CS are commended. The DCG room was equipped with eight personal computers (PCs) on purpose-built benches at the time of the inspection. Desk space was available for the accommodation of four more PCs. The desktop was suitably wide, including an upstand at the back and provision for computer boxes underneath, to allow students to use either drawing boards or computers or both, as required. A well positioned, ceiling-mounted data projector and screen facilitated the efficient use of the teacher’s laptop computer in teaching. Further ICT hardware, in the form of five PCs, was installed in a room between the woodwork and metalwork rooms with easy access from both. The provision of these ICT facilities for students of MTW and CS are in addition to extensive provision for the whole school.
All students are provided with experience of each optional subject in first year. This experience has previously been provided for eight weeks and is currently being extended to include both half-terms up to Christmas. This personal introduction to each of the optional subjects supports the students in making informed choices regarding their preferences for Junior Certificate. On completion of the taster phase, students choose from two subject option groups, each of which includes a technology subject. The subject-option groups are fixed following an annual review which includes a test of students’ preferences and consultation with parents by the principal and the guidance counsellor. Further support is provided by means of an open night and information evenings for parents and students. In this way students in junior cycle are provided with appropriate subject options and facilitated in making suitable choices.
In senior cycle it is commended that students are again provided with experience of the full range of subjects in Transition Year as a support for their decision making. Further support and information is provided by the guidance counsellor and by means of an information night for parents and students. The process of devising the most suitable subject-option groups begins with a survey of students’ preferences from the full range of optional subjects following which the principal and guidance counsellor devise option bands which are presented to the students to allow them to indicate their choices. There is further full consultation with parents and students at this stage before class groups are finalised. The school is commended for its provision for, and support of, students’ choice of subjects in senior cycle.
Planning takes place both at formal subject department meetings and, less formally, at other times in the course of the year. Minutes of all meetings are maintained. Subject coordination is at a developed stage with subject plans and detailed, agreed schemes of work presented for each term in both MTW and CS. There is a recognised convener of meetings and the subject teaching team is commended for the quality of subject planning in evidence. It is suggested that the role of convener of the subject department of the technologies be rotated among the teachers of the subjects as the department develops. Such an arrangement has the potential to provide extra opportunities for individual professional development while equalising the burden of organisation and recording of meetings. It is suggested, as a next step in the development of the subject plans, that a focus be placed on the various methodological approaches and teaching strategies which are most effective in the teaching of the technologies. The teachers’ own professional experience within the different technologies will be a valuable support in exploring this area. The inclusion of information on teaching approaches may then be added to those already included to further enhance the subject plans. The subject department is urged, in this context, to include consideration of the best approaches to meeting the special learning needs of students and providing the differentiation needed to meet a variety of learning styles and abilities. In addition to the teachers’ own professional experience, other sources of ideas for consideration include the support service, www.t4.ie and colleagues within the broader teaching community.
It is commended that the teachers of the technologies continue to include cross-curricular planning for their subjects in the first term of first year. While provision of a taster period in support of the students’ decision making is applauded, inevitably it involves a shortening of the time allocation to individual subjects. Careful scheduling of areas common to syllabuses, such as freehand sketching or orthographic projection, and their integration in carefully designed programmes of work has the potential to offset the time reduction and to provide a more integrated experience for the students.
There is continuing expansion of the use of ICT facilities for teaching and learning in the technologies in CBS Tramore. The computers adjacent to the woodwork room are used by students for AutoCAD and the completion of design project books. The PCs in the DCG room were beginning to be used for the teaching of that subject at the time of the inspection and it is applauded that it is planned to extend their use to CS and MTW also. Solidworks has great potential for modeling student design project solutions in MTW and CS. All students, including students of the technologies, are timetabled in the computer room and complete the European Computer Driving License (ECDL). It is suggested that consideration be given to the installation of the Solidworks package, provided primarily for students of the technologies, on the other PCs in the school when technically feasible. This would have the potential of making this computer application more readily available for the enhancement of the ICT experience of all students.
A commendable awareness of health and safety issues was communicated by means of suitable signage and notices, displayed in the woodwork room and in the separate area reserved for wet-trades project work. Very well presented individual notices dealt with precautions and procedures to be observed for the safe use of each machine. General safety rules covering the use of the room were displayed on a notice board and some standard mandatory signage for the use of personal protection equipment (PPE) was also in evidence. The students working in the area reserved for practical building projects wore safety helmets and other PPE as directed by clear standard signage.
The stress placed on the proper observance of safety precautions and procedures throughout the MTW and CS facilities is commended for its formative influence on the students in an educational context. The MTW and CS teaching team is applauded for its achievements in this regard. To further improve the already comprehensive use of safety signage it is suggested that the general safety rules be made more prominent by being displayed in a larger format and that the number of standard, colour-coded, mandatory PPE signs be increased slightly. Safe operational areas (SOAs) were clearly demarcated on the woodwork room floor. This is good practice. To derive further educational benefit from the use of SOAs, it is urged that they also be shown around the table saw and the planer and that their purpose be stated in suitable ancillary notices to aid the safety awareness of the students. 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.
The teaching approaches adopted in the lessons observed in the course of the inspection were varied and provided for the active involvement of all students. In a fifth-year CS lesson, where students were introduced to the construction and design of foundations, they were actively engaged alternately in the theory, dimensions and components involved as they produced a sectional drawing of a traditional strip foundation. The form, function, characteristics and dimensions of various components were discovered by the students themselves by reference to samples including concrete blocks, cavity insulation, damp-proof course and radon barrier. Students worked in pairs and groups and various aspects of foundation design and function were explored in a very natural and accessible manner. The pairing of students who had not previously done technical drawing with those who had, helped to ensure that different needs could be addressed.
The use of active-learning strategies, such as presentations to their peers by fifth year CS students of their own investigation outcomes is commended. It is encouraged that such strategies, together with the use of pair work when appropriate, continue to be used in the teaching of both MTW and CS.
Each of the lessons visited in the course of the inspection was well structured with the purpose being made clear from the outset. Continuity was maintained with previous lessons by means of brief references when each lesson was being introduced. The pace in each case was appropriate to the progress being made by the students and they were presented with a suitable level of challenge.
Lessons were characterised by very good use of the teachers’ demonstration of the work being undertaken. In a first-year MTW lesson visited, the students worked on the realisation of a model ship. The marking out of trenches was clearly demonstrated by the teacher, laying appropriate emphasis on the importance of working from the face side and face edge and preparing the students very well for the completion of the work on their own pieces. The students worked to dimensions supplied on a working drawing showing elevation and plan. A prepared sheet listed the sequence of steps to be followed for the marking out. The coherent planning evident in the lesson ensured that the students completed the work with commendable efficiency and the experience of success. Given the centrality of student design to MTW, it is urged that all opportunities are taken to get students, to the greatest extent achievable, to decide the form of the projects which they undertake. An example in the making of the model ship might be to encourage them to decide the size and position of the trenches, within predetermined limits. The process of decision making could perhaps be supported by providing space for measurements to be entered on the sheet laying out the sequence of marking-out operations. Such an approach could awaken students to the concept of design at an early stage.
Discipline and order was intrinsic to each of the lessons visited and was accepted by the students. Occasional minor correction was handled with care and sensitivity and invariably had the desired affect. Potential distractions which might have led to problems were anticipated by the teachers with skill and a lightness of touch that ensured that the pleasant learning atmosphere was maintained.
Students in a sixth-year class were engaged in coursework projects when visited. The variety of the work was impressive, ranging from investigative projects, through various aspects of architectural heritage, to practical building projects. While most students worked in the woodwork room where they were variously engaged in model making, sketching and note writing in preparation for realisation, others were engaged in preparatory work in the wet-trades area. The teacher moved between the students providing encouragement, affirmation, guidance and inspiration as required. In response to the inspector’s inquiries, the students showed an impressive knowledge of their various projects and an understanding of the underlying concepts involved.
The students encountered in each of the lessons visited displayed enthusiasm and interest in the respective subjects. The work being undertaken was consistent with the provision of a suitable level of challenge for the students and it engaged their interest and motivation. It was clear from the evidence presented by students’ work, and their responses to questions, that effective learning was taking place.
In addition to the formal school examinations held in summer and at Christmas and externally set and marked mock examinations in preparation for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate, students’ progress in MTW and CS is also assessed prior to the spring and autumn mid-term breaks. Student design project work is assessed on its completion and the outcome of project assessment forms a percentage of the summer examination. This is consistent with the assessment modes employed in the state examinations and is in line with good practice. To build further on this commendable practice it is recommended that the subject department of the technologies, as part of subject-department planning, work towards common approaches to continuous assessment and the combination of continuous assessment marks with examination marks. The agreed approach can then be presented to all students of the technologies to further support their awareness of their individual progress. This could also provide a means of enhancing the profile of all the technology subjects, encouraging further involvement by students.
In keeping with the commendable practice in the whole school, teachers of MTW and CS record students’ attendance by means of their laptop computers which connect wirelessly to the central attendance records. Teachers use journals to record students’ attainment and progress in a systematic manner, recording assessment and test outcomes and records of homework. Teachers enter the outcomes achieved by students, together with their comments, by means of the school’s online report system.
Parents are kept informed in a timely and commendably efficient manner through a range of channels of communication. These channels include entries in the students’ journals, regular formal school reports at Christmas, summer and following the mock examinations, parent-teacher meetings and the information evenings that are provided for each year group. Such care in maintaining contact with parents is commended.
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.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Board of Management welcomes the very positive report on teaching and learning of Constructions Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) at the school. It reflects the high standards and dedication of the subject department. The report was very fair and balanced and it is a comprehensive overview of the quality of teaching and learning of Constructions Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) at CBS Tramore. The Board of Management wishes to congratulate the Principal and teaching staff of the Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood).
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 Board of Management will continue to provide the necessary support and resources that will facilitate the Principal and Staff in the implementation of the findings and recommendations as per report (Page 7 & 8) will be implemented as a means of building on existing strengths and to address areas for development.
The Board also wishes to acknowledge the courteous and professional manner in which the Inspector carried out the subject inspection and is of the opinion that the inspection process and outcomes will greatly benefit the school in its SDP.