An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Mercy Secondary School
Mounthawk, Tralee, County Kerry
Roll number: 68070E
Date of inspection: 16 September 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 Mercy Secondary School, Mounthawk. 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 of the school was given an 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 of this report.
Mercy Secondary School, Mounthawk provides a broad curriculum in a co-educational setting. In addition to MTW, two other technology subjects—Metalwork and Technical Graphics (TG)—are provided in the junior cycle. In the senior cycle, Engineering and Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) are offered as well as CS for the Leaving Certificate and Graphics and Construction Studies (GCS) is provided in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. An eight-week module in the Transition Year (TY) programme, entitled Woodcraft, provides students, some of whom may not previously have studied the subject, with an experience of woodwork. There is also a DCG module in TY which deals with the computer-aided design (CAD) package, Solid Works. This module has significant value for students who progress to study CS for Leaving Certificate. The school is commended for providing appropriately for this broad choice of technology subjects within its programmes.
Planning within the CS and MTW subject department, in common with other subject departments, is supported by the provision of dedicated time at staff meetings. The facilities available for teaching and learning in CS and MTW include two woodwork rooms. The use of two computer rooms and a DCG room can also be arranged as required by particular class groups. The woodwork rooms are well maintained, bright and welcoming. In the course of the subject inspection school management reported concerns about the size of the woodwork room and the absence of a separate wood preparation area. School management has limited the number of students in CS classes in line with the recommendations of the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, Department of Education and Science, 2005), in order to deal with these concerns. School management could further address the concerns expressed through the provision of a separate wood preparation area, into which wood machines could be relocated. The support of the Department has been sought for such a development.
All teachers of CS and MTW have been facilitated to attend continuing professional development (CPD) courses provided by T4, the support service for the technologies, in connection with the introduction of the new senior-cycle syllabus in DCG. In addition, most members of the subject teaching team have undertaken extra night-time CPD courses provided in Tralee Education Centre by the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) and the teacher professional networks (TPN). CPD courses have also been provided for the whole staff in assessment for learning (AfL) strategies and behaviour management School management and the teachers themselves are commended for their dedication in this regard.
The amount of teaching time allocated for CS and MTW is adequate for the completion of the respective syllabuses given that, in first-year, students are provided with opportunities to experience a wide range of subjects. In junior cycle, first-year MTW classes are allocated two periods per week while second and third-year classes are allocated four periods per week. In senior cycle, TY classes are allocated two periods per week for the eight-week module. CS classes are timetabled for five periods per week through fifth year and sixth year. LCA classes are allocated four periods per week through fifth year, session one and session two. In each case the periods are appropriately divided into single and double lessons which are evenly distributed throughout the timetable for the week.
The teachers of CS and MTW are deployed to teach both subjects in line with their qualifications, skills, knowledge and interests. They also teach TG and DCG. This deployment strategy is commended for its positive effect in providing opportunities for collaboration between teachers. It also supports continuity within the subject department and across technology education and the mobility of teachers between programmes in the school.
CS and MTW are well resourced in the school. Management provides equipment, tools and materials as requested by the subject department and arrangements are in place to ensure proper maintenance of these resources. The resources and equipment provided are sufficient to allow for the full participation of all students in the practical and project work required in the study of the subjects. It is planned in the coming year to bring an added degree of formality to subject-department budgeting in the school. This proposal should be advanced as it will support the further development of clear and accurate procedures in the subject department when planning for resources. Grant aid provided by the Department for the purpose of addressing health and safety issues identified in technology subject workshops in post-primary schools under the terms of Circular Letters PBU5/2005 and PBU 0085/2006 has been used appropriately. It is commended that the teaching staff and in-school management have been involved in the development of the school’s safety statement.
The school supports open access for all students to the subjects of their choice, including CS and MTW. This is good practice. In junior cycle, students choose their optional subjects prior to entry. Students and their parents are supported in making these choices by means of information presented at an open day, through subject-choice information booklets and at the school’s admissions day. Students, on completion of first year, must drop two subjects from their first-year choices. Given the very small numbers of girls choosing to study CS or MTW, it is urged that the school continues to monitor uptake patterns to ensure that the subject options, as presented to students, are not having an undue impact on the choices that they make. In the event of a student opting to study more than one technology subject, the school recommends that this choice of subjects should include TG. While advantages are acknowledged in studying TG in combination with MTW, care should be taken that this consideration does not unnecessarily limit the subject choices open to students. Any student wishing to study a single technology subject is facilitated in so doing and this is good practice.
In senior cycle, students are supported in the subject-choice process by the guidance department and by the details provided in subject-option booklets. Further support in making choices is provided at an information evening and by teachers of the optional subjects. Subjects are then chosen from subject blocks based on the students’ preferences. This is good practice.
The subject department of CS and MTW is actively engaged in very effective planning for the subjects, as evidenced by the clear and comprehensive subject department plan that has resulted. A subject coordinator is in place and agendas and records of planning meetings are prepared and recorded. The subject department has collaborated in the provision of programmes of work for each year group in line with the requirements of the respective syllabuses. In addition to these programmes of work, the subject department plan includes details of students’ choice of subject and level, arrangements for supporting the additional educational needs of students, cross-curricular planning and a section detailing the planned development of the subject in the current year. This developmental section, in addition to laying out tasks relating to the integration of ICT-based teaching methodologies, assessment for learning (AfL) and differentiation includes a pilot project to introduce Japanese saws to some first-year classes. Criteria are laid down for the evaluation of this project at the end of the year. This is highly commendable work.
When students are engaged in the main phase of design-project realisation in CS or MTW, there is a particular need to devise strategies to ensure that they do not lose contact with other, more theoretical aspects of the subjects. It is recommended, as a further development of the subject-department plan, that such strategies be included in the plan. Suitable strategies might include short research projects leading to student-produced presentations, prepared as homework and presented to the whole class. Such presentations would provide for the revision of a topic for the individual student engaged in its preparation and for the whole class. While appropriate deadlines were in place for the completion of CS coursework and students were fully aware of these, it is recommended that students be encouraged to plan and record their own completion schedules for their projects.
The lessons visited in the course of the inspection were well planned and coherent. A good range of teaching and learning resources had been prepared by teachers and this work was done thoroughly. It was noted that ICT is being very effectively deployed for resource preparation, evidenced by the use of Power Point presentations in one of the lessons observed. The work being done in these lessons was consistent with the subject plan and the respective syllabus. It is suggested, as a next step in the further development of the subject department plan, that links be made, collaboratively by the subject teachers, between specific content in the programmes of work and the teaching strategies listed in the plan. This development should clarify how strategies, such as group, pair work, and student-led discovery could be effectively integrated into specific lessons through the planning process. This will help in the sharing of teachers’ experience and will be an enriching exercise for the subject department, while respecting and supporting teachers’ autonomy and their response to the variable abilities and needs of their students. It is further urged that the subject department plan should clearly identify the learning outcomes for students in each year of the respective courses.
It is recommended that the very commendable planning for the integration of ICT into teaching and learning, which is included in the subject department plan for the current year, takes account of the introduction of Solid Works CAD to all students of MTW and CS. Planning, undertaken in collaboration with the DCG subject department and school management, should aim to support students’ use of CAD as part of their project-design work from a very early stage in developing their design skills. The subject department is urged to continue to lay emphasis on the central part played by students’ project design throughout MTW and CS, by ensuring that all projects include a significant design element.
There is clear and effective liaison between the CS and MTW subject teachers and the school’s learning-support and resource teaching staff. The progress being made in planning for the application of assessment for learning (AfL) techniques and the adoption of differentiated approaches to student learning is commended. The further development of these approaches is being piloted in first-year MTW lessons in the current year. The involvement of the MTW and CS teachers in learning-support provision in the school is welcomed, particularly in a team-teaching context. The subject department is commended for its involvement in cross-curricular and extra-curricular planning and activities with the related subjects of TG, DCG, Metalwork, Engineering, CSPE and the sciences, and also with the broader range of subject areas and school activities, which include drama, ecological awareness and seasonal celebrations.
While the school’s safety statement, which is reviewed annually, does not refer specifically to health and safety in the woodwork rooms, the CS and MTW subject plan has a detailed statement on this matter. This is commended for its comprehensiveness. It is recommended that the health and safety section of the subject plan be presented to the board of management for ratification and inclusion in the school’s safety statement. There is an appropriate emphasis on the importance of issues of health and safety in the conduct of lessons, in line with the subject plan safety statement.
The teaching methodologies, approaches and strategies observed in the course of the inspection were appropriate to the abilities, needs and interests of the students. The quality of the teaching and learning observed was very good. In one instance, the students’ attention was engaged by the use of a light-hearted cartoon, the invention of the wheel, projected through the overhead projector. This led to a lively discussion of what constituted the greatest invention in history, setting the scene for a detailed consideration of the nature of design. As the lesson progressed, good use was made of targeted questioning and the students’ responses were displayed on the overhead projector. Such very well-structured lessons could have been even further improved by the considered use of pair or group work to enable more involvement of individual students in providing responses. It is best that the awareness of design be an integral part of the MTW course from the outset, and that the students’ designing skills reach full development for the completion of the coursework project in third year. In another instance, students were engaged in the marking-out of a frame prior to realisation. The students were provided with very well-produced, exploded and dimensioned CAD drawings of the frame. This lesson also incorporated an introduction to the band saw using the data projector followed by a practical demonstration by the teacher. Learning was reinforced by means of worksheets based on the slides used in the introduction which the students completed. The integration of theory and practical work in this way is commended. The practical work being undertaken in such lessons would be further enhanced by the inclusion of an element of student input into the design of the artefact.
Where students were engaged in the realisation of coursework-design projects in a sixth-year CS lesson, the projects were appropriately varied and differentiated in their levels of difficulty to suit the individual interests, strengths and abilities of the students. While the students worked individually on their projects, the teacher moved among them providing affirmation of work well done and offering encouragement and help as needed. Students learned and developed their skills in the positive, well-ordered working environment in the room. In this lesson, as in all the lessons observed, students displayed appropriate knowledge and understanding of the task when engaged in conversation by the inspector.
The atmosphere in each of the lessons observed was good. Students remained on task and fully engaged in the work. On the rare occasion, when student enthusiasm or ebullience tended to distract from the work of a lesson, the teacher moderated skilfully, with tact and sensitivity. Students were familiar with the behaviours required of them and classroom management was effective. Relations between students and between teachers and students were good. Interactions were, at all times, mutually respectful.
There is a broad range of formal and informal assessment modes in use in the school. Formal examinations take place at Christmas and at the end of the summer term. Students preparing for the Certificate examinations also sit mock examinations in advance which are externally marked. The use of common assessments at Christmas and in summer is commended. Continuous assessment is employed to provide feedback on students’ progress throughout the year.
Class work and homework are corrected regularly and it is commended that teachers of the subjects are adopting AfL techniques to give enhanced, more meaningful feedback to students on their performance in projects and in the completion of homework in some instances. This promises to be a very valuable development in the assessment practice in the school. The school has developed policies on homework and assessment which are adhered to by the subject department and whose implementation is monitored by the subject teachers.
Assessment outcomes, both for internal and the Certificate examinations, are monitored by the subject teachers, year heads and school management. The analysis of outcomes is used to inform subject planning and planning for the needs of individual students. The well-developed procedures in place for tracking individual progress include ongoing monitoring of the assessment outcomes of selected students by the learning-support department and the deputy principal in charge of curriculum, who keeps longitudinal profiles of the attainments of these students.
Teachers of MTW and CS keep accurate records of students’ attendance and achievement. There is also a school-based electronic database and roll system available to teachers for reference. There is good contact with parents, and students’ progress is communicated by means of written reports at Christmas, at mid-term and summer, and at parent-teacher meetings. These reports include a grade and comments regarding the student’s behaviour and educational performance.
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 the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes the report on CS and MTW in the school and is pleased that it acknowledges good practice in subject planning, In particular that it commends the pilot project in MTW, the work done on AFL and the integration of ICT in the subject Department.
The Board is also pleased that the report acknowledges the efforts of management to address the shortfall in accommodation in the area of CS and MTW and hopes that the Department of Education will respond to the need by providing the required accommodation.
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 will ensure that the health and safety section of the subject plan is ratified and included in the school’s safety statement.
The Board notes the recommendations in relation to the further development of the subject plan in relation to the inclusion of teaching strategies. This work will be promoted in the forthcoming school plan.