An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Meán Scoil Nua an Leith Triúigh
Caisleán Ghriaire, Contae Chiarraí
Roll number: 68075O
Date of inspection: 16 December 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 Meán Scoil Nua an Leith Triúigh. 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 teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. 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.
Meán Scoil Nua an Leith Triúigh is a voluntary secondary school providing post-primary education in a co-educational setting for students from the village of Castlegregory and neighbouring areas north of the Slieve Mish mountains on the Dingle peninsula. The school relocated from An Clochán, where it had been sited since 1963, to new purpose-built accommodation on its present site in 2006.
The school’s curriculum provides for Technical Graphics (TG) and Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) in junior cycle and Construction Studies (CS) in senior cycle. This provides all students with the opportunity to choose to study a technology subject. The technologies are represented by Woodwork in the Transition Year (TY) programme which is taken by all students. The number of class periods allocated to MTW in each year of the junior cycle varies from two in first year to three in second year and four in third year. This is less than the allocation of time needed to ensure the full completion of the syllabus. It is recommended that the time provided be increased to the generally accepted allocation of four class periods per week in each of the three years of junior cycle. The allocation of three class periods per week in TY and five class periods per week in fifth year is good. There was no sixth-year CS class at the time of the inspection due to the reintroduction of the TY programme two years previously.
Provision for the use of information and communication technology (ICT) is good. ICT is used for the preparation of teaching and planning materials for MTW and CS. A data projector is available in the woodwork room and access to the computer room can be arranged when required. The school plans to develop its ICT resources to facilitate the introduction of Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) in senior cycle and this will be a major asset to the teaching of all the technology subjects in the school.
The woodwork room is very well maintained and organised. The tools and facilities available for teaching MTW and CS are ample to allow for the full participation of the students in the completion of the syllabuses. A very effective system for storing tools on racks is in place which facilitates checking of equipment at the end of lessons while also making the tools easily available to students. There is a strong awareness of health and safety issues in MTW and CS. The subject plan includes detailed notes on the provision for health and safety in the woodwork room. The safety rules for the woodwork room are also included in the plan. The teacher and school management reported during the inspection that the need to upgrade the electrical isolation switches in the woodwork room had been notified to the board of management and that this upgrade would be undertaken shortly. Such attention to the maintenance of the teaching facilities is commended. Practice with regard to health and safety in the woodwork room is good. It is recommended however, as a next step in the further development of health and safety planning in the school, that an annual risk assessment of the woodwork room be instigated based on the audit checklists and risk-assessment tools contained in the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, Department of Education and Science, 2005). This document should be consulted in detail when reviewing health and safety and is available on http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/review_oh_safety_tech.pdf.
Practice with regard to displaying safety signboards is good. Due care and attention is given to the active management of health and safety during class. Appropriate personal protection equipment is made available for machine users. To further improve the provision for health and safety, it is recommended that the good practice of placing instructional signboards adjacent to machines seen in the woodwork room be extended to all machines. These instructional signboards should display the procedures and precautions needed to ensure the safe use of the particular machine. Safe-operational areas (SOAs) are clearly marked with high visibility tape around the various machines in the woodwork room in line with good practice. To add to the educational impact of this good practice in the workshop it is recommended that instructional signboards be displayed adjacent to these SOAs. The signboards should draw the students’ attention to the rationale for marking SOAs and the consequent implications for students’ movement and behaviour. It is further recommended that the safety rules be more prominently displayed in the woodwork room.
While students choose the subjects they wish to study on entry to first year, they are given freedom to change at any stage in the course of the year. This is good practice. The subject-option groups are fixed in junior cycle. MTW is grouped with Home Economics and TG is grouped with Business Studies. It is recommended that consideration be given to providing students with experience of each of the four optional subjects early in first year to facilitate a more informed and open subject choice process. In senior cycle, students choose one subject from each of four set subject-option groups of two subjects. CS is timetabled with Home Economics. Consideration should be given, in both junior and senior cycle, to basing the creation of the subject option groups on an initial survey of individual students’ preferences. The subject-option groups would emerge from this open choice of subjects and students would then be asked to choose again from the four option groups.
Students are provided with complete, accurate and timely information on the optional subjects. An annual open day is provided for pupils of the local primary schools. The guidance counsellor talks to all prospective students at the open day about the school and the subject choices they will make. All students undertake the TY programme which includes at least two class periods for each subject and three class periods for CS. This experience of the optional subjects offered in senior cycle provides added support for students’ decision-making. The arrangements for providing information on optional subjects are fair, thorough and transparent.
MTW and CS are taught in a mixed-ability setting throughout the school. A common programme is followed and students have open access to both levels in line with good practice. They generally study the subjects at higher level. The decision regarding the level at which they will sit the certificate examinations in the subjects is taken by the students in consultation with their teacher, parents and the principal. The final decision is normally taken following the publication of the Junior Certificate design briefs in MTW or following the mock examinations in CS. This is good practice.
Subject-department planning is facilitated by senior management by means of monthly subject department-meetings. The teacher of the technologies collaborates closely with teachers in the other curricular areas in the school as well as extensively with teacher colleagues of MTW and CS throughout the county. This collaboration is of significant value to subject planning for MTW and CS within the school and it is commended. It is recommended that the collaboration with teachers of subjects with areas of common interest be made more formal. The areas of common interest might include the organisation of practical work, the further development of specialist teaching facilities and specific measures to be taken in relation to health and safety. Examples of subjects that could be involved include the sciences, Home Economics and Art. More formal collaboration should include the keeping of appropriate records of the monthly planning meetings.
The subject plan for MTW and CS reflects, in particular, the theory content of the respective syllabuses. The planning for teaching of topics in CS over fifth year and sixth year covers the requirements of the theory section of the syllabus and is suitably detailed. This shows very good planning practice. It is recommended, given the success of CS planning, that a similar approach be adopted in the MTW programme of work. As a next step in the development of the programmes of work it is recommended that similar planning be included for completion of practical work. Specifically it is recommended that the introduction to design in first-year project work and its integration within the students’ practical work through the three years of junior cycle be included in the MTW programme of work. This aims to prepare students fully for the completion of the coursework design project in third year.
The subject plan addresses the teaching methodologies to be adopted in the teaching of MTW and CS including the use of ICT and computer-aided design (CAD). The teaching methodologies and strategies are linked to specific requirements of teaching these subjects. The advantages of integrating learning about theory when undertaking practical tasks are given specific mention. This is a very good approach. The linking of the approaches included in the plan, such as discovery learning and stimulus variation, to the teaching of specific topics or lessons would be a further very good development.
The subject plan details very good provision made for the support of students with additional educational needs in MTW and CS. The teacher liaises with the learning-support teacher to determine the additional needs of individual students. Appropriate steps are taken to ensure that the work undertaken by students is in line with their individual ability. The completion of practical projects is paced to suit the individual needs of students. Design opportunities are incorporated into projects that are appropriate to the student’s design ability and practical skills. Care is taken to support the student’s literacy development in class by using appropriate written materials and by ensuring that verbal communication is effective. The approach, detailed in the subject plan, regarding provision for students’ additional educational needs, including physical needs, has been implemented as required in line with very good practice.
The subject-department plan also deals very effectively with the place of MTW and CS within the curriculum of the school and its role in meeting the school’s broad educational objectives for students. The subject department monitors the achievement and performance of students in relation to the national norms and this informs planning.
Planning for individual lessons is very effective. The lessons observed benefited from timely preparation of tools, equipment and other resources. Planning for the lessons observed ensured that the students’ learning was integrated throughout the lesson. In a CS lesson, planning catered for the review of students’ previous knowledge of heat and sound in buildings when dealing with the functional requirements of internal walls. This is evidence of good planning.
Based on the practice observed during the inspection, lessons have clear aims and objectives. These aims and objectives are shared with the students at the outset. Lessons begin with a quick review of previous related work. The review of work is achieved by skilled use of questioning, varied to suit the student and the material being taught. A project was being designed in one lesson observed. The students provided detailed information in response to their teacher’s questioning. The information covered the process followed up to that point. The students proceeded to give the context for the main work of the lesson, sketching the solution and completing working drawings. The other lessons began in a similar way. This is very good practice which provides continuity with the work of previous lessons.
The content of lessons is consistent with the programmes of work included in the subject plans. Content and pace are appropriate to the class group. In a practical woodwork lesson observed students marked-out, processed and assembled a piece incorporating a housing joint and a dowelled joint. The students worked at a suitable pace following the methods demonstrated by their teacher. The work piece provided students with an opportunity to practise alternative jointing methods to be applied in the planned design project which would follow. The incorporation of differentiated practical work in this way is good practice and it helps to maintain the design focus of the subject.
The demonstrations of woodwork skills by the teacher were observed to be of a very high standard. Students are given very clear instructions and guidance by means of these demonstrations which are central to the teaching of MTW. The use of peer demonstration, seen in the course of the inspection when students demonstrated marking-out and processing skills to their peers, is commended. The main teaching approach adopted is to alternate whole-class teaching and demonstration with individual affirmation and support by the teacher who moves among the students as they complete the work. This works quite well. It is suggested that the greater use of group work and demonstration to smaller groups of students be explored. Such an approach would facilitate greater differentiation of the students’ work.
Lessons are well structured. Appropriately, students produce sketches and notes in their copybooks as the theme of the lesson is developed. In a CS lesson the data projector was used as a very effective support of this stage of the lesson. Each of the lessons observed led to a natural conclusion. The work of the lesson was quickly and effectively recapitulated. Learning was reinforced and students were often reminded of the next stage of the work to be continued in the following lesson.
A very effective learning environment is maintained. Subject-related posters are displayed enhancing the learning space. The planned-for display of more students’ work in the woodwork room, and perhaps in the area directly outside, will add further enhancement. This plan is commended. The interpersonal relations in all lessons are conducive to a positive atmosphere in which learning is supported. The enthusiasm of the teacher for the topic being studied is pervasive and the student’s enthusiasm and enjoyment is evident. Students, when questioned in the course of the inspection, showed a level of knowledge and understanding of MTW and CS that was consistent with learning at a level that compared favourably with expectations for students of similar age and experience of the subjects.
The subject-department homework and assessment policy is included in the department plan and is fully implemented. School-based written examinations take place in MTW and CS as well as in all subjects at Christmas and before the summer holidays. Continuous assessment takes account of grades awarded for each student-design project and topic tests given at the end of term. In all cases the students’ work is graded under a consistent marking scheme. These assessment modes take account of the assessment objectives of the syllabuses in MTW and CS. Marks awarded for examinations and the range of continuous assessments are aggregated to arrive at a final result at Christmas and in summer. This is very good practice.
In the case of each examination and assessment, students are given a percentage result and formative feedback. In addition to the formal feedback given in this way, students are provided with regular feedback as their work is appraised and regularly assessed in a less formal way in lessons and through homework. This is good practice.
The rationale, policy and procedures for homework are clearly stated in the subject plan. These are in line with the whole-school homework policy. The focus is on the reinforcement of material covered in class and the development in students of positive attitudes towards study and motivated self-discipline. Homework is regularly set and corrected in line with good practice.
Recording of students’ attainment and progress in all aspects of MTW and CS is consistent and comprehensive. Records are carefully maintained. Written reports which include teachers’ individual comments on the students’ progress are sent to parents following the Christmas and summer examinations. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group at which parents are provided with opportunities to speak to each teacher and discuss the students’ progress. The student’s journal is used as an immediate means of communication with parents. The journal is commonly used to record homework and to give feedback on students’ progress with homework and design project work. Record-keeping and communication with students and parents concerning their content are very good.
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 teacher of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009