An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

 

Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)

 

REPORT

 

Causeway Comprehensive School

Causeway, County Kerry

Roll number: 70540E

 

 

Date of inspection: 21 March 2007

Date of issue of report: 8 November 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 Causeway Comprehensive School. 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 two days 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

 

Causeway Comprehensive School provides a broad education for girls and boys from the village and the surrounding areas of north Kerry. The technologies curriculum provided in the school is commendably wide, including Technical Graphics and Metalwork in junior cycle and Technical Drawing and Engineering in senior cycle, in addition to the focus subjects of this inspection, MTW and CS. The board of management and Kerry Education Service, the vocational education committee in Kerry (KES), are commended for this provision.

 

Collaborative planning by the teaching team of CS and MTW is supported and encouraged by the furnishing of formal meeting times on three or four occasions each year. The template provided for recording the outcomes of these meetings provides an effective means both of communication with management and the whole school and of maintaining continuity. This is good practice on the part of management, which is commended for the support and encouragement it provides for subject department planning.

 

One member of the subject teaching team acts as subject co-ordinator. This forms part of the duties of a post of responsibility. The main teacher of each subject takes the lead in developing the subject plan for that subject. This structure supports collaboration in subject development planning.

 

The teaching team of MTW and CS has been supported and encouraged by management to attend and derive full benefit from the continuing professional development (CPD) programme developed for the technologies through T4, the technology subjects support service. This support for CPD is commended.

 

In junior cycle, MTW is allocated four class periods per week configured either as two double periods or as one double and two single periods. This allocation provides sufficient time for the syllabus to be completed, while the provision of at least one double-period class for each group facilitates practical lessons. In senior cycle, woodcraft is allocated three periods, one double and one single, in Transition Year (TY). CS is allocated six class periods per week in both fifth and sixth year configured as two double and two single periods in each case. This level of time allocation and the suitability of the units of time for the teaching of the respective syllabuses are commended.

 

There are two wood workshops in the school, both of which were neat and tidy when visited. The teaching facilities in the workshops were of a high standard and very well maintained. The workshops were generally well supplied with the tools and equipment needed to support student learning. Management is commended for the timely and efficient provision of the necessary tools, equipment and materials for the teaching of the subjects, with the support of KES and the board of management. It is recommended that the subject department, in consultation with school management, plan in detail the spending of the annual budget for the recurring expense of materials and consumables. Such detailed planning has the potential to provide an incentive for further improvement of subject-department planning.

 

There is a current health and safety statement in the school which was professionally reviewed in September 2006 under the guidance of KES in collaboration with a health and safety consultant. The subject teaching team of MTW and CS was involved in the review of the statement by means of discussion at subject-department meetings attended by the principal. These discussions were based on the report 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, and were informed by liaison with the safety consultant and the health and safety officer. The thoroughness of the approach taken to the issues of health and safety in the school is commended.

 

The computer room is available for use by CS students when word processing their design project work in line with good practice. It is suggested that the feasibility of installing the SolidWorks computer-aided design (CAD) package in the computer room should be explored to provide increased access by students to this software.

 

Before entering the school in first year, sixth-class pupils make a selection of three subjects from the full list of six options available in junior cycle in the school. This selection is made on forms which the Home-School-Community Liaison teacher takes to the local primary schools in April. The returned forms are then used as the basis for designing the junior cycle subject-option groups for the incoming students. It is reported that this approach is successful in providing students with their preferred subjects. In senior cycle, subject-option groups are based on a survey of student preferences. This survey is conducted following information sessions with parents and students, at which information and guidance are provided to support students in making suitable, informed decisions. The responsiveness of the school to the subject preferences of its students is consistent with good practice and the board of management and in-school management are commended for taking the choices of students fully into account when deciding optional subject groups in both junior and senior cycle.

 

It is noted that CS was studied exclusively by males at the time of the inspection and that the number of females choosing to study MTW is very small. While the preferences of the students are of primary importance in the matter of  subject choice, it is urged that every effort continues to be made both when providing support for students making subject choices and when considering inclusiveness in subject teaching, to address the risk of gender stereotyping being an influence in subject choice.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

The subject department of MTW and CS meets regularly and plans collaboratively for the development of the subjects. Subject plans have been drawn up which describe the provision made for the subjects. These plans are very similar in most respects, as is to be expected for two such closely related subjects. The programmes of work and assessment procedures for each subject are presented clearly and are in line with the respective curricular requirements. To further develop this very good start made in compiling the subject plans, it is recommended that details of the teaching methodologies, strategies and approaches which have been found most effective in teaching the various elements of the programmes of work be included. Particular consideration should be given to the most effective approaches to the teaching of theory that promote active student involvement. The central position given to student project design in the MTW syllabus should continue to be considered when planning the teaching strategies to be adopted for the practical elements of the syllabus.

 

Given the common challenges faced by the teachers of all the technologies and the wealth and diversity of teaching experience which they share, it is urged that opportunities be sought for the teachers of Metalwork, Engineering, Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing as well as the teachers of MTW and CS to come together to plan for the identification, development and inclusion of the most suitable teaching methodologies, strategies and approaches for their subjects.

 

MTW and CS are both presented in a mixed-ability setting in the school, being timetabled within discrete subject-option groups. The commitment of the subject teaching team to provide each student with work that suits the individual needs of the student, as stated in the subject planning documents, was observed in the course of the inspection. This approach by the school and the MTW and CS subject teaching team extends to planning for students with special needs. There was evidence of close collaboration between the learning-support department in the school and the MTW and CS teachers. This good practice is commended. There is access for students to study both subjects at either higher or ordinary level and students are encouraged to study at the level appropriate to their ability.

 

The cross-curricular approach adopted by the MTW and CS teaching team towards Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing is commended and it is urged that opportunities are sought to develop similar ties with other subjects such as Art and the sciences.

 

While the workshops were generally well supplied with the tools and equipment needed to support student learning in the subjects, it is recommended that appropriate rules be supplied for marking out of material and setting of tools. Students on occasion experienced difficulty in using plastic rules and set squares when setting marking gauges. Tool storage in presses at too high a level led to a student having to stand on a stool for access at one stage. This should be avoided and it is recommended that all tools be stored at a level which allows easy and safe access by all.

 

While the use of information and communications technology (ICT) by students of MTW and CS has been limited to web research and word processing of design-project materials, this is about to change rapidly with the introduction of SolidWorks to the teaching of DCG and the other technologies within the technologies rooms. It is commended that planning is already taking place for the deployment of the ICT hardware and software being supplied. The teachers of the technologies, including MTW and CS, are encouraged to continue to engage in detailed planning as a group in this context. It is urged that all students studying MTW or CS be given instruction in SolidWorks as soon as possible and be given access for its use as part of their studies. 

 

The success achieved in both the planning and implementation of health and safety provision in the workshops is commended. During the inspection appropriate personal protection equipment was readily available and its mandatory use was indicated by standard signage. Safe operational areas were marked clearly around the main machines. General rules for safety in the workshop were prominently displayed. To further improve on this very impressive situation it is suggested that short notices, listing the specific precautions to be taken for the safe operation of individual machines, be placed adjacent to the particular machine. It is also recommended that the marking of safe operational areas be extended to include all machines and that simple notices be displayed to remind users of the rationale for safe operational areas and of the consequent implications for movement and behaviour.

 

Teaching and learning

 

The methodologies adopted in the lessons visited were varied and at all times suited to the abilities, needs and interests of the students. The aim of each lesson was clarified at the outset. In most instances this included a quick recapitulation of the work done previously. In the case of a first-year lesson, in which students were being introduced to the marking out of a housing joint, this was carefully placed in context through skilled questioning and discussion before the marking out was demonstrated by the teacher. Each of the lessons visited was well structured. Practical demonstrations of appropriate length were presented at suitable intervals to allow students to complete their work while being suitably challenged. Due emphasis was placed on the traditional approaches to the marking out and working of wood, leading students to a high level of appreciation and skills development.  The lessons were correctly paced.

 

The range of teaching strategies observed included student demonstration, which was very effectively used to revise the removal of waste from a trench in a first-year class. The revision of sawing with the grain in a second-year lesson was similarly enriched by the involvement of students. Small-group work and pair work were employed very effectively in a fifth-year CS lesson, in the course of which students were provided with commendable opportunities to consider the broad issues of housing development in the countryside. This lesson, dealing with windows, began with a consideration of their functional requirements and developed very effectively to integrate consideration of the aesthetics of fenestration, the environmental aspects of double glazing and liaison with the planning authority. The use of a plenary session was particularly effective in the case of this lesson when groups of students displayed their drawn solutions to a situation where roof windows were to be added to a single-storey rural house. These solutions had been completed in the course of the lesson on partially completed drawings prepared and printed in advance by the teacher.

 

At the end of a first-year practical lesson, in which students worked on their own designs for a toy truck making use of built-up wooden sections, time was taken to reflect on the progress made in the course of the lesson and to discuss the next stage of the realisation. In this lesson, as in others observed in the course of the inspection, the teacher used skilled and varied questioning techniques to increase the students’ involvement and to move the lesson forward. It is commended that in several of those lessons observed which were predominantly practical in their focus, opportunities were created to deal with elements of theory, in particular tool construction, adjustment and usage. This integration of the practical and theoretical elements of the syllabus is consistent with best practice. The lessons observed were marked by the variety and effectiveness of the teaching strategies adopted. The use of group work, student research and peer presentation is commended and the subject teaching team is urged to consider how best to further increase the use of such strategies.

 

Each of the lessons observed took place in a pleasant, secure and affirming atmosphere. Students were at their ease. While there was a consistent focus on the work being undertaken, the discipline which supported this level of student application was freely accepted and was an intrinsic element of the atmosphere of the lessons. The work of the lessons visited provided students with a suitable level of challenge.

 

Extensive subject-related visual stimulation displayed in the workshops included colourful pictorial drawings and freehand sketches of first-year work on dedicated display boards. This is good practice.

 

Students displayed engagement with classroom activities and their efforts were affirmed at all times. The teachers circulated among the students to provide this affirmation, together with help and encouragement as appropriate. This did much to facilitate and support student learning. When questioned, students showed a good understanding and knowledge of concepts and facts related to the work being done. It was clear that students were learning effectively.

 

Students showed a high level of enthusiasm for the subjects in the lessons observed. Their skills and knowledge, both in the practical and theory elements of the respective syllabuses, were appropriate to their age and ability.

 

Assessment

 

Students sit formal house examinations at Christmas and in summer and those preparing for state examinations also sit mock examinations during the second term. In addition to these examinations it is commended that the work of students in MTW and CS is also assessed by means of regular theory tests and monthly assessments. Project work is graded on completion. The results of assessments are carefully recorded by the subject teaching team in their individual diaries. The assessment averages are aggregated with the formal house examination marks to arrive at term results. This is good practice and is consistent with the respective curriculum objectives. The weightings applied to the various elements of assessment when aggregated are agreed by the subject teaching teams and are included in the respective subject plan. This is very good practice. It is commended that common examinations are set in MTW in summer of first year and it is urged that the possibility of providing common examinations in second and third year be investigated.

 

At a formal level, parents are kept informed of students’ progress by means of school reports following Christmas, summer and mock examinations. There are annual parent-teacher meetings. The student journal is used as a channel of communication for information concerning class assessment and homework. Homework in MTW and CS is regularly set and checked in line both with the policy of the school and good practice. This homework is based on the work being done in class at the time and often involves preparation for the next lesson. Student project-design development is often given as a homework assignment.

 

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • The technologies curriculum provided in Causeway Comprehensive School is commendably wide.
  • Management is commended for the timely and efficient provision of the necessary tools, equipment and materials for the teaching of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies, with the support of KES and the board of management.
  • The thoroughness of the approach taken to the issues of health and safety in the school is commended.
  • There was evidence of good practice in the close collaboration between the learning support department in the school and the MTW and CS teachers.
  • It is commended that planning was already taking place at the time of the inspection for deployment of the ICT hardware and software being supplied by the Department for the introduction of the Design and Communication Graphics syllabus and the teachers of the technologies are encouraged to continue to engage in detailed planning, as a group, in the context of current and pending syllabus changes in their subjects.
  • The lessons observed were marked by the variety and effectiveness of the teaching strategies adopted, including group work, student research and peer presentation.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

  • It is recommended that the subject department, in consultation with school management, plan in detail the spending of the annual budget for the recurring expense of materials and consumables, given the potential of such detailed planning to provide an incentive for further improvement of subject-department planning.
  • To further develop the very good start made in compiling the subject plans, it is recommended that consideration be given to including details of the teaching methodologies, strategies and approaches which have been found most effective in teaching the various elements of the programmes of work including theory.
  • The central position given to student project design in the Materials Technology (Wood) syllabus should continue to be considered when planning the teaching strategies to be adopted for the practical elements of the syllabus.

 

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.