An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Saint Ailbe’s School
Rosanna Road, Tipperary Town
Roll number: 72480W
Date of inspection: 19 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 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 Saint Ailbe’s School, Tipperary Town. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St Ailbe’s School provides a broad education for girls and boys from Tipperary Town and the surrounding areas under the auspices of South Tipperary Vocational Educational Committee. The curriculum of the school includes an extensive range of technology subjects which, together with MTW and CS, includes Metalwork and Technical Graphics in junior cycle and Engineering and Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) in senior cycle. The breadth of choice provided in the technologies is applauded.
It is commended that collaborative subject planning in CS and MTW is well supported by management, as in the other subject departments in the school, through the provision of time for a formal subject department meeting once per term, in addition to which the facility of a working lunch to further subject department planning is provided within the school on request.
Best practice has been adopted in providing for the involvement of each of the teachers of CS and MTW in the professional development courses provided for the introduction of new syllabuses in the technologies under the tutelage of T4, the technology subjects support service. Management has also supported the extensive involvement of teachers in the subject association and both management and teachers are looking with optimism towards a reinvigoration of local activity in this area.
The time allocated for the teaching of both MTW in junior cycle and CS in senior cycle is sufficient for completion of the respective syllabuses. MTW is allocated four periods per week in first year and five periods per week in second and third year. In senior cycle, CS is allocated five periods per week in both fifth and sixth year while Graphics and Construction Studies in Leaving Certificate Applied is allocated five periods per week in sessions one and two, and four periods per week in sessions three and four. Periods in each case are predominantly timetabled as double lessons with single periods being provided when five periods were allocated to a class. The distribution of periods across the week was consistent and facilitated students in maintaining contact with their respective subjects.
Management is commended for its support for CS and MTW in terms of the equipment and materials supplied. While there is not a specific budget for the purchase of materials for the teaching of the subjects, requests to purchase made by the teachers, while dealt with on a needs basis, are usually acceded to. While the success of the present procedures is acknowledged, it is urged that the allocation of a definite annual budget for the purchase of materials be considered as a means of further empowerment of the subject department and encouragement of its planning.
There are two woodwork rooms in the school. At the time of the inspections these rooms were neat, tidy and well maintained and they provided a bright and welcoming learning environment. Each room is being used as a base by one of the subject teachers while the third teacher shares both. While the teacher based in the room takes a particular interest in its management and maintenance, the whole subject team adopted a collaborative approach to the management of rooms, equipment and materials. This team approach is applauded.
The health and safety statement of the school, reviewed within the previous year, included a specific section on the practical rooms and it is commended that this statement is available to all on the school’s website. Management is also commended for having arranged a full health and safety review of each woodwork room by a professional consultant. The teachers of CS and MTW were fully involved in this review. This is indicative of the high level of care regarding issues of health and safety in St Ailbe’s School. Machines in both woodwork rooms were fitted with effective dust extraction. Signage displayed in the rooms included mandatory signs for the use of personal protection equipment (PPE) and the necessary equipment was readily available for use.
It is commended that it is the intention of management to install SolidWorks in each of the three computer rooms in the school. Data projectors are installed in each of the rooms being used for teaching CS and MTW. The computer hardware supplied to support the introduction of the DCG syllabus has been installed in one of the computer rooms on a temporary basis pending the development of a specialist room for the teaching of DCG. Each room has broadband internet access. The provision made for information and communications technology (ICT) in the school is applauded.
Following a six-week taster, first-year students choose to study MTW or Home Economics. It is good that students have some experience of both subjects as this supports an informed choice. It is particularly helpful in the co-educational context of the school that the danger of gender stereotyping in subject choice is addressed. While the free choice presented to students in choosing to study MTW in junior cycle is acknowledged, it is urged that consideration continue to be given to the development of further strategies to achieve greater gender balance, perhaps focussing on further increasing the attractiveness of MTW to female students. Such strategies could form part of the agenda for subject department planning meetings. The provision, on a voluntary basis, of an introduction to technology for sixth-class pupils in feeder primary schools is applauded. As well as being an enhancement of the pupils’ education, this innovation is also very valuable, not just as a support for soon-to-be students in making subject choices, but as a commendable aid for transition between primary and post-primary school. Further support for students and their parents in making subject choices in junior cycle is provided through meetings with the parents of incoming students and individual, well structured visits by the home-school-community liaison teacher.
At senior level, those students who opt for Transition Year (TY) benefit from a module of CS, as well as experience of the other optional Leaving Certificate subjects, which supports them in making subject choices for fifth year. Prior to entering fifth year, students are presented with an initial open choice from the full list of optional subjects in the senior curriculum of the school. Subject groups are then devised, taking account of the requirements of the various career paths which interest the students. Information nights are provided for the parents of students in third year and TY in preparation for the making of programme and subject choices. The guidance counsellor provides information and advice, both formally through the school’s guidance programme and less formally on request, to support students’ choice of subjects. Further support and information is provided by individual subject teachers. The support provided for students in the making of subject choices is in line with good practice.
The teachers of MTW and CS are involved collaboratively in subject department planning. Records of formal meetings are held as part of the subject planning documentation and subject plans are in place. The subject planning done at formal meetings is greatly enhanced by regular discussion and interaction between the teachers of CS and MTW, dealing with aspects of subject provision, through which the unity of purpose and development of the subject department is strengthened. The progress made in implementing the subject plans is reviewed annually and the plans may be revised arising out of the outcomes of these reviews. The progress made in the formulation of subject plans, including the review of annual planning at year’s end, is commended.
To build further on the good work done in subject department planning, it is recommended that the teaching methodologies and strategies found to be most effective in presenting specific topics continue to be identified and included in the subject plans.
The subject teaching team of MTW and CS is commended for its involvement in and planning of a range of cross-curricular and co-curricular activities with their students. The TY class, who put on a stage show each year, with the help of the staff and the wider community, apply skills developed in CS to their involvement in the production of the sets and props and, indeed, the construction of the stage itself. Another instance of cross-curricular involvement was a project undertaken by TY students in which chairs from a local pre-school were refurbished in the art room, making use of finishing skills developed in CS.
The use of ICT for teaching within the technologies is at a developed stage in St Ailbe’s. The success of successive fifth-year teams in winning the national competition of the F1 School’s Technology Challenge in both years since its inception indicates the level reached in the use of ICT. The staff of the school, and in particular the teaching team of MTW and CS, are applauded for their involvement in the preparation of the students involved. This year’s team are proudly representing Ireland in Malaysia in the international competition. The ICT elements covered include the use of 3D parametric computer-aided design (CAD), computer-simulated wind-tunnel testing of prototypes, the production of informative materials including an interactive website and the realisation of the successful design by means of a computer numerically controlled (CNC) router. CAD has also been taught at various levels within the subjects, including as a module within Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). ICT is also being used widely by students to produce their design books. The subject teaching team is congratulated on its achievements in the use of ICT and is encouraged to continue to develop this use by taking full advantage of the SolidWorks software being introduced for the teaching of DCG and the other technologies, introducing it as a design tool for students of MTW and CS. It is urged that students begin to use this resource from the earliest possible stage, making full use of the capacity provided by the installation of SolidWorks in each of the computer rooms.
The level of priority given to the observation of safe work practices in MTW and CS, including health and safety provision within the woodwork rooms, is commended. Mandatory safety signage for the use of personal protection equipment (PPE) was displayed in the woodwork rooms as required. It is recommended that this good practice be further enhanced by displaying more mandatory PPE signs adjacent to each machine as appropriate for its use. It is further urged that ancillary notices, briefly stating the specific safety precautions and procedures to be followed for safe use, be displayed adjacent to the machines to which they apply.
It is recommended that safe operational areas be identified around each of the machines in the woodwork rooms and be suitably demarcated on the floors. It is also urged that ancillary safety notices be displayed to indicate the rationale for demarcating safe operational areas and the implications for movement in the vicinity of machinery. It is also recommended that additional mandatory signs for PPE be placed adjacent to the machines to which they relate, together with ancillary notices listing the specific procedures and precautions to be taken to ensure the safe use of the particular machine. 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 to ensure that the provision made in the woodwork rooms is in line with the guidance of the Department.
The teaching methodologies and approaches observed in the lessons visited were appropriate to the needs, interests and abilities of the students. In a practical CS lesson visited, the students were involved in the realisation of individual design projects. Following a brief introduction, which included a clear statement of the purpose of the lesson, students retrieved their work pieces in an orderly and disciplined fashion, following established routine. As the students focused on the work in hand, their teacher moved among them offering appropriate guidance, advice, encouragement and affirmation. As in each case, this lesson was well structured, with clarity of purpose from the outset and a pace that ensured best use of the time allotted.
Continuity was maintained with previous lessons. An MTW theory lesson began with revision of the conversion of timber, which involved questioning of the students. The questioning was effective and it is urged that the use of suitably constructed and varied questions be further increased, where needed, to ensure the full involvement of the students while avoiding less incisive questions such as asking the whole group if they understand. Students were set the task of sketching the principal methods of conversion, with appropriate guidance given by the teacher. This use of sketching is commended both as a means of developing students’ freehand drawing skills and of reinforcing their knowledge and understanding, while also involving them actively in their learning.
Teaching materials used in the lessons visited included the data projector, photocopied information materials and worksheets as well as the textbook, which was appropriately used to review content already covered in class and to expand on it. The strategy of getting students to exchange finished worksheets when correcting them was employed and this provided an effective means of immediate assessment and enhanced reinforcement of learning.
In each of the lessons observed, the classrooms were well managed, students worked at their assigned places and there was a good sense of order. Students were secure and attentive. Discipline was present at all times, being intrinsic to the students. Each of the classrooms visited was bright, welcoming and included displays of subject-related materials. Interaction between the students and between students and teachers was at all times respectful and displayed a mutual rapport which did much to maintain an atmosphere that was conducive to learning.
When engaged in discussion by the inspector, students displayed a knowledge and understanding of the subjects consistent with expectations, taking their age and ability into account. They showed enthusiasm and curiosity for the content being studied. Students engaged in design project realisation in CS used an appropriate variety of materials, the projects were varied in form and showed a commendable degree of differentiation in line with the varied ability of the students involved. It was clear from the students’ responses that learning was taking place consistently.
In addition to formal school-based examinations at Christmas and in summer for all students, and autumn and spring mid-term tests for non-examination classes, mock examinations are scheduled for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students. Additionally, students of MTW and CS are assessed on a continuing basis on their project work, practical work and by means of regular class tests. It is commended that the results of this continuous assessment are taken into account with formal examination marks. This is broadly consistent with the assessment modes employed in the respective syllabuses in MTW and CS. To further improve the very good practice with regard to the assessment of students’ work, it is recommended that the subject teaching team consider the development of a common approach to the aggregating of continuous assessment and examination marks. The development of common practice, based on the assessment systems in place in Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate, and its regular feedback to the students, has the potential to focus their attention more fully on their progress and this can be used to encourage their self assessment.
The MTW and CS teaching team has fully adopted the home learning policy of the school, which aims to ensure that the time spent on work at home by the students is used to their best advantage and is followed up effectively and consistently in class. The care devoted to this development by management and staff is commended. It is suggested that the subject department consider including assessment of home learning in its overall common assessment practice as this emerges.
Records of students’ attendance, progress and achievement are systematically and carefully kept in standard teachers’ diaries, supplied for this purpose by the school. The assessments of individual students are used by teachers when planning for differentiation of students’ project design work. This use of regular assessment to inform short-term programme planning is commended.
Informal assessment of students’ work was a central part of the lessons visited. This emerged quite naturally from the teachers’ monitoring of work as they moved among their students and also included, particularly in the case of practical work, a high degree of student self-assessment. The degree to which assessment for learning formed an integral part of teaching and learning in the subjects is commended.
Parents are kept informed of students’ progress by means of regular school reports at Christmas and in summer, through the students’ journals, in which all home learning is entered, and at parent-teacher meetings. This is in line with good practice.
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 MTW and CS and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.