An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
ColŠiste an Spioraid Naoimh
Roll number: 62580U
Date of inspection: 20 October 2009
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 ColŠiste an Spioraid Naoimh, Cork. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and deputy principal. 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.
ColŠiste an Spioraid Naoimh is a Catholic voluntary secondary school for boys under the trusteeship of the Presentation Brothersí Schools Trust. The school has provided education for boys from Bishopstown and its surrounding parishes for the past forty-five years. From its early years the school has placed an emphasis on providing an expanded curriculum embracing the technologies as well as the academic range considered the norm for secondary schools at the time. The optional subjects available to all students in junior cycle include two technologies; Technical Graphics (TG) in addition to MTW which is a focus of this report. In senior cycle, Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) is offered as well as CS. DCG and CS are offered in Transition Year (TY). This is good provision for the technologies.
The use of information and communications technology (ICT) in teaching and learning in the technologies is well developed. Teachers have the use of personal laptop computers and data projectors. All teachers also have access to a teachersí ICT room. The introduction of SolidWorks three-dimensional computer-aided design software for teaching and learning in DCG has had a discernible impact on the teaching of all the technologies in the school. The use of this software to model a project being realized by students in one first-year lesson was very effective. The subject teachers are encouraged to continue to develop the use of ICT for learning at all levels within MTW and CS. In particular, as a further enhancement of the role of ICT, teachers are urged to plan for studentsí use of SolidWorks as a design tool in the subjects.
Ten personal computers, installed in a room adjacent to the woodwork room, provide for student design folio preparation. The adjacent drawing room, very well equipped to the highest standards with the help of funding for the introduction of the DCG syllabus, is available for theory and woodwork drawing lessons. The school and the teachers concerned are commended for the provision and development of the very good facilities in place for the teaching of MTW and CS.
The teachers of MTW and CS, in line with good practice and with the support and encouragement of the school, have been fully involved in the continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities provided through the Technology Subjects Support Service, T4, for the introduction of the new DCG syllabus. The teachers have continued their involvement in CPD with attendance at an advanced evening course in SolidWorks.
The allocation of teaching time for MTW and CS is appropriate in each of the years and programmes. The teaching time is also appropriately divided into single-period and double-period lessons in each case and the lessons are appropriately distributed through the week. The teachers, in line with their qualifications, are deployed to teach the full range of technologies in the school. This is good practice that provides for continuity and sustainability within the subject department and offers the opportunity to expand provision within optional subject bands.
MTW and CS are well supplied in terms of tools, equipment and other teaching resources. Maintenance and periodic replacement and updating of these resources are effectively managed by the subject department. It is urged that the school management consider providing an annual budget for the purchase of consumables. This would encourage a more structured approach by the subject department to identifying and prioritising items of expenditure.†
A considerable amount of work has been done on drafting a school safety statement. The draft includes some reference to the issue of health and safety in the woodwork room. It is recommended, as a next step in refining this document, that a specific safety statement for the woodwork room be drafted. This statement should deal with the specific context of the woodwork room, its machines and equipment, the associated hazards and the actions taken to eliminate or minimise the risks associated with each hazard. Guidance in drawing up this statement, and in finalising the whole-school safety statement, is available 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 may be downloaded at the Department website, . This woodwork-room safety statement should be integrated into, or appended to, the school safety statement. The complete document should then follow the usual policy development procedures and be presented to the board of management for ratification. Once ratified, the safety statement should be reviewed annually with the involvement of the teachers.
Very good practice was observed with regard to health and safety in the woodwork room. Safety signage includes standard warning signs and instructional signs placed adjacent to the machines to which they refer. Woodwork-room rules are prominently displayed. Safe operating areas are demarcated around machines and local dust-extraction facilities are provided. Further development of these arrangements should include the display of information signboards to focus studentsí attention on the rationale for having safe operational areas around machines and the implications of this for movement in the vicinity of the machines. It is also suggested that the size of font used in signboards be increased slightly to increase their impact.
Good practice is followed with regard to providing access to MTW and CS. Students entering ColŠiste an Spioraid Naoimh list the six optional subjects available in junior cycle in the school in their order of preference. MTW and TG are included in this process. The design of the subject-option bands is based on these stated preferences of the students within the constraints of timetabling and staffing. In excess of ninety-five percent of students are successfully facilitated in studying both of the subjects for which they express a preference. The arrangements for providing information for students and their parents in advance of choosing optional subjects include meetings with parents, and a degree of flexibility is exercised in the early weeks of junior cycle to ensure that students have made the correct choices. To further strengthen support for students in making decisions regarding subject choice, consideration should be given to providing them with some experience of each of the subjects prior to choosing. Consideration should also be given in this context to the possibility of cross-curricular development in the first-year curriculum, specifically in the technologies but also in the other optional subjects in the junior cycle curriculum of the school.
Students in senior cycle make their subject choices on entry to TY. While there is flexibility exercised at the beginning of fifth year regarding subject choice, students effectively have made their Leaving Certificate subject choices at that stage. It is recommended that all students be provided with the opportunity to experience CS, together with each of the other optional subjects in the senior cycle curriculum of the school, as part of TY. Such experience of the full range of subjects will enhance the basis on which students make subject choices in senior cycle.
There is a well established subject-department planning structure in place, facilitated by senior management. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed by agreement. It is agreed that the role of co-ordinator rotates among the subject teachers in line with good practice. Subject department meetings are held once per term and written records are kept of these meetings. This facilitates ongoing review and self-evaluation of progress in the subject department.
The written subject plans for MTW, CS and the TY module in CS follow a consistent and appropriate template and have been collaboratively developed by the teachers of the subjects in line with good practice. As a next step in the further development of these plans, it is recommended that the programmes of work be expanded to include more detail of the work to be undertaken and its scheduling. It is further recommended in each case that the expected learning outcomes for students be detailed. The programmes of work should place equal emphasis on the practical work planned including studentsí design project work.
Planning for lessons resulted in a range of teaching methods being effectively deployed in the course of the inspection. Very effective teaching included high quality teacher demonstration of practical skills in marking out and processing wood in a junior cycle class and the teacherís comparison of cut-roof and truss-roof construction in senior cycle. Very good use was made of information and communications technology (ICT) throughout. Models, both real and computer generated in SolidWorks, were very effectively used to support studentsí understanding. Planning for the use of the range of teaching methods seen is commended and it is recommended that this planning be included in the MTW and CS subject plans. The methods being deployed should be linked to the teaching of specific content in the programmes of work. The subject department is urged to investigate how best to further differentiate the teaching methods being employed. In particular, strategies for increasing studentsí involvement in their own learning should be investigated. An increase in the use of group work and the facilitation of more differentiation of studentsí project design work, to provide appropriate levels of challenge for each student, should be included in the investigation. The outcomes of this investigation should be included in the subject plans.
The additional educational needs of students are considered in the plans for MTW and CS. It is urged that this section of the plans be elaborated by the provision of more detail on the approaches adopted to meet each studentís individual needs. These approaches should include the use of one-to-one support which is central to the good teaching practices seen in the course of the inspection. Further differentiation of teaching methods and content should also be considered in this context. The approach of the subject team to supporting the literacy and numeracy needs of students should also be detailed in the plans. Liaison with the learning support and resource department of the school is commended and this should inform planning for meeting studentsí additional educational needs.
Given that both teachers of MTW and CS also teach TG and DCG, there is very close collaboration with regard to planning for all the technologies in the school. This is a very positive aspect of the broader subject department of the technologies. Good collaborative practice is also seen between the teachers of the technologies and Art. The induction of teachers of the technologies to the school in recent times has been marked by ongoing mentoring and support. This very good practice has ensured continuity and the maintenance of high standards of organisation and planning within the subject department.
Teachersí individual planning and preparation were consistently of a high standard resulting in coherently presented lessons. Work materials, tools and equipment were prepared with thoroughness and attention to detail.†
The lessons observed in the course of the inspection had clear aims which were clarified at the outset. Continuity was maintained with earlier lessons. In one lesson on roofs, an initial quick revision of related work done in the previous lesson provided a link in a very natural way. In other lessons, good introductions provided a context for learning. It is suggested as variation that students would be invited to present their ideas and engage in a dialogue on the expected outcomes of a lesson, which could be recorded on the chalkboard and returned to in conclusion as part of a plenary phase. The lesson content in each case was consistent with the relevant syllabus. The pace of the lessons generally was appropriate to the abilities of the students. However, differentiation of the practical work being undertaken should ensure that the pace would more accurately suit the individual student in the mixed-ability setting that pertains.
As the students proceeded to apply their skills in the practical lesson observed, their progress was closely monitored by the teacher, in line with very good practice. Questioning was widely used, often very effectively, in the course of lessons. The most effective questions were carefully framed and directed to individual students to provide an appropriate level of challenge.
Effective management of the woodwork room provides a very suitable learning environment for the students. Discipline is maintained in a sensitive manner in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The students respond positively to their teachersí clear expectations and the ambience is one of relaxed assurance and security. The teachers share enthusiasm for the topics being studied with their students. The studentsí enthusiasm and enjoyment of the subjects was evident in the lessons observed.
The suite of rooms provided for teaching the technologies in the school is of a very high standard. The woodwork room is very well organized, neat and tidy and provides a safe and stimulating learning environment. All necessary tools and equipment are suitably displayed and easily available. The learning environment is commendably enhanced by the display of a wide variety of subject-related materials. Commercially produced posters showing details of woodwork tools are complemented by safety posters produced by T4, the technology subjects support service. Specialist woodwork tools are attractively displayed in glass-fronted cabinets and exemplars of woodwork pieces including studentsí work are displayed, together with a range of fittings and materials encountered in the subject.
In their responses to teachersí questioning and when engaged in discussion by the inspector, students displayed an appropriate level of understanding and knowledge of the topics being studied. Students were well organised and purposeful in their work. It was clear that good-quality learning was taking place. Further improvement should be sought by increasing the opportunities within lessons for independent and collaborative learning.
The subject department adopts a consistent approach to assessment and homework which is in line with the whole-school assessment and homework policies. Formal school-based assessment encompasses tests at Christmas and in summer, which generate results for the term. It also involves continuing assessment of practical work, design folios and homework. It is recommended that the Christmas and summer test results be combined with the continuing assessment marks to arrive at overall results for the term. This is consistent with assessment practice within the certificate examinations in MTW and CS which includes coursework elements in both cases. A common approach should be adopted regarding the weighting of the marks when combining test results and continuing assessment marks. This agreed common approach should be included in the subject plans. Students should be made fully aware of their individual assessments and the expected impact these will have on their outcomes for the term. The resulting quality of feedback to students will provide them with very accurate information on their progress and may encourage greater effort and involvement where these are required. Assessment of studentsí design work should form an important part of continuing assessment from the beginning of junior cycle. †All other aspects of MTW and CS including written, sketched, drawn and practical work should also be included for accuracy in continuing assessment.
Good practice was observed in the use of formative assessment. Ongoing assessment of studentsí progress and understanding was integrated into each of the lessons observed. †The opportunities created for affirmation and feedback in a positive setting as teachers monitor studentsí progress in practical lessons are used to full advantage to reinforce learning. Formative assessment in the theory lessons observed was mostly based on teacher questioning. This was effective, particularly when the questions were carefully framed and directed to individual students. Interactions with students were at all times positive and affirming and provided encouragement for students to improve their work. As a further refinement of assessment, it is urged that a common approach to providing formative feedback such as written comments for students on homework and other written, drawn and sketched work be agreed by the subject department.
The teachers operate a robust system of recording studentsí attendance and progress in standard teachersí diaries. These records inform communication with parents at annual parent-teacher meetings. Attendance is also checked twice daily and recorded centrally by the deputy principal. The school reports a very low level of absenteeism due to the care exercised in this regard. Students are regularly informed of their achievement by means of verbal feedback on homework and assessments. Written reports are sent to parents following Christmas and summer tests. The use of ICT for the recording of studentsí reports, which has been implemented fully in the school, is commended for its efficiency and accuracy.
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 principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, February 2010