An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Christian Brothers Secondary School
Thurles, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65450W
Date of inspection: 30 November 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 Christian Brothersí School, Thurles (CBS Thurles). 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 a subject teacher.
The curriculum of CBS Thurles provides well for the technologies. In addition to CS and MTW, the focus of this subject inspection, students are also given the option of studying Technical Graphics (TG) in junior cycle and Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) in senior cycle. Appropriate provision is made for MTW and CS in each of the curricular programmes offered in the school: the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) programme and Leaving Certificate.
The use of information and communication technology (ICT) for teaching and learning in MTW and CS is actively promoted. ICT use has increased with the introduction of the new syllabus in DCG. The involvement of the relevant teachers in this introduction, with the active support of management, has had a very positive impact on the use of ICT across the technologies. The teachers are facilitated to take full advantage of the continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities provided by T4, the technology subjects support service, and also to be active members of the teachersí professional network. Each of the two woodwork rooms and the DCG room are fitted with a ceiling-mounted data projector and teachers are provided with individual laptop computers. CS and MTW are taught predominantly in a suite of rooms conveniently sited adjacent to each other. The walls of the shared wood-preparation room incorporate access doors from the two woodwork rooms and glazed areas provide appropriate sightlines. These facilities are well maintained, neat and tidy and provide a physical environment that is bright, welcoming and conducive to effective learning and teaching. The rooms are equipped to an appropriately high standard. The funding provided by the Department to address issues of health and safety has been appropriately spent in the upgrade of equipment and services. The rooms are well supplied with appropriate hand tools and equipment which are conveniently stored and available for the use of students. Adequate space for storage of materials is provided in the wood-machining room.
Very good practice is followed when timetabling for CS and MTW. The time allocated is appropriate in all cases. The scheduling of lessons provides students with well-distributed contact through the week with the subject concerned. The combination of single-period and double-period lessons provided in each case is appropriate for the completion of practical woodwork while taking account of the needs of other subjects timetabled within the same subject-option bands. Very good practice is followed regarding the deployment of teachers in both junior cycle and senior cycle. Each teacher is deployed in rotation to teach each of the subjects. This deployment provides appropriately for the sharing of the teaching load involved, particularly with regard to the organisation and completion of mandatory coursework.
Teaching resources and materials are provided and managed in line with good practice. As a further step in ensuring the long-term maintenance of equipment, which is in general relatively new at present, it is suggested that a servicing and maintenance schedule for machines be drawn up by the subject department and formalized through adoption by management. The emphasis on safe working in the woodwork rooms is appropriate and due care and attention is given to the active management of health and safety during lessons. Safe operating practices and procedures for most individual machines used by students are displayed. This is good practice that should be followed for each machine. Safe operating areas are demarcated in the vicinity of machines in the woodwork rooms. It is suggested that information signboards should be displayed close by, to keep students aware of the rationale for these safe areas and the implications for movement in the room. Safe operational areas should also be demarcated in the wood preparation room. Standard safety signage is displayed as required in the woodwork rooms. It is recommended that such signage also be appropriately displayed in the wood preparation room. The rules for students should be prominently displayed in each woodwork room.
The safety statement compiled by the school includes reference to the hazards identified arising from the woodworking machinery in the wood preparation room and the woodwork rooms. The risks, controls and resources related to the use of each machine are clearly and comprehensively presented in this statement. This is good practice.
A safety statement for the woodwork rooms should also include other aspects of good health and safety practice, which are already observed. The rules for student behaviour and the practices and procedures for safe use of the woodwork machines, as displayed in the woodwork rooms, should be appended to this statement. The woodwork room safety statement should be presented to the principal for inclusion in or to be appended to the whole-school safety statement.
It is recommended that the whole-school safety statement be reviewed under the terms of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and be reviewed annually thereafter. Reviews should take place with the involvement of the teachers of the technologies as well as the whole staff. 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 http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/review_oh_safety_tech.pdf, should be consulted in detail when reviewing health and safety.
Management very effectively facilitates students to access MTW and CS. All students in first year study MTW, together with the full range of optional subjects in the curriculum of the school. Students choose three optional subjects to study for Junior Certificate prior to beginning second year. MTW is a very popular choice and consequently it is present in each of the subject-option groups in second year and third year. It is present twice in one subject-option group in each year. The experience of each optional subject provided for students in first year offers very good support for them is making subject choices. Procedures in senior cycle also follow very good practice. Students are presented with an open choice prior to entering fifth year. The subject-option groups are devised to accommodate the preferences expressed by the students to the greatest extent possible, taking account of the constraints of staffing and teacher availability. As a consequence of this approach, the subject groups vary from year to year. This is good practice. Students who choose involvement in the TY programme benefit from studying a broad range of subjects including woodwork and computer-aided design (CAD) which broadens the support for subject choice in line with good practice. Guidance provision supports students appropriately in making subject choices. Tests are administered providing feedback on individual abilities and aptitudes. The guidance counsellor meets each student individually in relation to making the correct choices. Parents are invited to information evenings at which the implications of the choices facing their sons are presented, together with information on the subjects concerned. Subject teachers also play a part in providing information to students and parents.
Approaches to meeting additional educational needs of students are appropriately integrated into the delivery of MTW and CS. Liaison between the teachers of the subjects and the special-educational-needs co-ordinator and staff is used to identify needs and appropriate responses. MTW and CS classes cater for students in a mixed-ability setting. Students are facilitated to study at the level appropriate to their ability in junior cycle and senior cycle, while being encouraged and challenged appropriately. The proportion of students studying the subjects at the higher level compares very favourably with national norms.
Support and facilitation of subject-department planning by senior management is characterised by good practice. The teachers of the technology subjects in the school form a cohesive and well-structured group. An annual planning meeting is facilitated at which time is set aside for each of the technologies in the curriculum of the school: CS and MTW and also DCG and TG. There is a subject co-ordinator in place, appointed by the principal. The subject co-ordinator chairs subject-department meetings and keeps minutes. The co-ordinator also organises the ordering of resources and materials in close liaison with the other members of the subject department, plays a central role in the induction of new teachers to the team and takes general responsibility for co-ordinating the development of the subjects in the school. The teachers of the technologies meet informally throughout the year. It is suggested that the good co-ordination practice observed in the technologies should be formalised in a concise statement covering areas such as the rotation among the teachers of the role of co-ordinator, the timing and recording of meetings and the planning, teaching and curricular links between the technologies. This statement should then be included in the subject-department plan.
The teachers of CS and MTW have collaborated in the formulation of plans for both subjects. These plans follow a common template and include agreed programmes of work for both subjects consistent with their respective syllabuses. The progress made in compiling and implementing the subject plans is commended. For further development, details of suitable teaching methodologies to be employed in the teaching of specific content of the programmes of work should be included in the subject plans together with the expected educational outcomes for students. It is not envisaged that such details should be prescriptive but that members of the subject department should share their professional experience and collaborate in planning for the effective use of a broad range of teaching methods, strategies and approaches. In light of the developing teaching-and-learning focus of whole-school development and ongoing inputs from CPD, opportunities should be taken, over time, to add to the range of teaching methods included in the subject plans.
Given that MTW and CS are taught in mixed-ability settings, it is important to plan for appropriate differentiation of content, teaching methods and assessment modes. This differentiation should provide for the individual learning needs of students, including the exceptionally able and gifted as well as students who experience difficulty with learning. Planning for differentiation should be included in the subject plans. The existing good practice with regard to collaboration with the special-educational-needs department will be a valuable resource in this planning.
It is good practice that the subject-department plans are reviewed annually at the formal meeting. This annual review provides for formal updating of the plans. It is suggested that, in preparation for the annual review, the members of the subject department should, in the course of the year, note any possible amendments to the subject plans.
The integrated approach adopted to the development of the technologies in the school has led to the use of the SolidWorks CAD package by students of CS. This is very good practice. The subject plans should include strategies for introducing all students to the subjects to SolidWorks at an early stage in their study of MTW. This introduction would ideally be integrated with the studentsí introduction to design in first year.†
There was evidence of a high standard of individual planning and preparation by teachers. This planning ensured coherent lessons that followed the agreed programmes of work. The required materials, equipment and resources were well prepared and easily accessible to students. Teachers had carefully planned for the integration of student design work into projects in first-year and second-year MTW lessons. Homework had been planned to support and enhance the work being done in the lessons.
Careful planning has included the selection and development of a range of very effective teaching resources. In one CS lesson, in which students drew a section through a window opening, the use of actual building components to demonstrate the construction was very effective. In this lesson the teacher also had a very effective digital model of the assembly in SolidWorks. In another CS lesson the use of a cut-away copper hot water storage cylinder was equally effective. A range of other digital media has also been selected and is a very effective teaching resource in addition to drawings in SolidWorks.
A high standard of teaching and learning was observed in CS and MTW lessons in the course of the inspection. Expected outcomes were clarified at the outset, ensuring that work began promptly and efficiently in each lesson. In the lesson introductions, questioning was used very effectively to engage the students, successfully providing continuity with previous lessons. In some lessons, very carefully framed questions, together with differentiated higher-order and lower-order questions suited to individual student ability were particularly effective in advancing the work.
The content of the lessons was consistent with the relevant syllabuses and was presented at a pace that suited the students. Each lesson was well structured and developed through smooth transitions from one stage to the next. The teachers demonstrated high levels of skill and competence. In particular a very high standard of practical skills demonstration was observed in a number of lessons. Peer demonstration of woodworking skills was employed on a number of occasions, following careful preparation by the teacher. This approach was very effective.
The subject department is commended for its approach which begins to prepare students of MTW for the third-year coursework design project from their earliest encounters with the subject. This is consistent with the principles presented in the syllabus. Notwithstanding good practice in including elements of design in each project, in each of the practical MTW lessons observed students worked on the realisation of a project that was essentially identical. It is suggested that a greater level of differentiation should be introduced to these projects. Opportunities should be developed to allow students of different abilities to work at a level that ensures success while still providing an appropriate level of challenge. The introduction of approaches that facilitate further differentiation, such as teaching small groups of students engaged in realising similar projects, should be investigated.
Students in each of the lessons observed were attentive and involved in the work being done. Teachers monitored studentsí progress closely, moving among students as they engaged in practical work, affirming work well done and providing help and encouragement as appropriate. In the CS lessons, where learning was very well supported by the use of a range of resources and materials, students displayed a very good knowledge and understanding of the topics. While questioning was very effectively used to involve students, the lessons could have been even further improved by the use of a wider range of methodologies to suit a greater range of learning styles. It is urged that teachers continue to investigate strategies to involve students in a wider range of activities to reinforce learning in theory lessons.
Classroom management was of a high standard and this generally ensured an optimum physical setting for learning to take place. In one theory and drawing lesson observed, the number of tables in the classroom made it difficult for the teacher to move freely around the room. It is urged that care be taken in such a case to prioritise the studentsí full inclusion in the close monitoring of their teacher either by removing excess tables or, if this is not possible, by moving the extra tables to one side. The lessons were at all times suffused with a calm, relaxed atmosphere that supported effective concentration and favoured learning. Discipline was integral to classroom activity and was maintained sensitively where necessary. Interaction between teacher and students in the classrooms was mutually respectful. Teachers projected an enthusiasm for the topics being studied that was generally reciprocated by the students, whose positive view of CS and MTW was clearly evident from their full engagement. Each of the classrooms provided an attractive and stimulating learning environment that was enhanced by appropriate displays of subject-related posters and other materials. Studentsí work was in evidence in each of the classrooms. On occasion, materials produced by the students were used for reference by teachers in the course of lessons. This was good practice.
The response of students to questioning by their teachers in the course of lessons was very good. It was clear that active, well-structured questioning is a constant support for active learning in CS and MTW lessons, in line with good practice. Questioning by students was not as prominent a feature of the lessons and further encouragement of this would be a further inducement to learn. Studentsí responses to their teachersí questions provided evidence of increasing understanding and knowledge. The achievement of students in the certificate examinations is very good.
Formal assessment of MTW includes mid-term, Christmas and summer tests. Very good practice is followed with regard to the setting of common tests in CS and MTW. Good assessment practice within the school covers evaluation of studentsí project work and its creative design elements. This practice is consistent with the assessment modes provided for in both the CS and MTW syllabuses which include evaluation of studentsí coursework design projects. To further develop consistency with the assessment objectives of the syllabuses, it is recommended that a common practice be adopted by the subject department with regard to aggregating marks derived from studentsí project work, together with other continuous assessment marks, and the marks awarded in Christmas and summer session examinations. All students of MTW and CS should be made aware of the assessment criteria being used when marking work that is included for continuous assessment. Students should also be made aware of the weightings to be given to the continuous assessment mark and the end-of-session examination mark in arriving at the session result. Such transparency and consistency will provide very clear feedback to students on their progress and also provide ongoing affirmation of achievement and encouragement for steady effort. The agreed arrangements for assessment should be included in the subject-department plan.
Good practice was observed in relation to the setting and monitoring of homework. This practice is in line with the homework policy in place in the school. Homework is usually related to the work being done in class and in the case of MTW it includes students undertaking design tasks in relation to the projects being realised in class. This is very good practice which seeks to utilise the atmosphere of home, which may be more relaxed and conducive to the development of more creative and innovative thought. The use of homework as a revision tool with sixth-year CS classes while they are involved in the realisation of coursework design projects is appropriate to the studentsí need to keep in touch with the subject theory. The practice, observed in the inspection, of giving verbal feedback to students concerning this homework as time permits during the following lessons is very good. It is suggested that written feedback on the work should place the emphasis on affirmation wherever possible, while also providing helpful guidance on how the student should achieve improvement. This is an area which may also be addressed at a whole-school level as consideration of assessment for learning continues.
Less formal assessment was an integral part of teaching and learning in the lessons observed. As teachers monitored students individually in practical lessons, the students were commonly given opportunities to engage in self assessment through reflecting on how well they had achieved the outcome expected. This is very good practice. The very effective use of questioning already cited also formed part of this very good assessment practice. The outcomes of such formative assessment were used appropriately by teachers when deciding whether to modify teaching methods, lesson pace or content. This responsiveness represents very good practice.
Students are provided with clear information about their performance and progress in CS and MTW. In addition to written comments on homework and oral feedback in lessons, students are kept informed through school reports. A very positive and innovative aspect of the reporting practice in the school is the compiling of effort and commitment reports on a monthly basis. These reports are handed to the student concerned while a standard text message is generated and sent to each parent to prepare them to receive the report. The affirmation of studentsí effort and commitment in this way reflects the schoolís undertaking to further strengthen the practice of assessment for learning as a core principle. This is very good practice.
The subject department includes analyses of studentsí performance in certificate examinations in its annual review in line with very good practice. The outcomes of the analyses are included in the subject-department plan.
Communication with parents regarding their sonsí achievement and progress is consistent with very good practice. In addition to the school report and effort and commitment reports already referred to, parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each class at which parents are presented with an opportunity for discussion with their sonsí teachers and are provided with feedback. This feedback is based on teachersí records of studentsí attendance and achievement in assessments, tests and examinations. Daily communication with parents is facilitated by means of the studentsí journals.
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 a teacher of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood) and the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published May 2010