An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Clonakilty Community College
Clonakilty, County Cork
Roll number: 70950A
Date of inspection: 02 October 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 Clonakilty Community College. 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 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.
Clonakilty Community College, which has its origins in the amalgamation of the townís vocational school and St. Maryís boys' secondary school, has provided a broad programme of second-level education for the local young people since 1980. The school is co-educational and the curriculum it offers includes a comprehensive range of technology subjects. In addition to MTW in junior cycle, Metalwork and Technical Graphics (TG) are provided, while in senior cycle Engineering and Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) are provided in addition to CS. At the time of the inspection the school operates on a campus split between the main Community College building and the old vocational school building. MTW and CS lessons are taught extensively in the woodwork room of the old vocational school building where most of the lessons observed were taught. The woodwork room in the Community College building is used for specialist subject lessons for over 95% of the school week, while the woodwork room in the old vocational school building is used for 66% of the time. Management is commended for its efficient timetabling of the available woodwork rooms and for minimising student travel between the two buildings. The woodwork rooms are well maintained and provide a suitably welcoming setting for learning to take place enhanced by subject-related materials displayed on the walls. It is commended that attention to detailed ongoing maintenance such as the repair and re-lining of the woodwork vices in the older woodwork room makes the continued use of these facilities viable.
Teachersí continuing professional development (CPD) in the technologies is facilitated by school management. Teachers of the subjects have been fully engaged in the CPD provided in recent years for the introduction of new senior cycle syllabuses in the technologies. Management and CS and MTW staff are further affirmed for their approach to involvement in other subject-related development activities such as those provided by the teachersí professional networks and the construction industry.
The time allocated to each of the subjects allows for the successful teaching of the respective syllabuses. In junior cycle, MTW classes are provided with four periods per week in each of the three years. In senior cycle, the CS module of Transition Year (TY) is similarly timetabled for four periods per week for sixteen weeks while CS in fifth year and sixth year is provided with either five or six periods per week depending on the particular class. The Graphics and Construction Studies (GCS) course in Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) is allocated four periods per week in each of the four sessions. In each case, the time allocated to the subjects is arranged appropriately in double and single periods to facilitate the practical work involved. Lessons are distributed appropriately across the week. The quality of timetabling for MTW and CS is commended.
Each teacher of MTW and CS is deployed to teach the subjects in junior cycle and in senior cycle and generally they also teach the other technology subjects for which they are qualified, TG and DCG. This coherent deployment is commended. While a formal, discrete subject-department budget is not in place, resources, project materials and equipment are acquired as requested by individual teachers and as finances allow. In general there is a very good range of resources available for the teaching of MTW and CS. Tools and equipment are well maintained and ample to allow for the studentsí participation in the practical and project work necessary for the completion of the syllabuses. Information and communications technology (ICT) resources are not available in the woodwork room in the old vocational school building. Issues of security and distance from the main Community College building were cited by the school as the reason for this lack of availability. Notwithstanding these factors consideration needs to be given to providing equality of access to ICT facilities to students who study the subjects in the older room. Department grants have been expended appropriately and effectively in providing for the necessary upgrading of the facilities in the woodwork room in the main community college building, including the provision of dust-extraction equipment. It is required when woodwork machines that do not meet CE-mark standards are replaced, that these machines are removed from the school premises and disposed of in an appropriate manner. These requirements apply to the woodwork room in the old vocational school building and it is recommended that the machines and lack of dust-extraction provision there be reviewed and that the necessary action be taken. Some good practice was observed regarding the demarcation of safe operational areas (SOAs) around machines and the use of standard warning signboards. To further improve on this good practice, it is recommended that SOAs be appropriately marked around all machines and that informational signboards be displayed appropriately to alert students to the reason for the SOAs and the implications for movement and behaviour in the vicinity of the machines. It is also recommended, to further improve the good practice being adopted for safety in the woodwork rooms, that additional standard safety signboards be displayed, that separate informational signboards be displayed to emphasise the procedures and precautions to be adopted to ensure the safe use of the particular machines and that the rules for students be more prominently displayed in both rooms.
There is a statement on health and safety in the school entitled General Safety Guidelines for Teachers, based to a large extent on the overall safety statement of the VEC. Members of staff are made aware of the safety statement, which covers an inclusive range of issues. There is a cursory reference to practical rooms and workshops in the statement. It is recommended that the statement be comprehensively reviewed in the current year and that it make more detailed reference to the particular hazards and control measures of particular relevance to the school. It is further recommended that a detailed health and safety policy for the woodwork rooms be presented to the board of management for inclusion in the schoolís health and safety statement. †The Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, DES, 2005) available on the Departmentís website at http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/review_oh_safety_tech.pdf, should be consulted in detail when reviewing health and safety. Given the particular circumstances that pertain in the school due to students having to travel between separate campuses, it is recommended that the safety statement deal with the particular hazards involved in this and the control measures in place to minimise the resultant risk.
All students are facilitated in accessing MTW and CS. All students study MTW in first year and are provided with an open choice of two subjects from MTW, Metalwork, Business Studies or Technical Graphics for the remaining two years of junior cycle. The provision of experience of these subjects as a support for making choices is commended. In senior cycle, students experience CS as a module of study for a half year in TY which is undertaken by all students. This provides support for studentsí choice of subject in senior cycle. Students are presented with an open choice of subjects, including CS, towards the end of TY. Subject-option groups are devised, on the basis of studentsí expressed preferences, to meet their needs to the greatest extent possible within the constraints of staffing and teacher availability. Students and their parents are provided with information regarding subject choices in the course of first year and at parent-teacher meetings. TY students are advised by the guidance counsellor regarding subject and programme choice as part of the TY programme. While the procedures for informing and enabling students regarding subject choices are open and transparent, it is urged, as a further enhancement of these procedures, that consideration be given to arranging information sessions at an appropriate stage in first year and in TY. Parents should be presented with accurate and full information at such sessions regarding all aspects of subject and programme choice prior to students making subject choices for the following year. MTW and CS are studied in mixed-ability settings and students are accommodated in choosing the level at which to sit state examinations in consultation with their teachers.
A very good level of collaborative planning takes place within the subject department. Planning is facilitated by management and takes place formally at the beginning and end of each school year as part of school development planning time and also during the weekly meeting period which is set aside for regular subject planning meetings about once per month. The subject-department meetings are appropriately documented with agendas being set in advance and minutes being recorded. The school is commended for this level of facilitation of subject-department planning which has resulted in a well developed subject plan for MTW and CS. There are recognised co-ordinators of both subjects and the role rotates between the members of the subject department. It is urged that the teachers of all the technologies consider the advantages of developing more formal contact, perhaps in the form of a subject department of the technologies, which would provide a platform for planning and consideration of common areas of interest such as the further development of the teaching methodologies, strategies and approaches most suited to the teaching of technology subjects. The further collaborative development of the programmes of work for first-year classes might provide an initial focus for such work, particularly where common areas of MTW, Metalwork and TG are concerned. ††††
The subject plan incorporates programmes of work for each year which reflect the common approach of the members of the subject department. The curriculum content of the subject plan is consistent with the respective syllabuses. In GCS, studied as a vocational specialism in LCA, the modules of the course were appropriately scheduled. The graphics module had been completed in session one while the vocational specialism student task anchored in GCS was completed in session two. †
Good planning and preparation were evident in each of the lessons visited in the course of the inspection. An effective range of teaching resources was used in the lessons observed and included appropriate worksheets in the GCS lesson in which students worked in pairs on designing educational toys. In this instance, the teacher moved between the pairs of students providing guidance and the students discussed the answers before writing them into the worksheets. This was very good use of the prepared resources and provided added support for studentsí literacy development.† It is recommended, as a further aid to literacy development, that new terminology be displayed in the room until it becomes part of the studentsí own vocabulary. This approach could be used to add to the word-rich environment in the woodwork room by means of key-word lists, perhaps added to by delegated students dynamically as the words are encountered for the first time. The learning environment would be further enhanced by the use of artefacts as stimulus materials, such as examples of toys in the context of the lesson mentioned. The overhead projector was effectively used in a sixth-year CS lesson on sustainability in building. The use of ICT, using the available laptop and projector, also has potential in bringing more variety to lessons. ††
The level of support, in terms of materials, equipment and other resources supplied in response to teachersí requests, has been commended. The present system for acquisition of resources is reported by the school to be working well and this is attributed to the support of the VEC and the capacity of the teachers concerned to collaborate in planning for resources and to ensure the smooth operation of the system. However, it is urged that consideration be given to the provision of an annual budget for the subjects. The advantages of developing a slightly more formal approach to budgeting should continue to be considered, prioritising resources required collaboratively at a subject-department level. This approach has the potential to further strengthen subject-department collaborative action.
The lessons observed in the course of the inspection were coherent, well structured and well paced. In each case, the purpose of the lesson was made clear from the beginning. Lessons began with a suitable introduction. In one third-year MTW lesson, homework was checked and corrected very efficiently at the outset, before introducing the work of the practical lesson that followed. The time spent on homework did not impinge to an unacceptable extent on the time available. This approach to homework correction was effective in forming links between the theory elements of the syllabus on which the homework was set and the practical elements being explored in the lesson. The lesson that followed was enhanced by the early whole-class activity as students answered questions directed to them individually by the teacher. In the other lessons observed, the introduction involved careful questioning which drew from the previous knowledge of the students, setting the scene for the learning about to take place. In the already mentioned sixth-year CS lesson on sustainability in building, following a well-paced recapitulation of a previous lesson, during which students referred to their own notes, the lesson was developed through careful questioning by the teacher. This is commended. The topic was very effectively developed through the lesson as students entered notes in their notebooks in columns under given headings. The use of a greater variety of teaching approaches, perhaps through small-group activity or pair work, should be considered in all lessons where not already the case, to build further on the high level of studentsí involvement in lessons.
The development of studentsí woodworking skills by means of teacher demonstration, observed in the course of the inspection, was undertaken in an authoritative and definite way that is commended. Students were presented with very clear and easy-to-follow instruction, followed by close attention from their teacher as they practiced the demonstrated skills on their own work pieces. Affirmation and support were provided appropriately to ensure a positive learning experience. To further improve the studentsí skills development, it is recommended that the members of the subject team confer regarding the detailed practical woodwork techniques and practices that are taught across the subject department, leading to an assurance of consistency of approaches to setting out, processing and the appropriate use of tools. Traditional woodwork practice, in such things as gauging from face side and edge and contemporaneous use of the settings on marking-out tools on both halves of a joint, continues to be important in passing on best practice to students.†
The classrooms visited in the course of the inspection were well managed. Expectations of students were clear and student behaviour and discipline were consistently good while being sensitively maintained. Routine aspects of classroom activity, such as the distribution of materials and tools and studentsí making ready to receive group instruction and demonstration, were consistent and well practised. The classrooms, including the woodwork rooms, provided a well-ordered, neat and often visually stimulating learning environment. It is commended that potential difficulties that might arise from the unavoidable interruptions of the school day due to students having to travel between the two school campuses are minimised by the careful arrangement of the timetable and close monitoring of studentsí arrival for class. However this arrangement inevitably causes disruption of teaching time and is not ideal.
The atmosphere of the lessons observed was positive and based on very good rapport between students and teachers and high levels of mutual respect. The teachers were enthusiastic about their subjects and this enthusiasm was communicated to their students. Students were engaged to a very great extent in the activities of the lessons. Effective student learning was evident in their responses to questioning by their teachers and also in their interactions with the inspector, which showed appropriate understanding and knowledge of the work being done and previous study. The studentsí practical, sketched and written work was of a standard appropriate to the respective courses being studied.
Studentsí progress in MTW and CS is assessed in mid-term, Christmas and summer tests. A system of continuous assessment of studentsí work is implemented by individual teachers of MTW and CS. Studentsí work is marked on completion and the average results of these assessments, which include assessment of studentsí design work, are commonly combined with the term examination mark to give an overall result for the term. This approach to assessment is consistent with that of the respective syllabuses in MTW and CS in including a coursework assessment element and this is commended. The use of common assessment tests in MTW and CS is also commended. It is recommended to the subject department that a slightly greater level of formality and commonality be brought to the assessment arrangements for the subjects by further developing the assessment policy within the subject plan. This policy should clarify the elements of the courses that are included in continuous assessment and the weightings used when arriving at an end-of-term result. Students of the subjects should be made familiar with this policy, to encourage them in tracking and assessing their own performance. This development of assessment policy should be informed by current thinking on assessment for learning (AfL). The website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment can be consulted in relation to the development of AfL at http://www.ncca.ie/eng/Curriculum_and_Assessment/Post-Primary_Education/Junior_Cycle/Assessment_for_Learning_AfL_/. It is further recommended that the subject-department assessment policy should become an integral part of a whole-school policy on assessment.
Homework is included among the modes of assessment used in MTW and CS and is used effectively to provide continuity of student contact with the theory elements of the subjects. Students often undertake individual creative design exercises as homework and this is affirmed for providing a good context for such work. In addition to the more structured modes of assessment in place in MTW and CS, assessment forms a central part in each lesson as an ongoing dialogue between teacher and students. In each of the lessons observed, appropriate amounts of time were spent by teachers interacting with students undertaking the work of the lessons. The teachers provided affirmation of the studentsí efforts and gave help and support where required. The studentsí own assessment of how their work was progressing was central to this dialogue. This approach is commended.
Very good practice was observed in relation to the recording of studentsí performance and progress. Studentsí attendance was carefully recorded and in the case of LCA, practice ensured robust recording in support of the course requirement for ninety-per-cent class attendance by students. Records of studentsí progress are shared with parents at annual parent-teacher meetings and in written school reports. The studentsí journal is used as a regular channel of communication with parents. Teachers make personal phone contact with parents as the need arises and year heads seek feedback by the same means when a studentís progress causes concern. Contact with parents is well maintained.
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 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