An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies, Materials Technology (Wood) and Technology
Coláiste Pobail Naomh Mhuire
Cill na Mullach, Contae Chorcaí
Roll number: 76067L
Date of inspection: 10 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Construction Studies, Materials Technology (Wood) and Technology
This report has been written following a subject
inspection in Coláiste Pobail Naomh Mhuire, Buttevant,
Coláiste Mhuire is a co-educational community college operating under the aegis of County Cork Vocational Education Committee (CCVEC). The school provides a broad education for students of Buttevant and the surrounding areas. The enrolment consists of slightly more boys than girls. In addition to CS, MTW and TE, the subjects of this report, the curriculum of the school also includes Design and Communications Graphics (DCG) in senior cycle and Technical Graphics (TG) in junior cycle. The maintenance of balance in the curriculum through the provision of this range of technology subjects by the school is commended.
Full advantage has been taken of the opportunities presented for continuing professional development (CPD) through the support service for technologies, T4. The subject teachers of the technologies have been facilitated by management in attending the courses provided. In addition, staff development time has been allocated to facilitate teachers of the technologies in sharing their experience and knowledge of information and communications technology (ICT). This provides a valuable and innovative opportunity for collaborative CPD. Where one teacher has developed particular ICT skills, these are being made available for the other teacher, to the great benefit of the subject department. Management and the teaching team of the technologies are commended for their commitment to CPD.
MTW and TE are each allocated four periods per week in each year of junior cycle. In senior cycle CS is allocated three periods per week in Transition Year (TY) and five periods per week in fifth and sixth year. This is a satisfactory time allocation, allowing the relevant syllabus to be completed in each case. Lessons are suitably distributed across the week, ensuring that students’ contact with the subject being studied can be maintained effectively. Furthermore, the time allocation for each class includes one double period per week to facilitate uninterrupted completion of practical work. The timetabling arrangements for CS, MTW and TE are consistent with best practice.
The needs of CS, MTW and TE in terms of tools, equipment and materials are being met by the school and CCVEC in line with best practice. While there is not a formal and distinct budget for the subject department, it was reported that expenditure on materials and recurring equipment costs is planned by the individual teachers in consultation with management. Requests are dealt with in a positive and timely manner and the arrangements are effective and efficient. In the case of larger items of expenditure such as the buying of machinery for the woodwork room, the teachers worked closely together in presenting a request to management. This collaboration is good. While informal co-operation in all matters is central to the approach of the technology subjects teaching team, it is suggested that a slightly increased level of formality be considered when planning for resources. This could be achieved by means of discussing and recording the requirements of each subject at meetings of the subject department.
The rooms available for the teaching of CS, MTW, TE and the other technology subjects include a woodwork room and a drawing room. The latter is used extensively for the teaching of TG and DCG. These rooms were neat, tidy and well maintained at the time of the inspection. There is also a computer room in the school, the use of which may be requested. Although the specification of the computers in the computer room is unlikely to allow successful installation of parametric computer-aided design (CAD) software, it is urged that use be made of this resource as appropriate for word processing of students’ design project work. The woodwork room was well equipped. The improvement of dust-extraction arrangements in the woodwork room by the installation of a centralised system was imminent at the time of the inspection in line with the requirement to provide a safe healthy environment. This is commended.
The school has a comprehensive health and safety statement, which it is policy to review annually. The statement was developed with the involvement of the board of management, in-school management and individual teachers. This statement forms the basis for good health and safety practices throughout the school, of which the particular considerations relating to the woodwork room are a part. This treatment of health and safety is in line with best practice.
The school’s commitment to ICT integration in teaching and learning is highly commended. Staff development time has been devoted to the enhancement of teachers’ skills in this regard with professional input from Cork Education Support Centre. A number of classrooms are equipped with computers and data projectors. The technology subjects have been equipped with fourteen laptop computers, with required software pre-imaged on the hard drives, and a data projector. This has been achieved as part of the support provided for the introduction of the DCG syllabus. While this hardware and software is primarily for use in the teaching of DCG, it is also envisaged that it be used to introduce all students of the technology subjects, in both junior and senior cycle, to parametric CAD. The high level of collaboration that is evident between the teachers of the technologies in the deployment and integration of ICT is commended.
First-year students are provided with a ten-week subject taster programme on entering the school. This facilitates an easier transition from primary to post-primary school. It also informs their subject choices. Initially two groups are formed from the incoming students. Each group spends five weeks studying one half of the optional subjects. At the end of this time the groups exchange places. The taster programme is managed as part of the guidance provision and students make their subject choices immediately following it. This innovative approach to supporting students in making informed subject choices is commended. Further support for the making of subject choices is provided by means of an information night for parents of incoming first-year students.
While it is commended that first-year students in Coláiste Mhuire are presented with opportunities to study a wide range of subjects, and that the arrangements in place meet the needs of current students, the choices between subjects do not change from year to year. It is important that the wider subject preferences of students entering first year be continually tested and that care be taken to respond to any future trends in student preferences which would impact on the most suitable banding of optional subjects.
The arrangement of subject-option groups in senior cycle is based on the preferences expressed by the students involved. This is best practice. Students are supported very effectively in making their subject choices. The guidance counsellor and individual teachers of the optional subjects are involved in this support which is delivered in a class setting, individually and at an evening for parents in March. Students who take part in TY benefit further from having experience of CS and the other optional subjects as part of the TY programme prior to making choices. There are particular advantages for student choice in having a range of technology subjects available in both junior and senior cycle and this practice is commended.
Effective subject development planning is underway in TE, MTW and CS. Time is allocated for planning meetings. Department planning documentation presented during the inspection was comprehensive and there was clear evidence of formal and informal planning taking place. It is suggested, in light of the small number of teachers of the technologies in the school, that the benefits of engaging in collaborative planning with teachers of other subjects with similar levels of practical and project work be considered. It is likely that much will be found of common concern to teachers of these subjects and that collaboration will be found to be of value to all. The evidence of short-term planning and the development of programmes of work made available in the course of the inspection showed subject planning to be extensive and commendable. A separate comprehensive plan is in place for TY which places emphasis on the acquisition of skills through student engagement in project work. The central place of student design in project work should continue to be prominent in the planning and execution of lessons. It is recommended that all opportunities be taken to include student design in the programmes of work for each of the subjects and particularly for MTW and TE. This should be a main focus of the next review of the programmes of work.
In the classes observed during the inspection there was evidence of very effective short-term planning. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter and the students were clearly familiar with the procedures and routines in place in the woodwork room. The requisite materials had been prepared in advance and the engagement of all the participants in the ensuing activities was very efficient and productive. This good practice in relation to planning contributed to the quality of learning observed and it is commended. Planning is regularly reviewed and revised where appropriate. This is in line with best practice and is also commended.
Planning for work in each of the subjects takes account of the variety of educational needs and range of abilities of students. Differentiation was observed in the project work which students were undertaking and this work was suitably challenging while within the individual ability level. This is best practice. The progress made in deploying ICT hardware and software has been commended earlier in this report. It is urged that provision be made in the subject plans for each of the technology subjects, including MTW, TE and CS for the introduction of SolidWorks. This should be integrated into the students’ project work from first year.
The importance placed on appropriate measures being taken to ensure health and safety in the woodwork room was clear. Good practice was observed in the adherence of teachers and pupils to appropriate health and safety procedures. There was an awareness of the need for responsible behaviour. Safety signage was displayed. Safety rules were displayed prominently and procedures and precautions for the safe use of specific machines were displayed. While it is commended that safe operational areas (SOAs) were demarcated surrounding woodworking machines, these areas were in some cases too small. While acknowledging the problem of limited space, it is recommended that the layout of the SOAs be reviewed and, where possible, improved. The display of information notice boards outlining the reasons for SOAs and their implications for movement and behaviour in the vicinity of machines is also urged. Appropriate personal protection was available to students and they were seen to use this in the course of the inspection. While students used dust masks when appropriate in the woodwork room, it is recommended that these be personal items and that arrangements be made to provide each student with a mask for individual use. To further improve the already good practice in relation to the support of health and safety education, it is also recommended that the number of standard, colour-coded safety notice boards be increased. 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 the above and any other issues related to health and safety.
The lessons visited in the course of the inspection were well paced and coherently structured throughout. The purpose and aims of each lesson were clear from the outset. The teaching methodologies used were appropriate to the students’ abilities, needs and interests. Following careful introduction, often involving skilled questioning of the students, the approach adopted by the teacher in each case involved demonstration of work to be undertaken followed by students working at their benches under the close supervision of the teacher who provided, as appropriate, individual affirmation, encouragement and help as he moved from bench to bench. Handouts were used to further underpin and reinforce learning.
The atmosphere in each of the lessons visited was one of mutual respect between teacher and student and between the students themselves. Discipline was an intrinsic part of the atmosphere and the students displayed a sense of security and an easy acceptance of the rules and classroom procedures with which they were clearly familiar. Students were fully engaged in the work of the lessons which was suitably challenging while appropriate to the abilities of each. Project work was differentiated to suit student ability as appropriate. The learning environment of the woodwork room was enhanced by a good, wide-ranging display of subject-related materials including charts and posters and examples of completed pieces of woodwork. All of these elements combined to provide welcoming and stimulating learning surroundings. This is commended.
When questioned, students showed an understanding and knowledge consistent with their age and experience of the subject. In a lesson during which students were completing nest boxes for barn owls, their knowledge of background details of the behaviour and characteristics of these birds showed the breadth of their interest in the work in which they were involved. In a TE lesson students who were involved in the realisation of model cranes which incorporated a geared electric motor demonstrated a good understanding of the principles involved in the design. Students’ interest in each project had been enhanced by the approach adopted, which successfully set the wider context of the work being done. In all cases, students were appropriately effective in communicating their knowledge and understanding of the subject being studied. It was clear from the responses of the students to questioning by the inspector and by their teachers and from their completed work that learning was taking place. Students showed a high level of involvement in the subjects and were interested and enthusiastic.
Students’ progress is regularly assessed. At a formal level within the school, tests are set at five-week or six-week intervals, at Christmas and in summer. The results of these tests are recorded centrally. In addition, students about to sit the Junior Certificate or the Leaving Certificate examinations also sit mock examinations which are externally marked. The results of all tests and assessments, together with students’ attendance and homework records, are carefully recorded and retained in the teachers’ diaries, in line with good practice. It is commended that class teachers monitor the centrally recorded results and follow up where necessary when a student’s assessments are a cause of concern. The combination of students’ aggregated project-work assessments with their examination marks in TE is commended. This approach is more consistent with the assessment modes provided for in the syllabuses and provides an effective means of regular affirmation and of encouragement of greater student effort. It is recommended that a similar approach be adopted in MTW and CS. In particular it is urged that the written and sketched elements of students’ design projects form a part of regular assessments of progress and that these are included when arriving at Christmas and summer results. It is urged, as an integral part of continuous assessment, that students be kept regularly informed of their progress and of the expected impact on the Christmas or summer examination.
The practical nature of TE, MTW and CS provides regular opportunities for assessment to take place less formally and the readiness of the teachers of TE, MTW and CS in the school to capitalize on such opportunities was in evidence in the course of the inspection. As the teachers interacted with students in the course of practical lessons, informal assessment was a natural part of this interaction. Formative assessment of students took place on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and through interaction with students during lessons. Particularly valuable were instances where students assessed their own progress in completing the tasks in hand. The teachers’ encouragement of these instances of assessment for learning is commended.
Parents are kept informed of students’ progress by means of reports which are relayed home following Christmas and summer examinations. Annual parent-teacher meetings and information evenings provide further channels of communication. More constant communication regarding students’ progress, homework, behaviour and achievement is facilitated by means of the student’s journal, while parents are invited to make contact with the school where there is any cause for concern.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of CS, MTW and TE and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2008
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Board of Management found the Inspection to be most positive and constructive in its observations.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Increased levels of formatting are already in place regarding the planning of resources.
The introduction of individual dust masks will be implemented this year.