An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies and Materials Technology (Wood)
Blackrock Road, Cork
Roll number: 81008W
Date of inspection: 3 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 Ashton School. 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 teacher, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. 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 deputy principal and the subject teacher. 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.
Ashton School provides a broad education in a co-educational setting, which includes a range of technology subjects. In addition to MTW, Metalwork and Technical Graphics are† included in the curriculum in junior cycle, while in senior cycle, Engineering and Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) are provided as well as CS. The breadth of choice provided for students in the technologies is commended.
The facilities provided for teaching and learning in MTW and CS are of a high standard and include a well-appointed woodwork room, which is reserved for these subjects. There are two computer rooms and a DCG room, the use of which may be arranged when required. Progress made in the provision of information and communications technology (ICT) for the teaching of the technologies, particularly in relation to the introduction of the DCG syllabus, is commended.† Opportunities for continuing professional development, particularly in the context of the support provided for the introduction of new senior-cycle syllabuses through t4, the technology subjects support service, have been fully embraced.
The time allocated to CS and MTW, five periods per week in senior cycle and four periods per week in junior cycle, is sufficient for the completion of the respective syllabuses. The division of the allocated time into double and single lessons and their distribution across the week also provide for effective teaching of the subjects. The arrangements for the purchase of class materials for MTW and CS are effective. Resources, including wood and other materials and small pieces of equipment, are supplied in response to the needs of the department from lists prepared by the teacher. The board of management and in-school management are commended for this necessary support for the teaching of the subjects.
There is a current safety statement in place which was drawn up in consultation with management and staff. This statement includes general references to recognised hazards in rooms in the school, including the woodwork room. It is recommended that the safety statement be reviewed to include a detailed assessment of health and safety in the woodwork room. The Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, DES, 2005), http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/review_oh_safety_tech.pdf, should be consulted in detail when reviewing health and safety.
Arrangements were being made at the time of the inspection for the replacement of older woodworking machines which did not carry the CE mark and for the installation of a dust-extraction system. Funding has been provided by the Department for the completion of this work and it is recommended that it be expedited.
It is commended that all students are provided with the opportunity to study MTW and CS as optional subjects in, respectively, junior and senior cycle. Both subjects are taught in mixed-ability settings. Students are facilitated in studying the subjects at the level appropriate to their individual needs. First-year students benefit from a twelve-week sampling programme during which they experience each of the optional subjects. This provision is commended as a means of informing student choice. Students choose from set subject-option groups at the end of the twelve-week programme. Students choose their optional subjects for senior cycle towards the end of third year or TY, depending on their programme choice. The subject-option groups in junior cycle and in senior cycle are fixed for a period of four to five years, at which point they are set by reference to student preferences. Thus MTW is in an option group with Home Economics and Science in junior cycle while CS is in a group with French, German, Geography and Biology in senior cycle. It is recommended that subject-option groups be designed to meet the preferences of students to the greatest extent possible on an annual basis, taking account of constraints such as teacher availability and allocation.
While TY provides experience of many subjects to support students in making their senior-cycle subject choices, CS is not included in the modules presented in TY. The inclusion of an element of technology education in TY is recommended, perhaps as part of an integrated technologies module together with Engineering and DCG. The support and advice provided for students and their parents with regard to subject choice is good. In addition to the provision of experience of each subject as a support to students in making their choices, the guidance counsellor meets all junior cycle students and TY includes a guidance module to provide advice on career and subject choice. Parents of students entering the school attend an information evening at which the subject options being offered are presented.
There is a well developed, if informal, collaborative aspect to planning for the technologies in the school. The teachers of the technologies meet informally throughout the school year to exchange ideas and share experiences while discussing curricular issues of common concern. To further enhance this collaborative approach to subject department planning, it is recommended that the teachers of all the technologies work within a slightly more formal subject department of the technologies with the role of coordinator rotating among them, perhaps on an annual basis.
The subject planning documentation viewed in the course of the inspection consisted of plans and programmes of work for both MTW and CS. These documents were clear and comprehensive in most respects. Their quality is commended, together with the overall quality of subject planning. As a next step in further improvement of these very good subject plans, it is suggested that teaching methodologies and approaches to specific elements of the programmes be included in the documentation. This planning should form a focus for the further development of learning and teaching in both subjects by identifying ways to include more active learning opportunities for students, perhaps through development of more group work, pair work and self-directed learning. This work should be enhanced by collaboration between the teachers of the technologies. Given that there are common areas in the first-year programmes, an opportunity is presented for collaboration when designing programmes for each subject for the first twelve weeks, up to the time when students make subject choices. Such a collaborative planning approach should ensure that students derive maximum benefit, in particular in areas which should be introduced from the beginning and have an application throughout the junior cycle technologies such as student project design.
There is a good range of resources, tools and equipment available for the teaching of MTW and CS. Effective planning for acquisition and maintenance of resources is undertaken in the context of subject department planning by the teacher of the subjects. Given the resources available in the school for teaching and learning through the medium of ICT, it is recommended that students of MTW and CS be introduced to the use of the Solid Works computer-aided design (CAD) software early in their study of the subjects, and that they be given opportunities to use the software in their project-design work.
The MTW subject plan includes reference to the provision for health and safety in the woodwork room. It is recommended that the note in the subject plan be extended to provide a statement that fully reflects the hazards identified in the room, an assessment of the risks involved and details of how these risks are controlled. This statement should then be presented to the board of management for appending to the schoolís health and safety statement when this is next reviewed.
Each of the lessons observed in the course of the inspection had clear aims and learning outcomes that were shared with the students at the outset. Continuity with previous learning was assured by means of well-paced introductions to the lessons. Very good use was made of varied questioning to elicit information from studentsí prior knowledge. This was particularly effective in a fifth-year CS practical woodwork lesson, with a class in which not all students had studied MTW in junior cycle. Skilful questioning by the teacher provided information for students new to the subject matter in a very natural and effective manner. An aim of this lesson, to increase the practical skills of students new to woodwork, was moved forward effectively. Learning should be further enhanced by increased differentiation of work, providing more challenging work for those students whose skills are already more advanced. In the particular instance, where students worked on a stopped housing joint, those with more advanced skills could be set the challenge of a dovetail-stopped housing or even a tapered-dovetail housing. Assigning the students to small groups, with each group working on a related joint of appropriate difficulty, would provide an enhanced learning context for all the students.
A suitable variety of teaching methodologies was used to ensure that the studentsí interest was maintained. The extent to which students were presented with opportunities to express their own ideas and discuss various design options in a lesson on design was impressive. To further develop opportunities for students to express and discuss their ideas, it is suggested, that small groups or pairs of students could be set the task of developing a design idea which could then be reported back to the whole class.
The woodwork room was very well organised. Students followed agreed routines and the lessons observed were defined by order and good organisation. There was a pervasive sense of student security and the atmosphere was at all times positive and affirming of good behaviour. The teacher generated and maintained enthusiasm for the work being undertaken and, through high quality demonstration of practical skills, communicated interest and eagerness among the students. Interactions between students and between teacher and students were respectful. The lessons took place in a setting that was conducive to learning, discipline being maintained sensitively.
The students engaged fully in the various activities undertaken in the lessons observed, each at a level appropriate to their ability and degree of advancement. While there was clearly a range of ability displayed, particularly when dealing with the more creative aspects of design, the efforts of all students were affirmed. It was clear from studentsí responses to questioning that they were learning and making progress with the work being done. †
In addition to Christmas, Easter and summer tests, students are also formally tested at mid-term. The formal results of these tests are recorded and reported to parents in school reports and at parent-teacher meetings. In addition to this summative assessment of studentsí progress, there is continuous assessment of class work and studentsí projects in MTW and CS. The outcomes of continuous assessment are combined with formal test results to maintain ongoing feedback to students and to reinforce formative assessment practice in lessons. Studentsí project work, including their design folios, is assessed on completion. The modes of assessment in use are consistent with those of the respective syllabuses and prepare students for the completion of coursework projects as well as for final examinations. This is good practice. Homework is set, corrected and recorded regularly, in line with good practice.†† †
Studentsí progress is monitored closely through informal assessment, which formed an integral part of each of the lessons observed. As students worked on the completion of their work the teacher moved among them affirming their progress and offering advice and support as required. The degree to which the students were encouraged to engage in informal self-evaluation of their work is particularly commended as a support for the development of very worthwhile assessment-for-learning practice. In a lesson in which students were set the task of proposing a design for a lap desk, very good use was made of a traditional design solution which was introduced following the studentsí completion of their own sketches. Introducing the traditional design at this stage led to discussion and provided a context for an appraisal of the studentsí designs.
Assessment results and studentsí attendance are systematically recorded. Contact is maintained with parents by means of school reports and parent-teacher meetings as well as through the studentsí journals, which provide a constant communication channel.
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 teacher of CS and MTW and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2009