An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Construction Studies, Materials Technology (Wood) and Technology
Ardscoil na mBráithre
Clonmel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65320J
Date of inspection: 25 January 2008
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Construction Studies, MaterialsTechnology (Wood) and Technology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil na mBráithre, Clonmel, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Construction Studies, Materials Technology (Wood) and Technology and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ 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 the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
Ardscoil na mBráithre has drawn its enrolment from the boys of Clonmel and its surrounding areas for over a century and continues to provide a broad education for its students. The technologies are represented in the curriculum of the school by the subjects that form the focus of this inspection report, Technology (TE) and Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) in junior cycle and Construction Studies (CS) in senior cycle, together with Technical Graphics (TG) and Design and Communication Graphics (DCG). Management is commended for the balance evident in this area of the curriculum. While the number of students opting to study TE at senior level has so far not been sufficient to offer the subject, it is urged that student preferences continue to be monitored and that the possibility of expanding the senior-cycle curriculum to include TE be considered if student preferences support this development.
Collaborative planning by the teachers of the technologies is formally facilitated at least twice a year in line with whole-school arrangements for subject department planning and as the need arises at other times. These formal subject-planning arrangements are supplemented by regular informal meetings of the teaching team of the technologies.
There are four periods per week allocated to TE and to MTW in junior cycle. In each case these periods are arranged as two single lessons and one double lesson and are distributed in a satisfactory way across the week. This time allocation supports the completion of the relevant syllabus. In Transition Year the technologies are represented by three periods per week of TE presented as one double lesson and one single lesson. This is good provision. In CS, the time allocation also follows best practice with five periods per week being arranged in one double lesson and three single lessons. Again these lessons are well distributed through the week. The mix of double and single lessons in TE, MTW and CS supports the teaching of practical project work, drawing and theory consistent with best practice.
Management is commended for ensuring the adequate provision of materials, tools and equipment for the teaching of the subjects. An annual budget for the subject department is provided in response to proposals requested from all subject departments in March of each year, taking the previous expenditure by the department into account. This provides a good incentive for careful collaborative planning by the subject department. It is commended that, at the time of the inspection, plans were in place for the provision of more wood-turning equipment.
There are three specialist rooms for the technologies in Ardscoil na mBráithre, a woodwork room, a technology room and a drawing room which is shared when not timetabled for TG or DCG. All these rooms were neat, tidy and commendably well maintained at the time of the inspection. The exceptionally high standard of finish, organisation and maintenance of these facilities does credit both to school management and to the teachers of the technologies.
Management is commended for the detailed and comprehensive safety audit carried out on the woodwork room and the technology room within the past two years. This safety audit was conducted by an outside agency using risk assessment tools included in the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools (State Claims Agency, Department of Education and Science, 2005). The health and safety statement of Ardscoil na mBráithre was being actively reviewed at the time of the inspection to bring it into line with the most recent legislation and this is applauded. This work was being led by the principal in consultation with, among others, the teachers of the technologies.
The information and communications technology (ICT) equipment supplied to the school for the introduction of the DCG syllabus has been very appropriately deployed, in particular in the DCG room where it is being used for teaching and learning in each of the technologies as intended. Management and the subject teaching team are commended for their prompt and carefully planned installation of this ICT equipment. Data projectors have been ceiling mounted in each of the rooms and the teachers have individual laptop computers. The teachers of the technologies also have access to the computer room in the school. It is urged that the SolidWorks computer-aided design software package be installed in the computer room also, when technically feasible, to encourage maximum student use of the program.
Students choose their optional subjects in junior cycle on entering the school. The subjects are arranged in two groups, from each of which a student makes one choice. MTW and TG are in one of the subject groups while TE is in the other. This has the effect of constraining student choice to some extent. Determining preferences before designing the subject option groups might increase freedom of choice for students. It is recommended that consideration be given to broadening the support for students in making subject choices in junior cycle by providing them with the opportunity to experience each of the optional subjects prior to deciding their preferences and basing the subject-option groups on the preferences they express. For Leaving Certificate, students choose three optional subjects from the full curriculum, which they study together with Gaeilge, English, Mathematics and a continental language. Subject-option bands are devised based totally on student choice. The students are supported in identifying their preferences by means of consultation with the guidance counsellors and subject teachers, at information nights organised for students and parents and by an information booklet produced specifically to assist in subject choice. The arrangements in place to provide for and support the students’ choice of subjects are commended, particularly in senior cycle.
Given that TE is not taught in fifth and sixth year at present, it is urged that the focus of the technologies in Transition Year be placed on Construction Studies to support the students in deciding their preferences for Leaving Certificate. This is not necessarily at variance with the programme being followed at present, since technology clearly has very wide applications within construction, and the module being offered would ideally support students in making the best choices for them.
There are written subject plans for TE, MTW and CS developed collaboratively by the teachers of the respective subjects. The teaching team of the technologies is commended for the progress made in developing these coherent plans, which clearly lay out the programmes of work to be followed in each case. These programmes of work are in keeping with the requirements of the respective syllabuses.
The outcomes of subject department meetings are recorded. Although there is no formal provision for leadership of the subject-department structure within the roles assigned to holders of posts of responsibility within the school, it is to the credit of all the teachers involved that very effective planning is supported through their cooperative engagement, often in an informal setting. It is urged that the role of convener of the subject department of the technologies be rotated between the teachers, perhaps on an annual basis, to equalise the workload involved and to provide for continuity within the department. The convener’s role is likely to include the setting of agendas in collaboration with the other teachers and the concise recording of the outcomes of meetings. Continued consideration and discussion of how best to expand the range of teaching methodologies and strategies in use is recommended, as is the inclusion of those found most effective in the subject plans. The aim of catering for the different needs, abilities and strengths of students can be furthered by planning for the use of a broader range of teaching methodologies.
The teachers of the technologies respond to the individual educational needs of students by constantly reviewing the programme of work being followed to provide for differentiation, in particular of the project work being assigned. Co-curricular project work had been organised with the art teacher prior to the inspection and this involved junior-cycle students making a frame to mount a piece of fired clay which they had designed and made in the art class. Such cooperative work adds greatly to the students’ interest and learning and it is applauded.
The increased use of ICT for teaching and learning in the technologies since the development of computer resources for the introduction of the DCG syllabus is commended. The equipment is being used very effectively, not just in teaching and learning in DCG, but also in the other technologies. Students at all levels are being introduced to the use of the ICT facilities for the development of their design project work, with preference being given to examination classes where necessary. This development is applauded. The use of data projectors and laptop computers, to present a range of digital teaching resources in each of the subjects in the course of the inspection, added a valuable extra dimension to the lessons observed. The use of live broadband access to a commercial house builder’s internet site provided a very effective review of timber-framed construction in one fifth-year CS lesson. In a junior-cycle TE lesson dealing with electronics circuit design, use was made of various web-based educational resources to explore the characteristics of components connected in series and in parallel. The TE subject department intends shortly to install a suitable electronics simulation software package on the computers for the use of students. This is affirmed as a commendable means of supporting the students’ learning and the development of their design skills in electronics. Use was made of SolidWorks CAD software to present drawings on screen in the course of lessons on design projects and orthographic projection. The progress made in the use of ICT in the subject department of the technologies is commended and could provide a model for similar development within other subject departments within the school.
Development of the woodwork room and technology room, partly in response to the practical support recently put in place by the Department, has been guided by the recommendations made in the health and safety audit, leading to many improvements in provision for health and safety. These improvements include upgraded wiring, re-positioning of some machines and the dropping of electricity sockets over each bench to eliminate the potential hazard of trailing power leads. The progress made with regard to health and safety, and the emphasis placed on developing the students’ consciousness of its importance, is commended.
Notices displayed in the practical rooms included copies of the general rules for use of the facilities and of the anti-bullying policy of the school. Mandatory signage for the use of personal protection equipment (PPE) was also in place. To further reinforce the students’ appreciation of best practice in health and safety, it is recommended that the display of safety signage be increased. This includes extra signs for the use of PPE and ancillary notices listing the procedures and precautions to be observed for the safe use of individual pieces of equipment. It is urged that these signs and notices be displayed adjacent to the machines to which they refer. It is also urged that appropriate notices dealing with the safe use of hand tools be included. The identification and demarcation of safe operational areas around the machines in both rooms is also recommended in line with the recommendations in the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools, which should continue to be consulted in detail. Demarcation can be achieved by means of floor markings. It is urged that appropriate notices be displayed to focus students’ attention on the reasons for these areas and the resulting effect on movement within the rooms.
The teaching methodology most often used in the practical lessons observed in the course of the inspection involved a cycle of demonstration by the teacher followed by the students being given the opportunity to complete the work. The demonstrations covered the woodwork skills relevant to the marking out and working of the particular project. This was a successful approach leading to effective learning by the students. The clarity and appropriateness of the skills demonstration seen in many of the lessons is commended. Given the richness of practical experience embodied in the traditional skills of marking out and working wood and their value for exploration of the world of technology, it is urged that suitable strategies are developed to reinforce students’ appreciation and mastery of them. The judicious use of templates for repetitive marking out should be considered once the conventional use of the basic marking-out tools has been mastered. Such use of marking-out aids to speed up the realisation of project work may be particularly valuable for students for whom accuracy is more difficult to achieve.
Occasionally, in some of the lessons visited, the demonstration phase lasted too long, increasing the risk of students losing concentration. It is recommended that all demonstrations be kept to a length appropriate to the learning styles of the students. Demonstrations should not normally exceed five to ten minutes in duration to maintain the momentum of the lesson. It is also recommended that demonstrations be provided for groups of students rather than the whole class where this more effectively meets the needs of the group, particularly where students are at different stages in the realisation of the work, bearing in mind that all the classes in TE, MTW and CS cater for students of a range of abilities.
The use of a wide range of teaching strategies, encountered in some of the lessons observed in the course of the inspection, is commended. In one of the TE lessons visited, students worked in groups to discuss responses to questions presented on prepared worksheets. Following the separate discussions, one student from each group reported back to the whole class and the responses were compared. This approach was very successful and formed part of a lesson which also included use of ICT for teaching and a practical demonstration of circuits pre-assembled by the teacher, together with appropriate reference to the textbook and on-line resources.
The lessons observed in the course of the inspection showed evidence of careful preparation. The purpose of each lesson was made clear from the outset. Appropriate materials and teaching aids were available and ready for use in each case. The pace of the lessons was suitable and in almost all cases the lessons were appropriately structured. A quick review of the work done in the course of the lesson, usually in the form of a short plenary session, provided an effective conclusion to each of the lessons observed.
The lessons visited were well managed and effective routines were in place to ensure that the normal tasks to be undertaken at beginning and end were completed efficiently and with a minimum of fuss. Students worked at assigned places and gathered around the teacher’s bench in an orderly manner as required for demonstrations.
Students in each of the lessons visited were presented with a level of challenge that lay within their range of ability. It is recommended, however, that to the greatest extent possible, more opportunities be developed to involve students in designing and realising projects based on their own unique solutions to design situations presented to them. This is particularly relevant in junior cycle and is consistent with the aims of the relevant syllabuses. The experience of success is a powerful means of motivation for students. With differentiation of project work, success is brought within reach of all students who can then be affirmed. It is further recommended that the positive aspects of the students’ progress, achievement and expectation of success be stressed throughout, particularly when dealing with students in a mixed-ability setting. The grouping of students of similar ability to realise projects that entail a design solution to which they have each contributed should be considered to make support more manageable, while still ensuring that the work being done is within the capability of each student and still provides adequate challenge.
The atmosphere in each of the lessons visited was respectful and relaxed, while the students remained interested and focused on the work in hand throughout. Discipline was intrinsic to the students’ involvement, never forced or unwillingly accepted. Students were secure and happy in an atmosphere that was conducive to learning. The maintenance of this positive learning environment by the teachers of the technologies is commended. The physical environment in each of the classrooms visited was bright and welcoming. The surroundings were made more attractive by displays of students’ work. Coloured sketches of woodwork tools, completed by the students, were on view in the technology room. It is urged, to further improve the commendable practice of enriching the learning space with relevant information, that additional use be made of such subject-related visual materials, including perhaps commercially printed charts and drawings produced in SolidWorks by the students, to enhance learning in the woodwork, technology and drawing rooms.
When engaged in conversation by the inspector, students displayed a knowledge and understanding of the subjects that was consistent with their age, ability and experience of the respective syllabuses. They showed competence and were effective and at ease communicating in the subject. The students were enthusiastic and engaged fully with the work being undertaken. It was clear from their responses to questioning and their success in completing their work that the students were learning effectively.
Formal assessment of TE, MTW and CS, in line with general practice in the school, takes place at Christmas by means of in-class examinations and in summer when formal examinations are administered. In addition, mock examinations are held in third year and sixth year for students undergoing state examinations in the current year. The results of these examinations are aggregated with continuous assessment marks in each of the subjects based on students’ project work and class tests in theory and drawing. These modes of assessment support learning by students and are consistent with the assessment modes of the respective syllabuses. To continue the improvement of the good assessment practice already in place, the subject department of the technologies is urged to consider adopting a common approach to aggregating assessment mark averages with summer and Christmas test marks for all the technologies. By making the resulting marking scheme clear to students, they can be further encouraged towards consistent effort. The enhancement of the student body’s awareness of the assessment procedures could also be used to further enhance the profile of the technologies in the curriculum of the school.
In addition to the various more structured assessment modes in evidence in the course of the inspection, the use of less-formal assessment of students’ progress within the lessons observed was commendable. In each of the lessons visited, the teacher moved among the students as they completed their work, offering affirmation, encouragement and support as appropriate. The teachers’ interaction with the students offered opportunities for student self-assessment of their work which were skilfully used to enhance learning.
Teachers keep records in their teachers’ diaries of the attendance, progress and achievement of individual students. This is consistent with good practice. The progress made by students is communicated to parents by means of school reports following Christmas, mock and summer examinations. Parent-teacher meetings are held on an annual basis at which teachers keep parents informed of students’ progress with reference to the teacher’s records. Further meetings can be arranged between parents and teachers of the technologies as needed and also with the year heads, deputy principal or principal as necessary. The students’ journals provide a constant channel of communication between teachers and parents and this is used regularly, most often to share information about homework. Recording and communication of students’ progress is effectively maintained in the technologies.
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 Technology, Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Board of Management welcomes the very positive report on teaching and learning of Construction Studies, Materials Technology (Wood) and Technology within the school. It reflects the high standards and dedication of the subject department. The report commends many areas within these subjects including the wide range of teaching strategies encountered, the high quality of skills demonstrated by teachers, the adequate provision of resources, the development of cohesive plans and the approach taken to the adoption of appropriate health and safety management systems in these areas. The report is fair and balanced and is a comprehensive overview of the quality of teaching and learning of these subjects within the school.
The Board of Management will continue to provide the necessary support and resources that will facilitate the Principal and Staff in the implementation of the findings and recommendations of the report.