An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of

Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies



Saint Joseph’s Secondary School

Foxford  County Mayo

Roll number: 64640W


 Date of inspection: 15 September 2008





Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations





Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Materials Technology (wood) and Construction studies



Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Joseph's Secondary School carried out as part of a whole school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject 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 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.


Subject provision and whole school support


Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Construction Studies (CS) are optional junior and senior cycle subjects respectively in St. Joseph's Secondary School. Junior cycle students study MTW as part of the Junior Certificate (JC) and senior cycle students study CS as part of the Leaving Certificate (LC) or Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Although the school offers an optional transition year (TY) programme it is noteworthy that a module related to MTW or CS does not currently form part of the TY curriculum. It is recommended therefore, that a suitable module should be developed by the MTW and CS subject department and included in the TY programme offered to students in future years.


Time allocation for MTW and CS in the school is appropriate and the allocation of double and single class periods reflects good practice. This is commended.


The school organises information evenings for first, third and TY students and their parents and support related to optional subject choice is provided by subject teachers and the guidance counsellor. An open choice of optional subjects is provided and junior and senior cycle optional subject bands are generated to accommodate students' choices. These practices are commended.


All MTW and CS classes are of mixed ability and students are encouraged to take State examinations at the level appropriate to their abilities. MTW classes in junior cycle are comprised almost exclusively of boys and there are no girls currently studying CS in fifth or sixth year. While it is recognised that the school provides an open choice of optional subjects it is recommended that ways to encourage and enable more girls to study MTW and CS should be explored by the school to address the current gender imbalance in MTW and CS classes.


MTW and CS are taught in two woodwork rooms in St. Joseph's Secondary School. The main room is relatively small and located in the main school building. This room is well-equipped, maintained and decorated with charts, some safety signage and examples of students' practical, project and drawing work and provides a stimulating visual learning environment for students of the subjects. The second room is a converted classroom that is located in the 'music school' across a public road from the main school building. This room was equipped as a supplementary woodwork room by the school in 2007/2008 in an effort to accommodate uptake of the subjects and alleviate the demands placed on the woodwork room in the main building. It contains seven workbenches, a number of machines, portable power tools and is well-equipped with hand tools. Examples of students' drawings decorate the walls and examples of practical and project work are displayed. In line with the recommendations made in the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-Primary Schools only small class groups are accommodated in this room and this is commended. The room is separated from other classrooms in the building by a partition wall that provides only limited sound insulation and it is recommended that the school examine ways to obviate this difficulty as a priority in order to minimise disruption to lessons in adjacent classrooms when practical activities are being undertaken.


Teachers and students of the subjects have access to appropriate computer hardware and drawing software in the school's design and communication graphics (DCG) room when required. Teachers also have access to a laptop computer and digital projectors for use in the woodwork rooms and this level of provision is commended.


Senior management encourages and facilitates teachers to engage in continuing professional development (CPD) and over the last two years MTW and CS teachers have attended subject-specific in-service provided by the Technology Subjects Support Service (T4). This is commended


Planning and preparation


The school has a MTW and CS subject department and the role of co-ordinator is rotated between teachers. The subject department meets formally each term and records of meetings are retained in subject department documentation. Reports are made to the senior management team on subject-related issues when necessary following these meetings. Formal meetings are supplemented by frequent informal meetings throughout the year. These arrangements are commended.


Comprehensive subject planning documentation has been developed collaboratively by MTW and CS teachers and their work to date is commended. In order to further enhance this documentation it is recommended that it be regularly reviewed and refined so that it reflects the reality for the subjects in the school during any given school year.


A range of MTW and CS resources has been developed and is used by teachers to support teaching and learning and this work is commended.


Additional resources to support teaching and learning may be accessed, when required, following consultation with the principal and this arrangement is reported to work effectively in the school.


MTW and CS teachers liaise with the learning support team when planning for students in their classes who have additional educational needs. This is commended.


As part of the planning process the subject department analyses students' outcomes in State examinations each year and compares these to the national averages. This analysis informs planning for the following year. This practice is commended.


Teaching and learning


Good teaching of MTW and CS theory was observed during the inspection. First-year MTW students were studying the cross-section of a tree and the functioning of the constituent parts while second-year students were studying the properties of some materials commonly associated with woodwork and construction. CS students were studying the concepts associated with the design and functioning of external and internal doors during the evaluation.


All MTW and CS lessons had clear aims and objectives and were suitable for the stage of the programme being delivered. Lessons were structured to ensure continuity and progression through the syllabuses and all activities were well-managed in an appropriately ordered learning environment. This practice is commended.


Teachers employed suitable teaching methodologies in terms of students’ abilities, needs and interests and a range of strategies was used. Teachers differentiated lesson aims and objectives to meet the needs of class groups that comprised students from a broad range of abilities. Practice in this area is commended.


An integrated approach to teaching and learning of MTW and CS theory was observed during the evaluation and lessons incorporated tasks that ensured students remained focused on the concepts being dealt with. For example, second-year MTW students were given the task of determining the density of four different materials commonly encountered in the woodwork room following a discussion of the concepts associated with density. Four working groups were formed and each was given the task of determining the density of one material. The results of the task undertaken by each group were reported to the whole-class group and the results were tabulated on the chalkboard. This was followed by a critical discussion during which the concepts engaged with in a concrete manner were reinforced. During CS theory lessons a similar approach was adopted. Discussion of the design and functioning of external and internal doors took place at the outset during which several examples of door types were introduced. This was followed by a critical discussion of the merits of each door design in respect of its functioning requirements and students completed freehand sketches of a variety of doors in their notes copies following a teacher demonstration of the process on the chalkboard. This practice is commended.


During lessons teachers used a variety of individual and group questions, including higher order questions, and made excellent use of the chalkboard to focus students' attention and support their learning. Stimulating materials including timber sections, building materials and components related to topics being studied were also used to promote the development of students' learning. The theory skills of freehand sketching and concise note-making were modelled by teachers during their presentations. This approach is commended.


Teachers used and emphasised the terminology associated with MTW and CS during lessons and this allowed students to listen to instructions and assimilate subject-specific terminology while working on their own tasks. This practice enhanced both teaching and learning and is highly commended. Students communicated effectively with their peers, teachers and the inspector using MTW and CS terminology. This is commended.


Textbooks are prescribed for the subjects but were not overly relied upon during the inspection. Texts are used as a resource for students in the completion of class and homework tasks and are supplemented by the use of handout materials. This approach is commended.


During lessons teachers moved around the woodwork rooms and interacted with individual students as they engaged in the completion of tasks. During these interactions students' progress was assessed and teachers provided assistance to individuals when it was required. This practice is commended.


The woodwork rooms were very well organised and routines were evident during all lessons evaluated. These routines promote responsibility for creating an ordered learning environment among students and are commended.


Homework was a feature of all lessons and this helped to ensure continuity with previous and future lessons. This practice is commended.


Students displayed the quality of their understanding of topics engaged with during lessons in the competencies exhibited during the completion of assigned tasks and in their ability to answer and ask questions. Students exhibited levels of subject-specific knowledge and skills consistent with the range of abilities in classes visited during the evaluation.


The content of MTW and CS drawing portfolios and notes copies was appropriate and students’ work demonstrated an emphasis on the key theory skills. These include the making of ruled drawings and freehand sketches and concise, information-rich notes. This approach is commended.


Opportunities for independent and collaborative learning were included in all lessons observed and this practice is commended.


An excellent teacher-student rapport was evident during all lessons. This created an atmosphere where students engaged enthusiastically with lesson activities and received appropriate affirmation and direction from their teachers. This is commended.




It was evident during the inspection that in St. Joseph's Secondary School MTW and CS students' work is regularly assessed. Best practice in respect of assessment of and for learning was observed when teachers graded and commented on the quality of students' practical and project work, drawings and notes completed during lessons. Homework is regularly set and corrected and the practices adopted by the MTW and CS subject teachers are informed by the school's formal homework policy. This is commended.


Formal Christmas and end-of-year examinations are also held each year. Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students sit mock examinations in the second term each year.


The results of assessments are recorded systematically and used to identify trends in students' achievement, to inform future teaching strategies and to address the needs of individual learners. These practices are commended.


Parents are regularly informed of the nature of students’ progress in MTW and CS. Regular school reports, comments written on homework and in the student's journal together with parent-teacher meetings are used for this purpose. Further contact may also be organised if required.


Students displayed a high level of enthusiasm for the subjects during the inspection and their subject-specific knowledge and skills, relative to age and ability, were appropriate.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:


·      Provision for MTW and CS in the school is good.


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 Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.





Published  February 2009