An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of
Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies
Abbeyfeale County Limerick
Roll number: 71870H
Date of inspection: 10 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Materials Technology (wood) and construction studies
This report has been written following a subject inspection in the Vocational School, Abbeyfeale 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 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 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 subject teachers.
Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and Construction Studies (CS) are optional junior and senior cycle subjects respectively in the school. Junior cycle students study MTW as part of the Junior Certificate (JC) or Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) while senior cycle students study CS as part of the Leaving Certificate (LC) or Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).
First-year students study all available optional subjects and make their final subject choices for Junior Certificate when they select two optional subjects at the end of first year to be taken in second and third year. The school organises an information evening for first year parents prior to enrolment and support related to optional subject choice is provided by subject teachers and the guidance counsellor. Optional subject choices are also discussed at parent-teacher meetings. Students entering senior cycle are similarly supported and are initially given an open choice of available optional subjects before option bands are developed. Students then make their final subject selections from these bands. This practice is commended.
All MTW and CS classes are of mixed ability and students sit State examinations at the level appropriate to their abilities. MTW classes in junior cycle are comprised mainly of boys but girls are also represented in all junior cycle class groups. While there is gender balance in the school’s permanent MTW and CS teaching team, and girls have studied CS in the past, it was noted during the evaluation that there are no girls studying CS in the current fifth or sixth year CS classes. It is recommended therefore, that ways to encourage and enable more girls to study CS in senior cycle should be examined by the school.
One of the CS classes is shared between two teachers for practical activities and theory lessons. While this arrangement is intended to optimise the use of the school's MTW and CS resources it is recommended that, where practicable, CS class groups should be taught by the same teacher for all their timetabled allocation in future.
Time allocation for MTW and CS is appropriate and the allocation of double and single class periods reflects good practice. This is commended.
MTW and CS are taught in two specialist rooms. These rooms are well-equipped and maintained. Both rooms are decorated with colourful and informative wall charts and safety signage and provide stimulating visual learning environments for students. This is commended. While a health and safety concern was noted and reported during the evaluation, school management had dealt with it as per a Vocational Education Committee-appointed consultant engineer’s advice by the time post-evaluation meetings were held. Also, the smaller room contains eleven workbenches and a number of machines and as a result circulation space when the room is fully occupied is minimal. It is recommended therefore, that a review of the layout of this room in line with the recommendations in Chapter 4 of the Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-Primary School be carried out to determine whether it is possible to operate safely within the available area taking student numbers in classes currently timetabled for this room into account.
Teachers and students of the subjects have access to appropriate drawing hardware and software in the school's design and communication graphics (DCG) room when required and this is commended.
Teachers have attended subject-specific in-service provided by the Technology Subjects Support Service (T4) over the last two years and they have also availed of whole-school in-service related to the JCSP, inclusion and mixed-ability teaching. This is commended.
The school has a MTW and CS subject department and the role of co-ordinator is rotated among the subject teachers and this is commended.
The subject department meets formally at the beginning of each school year and formal 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 of subject teachers throughout the school year. These arrangements work well in the school.
Comprehensive MTW and CS subject planning documentation has been developed collaboratively by teachers and their excellent work in this area is highly commended.
A range of MTW and CS resources has been developed and is used to support teaching and learning and teachers' work in this area 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 with additional educational needs. This is commended.
Very good teaching of MTW and CS was observed during the inspection.
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 during the lessons observed and a range of strategies was used. Teachers differentiated lesson aims and objectives to meet the needs of class groups which comprised students from a broad range of abilities. Practice in this area is commended.
Students' learning was effectively scaffolded when teachers demonstrated MTW and CS principles and skills incrementally to whole class groups, to smaller groups, and to individual students. These demonstrations are extremely important in both practical and theory MTW and CS lessons as they allow teachers to model, and students to observe, the proper execution of woodworking and construction procedures, processes and associated skills. Formal demonstrations to whole class groups, smaller groups, and individual students were employed and this practice is highly commended.
At the time of the inspection third year MTW and Leaving Certificate CS students were engaged in the completion of project work associated with the State examinations. Teachers were expertly guiding students through the design and make process in the completion of a variety of projects. Teachers' organisation, management and monitoring of the complex task of facilitating this process is highly commended.
Teachers demonstrated best health and safety practices in the completion of all their work and all practical activities that students engaged in were closely monitored in respect of the implementation of appropriate health and safety practices. This approach is highly commended.
An integrated approach to the presentation of theory lessons was adopted during the evaluation, with practical and related theory being taught in tandem. Teachers made excellent use of the chalkboard and information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities to focus students' attention and support their learning. The skills of freehand sketching and concise note-making were modelled by teachers and this approach is commended.
Teachers used and emphasised the terminology associated with MTW and CS when they spoke 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 and teachers using MTW and CS terminology. This is commended.
A variety of individual and group questions, including higher order questions, was used during lessons and this is commended.
Stimulating materials related to lesson topics were used and these promoted the development of students’ learning. 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 MTW and CS rooms and engaged with individual students. During these interactions students' progress in the completion of classroom tasks was assessed and teachers also provided assistance to individual students when this was required. This practice is commended.
The MTW and CS rooms were very well organised and classroom 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 in the competencies exhibited during the completion of practical and theory tasks and in their ability to answer and ask questions during lessons.
Students' MTW and CS drawings, handout materials and notes copies are retained in hard-covered portfolios in the school. The content of portfolios and hardback copies was appropriate and students’ work demonstrated an emphasis on the key theory skills of making of ruled and freehand drawings and supplementing these with 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.
Excellent teacher-student rapport was evident during all lessons evaluated. This created an atmosphere where students enthusiastically engaged with lesson activities and received appropriate affirmation.
In Vocational School, Abbeyfeale MTW and CS all students' work is regularly assessed and 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.
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 or as homework. 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.
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.
The nature of students’ progress in MTW and CS is communicated to parents by means of regular school reports, through the student's journal and during parent-teacher meetings. Further contact may be organised as 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.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Provision for MTW and CS in the school is generally good.
· The school has a MTW and CS subject department.
· Comprehensive planning documentation for MTW and CS has been collaboratively developed by subject teachers and this is being consistently implemented.
· Very good teaching was observed throughout the course of the evaluation.
· Excellent integration of ICT into lesson presentations was observed during the inspection.
· Students exhibited levels of subject-specific knowledge and skills consistent with the range of abilities in classes visited during the evaluation.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-Primary Schools should be used to inform class sizes for MTW and CS classes allocated
to the school's smaller MTW/CS room.
· Ways to encourage and enable more girls to study CS in senior cycle should be examined.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published January 2009