An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Metalwork and Engineering
St. Brendanís Community School
Birr, County Offaly
Roll number: 91491L
Date of inspection: 24 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Metalwork and Engineering
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Brendanís Community School as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Metalwork and Engineering 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. 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 principal and subject teachers.
The technological curriculum in St. Brendanís Community School comprises Metalwork and Engineering, together with Materials Technology (Wood), Construction Studies, Technical Graphics and Technical Drawing. It was clear from observations and discussions in the school that management displays a keen interest in the ongoing development of the technology subjects. Engineering and Metalwork are no exception to this.
There are three fully qualified Engineering/Metalwork teachers in the school. All three teachers generally teach Metalwork at junior cycle level each year and while this is not currently the case in relation to Leaving Certificate Engineering it is common for this subject to be shared among teachers also. This practice helps to maintain and enrich the level of teaching expertise available in the school. Teachers generally retain their classes from year to year. This is good practice as it provides continuity for students of the subjects in the different cycles.
There are two Metalwork/Engineering workshops in the school (one junior and one senior workshop). Both workshops are well maintained but are short on appropriate storage facilities for studentsí project work. This can result in students misplacing or forgetting to take their work (or parts thereof) with them to lessons. The workshops are currently benefiting from the health and safety grant allocated to the school by the Department of Education and Science for the subjects. Provision of the grant, for example, has already resulted in numerous items of old machinery in both workshops being replaced with newer equipment. Many hand tools have also been replaced, or new types have been acquired. Detailed records were reviewed in relation to the spending of this grant. These indicated that it was being utilised in accordance with circular letter PBU5/2005. Teachers should familiarise themselves with the schoolís health and safety statement and instigate a review, if appropriate, to the section relating to the subjects.
Other than the provision of one computer numerically controlled (CNC) lathe in the senior workshop, there are no ICT facilities available for either teacher or student use in the workshops. The workshops would benefit from having a computer (with internet access) for teacher use, as well as a fixed digital projector or interactive white board. While it is acknowledged that students do have access to the schoolís computer room it was reported that this facility is rarely utilised in the context of the subjects. Students, particularly those in examination classes, should be provided with access to ICT facilities in the subjects. Internet access, for example, can act as a research tool for design ideas for projects. Further, it is important that the school makes those ICT facilities acquired under the auspices of the curricular grant for Design and Communication Graphics accessible to all students who study any of the technology subjects.
Some examples of studentsí project work were on display in the senior workshop. These contribute to making the workshop a stimulating learning environment. They also provide those students whose work is displayed with a sense of fulfilment and achievement while simultaneously providing those who donít study the subjects, and others, with a greater knowledge of the subjects. It is suggested that a similar display area be re-erected in the junior workshop. It is important also that such displays are changed regularly.
The school offers students short taster courses in their optional subjects, to include Metalwork, at the start of their first year in the school. It was reported that the number of students opting to study Metalwork has increased on a yearly basis since 2001. At the time of the inspection there were two class groups studying the subject in both second and third year of the junior cycle and teachers were expecting two class groups to emerge in first year at the conclusion of the taster courses. Junior cycle classes are generally provided with five 35/40 minute lesson periods per week in the subject, which is adequate, and there is an appropriate balance between single and double lesson periods in this provision. Currently, Metalwork is timetabled opposite different subjects in each of the three years of the junior cycle indicating that studentsí subject preferences play a considerable role in the timetabling arrangements for the subject each year. This is good practice.
All Transition Year (TY) students study a module in Engineering. These students are provided with one double and one single lesson period in the subject each week for the duration of the module. The TY written programme for Engineering, which was made available for inspection, would benefit from the inclusion of more detail, particularly in the case of its links with other subjects, as well as details of the project work to be made by the students. The school is to be commended for providing all TY students with the opportunity to experience Engineering. While there is a real awareness among teachers that the TY offers one method of encouraging girls into engineering, this has proved difficult in practice.
Currently, one class group studies Engineering in each of fifth and sixth year of the Leaving Certificate. It was reported that the up-take of the subject at this level has been on the rise over recent years. Classes at this level are also provided with five 35/40 minute lesson periods per week and there is an appropriate balance between single and double lesson periods in this provision. Engineering is also timetabled opposite different subjects in each year of the Leaving Certificate indicating that studentsí subject preferences play a considerable role in the timetabling arrangements for the subject each year. Engineering was offered as a vocational specialism option for Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students in the past (it rotated each year with Graphics and Construction Studies). It was explained, however, that this option no longer exists, primarily as a result of limited teacher availability. It is suggested that this matter might be revisited in the future.
Despite the operation of taster courses for first year students, and the fact that all TY students (both boys and girls) experience Engineering, there remains a distinct gender difference in favour of boys studying Metalwork and Engineering. Teachers need to explore other ways of promoting the subjects to all students, including girls, at available opportunities. This could involve promoting the subjects during visits to feeder primary schools, as well as developing a simple, but attractive, brochure describing the subjects and outlining their possible career paths. A brochure like this would help to promote a more positive image of the subjects among students and their parents. Consideration could also be given to holding parent-teacher meetings in the workshops. This would give parents an even greater insight into the subjects.
School management facilitates teachers in attending professional development courses wherever possible. Most recently, staff attended a professional development course provided by T4 (the Technology Subjects Support Service) concerning the new Leaving Certificate Engineering syllabus. The subject teachers are members of a relevant professional association and school management encourages this. This is commendable. Teachers regularly enter studentsí projects in the local and national Young Engineer competition.
The subjects Metalwork and Engineering operate as a subject department in the school and the relevant teachers jointly coordinate the department. Regular formal planning meetings, which are facilitated by management, are held throughout the year. A wide range of pertinent issues is discussed at these meetings (for example, health and safety issues, equipment and materials, studentsí examination results and projects) and appropriate records are kept. Consideration should also be given to sharing experiences at these meetings with regard to teaching methods. Frequent informal meetings of teachers are also a feature of the department. There is liaison with other technological teachers in the school, but these links could be exploited more, particularly in the context of cross-curricular work and collaborative teaching. The TY programme in particular offers plenty of opportunities for the development of such work.
A subject department plan was made available for inspection. The bulk of this plan comprised schemes of work for Junior Certificate Metalwork and Leaving Certificate Engineering. These schemes are comprehensive in nature and were developed collaboratively by the teachers. They were also circulated widely for comment during their compilation. There was also evidence to suggest that the schemes are reviewed annually and revised accordingly. The teachers are to be commended for this work. As a next step, consideration should be given to expanding the plan to include other relevant information pertaining to the subjects (for example, details of syllabus content, time allocations for classes, class organisation and homework details, as well as information on resources, teachersí record keeping and cross-curricular work).
There was particularly good planning in evidence for studentsí project work at junior cycle level. Projects at this level are plentiful, varied and innovative, and are pitched at a suitable level for students. At TY level consideration could be given to undertaking projects that go beyond the workshop environs. Project work at Leaving Certificate level is based primarily on past state examination project work. Teachers should endeavour to include in their schemes of work more examples of projects that incorporate elements of new technologies (for example, electronics, pneumatics and CNC).
All students of the subjects, except first year and TY students, use textbooks. The school operates a second-hand bookshop as a means of supporting students in acquiring their textbooks. Examination students also use books of past examination papers. Teachers have produced handouts to accompany the different projects that students make during lessons. These were widely used in those lessons observed and helped to provide students with clarity and direction in their work. Consideration could be given to developing worksheets for use with students at the conclusion of a theoretical topic or a practical project. These resources would help to consolidate studentsí learning even further. Greater use could also be made of ICT in the preparation of handouts and worksheets. There is a culture of teachers sharing resources and this is commendable.
Junior and senior cycle classes were visited during the inspection. These included both theory and practical lessons. Each lesson was well prepared in advance. Appropriate monitoring of studentsí attendance and punctuality took place in those classes visited.
Teacher demonstrations and explanations are a common feature of lessons. In practical lessons, for example, demonstrations are regularly given at the commencement of a new topic or metalworking process. Occasionally, students were asked to participate in demonstrations and this resulted in the consolidation of their learning. It is always important to ensure that all students have a good view of demonstration areas. Explanations that accompanied demonstrations were always made in a simple and clear manner. Regular questioning by the teacher was used as a means of determining studentsí levels of understanding. Health and safety issues were prioritised as appropriate during demonstrations. Practical examples of subject matter covered in theory lessons were at hand to show students where possible. This removed the abstract from lessons and provided students with concrete and tangible experiences that they could easily identify with. This is commendable.†
A good work ethic was present in each of the lessons observed. In the practical lessons, for example, students were at all times engaged in purposeful work. Students had a clear routine with regard to entering the workshop and preparing themselves for practical work. They were comfortable and confident in using a wide range of hand tools and machinery. Effective use was made of the blackboard and the overhead projector during theory lessons. In some instances, however, teachers would need to assess carefully the contribution made to studentsí learning in situations which involve them transcribing passages from their textbooks into their subject copies. Overall, the teaching and learning process in the subject area would benefit from regular integration of ICT.
Studentsí participation levels in lessons were increased through the use of effective questioning and it was clear from their level of participation at such times that learning was taking place in abundance. Questions varied in their demands and students were always given adequate time to reflect before answering questions. They were also effectively affirmed for any correct answers given and were provided with adequate time to ask questions themselves. Questions were regularly asked of individual students and care was taken to ensure that all students were included in the process. In most instances, teachers referred to students by their first names. This gave them a sense of belonging and security within the workshops.
Teachers regularly moved around their workshop during both theory and practical lessons interacting with students. This had the effect of keeping students on task and individual attention was given where appropriate. It was clear from discussions with students that they enjoyed studying Metalwork and Engineering. Their high levels of satisfaction were generally anchored in the type of project that they were involved in making. It is important therefore to ensure that projects at all levels are stimulating, challenging and student-friendly.
There was effective classroom management in all lessons with the result that classroom discipline was sensitively maintained, and there was an ordered and positive atmosphere. There was clear evidence of excellent teacher-student and student-student relationships in all of the classes visited.
All non-state examination classes in the school sit formal tests at Christmas and at the summer. State examination classes sit Christmas and mock examinations. In all cases reports are sent home. The results of these examinations in the case of Metalwork and Engineering are usually based on studentsí performance in both their theory and practical work. This mirrors the procedures employed in the state examinations and is therefore an accurate indicator of overall progress. Concurrent testing is sometimes applied at junior cycle level as there are generally two class groups studying Metalwork in each year at this level. These are considered to be good practices.
A range of other assessment modes is implemented regularly by way of continually assessing student performance. Project work undertaken by students in lessons, for example, is graded on an ongoing basis. Other techniques include oral questioning during lessons, as well as the administration of class tests and homework.
A sample of studentsí homework journals was observed. From examination of these journals it was clear that students do not regularly record homework in the subjects. It is important that students are allocated homework regularly. In the case of those students that struggle with traditional forms of homework, teachers should explore allocating non-traditional types. Consideration could be given to making use of workbooks that accompany most textbooks in this respect. Homework should be recorded, corrected and informative feedback should regularly be given to students.
Teachers keep records with regard to studentsí examination results, their attendance, punctuality and their behaviour. They also keep simple but accurate records of work covered in individual lessons. As a result, they are well positioned to give accurate feedback on student performance at parent-teacher meetings. There is usually one such meeting held each year for examination classes. In the case of other classes it is important to ensure that there is also good communication between the subject teachers and studentsí homes. While it was reported that the annual parent-tutor meetings do provide a good level of liaison it is suggested that parent-teacher meetings themselves would prove more informative and effective, particularly from the perspective of parents.
In the recent past some students have achieved national recognition for their achievements in the subject area. Students are encouraged by their teachers to take their subjects at higher level. It was reported that state examination results are analysed annually by management and the relevant teachers.
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 teachers of Metalwork and Engineering and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published September 2008