An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Metalwork and Engineering
Cashel Community School
Cashel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 91497A
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Metalwork and Engineering
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Cashel Community School, conducted 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 the teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the 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.
Students following the Junior Certificate, Transition Year and the established Leaving Certificate programmes are given the opportunity to choose to study Metalwork and Engineering. The time allocated to these subjects is appropriate, allowing both students and teachers sufficient time to complete the practical, theoretical and project components of the courses. The timetabling of Metalwork and Engineering is appropriate across all year groups and a system of rotation is in operation to provide teachers with the opportunity to teach both subjects to the highest level.
Both members of the metalwork and engineering subject department have attended the Design and Communication Graphics continuing professional development (CPD) courses provided by the Technology Subjects Support Service (t4). Teachers’ attendance at these courses is commended, as it will provide the subject department with the skills necessary to incorporate parametric modelling techniques into Metalwork and Engineering lessons, thereby enhancing the learning experience for students. Additional information and communication technology (ICT) resources have been made available to the subject department under the t4 initiative and these resources are currently being installed. Once installation is complete, these resources will provide the subject department with a useful demonstration and research tool to supplement teaching and learning.
The school has two specialist metalwork and engineering rooms and both of these well maintained rooms have adequate storage area. The school has received funding for health and safety purposes as per circular letter PBU 5/2005. Most of this funding has been spent updating and modifying the machinery in both rooms. It is recommended that a list of priorities should be formalised as soon as possible and the procurement of any remaining machines and equipment be completed in a timely manner. While most of the items of equipment that have been sourced are in accordance with those outlined on the current equipment list of the relevant Department of Education and Science DES circulars, there are a number of machines that do not comply. School management should instigate a full risk assessment of these machines and reconsider their suitability in a classroom situation. In addition to this, the subject department should identify safe operational areas for machines in the junior metalwork room and use standard floor demarcation tape to help students to identify machine-exclusion zones. The Department of Education and Science (DES) and State Claims Agency (SCA) publication, Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-primary Schools, should be referenced to assist the subject department with this task.
Students entering first year avail of a subject-sampling programme where they get the opportunity to study all optional subjects before making their optional subject choices. At the end of the sampling period students have an open choice from nine optional subjects. They select five and the nine subjects are then arranged into four option blocks guaranteeing students four from their five choices and in most cases four from their first four choices. This system provides students with the opportunity to choose optional subjects based on their experiences and aptitudes for the subjects. In addition to this, students and parents are further informed through the school’s prospectus, open night and ‘school in action’ day. The measures taken by the school to ensure that students choose the subjects that best suit their individual talents and needs are commended.
The teachers of Metalwork and Engineering form a subject department group. A subject coordinator, a role that forms part of an assistant principal’s post, has been appointed to convene meetings, order consumables and liaise with management. It is recommended that this role be rotated in order to expose all members of the subject department to the various duties attached to the role.
This subject department group meets regularly, both formally and informally, and has compiled individual subject department plans for Metalwork and Engineering. It is suggested that these subject plans be consolidated into one document in order to reduce repetition and overlap. Included in these subject plans are yearly curricular plans that list the required key practical skills and theoretical learning outcomes for students. It is recommended that these plans be reviewed and a common departmental approach to the delivery of both theoretical and practical content be agreed upon.
A number of organisational policies have been developed and included in the subject plan. Examples of these policies include assessment procedures, health and safety procedures and the strategies employed to include students with special educational needs. It is recommended that the subject department further develop its special educational needs planning section by identifying specific strategies to include students who present with such educational needs. The subject department should liase with the school’s learning support team and obtain specific guidelines for teachers of students with mild general learning disabilities in a technology setting from http://www.ncca.ie/uploadedfiles/PP_Tech.pdf, the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
In all lessons observed teachers had prepared material blanks for students prior to the lesson and in some cases, working drawings were prepared in advance on the blackboard. Sample project work was also prepared, providing students with quality examples. This had the effect of helping to raise student expectations and thereby improving their project work.
All lessons observed were practical in nature. After brief introductions, students either continued with their project work or began some element of design work. All lessons observed would have benefited from a clear introduction to the topic or from the reinforcement of previously learned material at the beginning. In doing so, it would have ensured that students were aware of the specified learning outcomes of the lesson and of the criteria for success. This strategy would also help teachers to remain focussed on the key points of each lesson and provide the opportunity for lesson content to be developed and assessed.
The predominant methodology employed throughout the inspection was teacher demonstration at students’ desks. While it is recognised that this is a very useful strategy, the subject department should also consider the increased use of group demonstrations. Class or small-group demonstrations may be a more appropriate use of time and could be supplemented by appropriate guidance and support to individuals. Group demonstrations would also offer teachers the opportunity to focus on specific elements of the process being taught and to identify and revise areas that students found difficult.
In most lessons observed, teachers used the blackboard to highlight working drawings to students. In some lessons, students were encouraged to replicate these drawings in their copybooks. This is a worthwhile exercise as it prepares students for the essential design elements of the syllabuses and ensures that they have accurate working drawings in order to complete their project work. To further enhance this strategy, it may be possible to incorporate a process sheet on one side of the working drawing. This process sheet would help students to follow the required sequence of manufacture and would also promote independent learning among more able students by reducing students’ reliance on teacher instruction.
Teachers’ questioning of students during lessons was infrequent and is an area for further development. To improve the quantity and quality of questioning, teachers should endeavour to link practical and theoretical learning outcomes in lessons. An example of this could be challenging students to list all of the materials that they have used in a specific project and to identify additional applications for these materials or to list and explain the sequence of manufacture of an individual part. By integrating the theoretical and practical strands of the syllabuses, students may consolidate their learning immediately, thereby improving their overall understanding.
A number of traditional and colourful multi-material projects have been developed in order to develop students’ practical skills. Many of these projects are aesthetically appealing especially to junior cycle students. The continued development of educationally worthwhile, interesting-to-make and multi-material based projects is encouraged.
Classroom management was effective in all lessons observed. This was achieved through the use of student seating plans and through the teachers’ constant circulation of the classroom. Efficient methods have been developed to store tools and student project work, resulting in orderly cleaning routines at the end of lessons.
Students were well behaved in all lessons observed. The display of some subject specific posters and student projects helped to create a positive learning environment in one of the classrooms. These practices should be extended to both specialist rooms.Student learning varied considerably in the lessons observed. In some lessons, the majority of students were confused in relation to the various processes that they were completing. In other lessons, students had a clearer understanding of the key skills and their written work was of good quality. In order to promote student understanding in practical lessons, it is recommended that teachers focus on the skills being taught and reinforce the key points regularly throughout the lesson.
The majority of students attempt the higher level in both the Junior Certificate metalwork examination and the Leaving Certificate engineering examinations, and generally achieve quite well at their chosen level. Metalwork students in Cashel Community School have also been successful at both regional and national competitions organised by the Engineering and Technology Teachers’ Association (ETTA). The continued participation and success in these competitions is commended, as it raises the profile of the subject in the school and provides deserving recognition for prizewinners.
The subject department has developed an assessment policy for Metalwork and Engineering where the assessment practices for each year group are outlined. These practices include giving students credit for both practical and theoretical components of examinations and providing feedback on project work.
In a senior cycle lesson observed, students were given very good formative feedback in relation to a design problem that they were working on. This feedback was administered on an individual basis initially and then the key points were reiterated to all students as a group. This is commended. To build on this good practice, teachers should provide students with more written feedback in their copybooks. This would encourage students to maintain good quality copybooks and to complete assigned homework.
Students’ project work is corrected periodically and feedback is given orally to students. This constructive and affirmative feedback enables students to reflect on their learning and to improve their skills by modifying their practice based on the advice and guidance given to them by their teacher. Records of written tests are maintained by teachers. These records enable accurate and up-to-date information pertaining to students’ progress to be conveyed to parents at regular intervals.
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, November 2009