Roll number: 64130W
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Pól, Kilfinane. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics 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 and subject teachers.
Home Economics is a very well established and extremely popular subject at both junior cycle and senior cycle at Scoil Pól. This can be attributed to the presence of a very pro-active home economics department that is well supported by management of the school. At the time of this evaluation over half of the junior cycle cohort and almost half of the senior cycle cohort had selected Home Economics, thus illustrating its popularity as a subject choice.
A small number of senior cycle students, mainly boys, undertake the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) Programme and Hotel, Catering and Tourism is a popular vocational specialism with all LCA students. In her role as programme co-ordinator one of the home economics teachers make a great contribution to the LCA programme through co-ordination of work experience and the promotion of a range of extra and co-curricular activities. In addition, the home economics department endeavours to promote Home Economics as a popular subject option by such activities as: marketing of the subject to prospective students and parents at information nights; showcasing student work at school events; hosting of awareness campaigns and the use of local media to publicise subject events. Such initiatives are praiseworthy and should be continued.
There is evidence of a high level of commitment from teachers and management to the organisation, provision, planning and teaching of Home Economics. Students entering first year and senior cycle are provided with an open choice from the variety of optional subjects available. Subsequently option bands are developed based on students’ choices. Such a student centred approach to subject choice is laudable.
There is very good provision and whole-school support for the subject. Class period provision is in line with syllabus recommendations, including at least one double class to facilitate practical coursework. Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required. Teachers have maintained equipment and resources for Home Economics to a very high standard and management is supportive of requests made for the ongoing replacement, servicing and updating of specialist equipment and this should be continued. Classes are organised on a mixed-ability basis and the home economics department is very pro-active in encouraging all students to aim for high academic standards. The school management and teachers are to be commended for encouraging and motivating students to this level. Students and their parents are well supported in choosing subjects and levels within subjects through support from school management, the guidance counsellor and year heads. There is evidence of very good communication between school and home in this regard. The home economics department is to be commended on its active role in providing advice for prospective students.
Management’s support of the teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) is praiseworthy. Teachers are encouraged to participate in Teacher Professional Networks and they have participated in a variety of in-service training sessions for example those provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service. In addition, management organises school-based in-service on such topics as positive behaviour and teaching the reluctant learner and this work is ongoing in the context of school development planning.
Deployment of staff is sensitive to students’ needs and effective use is made of the experience and expertise of home economics teachers in catering for the needs of students including those with special educational needs (SEN). The home economics teachers liaise with the learning support department in the school on an ongoing basis and materials are adapted to suit the needs and abilities of students as appropriate. There is evidence of good support for students with SEN. Teachers are made aware of any students with SEN and individual education plans are drawn up, implemented and reviewed accordingly.
The home economics department has developed its own guidelines for hygiene and safety and is involved in the current review of the schools health and safety statement to ensure compliance with current legislation. There is evidence of very good health and safety practices in home economics classes and reference is made to food hygiene and safety in the planning documents for Home Economics.
Teachers have access to a shared overhead projector (OHP), television and video/DVD equipment. As the home economics teachers make regular use of the OHP, management should provide a dedicated OHP for use in the kitchen as soon as is practicable. The home economics kitchen has one computer. However it is somewhat inaccessible and underused due to its current location. Access to the school’s computer rooms can be pre-arranged by the teachers, subject to availability. Teachers use information and communication technologies (ICT) in class preparation and in the delivery of lessons; however teachers have a great desire to incorporate more ICT into teaching and learning. Students are also encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics during their computer classes and their own study time. Considering the willingness of teachers to integrate ICT into lessons it is recommended that management continue to encourage and support this initiative in the context of continued improvement of ICT to enhance teaching and learning, as more technology becomes available and expertise is developed over time. A positive start would be the installation of a data projector in the kitchen and the provision of a shared laptop computer and printer. In addition, the training and up-skilling of teachers should continue to be encouraged as appropriate to assist the integration of ICT into teaching and learning.
There is one specialist room which functions as a kitchen and a textiles room. The kitchen is extremely well maintained, organised and well resourced with a range of equipment necessary for the teaching of the subject. There are a number of contextual issues, which point to the lack of suitability of the existing kitchen to act as a textiles room. Firstly, there is very high uptake of Home Economics at both junior and senior cycle; including the uptake in LCA Hotel, Catering and Tourism, therefore students need to have appropriate access to the kitchen to undertake food and culinary skills as required in the syllabuses. Secondly, two teachers have to share the kitchen on a rotational basis to conduct practical work in food and textiles. Thirdly, having observed the kitchen layout and organisation, it is important to note that this specialist room was originally designed to accommodate 20 students for practical classes therefore in the context of safe work practices it is recommended that management endeavour to keep classes to a safe and reasonable size. Fourthly, the kitchen is not considered appropriate for the teaching of the textiles component of the programme due to such health and safety issues as inappropriate table heights and trailing flexes from sewing machines. The lack of suitable storage space for textiles equipment and project work contributes to the problem. Therefore, in the context of students having access to their full curriculum entitlements, with regard to practical work and bearing in mind health and safety considerations and the requirements of the syllabuses for Home Economics it is recommended that the provision of an additional newly refurbished specialist room for textiles should be progressed in line with best practice guidelines in the context of future developments at the school. The addition of ICT facilities to such a textiles room would further enhance its use.
The school currently has one full time teacher of Home Economics who acts as subject convenor and another part-time teacher who is shared with a neighbouring school. Both teachers work collaboratively and display very good practice with regard to communication and collaboration for the benefit of students and are to be commended for the skilful way in which they endeavour to overcome difficulties with regard to lack of opportunities for planning and the sharing of facilities.
Management is supportive of subject department planning as part of its commitment to progressing School Development Planning (SDP) and the home economics teachers arrange subject department meetings at least once a term in their own time. In addition they meet informally every Thursday. Agenda are decided in advance of departmental meetings and records of subject department meetings are maintained. The monitoring and review of subject plans to meet students’ needs is built into subject department meetings and issues arising are regularly communicated to the principal.
Long-term planning for Home Economics is at an advanced stage. An impressive subject plan has been developed for Home Economics, which includes details on the organisation, planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subject. This subject plan is grounded in the school’s mission statement and includes information on methodologies and information on teaching resources, grouping for learning, homework, assessment, record keeping, reporting mechanisms, health and safety, co- and cross-curricular activities and addressing students’ needs. In addition outline plans of work have been drawn up for each year group. These plans are syllabus based; time bound and provide a clear outline of the content and the proposed teaching methodology to be undertaken each term. Individual teachers adapt the main subject department plan to facilitate their own individual planning. State Examination Commission marking schemes, chief examiners’ reports, syllabuses and teacher guidelines are well utilised as resources to inform the planning at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels. There was evidence of teachers being reflective in that plans are reviewed regularly and amendments are made as appropriate. The department is complimented on its planning which is creative, thoughtful and reflective.
In the context of planning for course work it is praiseworthy that the good practice of developing the design brief process from an early stage in junior cycle, in both food studies and practical textiles work is adopted. This approach will enable students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of analysis, investigation, problem solving, action planning and evaluation.
An impressive Textile Studies programme is implemented at junior cycle which fully complies with syllabus requirements despite the lack of a specialist room for textiles. This involves the development of skills in such areas as basic hand stitches and then proceeds to using the sewing machine and in time the completion of a simple household article and an item of clothing. This incremental development of students’ skills is commendable.
Teachers are commended for their efforts in extending learning beyond the classroom. There is a focused approach to cross-curricular activity for the development of student tasks for LCA Hotel, Catering and Tourism, as well as visits to hotels and restaurants to support and enhance learning. Furthermore, the teachers engage in cross-curricular planning with regard to Business, Science and other practical subjects. Students are also encouraged to enter annual subject related competitions.
In addition to the existing school library the home economics department has established an in class mini-library/resource area offering a variety of learning resources including reference books, leaflets and commercially prepared resource packs. While the provision of resources to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics is adequate, ongoing investment in the development and expansion of resources to support teaching and learning in Home Economics is suggested in the context of students’ needs.
In general, the high standard of planning and preparation observed in Home Economics is reflective of the dedication of the subject teachers to the ongoing development of Home Economics as a popular subject option.
The quality of advance planning, individual lesson preparation and teaching and learning were exceptionally high in both the practical and theory lessons observed. Short-term planning for lessons, which included the prior preparation of the materials for class, was very good. This resulted in lessons that were clearly focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students. Subject matter was well structured and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning and appropriate integration of theory with practical skills.
Very good subject knowledge was demonstrated by teachers and instruction was clear, accurate and contextualised and frequently supported by the use of a range of relevant visual and tactile stimuli and resources to enhance teaching and consolidate learning such as overheads, student handouts, worksheets, samples and the board. Materials were clearly planned and presented to ensure student learning and retention. Where textbooks were used to aid learning this was generally well planned for and other strategies e.g. questioning and explaining were integrated effectively. Good efforts were made to relate chosen subject matter to the lives of the students and to allow for the integration of skills.
Lesson presentation was characterised by the use of a range of teaching strategies such as oral questioning, individualised learning, demonstration, discussion, explanation, the use of textbook and the board. These strategies were appropriate and effective in engaging students and in aiding their understanding of the topic. Peer learning and student participation demonstrated teachers’ commitment to student-centred education.
Effective questioning and explaining strategies were used in all classes to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding, to support students in the development of higher order thinking skills and to link new information with prior learning. Students’ responses indicated a very good level of previous knowledge. Very good practice was observed where students were encouraged to think, consider, analyse and synthesise issues and answers during activity based learning. This practice is commendable as it assists students in developing higher-order thinking skills and should continue to be incorporated regularly into lessons. With regard to the various mixed-ability classes observed differentiation by questioning was evident in all classes in that all students were included and targeted, thus encouraging the active participation of students who are less able and to provide a challenge for students who are more familiar with the subject matter. Differentiation by teacher intervention was discreetly employed during practical work and this could be further developed across all classes by means of group work, pair work, problem-solving and collaborative learning.
Whole-class instruction was utilised well and there was evidence of some use of active learning in lessons. The home economics department’s stated intention to continue to include more active learning in home economics lessons is fully encouraged as it is likely that students would benefit from more exposure to active learning methods and other differentiated strategies such as pair work, group discussion, debating, role-play, problem-solving and collaborative learning.
The opportunity to observe students engaged in a food studies practical class highlighted the existence of very well established systems of practice and the department’s thorough preparation of students for food and culinary skills practical examinations. During practical work observed, there was an appropriate balance between teacher instruction, demonstration and time to allow students to work independently. An appropriate emphasis on health and safety practices was evident. Students worked collaboratively and participated actively in tasks and are encouraged to undertake evaluations of tasks completed as this informs continuous assessment of their work. There was a commendable concern for students’ understanding of content and for the acquisition of appropriate manipulative skills in practical classes.
With regard to student coursework an impressive range of textiles, childcare projects and LCA student tasks are created to a very high standard. Project work displayed the incremental development of students’ skills in accordance with their level and ability. A high level of competence in terms of organisation and presentation of coursework was clearly evident. It is praiseworthy that good use is made of ICT for both research and presentation of coursework. Teachers should ensure that students develop a clear link with child development when undertaking the Childcare coursework option. Overall, the level of teacher guidance and the evidence of students’ skills, creativity and originality in the area of project work are to be highly commended.
The learning environment of the home economics room is enhanced through the display of a number of educational posters and is to be commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students. Student behaviour was exemplary in all lessons observed, and there was evidence of students being attentive, purposeful, positively motivated and encouraged to participate actively in the learning process. Student-teacher rapport was very good and students’ efforts were encouraged and affirmed. This contributed to a positive classroom atmosphere that was conducive to effective learning.
Students were fully engaged in the learning activities and demonstrated very good understanding of subject knowledge and various skills in practical work appropriate to their class group and level. The students responded well to questions and the good practice of basing homework activities on the work completed in class was evident. Indicating what will happen in the next class as observed in many classes provides continuity in learning and gives students a sense of their progress. Student work examined included very good examples of well-organised folders containing a variety of materials relevant to all aspects of the syllabuses. The teachers set very high expectations for students, encourage learner autonomy, carry out thorough monitoring and appraisal of student work regularly and promote good study and revision practices. Students’ enthusiasm for Home Economics was tangible and they have a sense of pride and achievement in their work. The approaches to teaching and learning as outlined above reflect many of the principles of best practice.
The home economics department has developed its own guidelines for homework, assessment, record keeping and reporting and clear procedures are in place for regular assessment of student learning. Homework is assigned regularly and subsequently either marked by the teachers or reviewed as a class activity. In order to assure the quality of work presented by students, very good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring of the student notebooks and folders. In relation to formative assessment some useful teacher comments, provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done, this could be further developed across all year groups.
A consciousness of examination standards and associated practical requirements informs the work of the home economics teachers. Relevant State Examination Commission (SEC) documentation is used to inform assessment procedures employed. An extensive range of assessment modes is utilised to determine student progress and competence and to ensure that each student has ample experience in examination techniques. These include oral questioning, written exercises, topics tests, some assessment of project and practical work and end-of-term examinations. The home economics department operates a system of continuing assessment culminating in end of term reports to parents. In so far as possible the grades awarded for Home Economics examinations during the year are an aggregated mark for written tests, food and culinary skills practical work and projects completed during that term. The home economics department in conjunction with management analyses student achievement in State examinations and this informs future planning.
Effective communication with parents is maintained through school reports, the student journal and there are annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group. Practices and procedures in relation to assessment and achievement in Home Economics are highly commendable.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics is a very well established and extremely popular subject at both junior cycle and senior cycle at Scoil Pól as evidenced by its high uptake.
· There is a very good level of resource provision and whole school support for the subject.
· There is evidence of a high level of commitment from teachers and management to the organisation, provision, planning and teaching of the subject.
· There is evidence of very good support for students with special educational needs.
· Teachers use information and communication technologies in class preparation and in the delivery of lessons.
· An impressive subject plan has been developed for Home Economics, which includes details on the organisation, planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subject. In addition, outline plans of work have been drawn up for each year group.
· The design brief process is adopted from an early stage in junior cycle, in both food studies and practical textiles work.
· An impressive Textile Studies programme is implemented at junior cycle, which fully complies with syllabus requirements despite the lack of a specialist room for textiles.
· In addition to the existing school library the home economics department has established an in class mini-library/resource area offering a variety of learning resources including reference books, leaflets and commercially prepared resource packs.
· The quality of advance planning, individual lesson preparation, teaching and learning was exceptionally high in both the practical and theory lessons observed.
· Very good subject knowledge was demonstrated by teachers and instruction was clear, accurate and contextualised and frequently supported by the use of a range of relevant visual and tactile stimuli and resources.
· Very well established systems of practice and the department’s thorough preparation of students for food and culinary skills practical examinations were evident.
· There was a commendable concern for students’ understanding of content and for the acquisition of appropriate manipulative skills in practical classes.
· The impressive range of project work displayed the incremental development of students’ skills in accordance with their level and ability.
· Student behaviour was exemplary, and there was evidence of students being attentive, purposeful, positively motivated and encouraged to participate actively in the learning process.
· Students were fully engaged in the learning activities and demonstrated very good understanding of subject knowledge and various skills in practical work appropriate to their class group and level.
· The teachers set very high expectations for students, encourage learner autonomy, carry out thorough monitoring and appraisal of student work regularly and promote good study and revision practices.
· The home economics department has developed its own guidelines for homework, assessment, record keeping and reporting and clear procedures are in place for regular assessment of student learning.
· An extensive range of assessment modes is utilised to determine student progress and competence and to ensure that each student has ample experience in examination techniques.
· The home economics department operate a system of continuing assessment culminating in end-of-term reports to parents.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· Considering the willingness of teachers to integrate ICT into home economics lessons it is recommended that management continue to encourage and support the improvement of ICT to enhance teaching and learning, as more technology becomes available and expertise is developed over time.
· In the context of safe work practices it is recommended that management endeavour to keep classes to a safe and reasonable size.
· Bearing in mind health and safety considerations and the requirements of the syllabuses for Home Economics it is recommended that the provision of an additional newly refurbished specialist room for textiles should be progressed in line with best practice guidelines in the context of future developments at the school.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Home Economics at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.