An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
St. John’s College, De La Salle,
Le Fanu Road, Ballyfermot,Dublin 10
Roll Number: 60510M
Date of inspection: 1 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. John’s College, De La Salle Ballyfermot, Dublin 10. 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 two days 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 home economics teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St. John’s College is an all-boys’ voluntary secondary school under the patronage of the De La Salle Brothers. Home Economics was introduced to the school’s curriculum over twenty years ago and the subject makes a significant contribution to the breath and balance of the junior and senior cycle programmes offered in the school. The school’s management and the home economics team are commended for their continued commitment to the on-going development of Home Economics in the school.
It is laudable that Home Economics is an integral part of all curricular programmes offered in St. John’s College. It was noted positively that Junior Certificate Home Economics is no longer restricted to students participating in the Junior Certificate School Programme. This has resulted in a phasing in of mixed-ability class groups in Home Economics. In this context, the home economics department, in consultation with school management should review the number of students opting to take the ordinary level option in the Junior Certificate examination in Home Economics. Strategies should be explored that, in the medium term, would judiciously increase student aspirations and result in a larger cohort of students opting to take the higher level option, while at the same time keeping in mind student abilities.
It is commendable that first-year option pools are generated based on student preferences. Incoming first-year students make their subject choices at pre-entry stage. They select two optional subjects from a list of five. The strong demand for the subject normally results in the generation of two or three classes groups in each year. However, despite a very strong demand for Home Economics this year, the current deployment of available specialist teaching hours only allowed for the generation of one class group in first year. As there are two home economics teachers on the staff, it is recommended that the deployment of the teaching hours be reviewed with a view to making Home Economics available to as wide a number of students as possible. One possible suggestion is for management, in consultation with the home economics team, to review to the number of class periods per week assigned to each group, bearing in mind any contextual factors relating to specific class groups. In reviewing timetable provision, due consideration must also be given to the timetabling recommendations outlined in home economics syllabuses.
For the Leaving Certificate, students select the established Leaving Certificate programme or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) Programme. It is praiseworthy that the home economics co-ordinator makes a presentation to all third-year students in an effort to promote the subject. Other initiatives to help students with subject selection include an open day for prospective first-year students and their parents. Consideration could also be given to producing a simple, but attractive, brochure describing the optional subjects and outlining possible career paths. This could be distributed to parents and would help project a positive image of the subjects both inside and outside the school. To facilitate as many students as possible, Home Economics is offered on two option lines in fifth year. This is good practice. Hotel, Catering and Tourism is offered as a vocational specialism in LCA. This ensures that students who took Home Economics for their Junior Certificate and progress into LCA can build on the knowledge and skills already developed in junior cycle.
There is very good whole-school support for the subject. There are two specialist rooms and a dedicated classroom for Home Economics. Both specialist rooms are well resourced. In 2005 the kitchen was extended and extensively re-furbished to a very high standard, which is indicative of senior management’s commitment to the on-going development of Home Economics. As well as the basic specialist equipment, the home economics department has dedicated overhead projectors and access to a television and video recorder. As a further support for students, all ingredients for food studies and textiles materials are supplied by the school. This is commendable practice.
While there is good provision for Home Economics a number of issues require attention regarding the timetabling of individual classes. In a number of cases, while the total time allocation to a class is very generous, the lessons are distributed over two days. In the case of a senor cycle class for example, one triple lesson is timetabled for the last three classes on Wednesday, one single is on Thursday morning and a double lesson occupies the last two classes on Thursday afternoon. In the case of a junior cycle class, one double lesson is timetabled for Wednesday and a second double on Thursday. These timetabling arrangements are unsatisfactory as the lessons are tightly concentrated over two days, resulting in a gap of almost one week between lessons. This makes effective continuity in teaching and learning very difficult. In addition, there are instances where a number of home economics lessons for the same class are scheduled at different times on the same day. In the case of an LCA group, for example, two double lessons are timetabled on Tuesday; one double for the first two classes in the morning and a second double for the last two classes coming up to lunchtime. Similarly, a fifth-year Leaving Certificate group has three single lessons timetabled at different times on Wednesday morning. This timetabling arrangement impacts negatively on the quality of teaching and learning. Students who are absent on a day when a number of home economics lessons are scheduled are particularly affected. This arrangement also affects the pacing of lessons and slows down the introduction of new content, thus impacting on effective progress through a syllabus. It is recommended that management, in consultation with the teaching team, review and plan for the future timetabling arrangements of Home Economics. Discussions should focus on the weekly number, arrangement and distribution of lessons for the subject. Particular attention should be given to the timetabling of Home Economics to ensure that students will benefit from a more even distribution of class contact time throughout the week in the interests of continuity and effective progress in teaching and learning.
A strong commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) is evident among the teaching team. The home economics teachers have attended the in-service training sessions and evening cluster meetings provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service (HESS). A member of the teaching team is involved in the marking of the Junior Certificate examinations in Home Economics. In addition, some whole-school in-service has been provided on learning styles and literacy development. It is obvious that the experience gained has impacted positively on the quality of learning and teaching of Home Economics in the school. It was noted positively that formal records are kept of key points of information from each in-service course attended, together with a copy of the power point presentation. This good practice ensures that the information is made available to each member of the team and can be referred to as the need arises.
As part of the school’s engagement with school development planning, the process of formal subject department planning began last April. This was facilitated by personnel from the school development planning initiative (SDPI). At present management allocates formal planning time on an ad hoc basis, at the request of a subject team. It is recommended that management consider allocating some regular formal planning time for the purpose of subject department planning, perhaps as part of the calendar of staff meetings. Furthermore, best practice would indicate that an agenda is devised for each department meeting and that a record of any key decisions taken is systematically stored in the department folder for future reference and reflection.
Health and safety routines are well established for Home Economics. The specialist rooms are very well organised. Individual workstations are clearly marked and colourful laminated press labels and information signs ensure that students can familiarise themselves with the room layout and procedures for practicals. Each specialist room is equipped with an appropriate range of health and safety equipment. It is praiseworthy that the teaching team has developed and documented health and safety routines for Home Economics in the department plan. Lists of duties and laminated posters of safety rules are displayed at each work station. In order to build on this good practice, it is recommended that specific safety routines for textile practicals are developed and clearly displayed at each workstation in the textiles room. Consideration should also be given to carrying out an annual audit of each home economics room to highlight maintenance priorities.
There is considerable interest in developing the potential of information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. General access to ICT is limited. There is one computer room with fourteen computers but there is no internet access. While it is commendable that the home economics department has its own computer, it would also benefit, resources permitting, from an upgrade. Management acknowledges that ICT is an area that needs considerable development, as resources permit. As this is a whole-school issue, consideration could be given to establishing contacts with the National Centre for Technology in Education at www.ncte.ie or the IT advisor in the local education centre for further advice and support.
The high level of commitment evident in the home economics department to the process of collaborative subject department planning has proved very effective in progressing subject-specific policies in health and safety, homework, internal assessments, house examinations and record keeping, as well as a very good range of planned co-curricular activities that support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. From reviewing the subject documentation it is evident that a systematic, collaborative and very professional approach is taken to subject planning in Home Economics. It was noted positively that very good use has been made of the planning material issued by HESS in the compilation of the subject planning folder. It is important to note that subject planning by its nature will always be work in progress and, as such, will always demonstrate room for advancement and revision. Therefore, it is important to monitor regularly and review the implementation of subject-specific polices. As part of an annual review of Home Economics, the teaching team should analyse student outcomes as evidenced by results in the certificate examinations. However, it would be important to bear in mind any specific contextual factors as part of this exercise. The outcomes of this exercise should inform reflective debate on the teaching and learning of Home Economics and the general whole-school provision for the subject.
Long-term curricular planning is underway and there are schemes of work for each year group. There is a commendable willingness to develop collaboratively, review and monitor these plans. The current plans contain a list of the theoretical topics that are covered in each year of the junior and senior cycle programmes. Further details of some topics are presented in terms of learning outcomes. This good practice should be extended. All schemes of work would benefit from the inclusion of more specific timeframes for each topic and should include reference to learning outcomes for each module or topic in terms of students’ expected knowledge and understanding. Particular attention should be given to sequencing lessons in a manner that maximises the integration of theoretical knowledge with practical skills. Information on suitable methodologies for the planned work and the identification of appropriate resources and homework assignments specific to each topic or module should also be included. This work should be implemented on a phased basis, and in a spirit of teamwork and collaboration, for example, one junior and one senior plan per annum could be progressed. Further advice on planning a programme of work in Home Economics is available in the NCCA Guidelines for Teachers for the revised Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus. As the plans are reviewed, attention should be given to evaluating the success of the teaching strategies used in order to maximise student learning.
A variety of practical coursework is planned in the areas of textiles and design and craftwork for Junior Certificate Home Economics. Observation of students’ recent and current project work in the area of design and craftwork indicated some variation in the skill factor displayed. Therefore it is recommended that planning for the design and craftwork optional study for Junior Certificate Home Economics be reviewed. This review may have a knock-on effect on the textiles items made for the core textiles section of the syllabus. It is worth noting that the Chief Examiners’ Reports and associated marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission are very useful for further guidance and advice on the coursework components. These documents are available at www.examinations.ie.
The introduction of the design brief process from an early stage in first year should be considered in the areas of food and textile studies. This strategy would support students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation and provides additional opportunities to integrate theory and practice.
A range of commercial resources support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. In addition, worksheets and posters have been developed by individual teachers. These resources are systematically stored and catalogued to ensure easy access by each member of the team. A commendable willingness to share materials was evident among the home economics teachers.
Coursework in Home Economics necessitates access to a range of updated information. It is commendable that a variety of leaflets is available to students and on display on a dedicated notice board in the kitchen. In order to build on this initiative, the teaching team could consider developing a small resource library in one of the specialist rooms where books, videos, DVDs and pamphlets on topics relevant to Home Economics could be displayed and be easily accessible to home economics students and teachers alike. Management is requested to consider supporting the ongoing investment in the maintenance and expansion of this resource library, as resources permit. This could contribute to the continued development and promotion of literacy across the curriculum.
High quality teaching and learning was evident in all the lessons observed. Very good short-term planning, which included the preparation and effective use of additional resources such as worksheets, posters and exemplars of a variety of food products, ensured that good learning outcomes were achieved in all the lessons observed. It was noted positively that lesson content was planned in a manner that integrated related topics, as recommended in the junior and senior cycle home economics syllabuses. However, when planning lessons it is advisable to refer to the official syllabus documents to establish the depth of treatment required for each topic.
The focus of each lesson was shared with the students. At the beginning of one lesson key learning outcomes for the topic were discussed with the students, highlighted on the blackboard and referred to at various stages throughout the lesson. These outcomes scaffolded the lesson structure and enabled students to maintain a clear focus throughout the lesson. This good practice, which is one of key principles underpinning Assessment for Learning (AfL), is encouraged as a strategy that would allow students to consolidate their learning and facilitate the self-evaluation of work covered in the lesson.
Students responded well to the effective use of a range of teaching strategies that were appropriate to the delivery of the revised home economics syllabuses. There was a good balance between teacher input and student activity in all the lessons evaluated. Teachers displayed excellent subject knowledge and explanations were clear, accurate and contextualised. Brainstorming exercises were used to very good effect to establish students’ prior knowledge and experiences of the new topics being introduced. Some very good use was made of “mind maps” as a tool to summarise topics on the blackboard. Their further use could be considered to highlight key points and interrelationships between topics.
Some very good practices were evident with regard to reinforcing and checking students’ understanding of the language of Home Economics. In all specialist rooms posters highlighted the key words associated with the topics currently being taught and throughout lessons a commendable emphasis was placed on explaining the technical language associated with the topic. Such good practices are encouraged to help students improve literacy and develop the necessary linguistic skills in preparation for the written examinations.
Some strategies used to summarise lesson content and consolidate learning are particularly praiseworthy. One good example observed was where individual students had to explain two new pieces of information that they had learned in the lesson. It was obvious that this strategy consolidated learning effectively and provided additional opportunities for the teacher to affirm student contributions and provide additional clarification on new points of information. Questioning strategies also checked understanding of lesson content. Questions were frequently directed to individual students, which is an excellent method of monitoring individual student learning and avoiding chorus answering. On occasion, students were challenged by questioning to analyse and apply information. This highly commendable practice should be incorporated into all lessons to promote higher order thinking.
Students displayed a commendable ability to work individually and in pairs. In the practical lesson observed, the preparation, cooking and serving of dishes were effectively “staged” through spot demonstrations which illustrated the key food preparation and cooking processes to students and reinforced the application of scientific principles to practical skills. This typifies best practice in the teaching of food studies. Students generally displayed a good standard of culinary skills and sound safety and hygiene routines were evident. It is recommended, where feasible, that the evaluation stage is included as an integral component of the lesson rather than as a homework exercise. This evaluation could be carried out individually, in pairs or in a larger group, depending on the time available. This would facilitate the development of student skills in the critical appraisal of a completed task.
A caring, affirming and supportive learning atmosphere permeated all home economics lessons. Excellent classroom routines were evident at all times. The caring, sensitive and fair manner by which individual teachers insisted on student compliance with theses routines is highly commended. This ensured that a high level of mutual respect characterised all student and teacher interactions.
The learning environment was greatly enhanced by the displays of students’ project work, photographs of student achievements and a variety of appropriate educational posters. A range of student work together with a variety of colourful posters, some of which were prepared by the teaching staff, contributed to a lively, print-rich learning environment. The poster outlining the various career paths for home economics students is particularly laudable as a means of promoting the subject. These practices engage student interest and promote a sense of student ownership and responsibility for the creation of a stimulating learning environment. Consideration could be given to developing a thematic notice board for Home Economics adjacent to one of the home economics rooms to provide topical information to the general student body on issues that related to Home Economics.
An assessment and examinations policy has been developed for Home Economics. It is commendable that common assessment papers are used where there are two home economics classes in a particular year group. From reviewing a range of examination papers set by the home economics department, it is evident that a range of short answer and long answer questions are used. However, it is recommended that the home economics team review the format of the written examination set for the Christmas and summer assessments to ensure that due consideration is given to the format and style of the relevant State Examinations Commission paper. In addition it is recommended that, as in the certificate examinations, the marks awarded for each part of every question is stated on all papers. This has the advantage of training students in the interpretation of marking schemes and in other examination techniques such as timing and depth of treatment required. It is commendable that home economics students are awarded an aggregate mark that includes an assessment of the practical coursework component. In planning the junior cycle examinations, consideration could be given, where feasible, to running a food and culinary skills examination, rather than giving a continuous assessment mark. The relevant State Examinations Commission marking scheme could be used.
Detailed records are kept by teachers of student attendance, progress and behaviour. In addition to the annual parent teacher meetings and the school reports that are sent out at Christmas and after the mock examinations, the home economics department issue a mid-term assessment report to parents or guardians of third-year and sixth-year students. Good use is also made of the student journal to communicate with parents. It is particularly noteworthy that student journals are used to give positive feedback to parents on student progress and that the JCSP postcards are also used. During the course of the evaluation it was reported that non-attendance can be an obstacle to completing the mandatory coursework in Home Economics. The teaching team, in consultation with management, might consider issuing a letter to parents or guardians outlining the coursework requirements for Home Economics and the consequences of non-attendance at practical lessons, particularly in the case of Leaving Certificate Home Economics.
In line with the agreed policy for Home Economics, homework is regularly assigned to students. There were some very good examples of homework promoting independent research and the application of higher order thinking skills such as the analysis and evaluation of information. To develop the homework policy further, it is recommended that the section regarding the monitoring of student work is reviewed. Particular attention should be given to the modus operandi for the correction of student homework and the LCA key assignments. Consideration should be given to how best to balance the amount of homework assigned with the provision of constructive feedback to students. During the course of the evaluation some good practice was evident in student copybooks where useful teacher comments provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. This good practice should be extended, as it enhances learning by informing students about their own individual progress, highlights areas for improvement and ultimately challenges and assists students to reach their full potential. Further information on Assessment for Learning is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website at www.ncca.ie. In addition, the homework policy for Home Economics could outline the subsequent responsibilities of the students on receipt of the marked work. This revised policy should be discussed with students.
Observation of student copybooks and folders indicated some good progression in work but there was some variation in the quality of student work, particularly with regard to the maintenance of notebooks. It would be beneficial if students were encouraged to incorporate the worksheets, handouts and evaluation sheets used in lessons into their notebooks as this would prove them with a useful revision aid.
Students enjoy Home Economics and generally demonstrate a sense of pride in their work. Observation of classroom activities and interaction with students indicated a good level of engagement and genuine enjoyment of the subject. This can be attributed to the commitment and enthusiasm of the home economics teaching team and the supportive learning environment created in home economics lessons.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is a long tradition of Home Economics in St. John’s College, De La Salle. School Management and the home economics team are commended for their commitment to the on-going development of Home Economics in the school.
· Home Economics is an integral part of all curricular programmes offered.
· The two specialist rooms are resourced and maintained to a very high standard.
· A strong commitment to CPD is evident among the teaching team.
· There is considerable interest in developing the potential of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
· High quality teaching and learning was evident in all the home economics lessons observed.
· A caring, affirming and supportive learning atmosphere permeated all home economics lessons.
· A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student progress in Home Economics.
· The home economics department makes very good use of additional written reports and the student journal to communicate with parents and guardians throughout the academic year.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Timetabling issues, as outlined in the report, should be addressed in order to maximise lesson continuity and ensure effective progress in the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
· Management should consider allocating some regular formal planning time for the purpose of subject department planning, perhaps as part of the calendar of staff meetings.
· Planning for the design and craftwork optional study for Junior Certificate Home Economics should be reviewed.
· The homework policy for Home Economics should be reviewed to outline the responsibilities of the students and teachers in the monitoring of work. Particular attention should be given to how best to balance the amount of homework assigned with the provision of constructive feedback to students.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Home Economics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.