An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Scoil Mhuire, Convent of Mercy
Ennistymon, Co. Clare
Roll number: 61950W
Date of inspection: 10 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Mhuire, Ennistymon. 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. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Scoil Mhuire, Convent of Mercy, Ennistymon, is an all girls Catholic Secondary School with a strong Christian ethos under the Trusteeship of the Sisters of Mercy, Western Province, Ireland. The amalgamation of the three current schools in Ennistymon (Scoil Mhuire, CBS & Vocational School) and the development of a new Community School to provide 650 pupils places under public private partnership PPS has been agreed.
There is a long tradition of Home Economics in Scoil Mhuire and it is an extremely popular subject on the school’s curriculum as evidenced by its high student uptake at both junior-cycle and senior-cycle.
All 56 first year students study Home Economics and this is commendable. Thereafter Home Economics becomes an optional subject in junior-cycle. It is a very popular option as it is selected by an average of 60% of junior-cycle students, which generally results in the formation of two class groups to meet demand. This uptake is substantially above the current average participation rate of students nationally for Junior Certificate Home Economics. In second and third year four class periods are allocated i.e. one double and two single classes, which is in line with syllabus recommendations. Class groups in first year are allocated three class periods i.e. one double and one single class per week. While provision at this level is slightly below the usual four class periods provided in some other schools, Scoil Mhuire ensures that students study the full range of optional subjects in first year. In order to make good this shortfall and continue to enable all first year students to take the subject in first year Home Economics teachers are requested to engage in formal cross-curricular planning in conjunction with Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Science and Business Studies. In doing so teachers involved should endeavour to develop complementary approaches to themes, which are common to each of their syllabuses.
All Transition Year (TY) students participate in a food and culinary skills module of Home Economics for half of the academic year and are allocated a double and a single period. There are 31 students in TY divided into two class groups. The modules are well developed and selected each year on the basis of students’ aptitudes and interests.
In senior-cycle Home Economics is an optional subject within a structure where students are offered an open choice. From these initial student choices optional lines of subjects are created. Students then make their subject choice. Every effort is made to ensure that all students are placed in their subject option of choice. This student-centred approach to subject choice is highly praiseworthy. Home Economics is selected by an average of 70% of students in the current fifth and sixth years, which generally results in the formation of two class group. This uptake is significantly above the current national average participation rate for Leaving Certificate Home Economics illustrating its popularity as a subject choice. In addition the school accommodates “ab initio” study of the subject at senior-cycle. Class period provision at senior-cycle is adequate; classes in fifth and sixth year are allocated five class periods per week, including at least one double class.
Scoil Mhuire collaborates with the neighbouring all-boys’ school in terms of curriculum provision for a number of subjects. TY boys attend Scoil Mhuire for a module in Home Economics and subsequently a small number of boys take up Home Economics for Leaving Certificate. Girls from Scoil Mhuire attend the CBS for some science subjects. This mutual benefiting co-operation is commendable.
The subject benefits from a very good level of resource provision and whole school support, a fact that is acknowledged by the Home Economics teachers. Teaching time is generally in line with syllabus recommendations. Formal time is allocated for the purpose of subject planning at the beginning and end of the academic year. Curriculum documentation is disseminated promptly by management. Teachers are encouraged to participate in subject associations and the board of management is willing to re-imburse membership fees and travel expenses to meetings. The teachers have participated in a variety of in-service training sessions for example those provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service.
Currently there are two Home Economics teachers in the school. School policy determines that the senior department teacher acts as the subject co-ordinator. There is one specialist room which functions as a food studies laboratory and a textiles room. It is reasonably resourced with a range of equipment necessary for the teaching of the subject. However, with regard to the requirements of both Home Economics syllabuses teachers should give further thought to ongoing investment in the upgrading, replacement and maintenance of specialist equipment in the Home Economics room. The concurrent scheduling of double class periods in Home Economics occurs occasionally and places restrictions on the use of the Home Economics room. In the context of two teachers sharing one specialist rooms it is recommended that management should review timetabling so as to avoid this occurrence as this limits the opportunities for students to undertake practical work.
An application to have the Home Economics room refurbished and a suitable extraction system installed has been submitted to the Department of Education and Science. In view of the current poor condition of the Home Economics facility, bearing in mind health and safety considerations and the requirements of the revised syllabus for Leaving Certificate Home Economics it is recommended that a newly refurbished Home Economics room be progressed as a matter of priority for the school in line with best practice guidelines.
A policy on health and safety for the school has been drawn up in consultation with teachers and there is evidence of good health and safety practices in Home Economics classes. Reference is made to food hygiene and safety in the planning documents for Home Economics and classroom rules are on display.
Class groups at both junior-cycle and senior-cycle are of mixed ability. The teachers set very high expectations and the majority of students aspire to higher level. The school management and teachers are to be commended for encouraging and motivating students to this level. Every effort is made to maintain classes at a reasonable size.
Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required. In addition to the provision of an account in the local supermarket for consumables required for class, management endeavours to provide for the purchase of additional resources and equipment on the basis of teacher requisition. Teachers conduct an annual audit on equipment and replacements and new equipment are approved in accordance with annual budgetary allowances.
The Home Economics department makes very good use of the overhead projector and classes have access to a television and video when required. A Home Economics resource area is available to students in order to enhance their learning. It offers a variety of learning resources including reference books, leaflets and commercially prepared resource packs. A small staff library is also provided in the staff room. While the provision of resources to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics is adequate, some consideration should be given to reviewing existing resources and planning for the acquisition and use of further resources in the context of students’ needs.
There is currently no computer in the Home Economics area; however, access to a computer room can be pre-arranged by the teachers, subject to availability. In addition a portable data projector and laptop are available and broadband connectivity enables internet access in all classrooms and specialist rooms. Teachers use Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) mainly in class preparation. They also encourage students to utilise ICT for investigations in Home Economics during their own study time. With the impending provision of a new school it is recommended that the full potential of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics be explored. Furthermore, the school is encouraged to continue its work in planning for and implementing appropriate integration of ICT to maximise the range of teaching and learning strategies in use, appropriate to the needs of students. Some consideration may need to be given to appropriate in-career development for teachers in the area of ICT.
Comprehensive guidance, advice and support are provided to students and their parents to assist them in choosing subjects and levels within subjects. To assist in the process, the guidance counsellor provides modules on subject options in first, third and TY classes as well as individual consultations. The Home Economics department is active in providing advice for prospective students.
The school is making very good progress with regard to school development planning (SDP). There is clear evidence that the Home Economics teachers at Scoil Mhuire, work well as a team, demonstrate a high-level of co-operation and readily engage in the process of collaborative planning, and they are to be commended for this. Management provides dedicated formal meeting time once per term for subject departments as part of its commitment to progressing SDP. An agenda is decided in advance of department meetings and records of subject department meetings are recently being maintained. Amendments to subject plans and records of department meetings are forwarded to the school principal. In addition teachers meet informally on a regular basis as necessary.
Careful planning is undertaken to ensure that valuable educational experiences are provided for students. Within the process of subject planning, programmes of work have been developed for each year group. This aids the sequencing of material, the sharing of teaching methodologies and promotes continuity. Teachers also share teaching resources, ideas for practical tasks and class materials. Ideas regarding resources for dealing effectively with mixed ability groups and students with SEN within the classroom are also discussed and implemented as necessary. In the planning for junior-cycle, teachers adopt the very good practice of developing the design brief process from first year through to Junior Certificate, in both food studies and the practical textiles work. This approach enables students to develop crucial knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of analysis, investigation, problem solving, action planning and evaluation. In general planning was creative, thoughtful and reflective. In the context of future subject planning it is recommended that planning for each year group be maintained and further developed over time into a plan for Home Economics through the school’s existing school development plan initiative.
State Examination Commission marking schemes and chief examiners’ reports are well utilised as a resource to inform the planning and development of schemes of work at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels. There is evidence of good practice in planning for common content and assessment in Home Economics. The Home Economics teachers are advised to continue to make good use of the Home Economics syllabuses, teacher guidelines and templates available from the Home Economics support service to facilitate more detailed programme planning at all levels. The use of ICT will facilitate teachers in the regular review and update of subject planning. The monitoring and review of subject plans to meet students’ needs is built into subject department meetings and subsequent issues are regularly communicated to the principal.
There is a very good approach to co-curricular activity for Home Economics through TY and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), and the Enterprise Education elements of TY and LCVP, as well as industrial visits and the use of guest speakers on selected topics that support and enhance learning. The Food Based Enterprise in LCVP is an initiative that merits particular mention. All students are encouraged to enter annual competitions. It is suggested that this commitment to expand students’ learning through planned activities such as visits to hotels, restaurants, fabric shops, supermarkets, industry, relevant agencies and other such opportunities continue to be explored and further developed. Teachers engage in informal cross-curricular planning with regard to Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Science and Business. The generous professional commitment and interest of the teachers concerned is recognised.
There is evidence of very good support for students with SEN. Special Needs Assistants are allocated to students when necessary. 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. This practice is in line with the school’s own policy of equal rights of access for all students.
Some good use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics was observed. For example, in some classes worksheets, handouts, and class notes covering a range of syllabus topics, for both junior-cycle and senior-cycle classes have been developed. While the selection and use of resources to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics is adequate it is recommended that in the context of future planning that the Home Economics team maximise the use of ICT to enhance programme planning and student learning.
The quality of teaching and learning was exemplary in all the Home Economics lessons observed. A variety of lesson types, both practical work and theory was observed. There was evidence of very good short-term planning which included the prior preparation of the materials for class. The lessons observed had clear aims and material was well sequenced and presented at a pace that was suitable to the abilities of the students. Thoughtful advance planning ensured that the subject matter was well structured and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning and appropriate integration of course areas.
Information was imparted with a high degree of clarity, frequently supported by the use of the overhead projector. Teaching materials, which included student handouts, live samples, workbooks and textbooks were introduced to the lessons at appropriate times and were most effective in enhancing teaching and consolidating learning. Materials were clearly planned and presented to ensure student learning and retention. Where it existed the observed use of visual material in the delivery of concepts was very worthwhile for the students’ understanding and enhanced their learning environment. Very good use was made of the whiteboard for the explanation of theory and concepts and for the provision of direction and guidance in all classes.
There was evidence of very good experience and expertise being applied in a wide variety of settings. An impressive lesson on examination preparation merits particular mention. A detailed handout provided students with clear guidance on examination paper layout and format of questions and very good use was made of the syllabus, State Examinations Commission marking schemes and chief examiners’ reports in this lesson. In another lesson very good efforts were made to explain difficult concepts by allowing students to conduct small experiments, which aid understanding. There was a commendable concern for students’ understanding of content and for the acquisition of appropriate manipulative skills in practical classes. Teachers should continue to share such experience and expertise in the context of ongoing subject planning.
Excellent subject knowledge was demonstrated by teachers and student instruction was very clear, accurate and contextualised. Lesson presentation was characterised by the use of a range of teaching strategies such as oral questioning (teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil), individualised learning, concrete examples, demonstration, discussion, explanation, the use of textbook/workbook and the white board. These strategies were appropriate and effective in engaging students and in aiding their understanding of the topic. Peer learning and student participation demonstrated teacher’s student-centredness and is encouraged by maximum use of active learning strategies. Good efforts were made to relate chosen subject matter to the lives of the students and to allow for the integration of skills.
Effective questioning strategies were used in all classes to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding and to link new information with prior learning. Students’ responses indicated a very good level of previous knowledge. Questioning strategies were also effective in eliciting students’ prior experiences and knowledge of the topic being introduced. This facilitated the introduction of new subject matter and contributed to student understanding. In some lessons students were challenged by questioning to think more deeply about the topic under discussion. This commendable practice should be encouraged as it helps students to develop higher order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of the Home Economics syllabuses. The good practice of directing questions at specific students was noted; this is an effective means of engaging as many students as possible. With regard to the various mixed-ability classes observed it is suggested that differentiation by questioning be employed to encourage the active participation of students who are less able and to provide a challenge for students who are more familiar with the subject matter.
In the context of mixed-ability classes some further consideration should be given to the use of differentiation in order to cater for diverse student learning needs. This could be achieved through the use of differentiation by task using differentiated worksheets or assignments where the task could be extended or reduced according to the students’ ability. While there was some evidence of differentiation by teacher intervention during food studies activities this could be further developed by means of group work, pair work, problem-solving and collaborative learning.
During practical work observed, there was an appropriate balance between teacher instruction, spot demonstration and time to allow students to work independently. Good emphasis on key concepts and development of skills was observed. Particularly impressive was the level of organisation and performance of junior students who were working in pairs in order to complete the assigned task. The design brief process is adhered to and as part of preparation for practical class students routinely prepare a detailed work sequences and time plan to assist them in meeting the assigned brief in practical classes. Students worked collaboratively and participated actively in tasks. Safety was emphasised at all times. Careful monitoring and appraisal of student work were carried out by the teacher throughout the duration of the practical classes. Students are encouraged to undertake evaluations of tasks completed. Teachers set very good example and this enhances students’ performance and progress in food and culinary skills. In general, students were able to demonstrate their ability to undertake various culinary tasks to a very high standard.
First year students undertake an introduction to textile skills in relation to basic hand stitches and then proceed to using the sewing machine and in time the completion of a simple household article. It is recommended that the Home Economics team be supported to design, develop and implement a plan of work for Textile Studies in order to fully comply with the syllabus requirements at that level in terms of producing a simple garment. The Home Economics Guidelines for Teachers may be useful in achieving this goal.
With regard to examination coursework sixth year food studies coursework journals illustrate an appropriate level of teacher guidance and individual student input. Observation of students’ project work, in the area of Childcare indicated a level of competence in the organisation and presentation of material. Overall, the appropriate level of teacher guidance and the evidence of students’ skills, creativity and originality in the area of project work are to be commended.
Student behaviour was exemplary as there was evidence of students being attentive, purposeful, positively motivated and encouraged to participate actively in the learning process. Positive student-teacher rapport and good control in the classroom promoted student learning. Affirming and encouraging teacher attitudes and a gentle sense of humour contributed to a classroom atmosphere that was conducive to learning.
The learning environment of the Home Economics room is enhanced through the display of a number of educational posters and photographic evidence of students’ practical work and competitions and is to be commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students and endeavours to serve as a stimulus and source of motivation for the present cohort of students.
Students displayed very good understanding of subject knowledge and various skills in practical work. 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.
During feedback provided after the observation of classes there was evidence of teachers being very reflective in their practice. A genuine willingness to consider suggestions that arose during this process, which would enhance student learning, was demonstrated.
The school has developed an agreed homework policy and very comprehensive procedures are in place for regular assessment of student learning. The homework policy promotes the assignments of regular age-appropriate homework and encourages self-directed learning. Homework, which enhances student learning and allows for student progress to be assessed, is assigned regularly. This homework is subsequently either marked by the teachers or reviewed as a class activity. In order to assure the quality of work presented by students, good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring of the student notebooks and copies.
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, topic tests, some assessment of project and practical work and formal house examinations. Where appropriate, the individual teachers record the results of these, a practice which is commendable as it assists teachers in building a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time.
Learner autonomy is encouraged in most classes, as students are encouraged to accept responsibility for their own learning. Students are confident and competent in the organisation and presentation of materials and the standard of project work in the area of Childcare is to be commended. Students are encouraged to compose their own recipe folders, and examinations/study folders. Teachers promote very good study and revision practices. Students have a positive attitude towards Home Economics and demonstrate a sense of pride and achievement in their work.
A consciousness of examination standards and associated practical requirements informs the work of the Home Economics teachers. House examinations and formal class-based assessments are held for students at mid-term, Christmas, Easter and end of year. In addition those preparing to take the State examinations sit mock examinations in the spring. The grades awarded for Home Economics examinations in junior-cycle during the year are an aggregated mark for written tests, food and culinary skills practical work and projects completed during that term. Teachers record all assessment outcomes systematically and advise students regularly on their progress in the subject. School reports are used to communicate these results and student progress to parents and guardians four times a year. Another mode of reporting student progress to parents is the annual parent-teacher meeting that is held for each year group. A short report on each student’s progress in Home Economics is prepared for these meetings. Senior-cycle students are encouraged to attend the parent-teacher meetings and students’ progress is reviewed and their examination levels are decided in consultation with the subject teachers and parents. The homework journal is an additional valuable means of communicating with parents as the need arises. Practices and procedures in relation to assessment and achievement in Home Economics are highly commendable.
The school maintains its own records of student achievement in State examinations and subject departments review these. The principal reports that evaluation against national norms demonstrates that students are doing very well. The board of management and Trustees are informed about student achievements via the principal’s annual report.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 : Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes the positive report on the teaching and learning of Home Economics in this school. The need for the refurbishment of the Home Economics room was highlighted in the report in the interests of Health and Safety and the requirements of the revised Leaving Cert Home Economics syllabus.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board of Management requests that the Department of Education and Science respond favourably and speedily to this application for refurbishment.