An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Spanish Point,
Miltown Malbay, Co.Clare.
Roll number: 62010C
Date of inspection: 16 - 17 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
report has been written following a subject inspection in
There has been a long tradition of Home Economics as
an optional subject in
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. Students and their parents are well supported in choosing programmes, subjects and levels within subjects. Every effort is made to ensure that all students are placed in their subject option of choice. The school is encouraged to continue to investigate and implement additional strategies that will continue to promote Home Economics as a popular option subject, with appeal for students of all abilities and interests, but especially male students at both junior cycle and senior cycle. The Home Economics team should be more proactive in the context of future marketing of the subject so as to increase participation rates, particularly with regard to senior cycle and the LCA Hotel, Catering and Tourism specialism. Some consideration might be given to the provision of Hotel, Catering and Tourism as a specialism every year.
Uptake is remarkably unbalanced on gender lines from first year onwards in Home Economics. Significantly, most of the junior cycle female students have opted to study Home Economics. Despite teachers’ greatest efforts to influence traditional male/female subject choices significant gender imbalance in take-up of Home Economics is apparent. It is acknowledged that gender differences and traditions do exist and these are respected. Considering such contextual factors, management is to be commended for continuing to ensure that Home Economics is a sustainable subject on the curriculum, despite its small uptake at senior cycle.
Home Economics is an optional subject for senior cycle where uptake is in a state of flux, as is the situation nationally and is at present significantly lower than that observed at junior cycle. It is selected by a small number of students and there are currently no boys taking the subject at senior cycle. This mirrors the marked gender imbalance in Home Economics from first year onwards. It is important that management continue to regularly review timetable provision for optional subjects such as Home Economics on a regular basis so as to ensure equality and promote gender balance.
A good blend of experience and expertise exists between the two home economics teachers. One of the teachers while not formally qualified to teach home economics is effective in all aspects of her work in teaching LCA, Hotel Catering and Tourism. In co-operation with management the teachers endeavour to promote Home Economics as a popular subject option by such activities as: promotion of the subject to prospective students and parents during exhibitions and the showcasing of student project work during open days. These initiatives are praiseworthy and go some way towards addressing the issue of gender imbalance currently evident. In an attempt to deal with the issue of gender imbalance it is suggested that additional strategies to promote Home Economics as a popular option subject continue to be developed and implemented in order to strengthen uptake especially at senior cycle. In order to create a positive learning environment, classroom subject notice boards should be installed and used to display some student work. Additional strategies could include a plan devised by the home economics department to further improve the profile of the subject amongst the whole school community. This could be achieved through, for example, providing a notice board or display cabinet dedicated to Home Economics in a prominent place in the school. This notice board could be used to display project work and photographs of students participating in class activities. Newspaper articles and photographs relevant to teaching and learning in Home Economics could also be displayed and the use of local media to publicise subject news and events could be used as a means of promoting the subject and increasing the uptake of the subject. The hosting of awareness campaigns on relevant subject issues during the school year should be considered. Furthermore, it is recommended that contextual factors influencing student uptake in Home Economics be investigated, particularly at senior cycle and that every effort is made to attract students of all abilities and both genders to take up Home Economics. The school is encouraged to continue to support students in choosing to make less traditional subject choices.
There is good whole school support and provision for Home Economics and management and personnel are committed to improving the organisation, planning and teaching of the subject. Teaching time allocated is in accordance with syllabus recommendations. Management is supportive of collaborative subject planning. The facilitation of double class periods for each year group is to be commended, as they are essential for the development of design and processing skills through practical and project work. The teachers have participated in a variety of in-service training sessions, for example those provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service. Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required.
Management endeavours to support requests made for the ongoing replacement and updating of equipment on the basis of teacher requisition as funds permit. However, due to substantial health and safety issues it is recommended that an audit of equipment and utensils be undertaken immediately and management should continue to support the subject teachers with regard to ongoing investment in the upgrading, replacement and maintenance of specialist equipment and teaching resources as necessary in both home economics rooms.
The school’s health and safety statement was recently reviewed and the school has engaged in risk assessment in consultation with teachers in the various subject departments. A number of urgent health and safety issues are currently being addressed throughout the school as a result of this risk assessment.
The schools’ two home economics teachers share the two home economics rooms in the school and the role of subject co-ordination is shared between them. An application for an extension to the school including the development of new home economics facilities and refurbishment of the existing building was submitted to the Department of Education and Science a number of years ago and is currently at Band 2.4 of the planning process. It is commendable that two specialist rooms for Home Economic are currently allocated adjacent to each other, a kitchen and a separate textiles room. It is recommended that this provision of two separate facilities for Home Economics should be continued into the proposed new extension. The absence of any significant upgrading, refurbishment or modernisation of the home economics facilities since the initial provision of both rooms is unsatisfactory and is impeding development of the subject. It is important to note that an Environmental Health Officer inspected the home economics kitchen in 2002 and following a negative report senior management brought these serious issues to the attention of the Department of Education and Science, with a view to having them addressed. A number of serious issues persist in the absence of new home economics facilities: structural standards are very poor, room layout is not congruent with logical workflow progression, health and safety issues arise regarding the floor covering and walls, storage presses, sinks, drainage, cookers, work surfaces, limited electrical sockets and their incorrect positioning, the lack of diffusers on light fittings and the lack of a suitable extraction system. In view of the current poor condition of the home economics facilities and bearing in mind health and safety considerations and current curricular requirements for Home Economics it is recommended that the refurbishment of both home economics rooms be progressed as a matter of urgency for the school in line with best practice guidelines. Provision for adequate storage space for specialist equipment, teaching resources and student coursework/project work should be incorporated into any future plans for the home economics rooms. In the interim period the home economics department should develop a health and safety policy so that it is tailor made to the schools own current home economics facilities for both food studies and textiles. Also appropriate safety equipment should be available in the Home Economics rooms. Furthermore, in the context of safe work practices it is recommended that management endeavour to keep classes to a safe and reasonable size.
Teachers have access to shared television and video/DVD equipment. Access to the school’s multi media room and two computer rooms is somewhat limited. However, admittance can be pre-arranged by the teachers, subject to availability. Currently, ICT is mainly used in class preparation, however, it was identified during the inspection that the home economics teachers have a great desire to incorporate more ICT into teaching and learning as more technology becomes available and expertise is developed over time. Management is committed to supporting the continued training and up-skilling of teachers as appropriate to assist the integration of 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 the home economics teachers to integrate ICT into lessons it is recommended that management encourage and support this initiative in the context of continued integration of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. In the context of future developments at the school a positive start would be the provision of a computer with a printer and data projector for home economics. Also the provision of blinds for the windows and the installation of a white screen should be investigated, as this would facilitate the use of the overhead projector in lessons.
The school is making good progress with regard to school development planning (SDP) and the comprehensive school plan contains a policy statement on Home Economics. Work is ongoing with regard to subject department planning and teachers meet informally on a regular basis. In addition, management provides dedicated formal meeting time up to six times a year during staff planning days for subject departments as part of its commitment to progressing SDP and the principal occasionally joins these meetings, which is commendable. Agenda are decided in advance of department meetings and records of subject department meetings are being maintained.
A subject plan for home economics is currently being developed which includes some details on the organisation, planning, teaching and learning and assessment of the subject. Subject planning for LCA, Hotel, Catering and Tourism is at an advanced stage. Teachers maintain records of work completed in their teacher diaries and this should aid review and future planning. LCA practical classes are reviewed individually in terms of the expected learning outcomes and the level of development of students’ practical skills and this good practice should be extended to all other classes. Outline curriculum content plans of work have been drawn up for all other year groups. These plans are syllabus based and provide a clear list of the content to be completed each term. However, it is important to note that such planning documents are of an evolving nature, and as such, will always demonstrate room for revision and improvement. In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that this good work be further developed to include more detailed short-term schemes of work for all classes to include: learning outcomes, specific timeframes for the completion of practical/project/course work; choice of teaching methodologies with reference to resources; provision for differentiated learning; links between theory and practical work; health and safety, addressing students with special educational needs as well as details regarding homework, revision, assessment and exam preparation. Planning should address the syllabuses in a comprehensive manner and reflect the integrated approach recommended in the syllabuses, including integration of practical/project/course work with the relevant theory. This process could begin immediately and be fully implemented on a phased basis using ICT to assist regular updating. It may be helpful to tabulate these plans of work as this would facilitate teachers in the future preparation, regular review and update of subject planning and allow for more rudimentary amendments to be made more efficiently on an ongoing basis. Time bound revision plans and summary notes on various aspects of the course should be developed, especially for examination classes and these revision plans should be dovetailed around students’ learning of new material. Teachers should employ a system of record keeping of work completed to date with class groups. This would be useful in further developing future plans of work. In general, subject plans should have a greater focus on teaching and learning and should be reviewed regularly and amendments should be made as appropriate. It is recommended that the home economics teachers should make good use of the home economics syllabuses, teacher guidelines and templates available from the Home Economics Support Service (www.homeeconomics.ie) to facilitate more detailed programme planning at all levels. This should ensure that appropriate time is allocated to the various course components as recommended in the syllabuses. State Examination Commission marking schemes and chief examiners’ reports could be further utilised as a resource to inform the planning and development of future plans of work at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels.
The Textile Studies programme at junior cycle includes development of skills in such areas as basic hand stitches and an introduction to using the sewing machine. As the textiles programme is currently underdeveloped it is recommended that the process of devising and implementing a plan of work for Textile Studies begin immediately in order to fully comply with the syllabus requirements. The further development of specialist facilities and equipment for textiles studies will be essential in achieving this goal. Furthermore, in the context of planning for coursework it is recommended that the design brief process should be introduced as early as possible in the junior cycle in both food studies and the practical textiles work as appropriate. In addition, students should be introduced to the skills required for project work e.g. research, investigations, surveys and case studies on an incremental basis from first year onwards. Such an approach will enable students to develop crucial knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of analysis, investigation, problem solving, action planning and evaluation. This will also assist students to integrate relevant theory with practical skills.
Collaboration with Art, Business and Construction Studies is ongoing to the benefit of students. Home economics personnel should explore the further development of existing informal cross-curricular links so as to engage in cross-curricular planning in conjunction with Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Science teachers. In doing so teachers involved should endeavour to develop complementary approaches to themes, which are common to each of their syllabuses. In addition, teachers could explore and plan for the incremental development of students’ transferable skills across programmes.
Some consideration should be given to extending students’ learning beyond the classroom through such activities as the introduction of visiting speakers, planned field trips, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities such as entry to local and national cookery competitions. Such opportunities should aim to enhance the students’ experience and enjoyment of the subject.
There is evidence of good support for students with special educational needs (SEN). Teachers are made aware of any students with SEN, however home economics personnel should familiarise themselves with the drawing up of such students’ individual education plans and their subsequent implementation and review.
The Home Economics department has developed and gathered a good variety of teaching resources, cookery books and videos/DVDs and commercially prepared resource packs, which suggests that the potential exists for the development of a home economics resource library. The provision of same would promote the progression of self-directed and independent research and learning, as encouraged throughout the relevant syllabuses. Therefore, in the context of future planning it is recommended that management provide some initial financial assistance and then ongoing investment in the development and expansion of such a resource library to support teaching and learning in Home Economics.
The school maintains its own records of student achievement in State examinations and these are presented to the board of management. In the ongoing work of subject planning, the home economics department should consider the merit of engaging in a detailed analysis of student achievement in State examinations in the context of national norms. In doing so one should be mindful of individual students’ abilities and achievements. This could benefit individual subject departments by affirming good practice and informing future planning of teaching strategies and learning activities.
The quality of advance planning, individual lesson preparation and teaching and learning were good in the practical lessons observed and significantly varied in the theoretical aspects of lessons. However, there is much scope for improvement with regard to all aspects of teaching and learning in Home Economics.
Lessons were generally well structured and in line with syllabus requirements. Learning outcomes for the lessons were shared with students at the outset and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning. Some effective short-term planning for lessons, which included the prior preparation of the materials for class, was observed. This resulted in lessons that were focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students.
Teachers displayed a good level of subject matter expertise in the topics under study and instruction was clear, accurate and frequently supported by the use of such resources as the whiteboard, student handouts, samples, workbooks and textbooks. These were introduced into the lessons at appropriate times and were generally effective in enhancing teaching and consolidating learning. Good use was made of the board for the explanation of theory and concepts and for the provision of direction and guidance in practical classes.
Almost all the lessons observed and much of the subject department planning documents presented during the evaluation focused on whole-class teaching. Consequently, it is recommended that the department seek more in-service on active learning, differentiation and on mixed-ability teaching with a view to incorporating them on a regular basis into lessons. Active learning encourages independent and collaborative learning, key foci of both the junior and senior cycle home economics syllabuses. Therefore, it is recommended that consideration should be given to the benefits to students of incorporating more student-centred and differentiated active learning methodologies in theory lessons for example brainstorming, individualised learning, pair work, group discussion, debating, role-play, case studies, peer presentations, problem-solving investigations and collaborative learning. The use of such strategies should avoid an over emphasis on teacher led activities where students tend to remain passive, and should encourage more active participation thus allowing greater expression of opinions and the development of critical thinking skills. This would also have the effect of further challenging students to take greater responsibility for their own learning. Students should be encouraged to think, consider, analyse and synthesise issues and answers during activity based learning as it assists students in developing higher-order thinking skills. Textbooks and workbooks provide some useful ideas for the implementation of active learning. In addition, the Special Education Support Service (www.sess.ie) and the Second Level Support Service (www.slss.ie) should be consulted in this regard.
While questioning and explaining strategies used in the classes observed were generally effective these should be further developed so as 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 should occasionally be encouraged to answer questions after consulting in pairs/groups, thus allowing them time to develop multi-faceted answers to higher-order questions and enabling students with literacy difficulties to contribute their insights to the formulation of those answers. Differentiation by questioning is also recommended so that all students be included and targeted, thus encouraging the active participation of students who are less able and providing challenge for students who are more familiar with the subject matter.
Other recommendations, which will further enhance teaching and learning and increase levels of student achievement, are suggested. That a greater awareness of the various students’ learning styles should be developed and the teaching and learning should be adapted as appropriate to suit the students’ needs. It is strongly recommended that a greater amount of time be devoted to the careful planning of individual lessons so as to sustain student engagement and increase student motivation. Key consideration should be given to the proposed students’ learning outcomes, resources and strategies, which will support and consolidate the learning. In order to maximise the learning experience of students careful planning for and the incorporation of regular age appropriate homework, revision and assessment is recommended. Teachers should set higher expectations for all students and an appropriate examinations focus should be evident with examination classes and this would provide greater student motivation for tasks. Furthermore, taking into consideration the variety of learning styles and of student abilities in the school, it is recommended that more audio-visual stimuli and ICT be utilised in the teaching of Home Economics as appropriate. Excessive note taking should be avoided and instead textbooks and other resources should be utilised creatively in lessons. Additionally, 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.
It is evident that home economics teachers have strong commitment to the practical components of the syllabuses despite the poor standard of specialist facilities for practical work as outlined earlier in the report. Due to poor kitchen layout, cookers are freestanding and not integrated into work units and thus it is difficult to promote the use of the correct work sequence in practical food studies classes. As all cookers are electrical students have no experience of using gas cookers in food studies classes. The opportunity to observe students engaged in food studies practical classes highlighted the existence of 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. In all lessons observed the teachers moved constantly around the room assessing student progress, monitoring difficulties and demonstrating best practice. Good emphasis on explaining of key concepts and development of skills was observed. Instruction provided throughout lessons was at all times clear and precise and from classroom observation and discussions with students they clearly understood the directions given by the teachers. Students worked collaboratively and participated actively in tasks. 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.
In order to further enhance teaching and learning in practical classes it is recommended that opportunities to link theory with practical work be availed of fully in practical classes, as this should consolidate students’ understanding and knowledge of food and the principles of cookery. Students’ performance and progress could be further enhanced if students were to use a timed written work plan during practical classes. Students should be encouraged to systematically go through the recipe; method and utensils required at the lesson outset and agree approximate times for each stage in the preparation, cooking and serving of the dish. Good use should continue to be made of the board as a back up to students work plans. The design brief process should be adhered to in practical work and the teachers should consider the preparation of recipe sheets and guidelines detailing equipment, ingredients, method, and evaluation to assist students in meeting the assigned brief in practical classes. Furthermore, students should be encouraged to undertake evaluations of tasks completed as this informs continuous assessment of student work. Students should undertake evaluations of the product, the process and the task itself and make full use of appropriate word banks when undertaking sensory evaluation. An appropriate emphasis on health and safety practices was evident. The department is to be commended for adopting strategies that help to overcome health and safety issues and other difficulties with regard to ensuring the safe conduct of practical classes.
Classroom discipline was sensitively maintained through teacher movement around the room and by appropriate lesson content pacing. Student-teacher rapport was good and students were in the main interested and participated well in the learning process. Students were well managed, guided and directed in all learning activities and their practical work was monitored in a supportive, encouraging and caring manner. The students were well behaved and secure in their interactions with the teachers and were affirmed and encouraged in all their contributions and efforts.
The learning environment of the Home Economics room could be enhanced through the display of a number of educational posters and evidence of students’ work, as it would contribute to a feeling of pride and achievement in students.
With regard to student coursework an impressive array of design and craftwork projects are created throughout junior cycle to a very high standard. Processes such as crochet, knitting, appliqué, embroidery, patchwork and quilting are regular features of the craftwork completed. Project work displayed the incremental development of students’ textiles skills in accordance with their level and ability. A level of competence in terms of creativity, organisation and presentation of coursework was clearly evident. The originality demonstrated by the students in terms of creating their own patterns and templates for patchwork and appliqué in Design and Craftwork merits particular mention. It is praiseworthy that good use is made of ICT for both research and presentation of coursework. Overall, the level of teacher guidance and the evidence of students’ skills, creativity and originality in the area of project work are to be commended. However, care should be taken to avoid spending excessive amounts of time on practical coursework (food studies or textiles) to the detriment of other essential aspects of the courses.
There was a dearth of homework being set and corrected for students and this must be addressed immediately. The teachers should carry out regular monitoring and appraisal of student work and should promote good study and revision practices. Student work examined included some good examples of well-organised folders containing a variety of materials; however, all aspects of the syllabus should be reflected in such collections of student work. Students displayed a level of competency in following instructions and in the handling and organisation of equipment and class materials that was commensurate with their level of experience and ability. In general, students demonstrated good understanding of subject knowledge appropriate to their class group and level.
Practices and procedures in relation to homework, revision and assessment of student learning in Home Economics are varied and currently underdeveloped. The predominant mode of assessment used to appraise student competence and progress in Home Economics was oral questioning and some assessment of project and practical work. It is strongly recommended that a variety of assessment modes be developed to include, written homework, in-class writing assignments, student presentations and class tests to support continuous assessment. Therefore it is recommended that the home economics department formalise these procedures through the process of subject planning i.e. through the development of a homework and assessment policy for Home Economics in line with the whole-school guidelines on homework and assessment.
In order to progress this work consideration should be given to the following: allowing the grades awarded for Home Economics during the year to be aggregate marks for written tests, food and culinary skills practical work, coursework and projects completed during that term. Homework should be regularly assigned to reinforce or extend the learning that has taken place in the class and guidelines regarding the amount of homework that is considered appropriate to the individual year groups should be developed. Regular monitoring of student copybooks, workbooks, folders, journals and class tests is recommended as good practice and consideration must be given to developing homework assignments that further promote independent learning and higher order thinking skills in all year groups. Relevant State Examination Commission (SEC) documentation should be used to inform various assessment procedures employed. Formative assessment should be further developed across all year groups such that useful teachers’ comments could provide developmental feedback to students on their progress and affirm work well done. This good work illustrates the principles that underpin assessment for learning. It is recommended as good practice, for further information on assessment to refer to the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie).
Formal assessments are held for the non-exam classes at Christmas and end-of-year. In addition those preparing to take the State examinations sit pre-certificate examinations in the spring. Records of students’ work, attendance and examination results are recorded systematically and students are advised regularly on their progress in the subject. School reports and parent-teacher meetings are used to communicate these results and student progress to parents. It is recommended that students’ examination levels be decided in consultation with the subject teachers and parents.
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 recommendations are made in order of priority:
· It is recommended that the process of devising and implementing a plan of work for Textile Studies begin immediately in order to fully comply with the syllabus requirements.
· It is recommended that consideration should be given to the benefits to students of incorporating more student-centred and differentiated active learning methodologies in theory lessons.
· Several recommendations contained in the report with regard to teaching and learning are provided as a means of building on the current good practice, which was evident in some classes observed.
· It is important that management continue to regularly review timetable provision for optional subjects such as Home Economics on a regular basis so as to ensure equality and promote gender balance.
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
Recommendations noted and accepted
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Recommendations are in process of being implemented