An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Saint Mary’s Secondary School
Convent of Mercy, Mallow, Co. Cork
Roll number: 62350D
Date of inspection: 7 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection Report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Saint Mary’s Secondary School. 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 of the school 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.
Home Economics has a strong profile in St. Mary’s Secondary School, as evidenced by its substantial popularity as an optional subject amongst both the junior and senior student cohort at present attending the school. Home Economics is well established on the curriculum and is noted as a very vibrant subject. It is optional in junior and senior cycle with the exception of first year where, commendably, every student is provided with the opportunity to study Home Economics and Transition Year (TY) where, it is also good to note, students are required to study the subject for the entire year.
The school is to be praised for its adoption of a very systematic yet extremely caring approach to advising and supporting students in making subject choices, both at the end of first year and again before proceeding on to senior cycle. Subject option pools are generated from student surveys and every effort is made to facilitate each student in her preferred subject choice. Such an approach is very equitable, extremely student centred and as a result, merits much recognition. Students are encouraged by their teachers to aim for high academic standards and therefore a very substantial percentage of Home Economics students take higher level papers in both of the State examinations with, a notable degree of success. Teachers are assigned to classes on a rotational basis and a conscious effort is made by management to ensure, when and where feasible, that teachers retain their assigned class groups in junior cycle and also in senior cycle.
The subject benefits from an extremely good level of provision and whole school support. This is evidenced by the very favourable time-tabling of the subject that is apparent, the well-resourced department that has been provided, and the way in which management both encourages and supports the work of the Home Economics teachers. The very favourable provision by management of formal time once a term for collaborative, departmental subject planning, is just one example of how management assists the department in its work. Management is also highly supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development and facilitates and encourages their attendance at in-service and network meetings, such as those provided by the Home Economics Support Service and the Association of Home Economics Teachers (ATHE).
The school houses three very attractive, well equipped and highly organised subject-specific rooms, namely two kitchens (Tíos I & II) and one sewing room (Dearadh Éadaigh). Management provides an annual budget to the department, which is intended to assist the teachers in providing for the delivery of the subject. It is good to note that requests for facilities and equipment that are beyond the scope of the allocated budget are also afforded due consideration by management. The sewing room houses a computer and the teachers also have access to the school’s computer room through a booking system which has been put in place. Bearing in mind the considerable interest among the Home Economics teachers in the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to enhance the teaching and learning in Home Economics and the significant use they make of such facilities, it is recommended that in time, the ICT facilities in the department be further developed. In the interim however, it is suggested in order to expand the scope of the department for providing immediate opportunities for students to engage in independent, guided research, that as soon as finances permit the existing computer be linked to the internet and a printer be provided.
The overall co-ordination of the department’s work is undertaken by one of the teachers as part of her assigned post of responsibility. The other members of the department assist and support her in such a task, when and where appropriate and as required. A spirit of teamwork can be observed in much of this work.
It is good to note that the school has prepared a safety statement and that the Home Economics department’s policy document also includes a section relating to kitchen rules, room specific safety equipment and safety checklists. In order to expand and develop this area of the Home Economics policy document, it is recommended that a detailed safety audit be carried out in the specialist rooms, using the approach and templates outlined on pages 6-10 of the school’s own safety statement.
The Home Economics department readily engages in the task of collaborative planning as part of the formal time provided by management for this very purpose. In fact, teachers are extremely generous with their time when it comes to the area of planning and preparation and their commitment is such that the department also meets informally on a regular basis during school hours, as well as after school as needs dictate. Such generosity of time is indeed very admirable and merits due recognition. It is very obvious, from both working with the team and from observing their work, that the department’s approach is guided by a spirit of co-operation, collegiality and a lively enthusiasm for their subject.
The department is making good progress in terms of the development of a subject-specific policy document. It is important to note that such a document is evolving in nature and, as such, will always be a work in progress and so will always demonstrate room for advancement, revision and improvement. As a means of enhancing the work to date, it would be beneficial to refer to the planning materials provided by the Home Economics Support Service at one of the recently organised network meetings. Further information regarding this area is available on the support services website, which can be accessed at www.homeeconomics.ie. The very good, recently initiated practice of providing agendas and maintaining minutes for the formal planning meetings is noted and this is an exercise that is fully encouraged.
There is evidence of progress in terms of the development of common programmes of work for the teaching of Home Economics, particularly for first year classes and also for TY. This very commendable approach merits further application across all year groups. The individual teacher plans for all other year groups need to be discussed and reviewed by the department and developed in time into an overall plan for a common approach to the teaching of Home Economics in all junior and senior cycle classes. Existing common schemes of work should also be developed in time to include, ideally, detailed provision for the following: topics to be covered; specific timeframes for the delivery of each topic; suitable methodologies for planned work; the identification of appropriate resources for each area; suitable topic specific assignments/homework; methods of assessment; links between theory and students’ practical work; integration of subject matter, as well as examination preparation and revision, when and where appropriate. It is recommended that the process be implemented on a phased basis taking, for example, one junior and one senior year group per annum.
The department engages in an impressive amount of planning for extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, all of which are intended to enhance the students’ experience and enjoyment of the subject and to extend the learning beyond the classroom. Such work also allows for the establishment of links between Home Economics and other subjects such as Business, Geography, Art and Computer Studies. The teachers’ willingness to get involved in such activities and their exceptional commitment is deserving of a lot of praise.
It was very good to observe that the teachers have developed a subject-specific reference section in each of their assigned classrooms. This is an excellent support for the teachers themselves but also an excellent resource for students, particularly in light of the independent student research that is required of students for both the optional study area at Junior Certificate and the food assignments at Leaving Certificate. Plans are also underway to develop a Home Economics section in the school library so that students have a greater degree of unlimited access to relevant materials and publications.
In addition to the above, teachers have also accumulated and systematically filed a comprehensive collection of support materials including pre-prepared overhead transparencies, handouts, worksheets and test papers, all of which have been prepared with the obvious intention of enhancing the quality of learning and teaching in the subject.
The Home Economics teachers’ approach to their work can be accurately described as illustrative of many of the principles that underlie good quality teaching. On the whole, there was evidence of a satisfactory level of short-term planning for lessons delivered over the course of the subject inspection. This practice is commendable, as it contributes to enhanced outcomes in both teaching and learning. All lessons demonstrated clear aims, were well structured and were delivered at a pace that was cognisant of students’ levels and abilities. In general, lessons highlighted clear links between the new work being introduced and work previously covered. Teachers exhibited an excellent command of their subject and as a result, instruction was informed, clear and accurate. Teachers were very proficient at contextualising the information presented in the lessons in an attempt to make the learning purposeful and in order to engage the students more fully in the lesson content.
The methodologies utilised by the teachers in the delivery of the lessons were noted as very student centred and student participation was a prominent feature of all lessons observed. A good range of methodologies was incorporated into the majority of lessons including: whole class teaching, board work, individual one-to-one instruction, demonstrations, pair work, discussions and worksheet activities. This varied approach to the delivery of the curriculum is very praiseworthy and so is greatly encouraged. The inclusion of some very good examples of activity-based strategies was noted in some instances and the continued and increased incorporation of this very desirable approach is strongly advocated.
Questioning was used effectively both to engage students in the learning process and to establish links between different areas of the course. Some attention was given to the incorporation of higher order questioning, designed to train students to be able to apply, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information, as well as simply recalling facts. This very desirable practice is to be commended and further encouraged, as it fully prepares students for the higher level paper in the State examinations, as well as for life in general. As a means of building on the very good use of questioning that was apparent, it is recommended that teachers incorporate additional questioning at the end of the class period to assist with lesson summary and in order to evaluate the overall student learning that the lesson was planned to achieve.
The opportunity to observe students engaged in practical food studies work highlighted the existence of established systems of practice and the department’s very thorough preparation of students for the practical food studies examination, which accounts for a significant 35% of the marks allocated at Junior Certificate level. Students were highly organised, demonstrated a keen awareness of hygiene and safety and were very cognisant of teacher instruction and expectations. Opportunities to enhance student learning, by introducing and emphasising the theory of food and cooking at relevant points throughout the practical class, were fully utilised over the course of the lesson. This had the desirable effect of reinforcing for students concepts previously encountered, whilst also making students’ learning more meaningful. As part of the evaluation process, which was very commendably incorporated into the end of the practical class, students were exposed, through a teacher-guided tour of all of the finished dishes, to different approaches to the same dish. This is an excellent means of exposing students to new ideas and alternative ingredients, as well as encouraging them to be more adventurous with food.
The department’s approach to the textile area of the course is also very creditable. Students are introduced to the skills required for this area in first year and are motivated and challenged in this area through the provision of easily achieved deadlines for small, manageable, interesting projects, such as the cross-stitch bookmark that one group of first-year students is currently in the process of completing. It was also great to note that the current third-year work, which will be presented for examination shortly, is representative of a range of different crafts, namely, cross-stitch, appliqué, patchwork, quilting and knitting. The teachers are deserving of praise, particularly in light of the extra demands that such an approach requires, for exposing students to such a range of skills and for encouraging them to choose individually the area that they most enjoy. The excellent practice of introducing students from the outset in first year, to the application of the design process to their work in both the textiles and food studies area was also noted, and this approach is very laudable.
The interaction between teachers and students can be described as very positive. While teachers were firm and purposeful in their overall approach, the manner of their rapport with students was also very good natured and benevolent. Teachers made good use of students’ names and student contribution, which was very forthcoming, was very much encouraged and on the whole was warmly welcomed and readily affirmed. Students remained focused and attentive throughout each lesson and the teachers experience and professionalism contributed to their very effective management of all classroom activities. All three classrooms are well organised and can be described as very stimulating learning environments. Each room has been enhanced through the display of a series of subject-related materials including: posters created by students, charts from various organisations, photos of students’ work and students’ activities, relevant newspaper articles, along with a series of ‘did you know?’ style snippets of thought-provoking images and information. It was encouraging to note that throughout the practical class visited, students availed of opportunities to observe and read such information.
Student responses to questioning and their contribution in general, illustrated a commendable level of understanding and knowledge of the subject and a good overall engagement with classroom activities.
The Home Economics department assesses student progress and achievement in the subject using a variety of approaches. Informal assessment takes place on a continual basis in classes through the use of oral questioning, the assigning of topic-related tasks to individuals and/or groups, the correction and monitoring of homework assignments and the observation of students’ practical work and overall participation in the subject. Student advancement and attainment is assessed formally through the provision of topic tests on a regular basis, and the organisation of in-house examinations twice yearly, prior to both the Christmas and summer vacations. It is also good to note that teachers are committed to assessing aspects of required coursework, for example, the practical food and culinary skills component at junior cycle, and including the results of same as part of the overall student assessment grade at key times during the year. This practice reflects the assessment objectives of the syllabuses and the provision of an aggregate assessment mark is a more accurate indicator of a student’s actual ability in the subject. It was noted that the assessment papers reflect the layout of past examination papers and this is commendable.
There was evidence of an established, systematic approach to recording student achievement in the subject and of noting students’ individual progress. Student outcomes are communicated formally to parents and guardians through the issuing of school reports following the formal in-house examinations at Christmas and summer and through the parent-teacher meetings which are held once a year for each year group. Parents and guardians are also kept informed of student progress through the informal practice of requesting parents to sign corrected topic tests and the provision of notes for parents and guardians in students’ school diaries.
There was evidence of the regular setting and monitoring of appropriate homework, designed both to expand on class work and to prepare students for the State examinations. Some of the monitoring demonstrated a number of very good examples of annotated work and comment-only marking. In such cases students were provided with some very constructive feedback, outlining the most effective way to approach and answer questions, whilst also providing students with affirmation and gentle encouragement. As a means of enhancing such good practice it is suggested that, periodically and particularly in examination classes, work assigned for homework also be graded. This would provide students with another means of assessing their own individual progress in the subject, whilst also providing teachers with a vehicle for effectively comparing work completed at home, with that which is carried out in school. Ideally, particularly in examination classes, students would be provided with appropriate marking schemes when work is being assigned and this in turn would be applied by the teachers in the correction of same. This has the added advantage of further developing students’ examination techniques in areas such as the interpretation of marking schemes, depth of treatment and time management.
Observation of the optional study area work of Junior Certificate students highlighted a good overall standard of work. The large variety of crafts that were presented, were accompanied by neatly organised support folders. A number of childcare projects were also undertaken by students, but when guiding students in the completion of such research, the importance of ensuring that their research reflects the key theme of child development must be emphasised.
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 key 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
We welcome the report and note its findings and the affirmation of our teachers. We take on board its findings and its recommendations.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection