An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Christ King Girlsí Secondary School
South Douglas Road, County Cork
Roll number: 62692I
Date of inspection: 1 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christ King Girlsí Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning Home Economics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over three days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, one of the deputy principals and subject teachers.† The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Overall, Home Economics in Christ King Girls Secondary School is a very popular optional subject. Uptake levels in junior cycle are very healthy. In recent years, as is the case nationally, uptake levels at senior cycle have witnessed a decline. There is, however, a dramatic reversal of this trend in the current fifth-year group. Much credit is due to the members of the home economics department for this very impressive turn around.
Incoming first-year students are required to choose some of the subjects they wish to study prior to entry to the school in September. This is not considered to be the most favourable model, as students are less informed when they donít get a chance to sample subjects prior to subject choice. Before entry, prospective students are required to choose to study either Home Economics or Music. A similar choice has to be made between German and Art. This limits studentsí choices and, in varying degrees, is not very favourable to any of the four choice subjects. At the end of first year, students are required to choose three from the following list of six subjects: Art, Business, German, Home Economics, Music and Science. Effectively, however, because of the fact that choices were already made between four of these subjects prior to entry, students will choose three of the four subjects they studied in first year. Management and staff are encouraged to review current practice in relation to first-year students and subject choice, and is strongly encouraged to investigate the feasibility of providing a taster programme for students in first year.
On a more positive note, the fact that Home Economics is provided for in two or more of the subject blocks in junior cycle and in two of the current fifth-year blocks is very creditable. This is in direct response to student demand, which determines eventual subject blocks at the end of first year and in fifth year. This very open system of subject choice is applauded. The provision that is made for a compulsory sixteen-week module in Home Economics during studentsí Transition Year (TY) is very favourable to senior cycle studentsí access to the subject. TY students also have the option of studying Home Economics for the entire year, as one of their chosen Ďspecial topicsí. Both of these measures are highly commended. The introduction, in 2004, of Home Economics into the fifth-year personal development programme in the school is also to be credited. This allows students, who have decided against studying the subject to Leaving Certificate level, to access some of the learning experiences offered by the subject.
Junior cycle class groups are organised on a mixed-ability basis. All students are strongly encouraged to take the higher level paper in the Junior Certificate examination and statistics from the State Examinations Commission (SEC) support this finding. Senior cycle classes, if possible, are banded. Initially, however, regardless of the class students are placed in and taking studentsí abilities into account, most students are encouraged to work towards a higher level paper. Systems that have been put in place by the members of the home economics department, for example a highly developed approach to common assessment, allow for a freedom of movement between class groups in senior cycle. This is highly praised.
Generally classes, and therefore studentsí contact with the subject, are well spread over the weekly timetable. This is commended. There are however two exceptions to this, both of which unfortunately happen to be third-year class groups. As a result, continued planning for the avoidance of this situation in the future is advised, particularly in relation to examination classes. In light of the fact that the school only houses two kitchens, the consciousness that is evident with regard to ensuring an equality of access to both of these rooms for all teachers and all class groups, in order to engage in practical course work, is noted and applauded. It is unfortunate that two of the four teachers have limited access to these specialist rooms at other times. The difficulties that arise when one is required to timetable four teachers for two specialist rooms are fully recognised and therefore the effort that is also made to avoid the timetabling of three or more double periods consecutively is noted and highly praised. This ensures that all students have equal access to the practical components of both syllabuses. The healthy demand for Home Economics in the school, coupled with the fact that four teachers are now required to deliver the subject, suggests that the need to plan for the provision of an additional kitchen should be investigated. It is good to note that efforts are made to ensure that class groups assigned to teachers are retained by those same teachers in second and third year and also in fifth and sixth year.††
The allocation of two thirty-five minute class periods for practical work is not ideal and it is good to note that, in timetabling, there also appears to be a heightened awareness regarding this. Once again however, there are two exceptions to this, in this instance two first-year class groups. This is unfortunate, as it feeds into a larger issue with regard to under provision for the subject in first year. First-year students are timetabled for only two periods of Home Economics per week, when the syllabus recommends the provision of four. This needs to be addressed as a matter of priority. While the provision of six class periods in the current sixth-year group to compensate for the four periods provided when these students were in fifth year is creditable, a better provision would be five periods in each year. It is noted that this situation has been remedied with the current fifth-year group but it is important to highlight that future provision in senior cycle should reflect the latter as opposed to the former practice.
The deployment of teachers is not satisfactory. A specialist subject such as Home Economics requires specialist teaching which follows on from four years, or its equivalent, of specialist training. It is strongly recommended, for a number of reasons, both practical and pedagogic, that management reviews how it currently deploys its available staff for the teaching of Home Economics.
The home economics department is provided with an annual budget and requests for resources that do not fall within the remit of the budget are, generally speaking and budget permitting, also granted. This is very positive. The fact that funding for the upgrading of the two existing kitchens has been accessed and granted under the Summer Works Scheme is very positive, as both rooms are in serious need of refurbishment. This refurbishment will address the safety concerns that have been identified in the rooms including; the lack of a non-slip floor covering, the absence of electrical-isolation switches, the positioning of sockets near sinks, no mechanical ventilation systems, exposed cooker backs, and overcrowding due to poor room design and layout when one of the kitchens is fully operational. Planning for an additional specialist room as eluded to previously is, at this point, also deserving of managementís attention. While a health and safety statement has been developed, it basically consists of a list of rules that students should follow when working in the kitchen. An audit of the room therefore needs to be completed. The audit should aim to identify the hazards attached to working in the room, the degree of risk associated with each hazard and then the control measures that either need to be put in place or must be followed in order to reduce the likelihood of the hazard occurring. Classroom rules should find their basis in the outcomes of the audit. Management is to be commended for arranging individual and dedicated instruction on the use of the fire extinguishers in the kitchens for each member of the home economics department.
It is good to see that planning for the provision of room-based information and communication technology (ICT) is also underway. Installation points have been fitted and plans are in place to provide the necessary hardware when both of the rooms have been refurbished.
A collaborative approach to formal subject-department planning was initiated in the home economics department in December 2005. Currently, this work is co-ordinated by the head of the home economics department. Ideally, in the interests of professional development, the position of co-ordinator should be rotated amongst all members of the department. As a result, the department is encouraged to review current practice. In addition to the time provided by management at the beginning and towards the end of the school year, in the current school year the members of the home economics department have committed to meeting twice weekly during non-timetabled class periods. This additional and very generous commitment is applauded. There is evidence of an established pattern of agenda-setting for formal meetings and of the minuting of the outcomes of these meetings. This very positive practice should be extended to the informal, twice-weekly meetings. In the interest of fairness, responsibility for this should be shared amongst all members of the department rather than resting solely with the co-ordinator.
A subject plan is being developed, and in many aspects the plan is very far advanced. The members of the home economics department have readily engaged in the analysis of studentsí results against national norms, have examined uptake levels in the subject in the school, have devised subject-specific homework and assessment policies and have identified long-term development goals for Home Economics in Christ King Girls Secondary School. All of this is most progressive.
Schemes of work have been drawn up for each year group. These are time-bound and syllabus-based, integrate theory and practical work, provide for assessment and detail resources and methodologies. The department has adopted a task-based approach to practical work in third year and it is recommended that this good practice be extended down the line into second year and first year. Schemes could be developed in time to provide for an obvious integration of topics and details relating to homework. The department is also encouraged to keep expanding the resources and methodologies sections of the schemes and to aim for the provision of specific information relating to these two areas, relevant, of course, to the topics being explored. This will inspire discussion around teaching and learning, which is one of the primary aims of subject department planning. Review and monitoring of the programme plans and schemes of work is ongoing, facilitated by the provision of comments by teachers following completion of lessons on their own personal copies of the schemes. This is commended.
The members of the department are encouraged to keep their approach to the senior-cycle tasks under review and to take a fresh look at the integrated model approach to this area of the course. A review of the course content of both the module and special topic programme in TY is also recommended. The current programme plans, which find their basis excessively in the Leaving Certificate home economics syllabus, lack a certain creativity and vitality which the TY programme lends itself to. Planning for the delivery of the textile component of the junior cycle syllabus could also be rejuvenated. Items made in first and second year do not provide for a developmental approach to the area or an enhancement of student skills, with similar processes being used in both the required household item and the required simple item of clothing. Items made also provide very little scope for individual student creativity. Perhaps this experience is feeding into the studentsí apparent lack of interest in choosing the craft and design option for the Junior Certificate.
The contribution that ICT can make to the planning and preparation of lessons has been recognised by some members of the department, and it is an area that is constantly being explored. This was evident in the materials prepared for some of the lessons observed and also in classroom displays. The openness of teachers to this technology is very positive, with a wider application of its use being advocated. The development of a bank of shared resources has been prioritised by the department. This is fully encouraged. A communal storage area for these resources, that would guarantee unrestricted and easy access to them for all teachers, should be organised. In conjunction with the development of this bank of resources, the department is encouraged to plan simultaneously for the development of a subject-specific library.
Lessons observed were, very commendably, consistent with planned programmes of work. Short-term planning was evident for all lessons and, on occasions, this was of a very high standard. A number of carefully chosen resources, often specifically prepared for the topic under exploration, were used in lessons. These included: flashcards, posters, worksheets, newspaper articles, samples, handouts, books photographs and other images. Some of the resources utilised were computer generated and of superior quality. The use of ICT for this purpose is applauded.
Lessons demonstrated a clear purpose and it was very positive to note that this was shared openly with students as lessons began. In one instance, the setting of clear expectations with regard to anticipated learning outcomes for the lesson was very creditable. Lessons often commenced with a recap of work covered in previous lessons. The department is encouraged to explore some other approaches to recap that go beyond a simple questioning of students. An incorporation of strategies that would enhance whole-class and total student participation in this very important exercise, for example the use of pop quizzes, crosswords or case studies, that might be completed individually or in groups, is advocated. Lesson structure was generally supportive of student learning and took cognisance of studentsí previous knowledge and levels, as well as the lesson purpose. In some instances, with regard to providing for best student learning, some planned activities could have been better placed in the overall lesson structure. The pacing of lessons was broadly satisfactory, although on one occasion surplus time at the end of a lesson could have been used more effectively. Instruction provided to students was clear and concise and, on the whole, entirely accurate. In the majority of lessons, teachers demonstrated an impressive non-reliance on the textbook, both when introducing and teaching the various topics under investigation. Where this was not the case such an approach is encouraged.
The majority of lessons observed provided for the inclusion of a range of methodologies in the delivery of lesson content, many of which called on the active participation of students. This included the use of brain-storming, worksheet activity, pair work and group work. Strategies such as these are further encouraged in all lessons. Some lessons sought to stimulate students who possess a visual learning preference. Considering that for approximately thirty-four per cent of people this is the preferred learning style and that Home Economics clearly lends itself to such an approach, this strategy is advocated in all lessons.
Whole-class, teacher demonstrations were one of the strategies used in two of the lessons visited. In one instance its use can be somewhat justified, because of the fact that a percentage of the students in the class had never studied Home Economics before and therefore had never engaged in practical food studies lessons. The lesson was designed to introduce them to the basics necessary for the next lesson, when students would be required to actually cook the dish being demonstrated. The way the methodology was used in the lesson is also to be praised, in that it incorporated an activity that required direct and total student involvement throughout. Students were instructed to make notes of the directions being provided by the teacher as she prepared the chosen dish. Students were informed that these would provide the basis for their work in the next lesson. In another instance however students were, in the main, passive observers to teacher-dominated activity. In addition, rather than the demonstration been used to introduce students to new or unknown material, the demonstration was designed to provide a recap on skills that students had already received first-hand experience of in practical food studies lessons previously undertaken. Its use in this regard is questionable. The department is advised to re-examine the inclusion of whole-class, teacher demonstrations in the delivery of both of the revised home economics syllabuses. Undoubtedly they have their uses, but because the current emphasis in both syllabuses is on student participation and learning by doing, it is important to question the role of this approach and the impact that it has on student learning in comparison with other approaches. In light of this, and the two very large syllabuses that need to be delivered in the time available, teachers are asked to consider the use of on-spot, teacher demonstrations, delivered as the students work, in place of whole-class, teacher demonstrations.† †
The introduction of worksheets to all lessons observed on the day of the inspection is commended. In one lesson, the worksheet used fully complimented the lesson plan, feeding into and enhancing different parts of the lesson. It also, very impressively, bore images that matched the flashcards used by the teacher to emphasise some of the lessonís key concepts. Best practice was seen where the inclusion of worksheets in planned lesson content provided for an enhanced level of student involvement, helped to vary the learning experience for students and effected an alteration of lesson pace. Best practice was also where studentsí completion of worksheet activities was closely and carefully monitored by the teacher. Where applicable, the following points should be considered. When and where this methodology is used, care must be taken at all times to ensure that all worksheet activities are purposeful and that the completion of activities is appropriately placed in lessons. This ties into the point made previously with regard to the structuring of lessons. Considering the time and energy that goes into the design and production of many of these worksheets, it is also important that their value and potential is fully realised during the lesson they were provided for. This can only happen if sufficient time is provided for; introducing students to planned activities and explaining what is required of them, student completion of exercises and, most importantly, whole-class feedback and discussion. It appears that this is an approach that the department regularly uses with students but unfortunately an absence of student folders means that these are not filed by students for future reflection and study. This is unfortunate, as worksheets can provide students with a valuable resource when studying the topic at home. As a result, it is recommended that students are encouraged by teachers to establish a home economics folder for the storage and filing of worksheets, as well as any other material issued as part of lesson delivery. This, in turn, will help students to realise the value of the exercises themselves but more significantly the outcomes of them.†
Questioning of students featured significantly in all lessons. Best practice was where a mixture of global and directed questioning was used. Such an approach is encouraged in all lessons. In a number of lessons, some very good use was made of questions that were designed to develop studentsí higher-order thinking skills. This approach is strongly advocated for all lessons. On occasions, students would have benefited from being allowed a little more time to answer questions posed. When planning and delivering lessons, some time should be allowed for the questioning of students to check their understanding of work presented as lessons are drawing to a close.
In a number of lessons, teaching provided for a very natural cross-curricular linking of home economics subject matter with that of other subjects being studied by students. In two lessons, for example, historical characters such as Michael Collins and Eamonn de Valera, as well as the two World Wars, were referenced in a discussion around changing eating patterns in Ireland. In order to provide opportunities for the reinforcement of knowledge, skills and understanding developed in other curriculum areas, as well as increasing the relevance of present learning for students, teachers are encouraged to sustain and develop this approach in the teaching of their subject.†
The atmosphere in all classes was notably positive, supported by a teacher-student rapport that was grounded in a strong sense of mutual respect. The two specialist rooms housed a series of subject relevant notice-boards, with one room providing a dedicated section for each year group and each topic currently being explored. This is highly praised.†
There are many positives evident in the home economics departmentís approach to assessment, the first being that a subject-specific assessment policy has been drafted. A variety of assessment modes are utilised to determine studentsí progress and achievement in the subject. The systematic assessment of studentsí project and practical work is an integral part of this. Studentsí achievements in both of these areas are acknowledged in the marks awarded to them both at Christmas and in the summer. The weighting applied for studentsí practical and project work also, very commendably, reflects that which is applied in the state examinations. This practice is highly praised. A similar assessment of senior cycle studentsí journal work is encouraged. Teachers are referred to the sample marking schemes for journals which are available on the Home Economics Support Service website at www.homeeconomics.ie.
The use of common assessment papers for students of the same year group is established practice in the home economics department in relation to formal in-house examinations. It is very commendable that this approach is evolving into the continuous assessment of some year groups. As an approach, it is very well developed in fifth year, where all students of Home Economics are issued with the same class test at the conclusion of a chapter or a topic. This approach is very highly commended and the extension of this practice in time to all other year groups is fully encouraged. Assessment papers viewed were comparable with the design, layout and style of the papers issued during the state examinations. This approach is fully encouraged for all assessments provided. The fact that the department has begun to use ICT in the generation of test papers is also noted and applauded. Plans are also underway to compile common assessment folders for each year group. This is laudable.†
The home economics department is urged to reassess the approach that it has adopted to the practical examination provided at the end of first year. The need for a formal, demonstration, preparation class, when skills being highlighted have already been undertaken by students in practical classes during the year, should be reviewed. It is also suggested that the department looks at providing students with simple, task-based assignments that would draw on the range of dishes cooked by students during the year, rather than having them all prepare and cook the same dish. This approach would also gently introduce them to what is expected of them in the practical food studies state examination in third year.
A subject-specific homework policy has been agreed by members of the department. This is commended. Homework was assigned in all lessons observed and from observation of student copybooks and workbooks, in the main, it is fair to conclude that there is evidence of a fairly regular assignment of homework to students. Where this is not the case, this is recommended. The monitoring of student homework takes many forms. This includes in-class observation of studentsí completion of assigned work, the oral correction of homework during class and the individual monitoring of student work by teachers. Corrections were illustrative of some good examples of comment-only marking. All members of the department are encouraged to build on this approach. The website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment provides some insight into assessment for learning or AfL which would guide teachersí practice in this area. It can be accessed at www.ncca.ie. Some student copybooks also demonstrated a periodic grading of studentsí homework. This is another practice that could be further developed. A lot of workbook activities are completed by students for homework. The periodic collection and marking or grading of this work was apparent in some instances. Where this was not the case it is recommended. In one instance, the need for accuracy in the correction of student homework needs careful consideration. The dating by teachers of all monitoring is suggested. Teachers are also encouraged to aim to provide students with a variety of different homework exercises.†
The department is advised to keep homework and assessment policies under review and to update them regularly. Teachers should aim to provide for more specifics where needed, for example, in relation to the assessment policy, the number and dates of assessment in each year group. This information is already evident in schemes of work so a transfer of this data to the policy is recommended. The department is advised to aim to ensure that both policies reflect the reality because what is committed to in writing makes one fully accountable for what one practices.
Feedback to parents at parent-teacher meetings, which are held once a year for each year group, is supported by a well developed record-keeping sheet that has been devised by the members of the home economics department. The junior cycle version of this sheet details studentsí overall progress and achievement but also highlights studentsí performance in relation to project work, practical cookery and textile work. Great detail is provided in relation to each of these three areas. For example, with regard to practical cookery, parents or guardians receive feedback from teachers in relation to a studentís attendance during these lessons, their organisational skills and their culinary and manipulative skills. This level of feedback is highly praised. School reports are sent home at Christmas and during the summer, and for examination classes also upon completion of the pre examinations in February. Student journals provide a record sheet where students can plot their achievement in each class test. This is yet another way of providing feedback to parents, who are required to sign this page.††
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 key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Home Economics and with the principal and one of the deputy principals at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.