An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Presentation Secondary School,
Sexton Street, Limerick
Roll number: 64250J
Date of inspection: 08 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation Secondary School, Limerick. 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
There is a long tradition of Home Economics in Presentation Secondary School, Sexton Street, Limerick and it is an extremely popular subject on the school’s curriculum as evidenced by its uptake by students.
All first-year students study the full range of optional subjects including Home Economics. Thereafter Home Economics becomes an optional subject at junior cycle. It is a very popular option as it is selected by an average of 65% of junior-cycle students, which generally results in the formation of three or four class groups. This uptake is substantially above the current average participation rate of students nationally for Junior Certificate Home Economics. Class groups in first, second and third years are allocated one double and two single class periods per week.
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 54% of students in the current fifth and sixth years, which generally results in the formation of one class group. This uptake is well above the current national average participation rate for Leaving Certificate Home Economics illustrating its popularity as a subject choice. Classes in fifth and sixth years are allocated five class periods per week, including at least one double class.
The Transition Year (TY) programme is offered to students when there is sufficient uptake. Home Economics is included in the TY programme on a modular basis, which is well developed and selected each year on the basis of students’ aptitudes and interests.
A small number of senior-cycle students undertake the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). Hotel, Catering and Tourism is a popular vocational specialism offered to LCA students. There are a small number of students in LCA 1 and LCA 2. Students are allocated one single and one treble period per week for this specialism. Teachers are to be commended for their creativity and dedication with regard to providing a challenging programme for these students.
Class groups at both junior cycle and senior cycle are of mixed ability. The teachers mediate the curriculum to meet the students’ needs and many 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.
There is a very good level of provision and whole school support for the subject, a fact that is acknowledged by the Home Economics teachers. Teaching time is in line with syllabus recommendations. Formal time is allocated for the purpose of subject planning at the beginning and end of the academic year. Teachers are encouraged to avail of opportunities to act as assistant examiners for the State examinations. Curriculum documentation is disseminated promptly by management. 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 three Home Economics teachers in the school. The co-ordination of the subject is part of a post-holder’s duties. There are three specialist rooms, comprising two food studies laboratories and a textiles room. Both are generally well maintained and reasonably resourced with a range of equipment necessary for the teaching of the subject. 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. Bearing in mind health and safety considerations, it is recommended that management should prioritise the installation of suitable extraction systems in both food studies laboratories in line with best practice guidelines.
Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required. In addition to a small petty cash budget allocated to the subject area, management endeavours to provide for the purchase of additional resources and equipment on the basis of teacher requisition. A management decision to allocate an annual budget to each subject department/faculty would, it is suggested, encourage systematic planning for the acquisition of such resources.
The Home Economics department has access to a television, video and overhead projector for classroom use 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. 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.
The school has very well-equipped Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) facilities including four broadband-enabled computer rooms and a number of laptops are available to students with special educational needs (SEN). Classes do not have timetabled access to ICT facilities, however, access to a computer room can be pre-arranged by the teachers as necessary. Teachers encourage students to make good use of the schools ICT facilities. 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.
Extensive 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 is centrally involved. The Home Economics department is active in providing advice for prospective students.
The school is engaged in school development planning (SDP). While teachers of Home Economics have traditionally engaged in individual planning and have consulted with each other on an informal basis, there is a developing culture for subject planning among the teaching team. Careful planning is undertaken to ensure that valuable educational experiences are provided for students. There is evidence of good practice in planning for common content and assessment in Home Economics. Management provides dedicated formal meeting time for subject departments as part of its commitment to progressing SDP. In addition teachers agree to meet during one of their free class periods and meet informally on a regular basis throughout the week. Records of subject department meetings are recently being maintained.
Within the process of subject planning, outline 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, ideas for class materials and student outings. Resources for dealing effectively with behavioural issues, mixed ability groups and students with SEN within the classroom are also discussed and implemented as necessary. While the good start is acknowledging with regard to individual subject planning for Home Economics, it is recommended that formal subject planning for each year group be maintained and further developed, to include links between theory and practical work, teaching methodologies, practical assignments, classroom and homework activities and opportunities for revision and assessment. In addition, individual curricular plans in Home Economics should be discussed, reviewed and developed over time into a plan for Home Economics for the school. Items for consideration in these plans could be, for example, a policy regarding homework, the use and monitoring of students’ folders and notebooks and planning of courses. The use of ICT would facilitate teachers in the regular review and update of subject planning. State Examination Commission marking schemes and chief examiners’ reports could be further utilised as a resource to inform the planning and development of future schemes of work at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels. 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. In the planning for junior cycle, it is recommended that teachers must adopt the 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. It is further recommended that provision be made for monitoring and review of the plans as appropriate to meet students’ needs.
The Home Economics teachers make an important contribution to programme planning for the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). This merits particular mention for the standard, variety and level of creativity in planning demonstrated by teachers. Teachers engage in informal cross-curricular planning with regard to Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), English, computer class, Science and other practical subjects. Consequently teachers endeavour to develop complementary approaches to themes, which are common to their syllabuses. The generous professional commitment and interest of the teachers concerned is recognised.
Some good use of 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 full potential of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics be further explored by the Home Economics team.
There is evidence of very good support for students with SEN. One of the Home Economics teachers is also a qualified learning support/resource teacher. Her expertise and experience are well utilised within the team for the benefit of enhancing student learning. This is feasible as many of the Home Economics classes both practical and theory are concurrently scheduled and the resource teacher on the team withdraws approximately half of the student group in order to provide them with specific support in their learning. This good practice is highly commendable. 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.
There was good quality teaching and learning in evidence 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 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. Teaching materials, which included student handouts, live samples, workbooks and textbooks were introduced to the lesson at appropriate times. There was evidence of very good experience and expertise being applied in a wide variety of settings. It is recommended that teachers continue to share such experience and expertise among the team of teachers in the context of ongoing subject planning.
Good 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 black board. These strategies were generally appropriate and effective in engaging students and in aiding their understanding of the topic. It is likely that students would benefit from greater exposure to active learning methods and other differentiated strategies that would engage them in their own learning. It is recommended that the benefits to students regarding the incorporation of more student-centred active learning methodologies for example brainstorming, pair work, group discussion, role-play, debating should be considered. This would have the effect of challenging and motivating students in order to encourage them to take greater responsibility for their own learning. It is also recommended that subject to availability personnel endeavour to incorporate more ICT in their teaching of Home Economics.
Questioning was used effectively in all classes to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding and previous knowledge. Mainly lower order questioning was employed in the lessons observed. 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.
In the practical classes 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 organisation and performance of a mock food and culinary skills examination with senior students who were given the opportunity to work independently in order to plan and present a meal. 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’ performance and progress in this area could be greatly enhanced by promoting good work habits such as an emphasis on time planning of a work method and resource management. Students are encouraged to undertake evaluations of tasks completed. This could be further developed by having students complete a written evaluation of the task. In general, students were able to demonstrate their ability to undertake various culinary tasks to a good standard.
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 Design and Craftwork indicated a satisfactory level of competence in the organisation and presentation of material. The good variety of cushions and wall hangings completed by the students merits particular mention for the standard and level of originality demonstrated. Processes such as appliqué, quilting, embroidery and fabric painting are regular features of the craftwork completed. 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.
The Textile Studies programme at junior cycle should provide students with a foundation for undertaking project work for the Junior Certificate for example introduction to using the sewing machine and completion of a simple household article and a simple garment. While it is acknowledged that first-year students undertake some textile skills in relation to basic hand stitches, it is recommended that the Home Economics team be supported to design, develop and implement a plan of work for Textile Studies so that all students in first or second year receive an introduction to textiles practical skills in order to comply with the syllabus requirements at that level. Implementation of the Home Economics Guidelines for Teachers may be useful in achieving this goal.
In most classes, effective use was made of a range of relevant resources to enhance teaching and consolidate 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. Greater use could be made of the blackboard for the explanation of theory and concepts and for the provision of direction and guidance.
The students were attentive, interested and participated well 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 contribute to a classroom atmosphere that is conducive to learning. The physical environments of the Home Economics rooms were enhanced through the display of a number of educational posters. This practice might be further developed to include displays of students’ work and relevant word banks of subject terminology, which could serve as useful learning tools. Currently completed student project work is displayed where the entire student body can view it. This is to be commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement and endeavours to serve as a stimulus and source of motivation for the present cohort of students. In general, students demonstrated a sense of security and discipline was sensitively maintained in lessons observed.
Students displayed good understanding of subject knowledge and good 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.
There is a commitment to expand students’ learning through planned activities both inside and outside the classroom. This is currently achieved from time to time through participation in competitions and visits by guest speakers. It is suggested that visits to hotels, restaurants, fabric shops, supermarkets, industry, relevant agencies and other such opportunities continue to be explored and further developed.
During feedback provided after the observation of classes there was evidence of teachers being reflective in their practice. A genuine willingness to consider suggestions that arose during this process, which would enhance student learning, was demonstrated.
A range of assessment modes is regularly used to ensure that each student has adequate experience in examination techniques and feedback on their progress in Home Economics. Formative assessment of the students is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, and by means of homework.
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 Design and Craftwork is to be commended. Students are encouraged to compose their own recipe notebooks, glossary and notes/study folders. Teachers promote good study and revision practices. Students have a positive attitude towards Home Economics and demonstrate a sense of pride and achievement in their work.
The school provides all first-year students with an after school Homework Club and supervised study is available for the other year groups at a fee. The assigning of regular homework enhances student learning and will also allow for student progress to be assessed, which could also help to influence future teaching. 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, regular monitoring of the student notebooks and copies is undertaken. Good practices observed regarding the monitoring and evaluation of homework and the ongoing assessment of Home Economics in all classes should be further developed.
House examinations are held for students at Christmas and end of year. The grades awarded for Home Economics examinations at Christmas and summer are an aggregated mark for written tests, food and culinary skills practical work and projects completed during that term. The State Examination classes sit pre-examinations in the spring. 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 twice yearly. 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. 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. The school maintains its own records of student achievement in State examinations and subject departments review these.
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 teachers of Home Economics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.