An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Listowel Community College
Listowel, County Kerry
Roll number: 70500P
Date of inspection: 3 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Listowel Community College. 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 with the teacher, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed planning documentation and the teacherís written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and subject teacher. The board of management was given the 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 to this report.
Home Economics was reintroduced to Listowel Community College three years ago. At this time, the school entered into an arrangement with FŠilte Ireland and North Kerry Community Programme, which was administered by Kerry Education Service. As a result, the school was able to access the necessary teaching hours and equipment. The school financed equipment and a non-slip, floor covering, by renting the room to Failte Ireland for a night course. The school also received teaching services for Home Economics in direct exchange for making the room available to the North Kerry Adult Education programme.
Home Economics is a compulsory subject for first-year students attending Listowel Community College. This is commended. It should be noted however, that the students are not studying the subject with a view to completing a home economics paper in the Junior Certificate examination. While this is unfortunate, there is no doubt but that students do benefit from participating in this programme, restricted as it may be, which places a strong emphasis on practical life skills. Currently second-year students are not provided with the opportunity to study Home Economics. This is regrettable. Third-year students in the school are provided with a taster programme in the subject, a programme which is designed to provide them with basic skills for life. Once again, this provision is commended. It is very positive to note that Home Economics is offered as an optional subject for fifth- and sixth-year students. Management is currently reviewing how it provides for the subject in junior cycle. Serious thought is being given to offering the subject as an examination subject. Because of what the subject has to offer to the collegeís student cohort, this move is fully encouraged. To elaborate, and over and above the application and relevance that syllabus content has to everyday life, the way the subject is examined at Junior Certificate level makes it very possible for all students, regardless of ability, to achieve to their full potential. It is commendable that management continues to seek additional teaching hours through the normal allocation system in order to give additional time and a better spread of classes in the subject area.†
There is some room for improvement in the timetabling of Home Economics in the school. To begin, if it is decided to offer Home Economics as an examination subject, first-year class groups should be timetabled for four as opposed to the current two class periods per week. A similar provision should be made in second and third year. A review of the timetabling of fifth-year and sixth-year students is also recommended. First and foremost, and because currently fifth-year and sixth-year students are being taught together in the same class group, consideration should be given to the formation of two separate senior cycle class groups. One of the main reasons for such a recommendation is due to the food studies journal work. This accounts for a very significant twenty percent of the marks awarded to students in the Leaving Certificate examination, but the tasks that are issued differ from year to year. As a result, in a mixed class scenario, students would have to complete two sets of tasks as opposed to the required one. The time devoted to this, which for the record would be quite significant, could be better spent on the exploration of other, more relevant areas of what is already a very large syllabus. The allocation of five class periods for the delivery of the Leaving Certificate syllabus, which is in line with syllabus recommendations, is commended. Management is encouraged however to review the organisation of these class periods on the overall timetable. Current timetabling provides for one triple-lesson and one double-lesson period. This is not ideal as it significantly reduces studentsí contact with the subject over the weekly timetable. In the current timetable, this is further exasperated by the fact that Home Economics is timetabled for two consecutive days, namely Thursday and Friday. Considering the bigger picture, the fact that the double period on a Friday is timetabled for the last two classes is also somewhat unfortunate. A more productive provision would be one double period and three single periods, that are nicely spread over the weekly timetable. This should be kept in mind when timetabling senior cycle Home Economics in the future. ††
The school houses a very large kitchen which is well resourced and equipped. The room also houses a desktop computer, which has broadband access, and a printer. The provision of this room-based information communication technology (ICT) is applauded. A safety audit has been carried out in the home economics room. The resulting document outlines the hazards that have been identified in the room as well as the measures that need to be put in place to minimise the likelihood of an accident occurring. This is commended. This should be reviewed on a regular basis. Managementís attention is drawn to the flooring in the room. While a significant part of the floor has been fitted with a non-slip floor covering, the area that leads to and from the door, which includes a sink and food preparation area, remains tiled. In the interest of health and safety, consideration should be given to the removal of these tiles and the provision of a non-slip floor covering in the identified area. ††
The deployment of staff for the teaching of the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate home economics syllabuses is not entirely 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 deploys staff for the teaching of Home Economics.
It is good to note that subject department planning is facilitated by management through the provision of some formal meeting time, approximately twice during the school year. This is further encouraged.
Subject planning has only just been initiated in the home economics department. As a means of progressing the process, the department is encouraged to complete a SWOT analysis. This would help in the identification of the subjectís strengths, weaknesses, developmental opportunities and any possible threats to the subject in the school. The results of this exercise should provide a focus for planning in Home Economics and will assist the department in the identification of developmental priorities. The department is also directed to the planning templates that have been compiled by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and the Home Economics Support Service. These can be accessed on websites at www.sdpi.ie and www.homeeconomics.ie respectively. These templates would provide direction for the planning work of the department.
Programmes of work for first-year, third-year and the combined senior classes are being drafted. In addition to the list of topics that it is intended for coverage with each class group, programmes should also include: an identification of suitable methodologies and resources, the integration of topics, links between theory and practical work, assessment procedures, homework exercises and, when and where applicable, student revision. This task is quite onerous and therefore it is suggested that it be carried out on a phased basis. Course syllabuses and Guidelines for Teachers, as opposed to textbooks, should provide the basis for such detailed planning.
There was evidence of planning for the extension of student learning beyond the four walls of the classroom in a number of co-curricular and extracurricular activities that home economics students have been involved in. One such project was a recent revamping of the schoolís canteen menu, so as to provide healthier food options. Planning for activities such as this is praised and further encouraged.
The first part of the lesson visited on the day of the inspection demonstrated a clear purpose, namely, revision of the family. One of the most important aspects of the beginning of any lesson is the establishment of a good mental set. In order to establish a more positive mental set it is recommended that, in addition to highlighting the purpose of the lesson, the lessonís aims and objectives are also clearly outlined to students. This can be done in a number of ways but should always seek to elicit studentsí interest in the topic to be explored. In a revision lesson, such as the one observed, a starting point could be studentsí existing knowledge. A short, group pop-quiz, for example, would be a very non-threatening way of triggering studentsí knowledge base, while also setting the scene for the areas that will be revisited during the lesson. Something like this could be reintroduced as the lesson draws to a close, thereby providing students with a means of measuring and evaluating their own learning.
The primary methodology used in the delivery of lesson content was formal teacher input which often gave rise to class discussion. Not taking from the fact that students very frequently added their own comments and opinions, overall, much of the real work of the lesson was completed by the teacher as opposed to the students. An approach which places more onus for work on students and less on the teacher ought to be considered. To this end, it is recommended that some consideration be given to the incorporation of strategies that would involve students more actively in lesson content. This might include, for example, some brainstorming, pair work, group work, worksheet activity or note-making, as opposed to passive note-taking. The use of a variety of different strategies would also help to vary lesson momentum whilst maintaining the all important element of surprise.
Media references, stories and anecdotes were used by the teacher in an attempt to make the topic being explored more meaningful and more relevant for students. This, when used appropriately, is a very good strategy but, in this instance, was a little overdone. While, as an approach it succeeded in keeping students attentive and contributed to a noticeably positive teacher-student rapport, the references and stories, rather than the details of the topic being explored, became the most significant part of the lesson. It is recommended therefore that care is exercised when using this approach.
Approximately half way though the timetabled lesson, and following a short break, the focus of the lesson changed significantly. Bearing in mind that the revision of the family had not been completed at this stage, it is suggested that this may not have been the best approach, as the lessonís original purpose was not fully realised. Furthermore, because students were not informed of the intended purpose or content of the second half of the lesson, they appeared somewhat Ďat seaí in terms of what they were expected to learn and subsequently know. In time, the purpose of this part of the lesson, an exploration of meal planning, became clear. However, considering studentsí levels it became apparent that the material explored and discussed during this part of the lesson was pitched to a level that would be more appropriate for junior cycle students. It is recommended therefore that, when planning lesson content, reference is made to the appropriate syllabus so as to ascertain the appropriate amount of detail that is required.†
Considering the fact that it was a revision lesson and that the sixth-year students in the class were preparing to sit the Leaving Certificate examination in a monthís time, it was unusual that the lesson made little or no reference to examination papers or questions. It is suggested that some reference could have been made, for example, to past questions on the family, and that students might have attempted to answer these in class, even orally, under the direction and guidance of the teacher. This would have provided an opportunity to discuss other important examination information such as paper layout, marking schemes and technique.
No provision was made for a summary of lesson content. Every lesson benefits from a final summing up. It is paramount that time is provided therefore in all lessons for this very important activity. Lesson summaries should seek to highlight the salient features of the lesson, as well as, perhaps, the contributions of a few of the members of the class. Such an approach can help to foster a sense of achievement amongst the students in the group. It is also desirable that students would participate in this, for example, through the use of a questions and answers session.
The classroom walls were, very commendably, used to display a series of material relevant to the material explored in home economics lessons. It was very positive to see a number of these being referenced over the course of the lesson. Both are further encouraged.†
Formal in-house examinations are arranged for all class groups prior to the Christmas and summer holidays. Students are assessed in class through the use of oral questioning. This was very evident in the lesson observed. Periodically, students are required to complete a topic or end-of-chapter written test. It is suggested that the home economics department seek to provide for more of this type of assessment. It was also suggested on the day of the inspection that students be asked to maintain a graph indicating their performance in each of these written tests. This would provide a clear indication to them, their parents and the teacher, of their personal progress over a given period. A more structured and formal approach to the assessment of studentsí practical, project and journal work is also recommended. The guidelines and marking schemes that are issued by the State Examinations Commission, along with the Chief Examinerís Reports should inform the assessment of each of these three areas.†††
Despite the fact that there was no homework assigned during the lesson observed on the day of the inspection, homework is otherwise assigned on a regular basis. This is evident both in studentsí workbooks and in their own personal copies of the past and sample state examination papers. †This is praised. It is recommended that this work be collected on a regular basis to facilitate a more formal monitoring and correction of this work by the teacher. Some consideration should also be given to the provision of some written comments relating to studentsí performance in each of the assigned tasks. Periodically too, studentsí homework might also be graded. Simultaneously, the department is encouraged to ensure variety in the types of exercises assigned to students for homework. It is the policy of the home economics department to allow some time at the end of lessons so that students can get a head start on exercises assigned as homework. As a means of encouraging students to complete this work, this strategy is reported to be working very well. All students are required to note homework into their journals. Teachers can also communicate with parents via the journals. Parents are required to sign the journal and the respective class teacher is involved in the monitoring of them.
In addition to the school journal, student progress and achievement is also communicated to parents through the issuing of a progress report at Christmas and during the summer holidays. These reports are posted home. This is a two-page document. The first page provides the grade achieved by a student, the second a comment on their overall performance, application to their studies and so on. Parent-teacher meetings, which are held once per annum, are another means of reporting to parents in relation to students. The Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) postcards are also sent home as appropriate. Students and parents alike have responded very positively to this initiative.†† †
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 teacher of Home Economics and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The school welcomes the report and the recommendations contained therein.† The management is committed to implementing the recommendations and to seeking the necessary resources required.
Area 2†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Timetabling:†† There is a greater spread of classes across the school week.† Classes at Leaving Certificate are held on three days comprising of two double periods and a single period.
Classes in Junior Cycle have one double and one single Home Economics class per week and are entered to sit the Junior Cert exam.† The First year class has one double period to accommodate the wide range of subjects which is available specifically to first years as part of the Junior Cert Programme.
Deployment of Staff:†† School management and Kerry Education Service is currently reviewing this matter in the subject area with a view to having suitably qualified teachers in the Leaving Certificate Junior Certificate and FETAC programmes which are available in the school and scheme.† Management will keep DES informed of developments.
Subject Planning:†† In the meantime, the SDPI Coordinator is arranging for support for the Department in continuing to develop a subject plan using the available planning templates. The support of the Home Economics Support Service has also been requested and will be available to the teacher.
Health and Safety:†† The school is requesting that Kerry Education Service carry out the recommended works in the room as part of its service plan for 2007/08.