An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
St. Mary’s Secondary School
Holy Faith Convent, Glasnevin, Dublin 11
Roll number: 60770P
Date of inspection: 20 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Mary’s Secondary School, Glasnevin, Dublin 11. 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 two days 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 home economics teachers The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Home Economics, as an optional subject, plays an integral part of all the curricular programmes offered in St Mary’s Secondary School.
Until September 2007 junior-cycle students were arranged into banded class groups where Home Economics was a compulsory subject for students in band three and an optional subject for students in band two. Students in band one did not have the opportunity to study the subject. However, following a curriculum review, almost all first-year classes are now mixed ability and a taster programme has been introduced to allow first-year students to sample all optional subjects. In the case of Home Economics, all students study the subject for one double period per week for the complete academic year. This worthwhile initiative is highly commended as it allows students to make an informed subject choice and ensures equality of access to Home Economics for all students. Management and staff are commended for their efforts in this regard. The contribution made by the home economics team in informing this review is particularly laudable. It is important that the taster programme is kept under review. The final selection of most optional subjects is not made until the end of first year. In addition, the current timetabled allocation for first-year Home Economics is only one double period per week, where best practice is the equivalent of four class periods per week. These arrangements may impede progress through the home economics syllabus. Therefore, consideration could be given to running a shorter taster programme for just part of first year, as is the case with the modern languages, or reviewing the number of class periods allocated to Home Economics over the course of the junior-cycle programme. Commendably, all students in the Transition Year programme (TY) study a home economics related module. Option pools for the Leaving Certificate are generated from student preferences and a conscious effort is made to accommodate all students in their subject selection.
All Home Economics classes are mixed ability. While students at all levels achieve good outcomes in Home Economics, participation rates at higher level are sometimes low. While acknowledging the contextual factors that existed in the school in relation to subject choice, but with Home Economics now being seen as a realistic option among all students in the school, it is recommended that this issue be monitored closely on an on-going basis. Consideration should be given to devising strategies that would judiciously increase student expectations and where possible improve participation rates at higher level in the certificate examinations. The potential opportunities to involve parents in this process might also be considered.
There is very good provision and whole-school support for Home Economics. The teaching time allocated to classes, with the exception of first-year, is in line with home economics syllabus requirements. Particularly commendable is the timetabling arrangement for Leaving Certificate Home Economics where each class has one double and three single lessons per week. This facilitates a more even distribution of class contact time throughout the week. In junior cycle, where classes are allocated two double lessons they should not be timetabled over two consecutive days. This results in a gap of almost one week between lessons thus impacting negatively on effective continuity in teaching and learning. Consideration could be given to an alternative arrangement of junior-cycle class time into two single and one double lesson per week. However, any rearrangement needs to be considered in the context of a review of the timetabling requirements for other subjects in the option pool.
Subject department planning is well established. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed in a voluntary capacity. This position could be rotated to allow each member of the team to assume a leadership role for the continued development of Home Economics in the school. Subject planning is facilitated effectively by management through the provision of regular formal planning time. Planning is underpinned by a laudable commitment to whole-school and subject-specific continuous professional development (CPD). This has impacted very positively on recent developments in subject planning in Home Economics. As part of the school’s continued engagement with school development planning (SDP), an SDP co-ordinator has been appointed, who will liaise with subject co-ordinators as part of the duties attached to the post. This good practice should ensure that there is a coherent approach taken to SDP and that the work undertaken at subject department level will feed into the future development and review of whole-school polices.
Management displays a strong commitment to the continued development of Home Economics. An annual budget is provided for updating equipment and resources. There are three specialist rooms for Home Economics. These rooms are being refurbished on a phased basis and to date some very good progress has been made. In 2004, the school funded the refurbishment of one kitchen to a very high standard. The textiles room is currently undergoing renovations and repairs to redress significant maintenance issues. However, the second kitchen remains in significant need of modernisation. This room dates back to the 1960s and the layout and specifications are not conducive to the practical coursework requirements of modern home economics syllabuses. In view of the current condition of this second kitchen, and having due regard to health and safety considerations, it is recommended that this room be upgraded as a matter of priority, if resources permit.
A whole-school health and safety audit was carried out in 2005 to identify potential hazards. Each specialist room is equipped with a range of health and safety equipment and clear procedures are in place to report accidents. It is praiseworthy that the teaching team has documented some health and safety routines for general lessons and for food studies practicals. In order to build on this good practice, it is recommended that a health and safety policy for Home Economics be developed to include specific safety routines for textile practicals. These routines should be displayed clearly at each workstation in the textiles room. Management, in consultation with the home economics team, should extend the health and safety procedures to include a systematic audit of each specialist room on an annual basis to highlight maintenance priorities and essential upgrading of specialist equipment. This should provide for the upkeep of each room on a phased basis, as resources permit.
The teaching team consists of two very experienced and committed home economics teachers. The pro-active and reflective approach taken by the team to many aspects of subject planning is commendable. In addition to the formal meeting time allocated by management, the teachers meet on an informal basis as the need arises. It is evident from the minutes of department meetings that there is good continuity and follow-up between meetings and that a high level of collaboration exists between the team. Some good progress has been made in the development of a subject plan for Home Economics. Formal records are kept of key points of information from each in-service course attended. This good practice ensures that the information is easily accessible to each member of the team and can be referred to as the need arises. Of particular note is the fact that the diagnostic window produced by the School Development Planning Initiative has been put to very good use to inform reflective debate on many aspects of home economics provision and to establish key priorities for future development of the subject. This is very good practice.
Subject planning is well established and common programmes of work have been developed for each year group. These programmes outline an agreed list of topics on a term-by-term basis. Commendably, key learning outcomes have been agreed for each theoretical topic covered. Junior-cycle programmes of work indicate very good progression in the phased development of key practical skills in the area of food studies and some commendable cross-curricular projects have been incorporated into the plans to reinforce student learning. To build on this good practice, each programme of work should be developed further over time to include information such as the specific time allocated to each topic, appropriate teaching and learning strategies for each module and suggested homework activities. The lesson content should be sequenced in a manner that encourages the appropriate integration of related topics across and within core areas of each syllabus. As all programmes of work are reviewed on an annual basis, which is very good practice, particular attention should be given to reviewing the effectiveness of the teaching and learning strategies deployed in the delivery of course content.
Revised syllabuses in Home Economics include a variety of practical coursework components that aim to develop students’ ability in key theoretical, practical and procedural skills. In planning for the Junior Certificate programme, it is recommended that the delivery of the practical coursework component of the core textiles section be reviewed to comply with syllabus requirements. The items made by students should aim to develop key practical, theoretical and procedural skills as outlined in the syllabus, and give scope for individual student creativity. This review will provide a sound basis for students undertaking the design and craftwork option. Furthermore, in planning teaching strategies for junior cycle, the further use of the design brief process in the areas of textiles and food studies is recommended from first year through to third year. This would enable students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation. It would also provide opportunities to integrate theory and practice. To promote a student-centred approach to the Leaving Certificate food studies practical coursework, the information with regard to coursework requirements, as issued by the State Examinations Commission, should be explained on a phased basis. Therefore, in planning the sequence of content for Leaving Certificate, it is recommended that lessons explaining the routines for compiling the coursework journals be included from time to time, particularly as progress is made from one area of practice to another.
The home economics team has compiled a large bank of shared resources. It is laudable that some of these materials are designed to accommodate the various student learning styles through the use of illustrations, word searches, cloze tests and activity-based exercises. The diligence, commitment and enthusiasm of the home economics team in recently expanding this work are highly commended. As the competent use of ICT was apparent in the compilation of these resources, it is suggested that an electronic folder for Home Economics is the most efficient way of storing this information in the long term. Other documents relating to the teaching of Home Economics, including syllabuses, chief examiners’ reports, material from the support services and the year plans could also be stored in this folder.
Planning for the effective use of information and communication technology (ICT) is evident in Home Economics. Lessons are occasionally held in the computer room, which is available on request, and the home economics department has a dedicated computer and data projector. Observation of student project work indicated some very competent use of ICT to support learning. This is commendable practice.
The quality of short-term planning for the lessons observed was good. Lesson content was consistent with the long-term programmes of work and in all instances a number of carefully chosen resources were prepared and used effectively to support student learning. In a number of lessons there was good cross-linking of interrelated syllabus areas. This practice could be developed further as home economics syllabuses recommend that information be taught within a framework that integrates related elements and processes.
Lessons were purposeful and, in general, well structured and paced at a level that was appropriate to the needs of the learner. Best practice was observed in lessons where a range of strategies that gave students time to assimilate or apply information was built into the lesson structure. This good practice should be extended. In all instances, the aim of the lesson was shared with students. This commendable strategy could be developed further by sharing clear and concise learning outcomes for the topic with students. These outcomes could then be used to scaffold the lesson structure and enable students to maintain a clear focus throughout the lesson.
Teachers’ explanation was clear, accurate and contextualised with some good strategies used to reinforce learning and facilitate understanding. In all lessons explanations of new material were linked to the everyday experiences of students. This good practice fostered a deeper meaning of the topic being taught. One particularly good example of this strategy occurred in a lesson, where in preparation for a Leaving Certificate assignment, the classroom discussion centred on products that were manufactured in the locality. The effective use of a range of exemplar products to support the discussion ensured that students remained engaged with the lesson content. On other occasions a visual approach was adopted to explaining new concepts through using diagrams and other visual aids. This is good practice.
Teacher-led discussion featured in a number of lessons. Best practice was observed when key points from the discussion were summarised on the board and when students were given opportunities to take the information down into their notebooks. Questioning strategies proved effective in assessing recall and understanding of concepts and processes covered in lessons. On occasion, questioning techniques challenged students to analyse and apply the information being discussed. This very good practice should be encouraged in all lessons to enable students develop the higher-order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of the home economics syllabuses. Questioning strategies proved most effective in lessons where there was a good balance of global and directed questions and where students were given adequate time to formulate their own answers. When questions are occasionally directed to individual students, the practice of chorus answering is minimised and individual levels of student knowledge and understanding can be assessed.
Some very good practice was evident in the teaching and learning of practical food studies. In one practical food studies lesson observed a commendable focus was placed on the integration of the key stages of the design brief process. Students displayed an impressive ability to work independently and in collaboration with each other. They displayed a very high level of self-organisational skills, as evidenced by their level of advance preparation and planning for the lesson, and by the manner in which they executed the task. A good standard of culinary skills and clearly established safety and hygiene routines were evident. It was noted positively that the evaluation stage of the task was an integral component of the lesson. This very good practice allows students to develop higher-order skills in the critical appraisal of tasks. Consideration should be given to the further use of spot demonstrations to “stage” the preparation, cooking and serving of dishes in practical lessons. This strategy provides opportunities to re-emphasise key food preparation processes and apply theoretical knowledge to practical skills.
The personal contribution that the teachers made to teaching their classes was much in evidence throughout all lessons. Observation of and interaction with students indicated that they had a good understanding of the key concepts of the topics being studied. To build on the good practice already evident in Home Economics, it is recommended that the range of teaching and learning strategies used in lessons be extended. Particular focus should be placed on lessons where there is a tendency for students to remain passive, in order to avoid an over-emphasis on teacher-led activity. As particular cognisance must be taken of the aims and assessment objectives of the revised syllabuses when choosing strategies, it is recommended that strategies that facilitate the active engagement of students in their own learning, and promote the development of higher-order skills be especially considered. Activities such as group work, pair work, role-play and the use of worksheets or case studies all facilitate peer collaboration. The home economics team is also advised to re-examine the inclusion of whole-class demonstrations in the delivery of the food studies core of the revised home economics syllabuses. While formal demonstrations have their uses, the appropriate use of this strategy, when assessed against intended learning outcomes, needs to be considered carefully.
Teaching and learning took place in a secure and supportive atmosphere. All classroom interactions were characterised by a high level of mutual respect and co-operation. Good use was made of praise to affirm students’ progress and students displayed a sense of security in seeking clarification or assistance during lessons.
Observation of students’ recent and current project work in the area of craft and design indicated a commendable level of creativity and originality in the interpretation of their design brief. Best practice was observed in instances where students demonstrated a very good level of complexity in their chosen craft skill and where student originality was evident in the analysis, interpretation and evaluation of the design brief in the support folder. It is worth noting that the chief examiners’ reports and associated marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission are very useful for further guidance and advice on the coursework components at junior and senior cycle. These documents are available at www.examinations.ie.
The home economics team operate a laudable system of summative assessment which includes the drafting of common examination papers that are differentiated according to students’ ability if necessary. Summative assessment procedures also include an assessment of practical coursework components. This is very good practice as it mirrors the arrangements for the certificate examinations and is a good indicator of students’ progress in the subject.
From reviewing a range of examination papers set by the home economics team, the format and layout of the written examinations for most year groups are praiseworthy, as due consideration is given to the format and style of the relevant State Examinations Commission papers. It is laudable that the marks awarded for each part of the questions are stated on most papers. This good practice has the advantage of training students in the interpretation of marking schemes and in other examination techniques such as timing and depth of treatment required. To build on this good practice it is recommended that the format of the summer and Christmas written examinations for first-year and second-year students be reviewed to allow students to develop skills in the variety of question styles that are included in the higher-level Junior Certificate examination in Home Economics. This will allow students to develop key examination skills over time
The assessment of the home economics module in TY is particularly commended. Clear assessment criteria, based on the development of key skills, have been devised. Of particular note is the fact that this information is shared with students and forms the basis for subsequent feedback on monitored work.
All assessment outcomes are recorded systematically in teachers’ journals. This good practice can help to build up a profile of students’ progress in the subject over time. Such profiles are a useful source of evidence when providing advice on examination levels to students and parents.
Observation of student notebooks indicated some good progression in their work. However, in the majority of cases, student notebooks only recorded work for the current academic year. In an effort to address this situation the home economics team have introduced an agreed system of notebooks for first-year students. This worthwhile initiative should be extended to other year groups. This notebook should include key points of information covered in theoretical and practical lessons and facilitate the systematic storage of any handouts and worksheets distributed in class for ease of reference for student revision.
Homework is regularly assigned to all year groups to reinforce or extend the learning that has taken place in the lessons and there was very good practice evident in the monitoring of student work. Useful teacher comments in copybooks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. This is good practice, as regular constructive feedback enhances learning by informing students about their own individual progress, highlights areas for improvement and ultimately challenges and assists students to reach their full potential. This practice is illustrative of the principles that underpin Assessment for Learning (AfL). Further information on AfL is available from the NCCA at www.ncca.ie or from the Home Economics Support Service at www.homeeconomics.ie.
It is commendable that the home economics team has an agreed framework for the amount of homework assigned to each year group. To enhance this good practice, it is recommended that the homework policy for Home Economics should be reviewed to ensure that the range of homework assigned to all year groups is representative of all the key areas of the syllabus. Particular attention should be given to ensuring that all students are given regular opportunities to develop skills in long-answer style questions on a phased basis over the duration of the Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes.
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 at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.