An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Holy Family Secondary School
Newbridge, Co. Kildare
Roll Number: 61682A
Date of inspection: 27 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in the Holy Family Secondary School, Newbridge, Co. Kildare. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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 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.
Home Economics is a very popular and vibrant subject in the Holy Family Secondary School. It is an integral part of all curricular programmes offered in the school.
The subject benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support. There are four home economics teachers and management makes a conscious effort, where feasible, to ensure continuity when allocating teachers to classes from first year through to third year and again for the duration of the Leaving Certificate programme. All subject documentation is disseminated promptly through the principal to each member of the teaching team. Subject department planning is well established and formal planning time is allocated by management on a very regular basis. The willingness and commitment of the home economics team in embracing the process of formal subject planning is acknowledged and commended. Teaching time allocated to both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate classes is in accordance with syllabus recommendations. The arrangement of classes into single and double periods is particularly conducive to effective continuity in teaching and learning. Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT) is allocated four class periods per week, which is organised into one triple and one single class. At present these class periods are all timetabled on the same day of the week. This arrangement can impact negatively on the effectiveness of the continuity of teaching and learning, particularly where students are absent on the day when the HCT lessons are scheduled. Therefore, it is recommended that the timetabling arrangements for LCA HCT be reviewed and amended in line with the syllabus guidelines.†
Home Economics is an optional subject for junior and senior cycle. Participation rates are very good and often the demand for places in home economics classes exceeds the number available, given the limitation of the number of home economics rooms and supply of specialist teaching hours available. The mechanism for subject selection is student-centred. In-coming first-year students select their optional subjects at pre-entry stage. It is commendable that option bands are generated from an initial survey of student preferences. Students can attend an open night where the home economics department organises displays of relevant work. The home economics teachers and some students are also present to provide additional information. In addition, an information night is held for the parents of incoming first years and the principal holds individual interviews with incoming students and their parents in the February or March prior to entry. These events provide opportunities to seek advice on subject options. All junior cycle home economics class groups are of mixed ability, which results in higher and ordinary levels being taught together. Students are well supported and advised on the appropriate levels for the certificate examinations by their home economics teacher. It was noted positively that they are encouraged to aim for high academic standards and, where possible, to take Home Economics at the highest possible level in the certificate examinations.
It is laudable that all students in the Transition Year programme complete a home economics related module. At Leaving Certificate level, option pools are generated from student surveys and every effort is made to facilitate studentsí choice. Students are well supported and advised on subject choices through the guidance programme and from advice given by individual subject departments. The very good uptake at Leaving Certificate level sometimes allows for two home economics classes to be timetabled concurrently. The benefits of this timetabling arrangement should be maximised to facilitate student movement within class groups. It is praiseworthy that the home economics team are exploring the feasibility of team teaching elements of the Leaving Certificate syllabus. This admirable practice allows individual teachers develop an expertise in areas of particular interest to them and enables students to benefit from the collective expertise of the home economics teaching team. The LCA module in HCT is offered as a vocational specialism. This allows students who took Home Economics for their Junior Certificate and progress into LCA build on the knowledge and skills already developed in junior cycle.
There are three specialist rooms comprising two kitchens and one textiles room. Both kitchens were completely re-furbished in recent years as part of a school building project. These rooms are very well resourced, organised and maintained with the appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. The provision of information and communications technology (ICT) is particularly good. Additional resources are allocated on the basis of teacher requisition and management is very supportive of any requests made. The parentsí council also provides valuable support to the home economics department, as evidenced by the fact that the council is currently providing funding for the upgrading of sewing machines in the school.
There is a very strong commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) and this is facilitated and encouraged by management. Members of the home economics team have attended in-service training for the revised Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus and the LCA HCT, and attend the regional cluster meetings organised by the Home Economics Support Service (HESS). All members of the team have a variety of experience in the marking of the certificate examinations at junior and senior cycle. It is obvious that the experience gained has impacted positively on the quality of learning and teaching of Home Economics in the school.
High priority is given to the active management of health and safety in Home Economics. Safety procedures are clearly displayed and each room is equipped with an appropriate range of health and safety equipment. A member of the home economics team has completed an occupational first aid course and a subject-specific health and safety statement was developed recently by an external consultant. The teaching team should build on this policy and identify the risk factors and specific safety control measures for the key equipment used in home economics lessons. It is recommended that the home economics team, in association with management, develop formal procedures for reviewing health and safety as advocated in the consultantís report.
Good provision is made in Home Economics for students with special education needs. There is collaboration between the learning support department and the home economics department and this allows lesson content in Home Economics to be tailored to meet individual student needs.†
The home economics department makes a commendable contribution to the extra-curricular and co-curricular programme in the Holy Family Secondary School. The department plays an active role in school activities such as healthy eating week, Seachtain na Gaeilge, the musical and open evenings. In addition, studentsí learning, particularly in LCA, is extended beyond the classroom through a range of planned activities relevant to the completion of key assignments. Such practices are highly commended and encouraged where possible as they broaden studentsí knowledge, experience and ultimate enjoyment of the subject. It was noted positively that the home economics department has clearly established procedures for school outings that are in line with whole-school policy.
Subject department planning is at an advanced stage of development and many collegial practices underpin the work of the home economics department. The position of subject co-ordinator rotates among the teaching team. This good practice ensures that the workload attached to this voluntary position is shared and that each member of the team has an opportunity to assume a leadership role in the continued development of Home Economics in the School.
The home economics team has formal meetings on a very regular basis which are facilitated by management. This commendable level of commitment has ensured that a professional, collaborative, informed and reflective approach underpins subject department planning in Home Economics. It is commendable that an agenda is prepared for each meeting and that records of the main decisions taken are recorded for all formal meetings. The home economics team has developed a mission statement for Home Economics that is clearly linked to the schoolís mission statement and provides the basis for all policy development in Home Economics. The subject planning folder, while based on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template, has been very well developed to ensure that the procedures implemented in Home Economics reflect the values espoused in the mission statement for the Holy Family Secondary School. It was noted that the home economics team carry out an annual SCOT analysis of Home Economics in the school. This very useful self-evaluative tool has ensured that an informed and pro-active approach is taken to the continued development of Home Economics. The planning materials provided by HESS may provide additional support in this area. These materials can be downloaded from the website at www.homeeconomics.ie
Outline collaborative curricular plans for all year groups are filed in the subject planning folder. These plans are developed further in the individual teacher plans that were observed during the course of the evaluation. There was some variation in the level of detail presented in the curricular plans. Best practice was observed where the plans were time bound and where the sequence of lesson content contained clear learning outcomes, integrated theoretical knowledge with practical skills and included time for revision and assessment. It is praiseworthy that the planning documentation often listed the resources and teaching strategies to be deployed. It is recommended that, as a next step in developing curricular planning, a common detailed plan be developed on a collaborative basis for each curricular programme in Home Economics. Each plan should include the specific time allocated to each topic. This will help to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between practical coursework and theory. The lesson content should be sequenced in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in all home economics syllabuses and the expected knowledge and understanding for each lesson should be presented in terms of learning outcomes. Information on suitable teaching and learning strategies should also be integrated into the planned work. The identification of appropriate resources and homework assignments for each area can be included as each plan is implemented. The basis for this work is already evident in individual planning documentation. This work should be progressed on a phased basis, taking, for example, one junior and one senior year group per annum. A copy of the amended curricular plans should be stored in the subject planning folder. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment document Guidelines for Teachers for the revised Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus and materials available on the HESS website may provide useful information in the further development of the curricular plans for Leaving Certificate Home Economics.
An interesting variety of practical coursework is planned in the areas of Junior Certificate textiles and design and craftwork optional work. The range of practical coursework completed in the area of core textiles is particularly laudable. The home economics team is commended for the creative planning of the transition year module in childcare. Many interesting student activities in this module encourage both independent and co-operative learning as well as a sense of personal responsibility and student teamwork. To develop this module further it is recommended that the programme of work be developed to include clear assessment criteria all project work undertaken. This information should be shared with students and provide a basis for the provision of constructive feedback when monitoring student work.
A very good range of additional resources and teaching aids has been collected and developed to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. Some of these teaching aids are stored in shared resource folders while other resources are listed in the subject plan. In order to build on this good practice, it is advocated that a list of all available resources be documented. It is suggested that an electronic folder for Home Economics which can be accessed by all the team is the most efficient way of storing this information. Other documents relating to the teaching of Home Economics, including syllabuses, chief examinersí reports, material from the support services and the year plans could also be stored in this folder.
There was evidence of very good quality teaching and learning in the lessons observed during the course of the evaluation. Appropriate resource materials were prepared in advance and used to support student learning. Best practice was observed when the lesson content was planned in a manner that integrated related topics, as recommended in the junior and senior cycle home economics syllabuses. It is laudable that all lessons incorporated a variety of teaching and learning strategies which ensured that students remained purposefully engaged throughout.
Lessons were generally well structured and purposeful and paced at a level that suited the varying abilities of students. The aim of each lesson was shared with the students and this provided an effective focus as lessons commenced. This good practice could be developed further by sharing key learning outcomes for the topic with the students to enable them to focus on their own learning as the lesson progresses. In pacing lessons it is recommended that opportunities be created to summarise lesson content to consolidate learning and allow students to reflect on what they have learnt and how they have learned it.
A commendable concern was shown for studentsí understanding of lesson content in all the lessons observed. Teachers displayed very good subject knowledge. Explanations of difficult concepts were linked to studentsí own experiences and this proved very effective in stimulating studentsí interest, assisting understanding and consolidating learning. There was some good use of the blackboard to summarise key points of information. To maximise the effectiveness of this strategy students should be given time to take down the information into their copybooks. Questioning strategies were used effectively to stimulate student interest and to check understanding. It is particularly commendable that students were challenged by questioning to analyse and apply theoretical knowledge to related practical processes, as was evident when students worked on design brief tasks in the food studies and textiles lessons observed. Questioning strategies proved most effective in lessons where questions were directed frequently to students to monitor individual student learning and chorus answering was avoided.
Active learning was a central feature of the lessons observed. Particularly impressive was the fact that the variety of activities observed during the course of the evaluation served to accommodate the different learning styles evident in mixed-ability settings and foster a sense of collaborative and independent learning among students. This practice is reflective of the teaching and learning strategies that underpin the revised syllabuses in Home Economics and is commended. There was good evidence of the effective integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of Home Economics. In a number of lessons observed students made effective use of the class computer to research information relevant to the topic being studied. The information gleaned was in turn fed back to the rest of the class. This good practice is encouraged.
Many planned learning activities in the lessons observed were designed to extend studentsí experiences and encourage their originality and creativity. Observation of studentsí recent design and craft work indicates a very high level of competence in the organisation and presentation of materials and in the appropriate craft and textile skills. In the practical lessons observed there was a commendable balance between spot demonstration, whole-class teaching, individual instruction and student work. In a practical textiles lesson observed the students were completing a simple design brief folder in tandem with the textile item produced. This is very good practice as it enables students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation. It also provides opportunities to integrate theory and practice. Observation of the textile items completed indicated a very good level of textile skills and creativity, given the level of experience of the students. A similar strategy could be adopted in the teaching of practical food studies lessons from first year. For example, an occasional practical food studies lesson could be based on a simple food assignment.
The practical food studies lesson observed was based on preparation for a forthcoming food and culinary skills examination. A commendable effort was made to foster student creativity in the preparation and presentation of dishes as well as to broaden their experiences in the selection and use of food ingredients. This good practice proved very effective in stimulating student interest and enhancing their enjoyment of food studies. Particularly impressive was the ability of the students to work independently and in collaboration with each other. Students displayed a very high level of self-organisational skills as evidenced by their standard of advance preparation and planning for the class. Students demonstrated a very good standard of culinary skills and clearly established safety and hygiene routines were evident. Well-designed evaluation sheets acted as an effective tool is guiding students through the task of evaluating their assignment.
The atmosphere in all classes was supportive and conducive to learning. The physical environment of the home economics rooms was enhanced by displays of studentsí project work and a range of appropriate educational posters. The good practice of taking a roll call at the beginning of class was noted. Discipline was sensitively maintained and good use was made of praise to affirm studentsí progress. Teacher movement around the room during all lessons gave students the opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive manner.
A range of assessment modes, both formative and summative, is regularly used to assess student competence and progress in Home Economics. Formative assessment is carried out on an on-going basis through oral questioning, student observation, homework assignments and the assessment of practical and project work, while written class tests are administered at regular intervals. All assessment outcomes are systematically recorded in teachersí journals. This good practice helps to build a profile of studentsí progress and achievement in the subject over time and is a useful evidence base when providing advice on examination levels to students and parents. †
In accordance with agreed procedures for Home Economics, a range of homework activities is assigned to all classes to consolidate learning. This includes on-going work on practical coursework, preparation for practical lessons, project work and, in almost all instances, the regular completion of written homework exercises. There is some good emphasis on past examination papers in cases where students are preparing to sit the certificate examinations. However, in the case of other year-groups, observation of student copybooks indicated that there was some variation in the volume of written work assigned and, on occasion, there was an over-reliance on short-answer style questions from student workbooks. As the regular assignment of homework and the checking of studentsí written homework exercises, key assignments and project work is an important element of the formative assessment process, it is recommended that the homework policy for Home Economics be reviewed. Particular attention should be given to how best to balance the type and regularity of homework assigned with the provision of constructive feedback to all students. Particular attention should be given to avoiding an over-reliance on written homework activities that solely assess recall and understanding of information. The range of homework activities assigned all year groups should be examined to ensure that all students have regular opportunities to practice long-answer style questions to encourage the higher-order skills of analysis, interpretation and application of information. In addition, the homework policy for Home Economics could outline the subsequent responsibilities of the students on receipt of the marked work.
Observation of studentsí copybooks and folders indicated some good progression in their work. There was some good monitoring of studentsí work. Useful teacher comments in some copybooks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. This good practice, which is one of the key principles underpinning Assessment for Learning (AfL) should be extended to all year groups. Further information on Assessment for Learning is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website at www.ncca.ie. There was some variation in the quality of student work evident in copybooks, particularly with regard to the maintenance of notebooks. It is recommended that the home economics team review the modus operandi for student notebooks. This review should include the development of a system that would encourage students to incorporate the worksheets and handouts used in lessons into their notebooks. This would prove a useful revision aid to students.
House examinations are held at Christmas and in summer. Students preparing to sit the certificate examinations sit mock examinations in the second term. Results are communicated to parents or guardians twice yearly and at the parent-teacher meetings. The home economics team operates a commendable system of summative assessment. Grades issued to students at key times during the school year provide an aggregate mark that reflects achievement in all examinable components of the relevant home economics syllabus. Where there are two or more class groups in one year the team set common assessment papers. In addition, the teachers swap classes to assess the practical coursework components. This is very good preparation for the Junior Certificate and LCA practical examinations when students complete a food and culinary skills task in the presence of an external examiner. It is commendable that the written papers set for in-house examinations are generally based on the style of the relevant certificate examination. This good practice is encouraged in order to develop studentsí skills in answering the full range of question styles that appear on certificate examination papers. To build on this good practice consideration should be given to listing the marks awarded for each part of the question on all examination papers. This has the advantage of training students in the interpretation of marking schemes and in other examination techniques such as the timing and depth of treatment required in answering examination questions. †
Students enjoy Home Economics and demonstrate a sense of pride in their work. Observation of classroom activities and interaction with students indicated a very good level of engagement and genuine enjoyment of the subject. This can be attributed to the commitment and enthusiasm of the home economics teaching team and the supportive learning environment created in home economics lessons.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Home Economics is a very popular and vibrant subject. It is an integral part of all curricular programmes offered in the school.
∑ The mechanism for subject selection is student-centred. Students and parents are advised and supported in the process of subject selection.
∑ There is a very strong commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) and this is facilitated and encouraged by management.
∑ There is a very good level of provision and whole-school support for Home Economics.
∑ The specialist rooms are very well resourced, organised and maintained.
∑ The pro-active, collegial and self-evaluative approach that underpins the process of subject department planning in Home Economics is highly commended.
∑ The home economics department makes a commendable contribution to the extra-curricular and co-curricular programme in the Holy Family Secondary School.
∑ Very good quality teaching and learning was evident in the lessons observed.
∑ There was good evidence of the effective integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
∑ Many planned learning activities in home economics lessons are designed to extend studentsí experiences and encourage studentsí originality and creativity.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ The home economics team, in association with management should develop formal procedures for reviewing health and safety procedures in Home Economics.
∑ The curricular plans should be developed over time, as outlined in the report.
∑ Assessment criteria should be developed for the monitoring of the transition year projects.
∑ The agreed homework policy for Home Economics should be reviewed.
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.