An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
St. Joseph’s Secondary School,
Roll number: 64640W
Date of inspection: 10 - 11 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
report has been written following a subject inspection in
In order to ease students’ transition from primary to post-primary school the school employs a number of strategies to support students and assist them in making informed subject choices. First, the principal and a senior teacher together with some senior students visit the feeder primary schools in early spring. Secondly, prospective students are invited to an open day where presentations are made and taster classes are scheduled in each of the optional subject areas. Thirdly, in springtime the home-school liaison co-ordinator and the learning support teacher communicate with feeder primary schools with a focus on determining the needs of incoming students. Fourthly, a short induction programme is scheduled for incoming students at the end of August, it includes an introduction to the school’s mentoring programme and useful information on school organisation, subjects, timetabling, facilities, textbooks and the school’s code of behaviour. These interventions as forms of student support are highly commendable.
Students entering first year and senior cycle are provided with an open choice from the wide variety of optional subjects available. Subsequently option bands are developed based on students’ choices. Every effort is made to ensure that all students are placed in their subject option of choice. Such a student centred approach to subject choice is laudable. Students and their parents/guardians are well supported in choosing subjects and levels within subjects through such supports as school management, information evenings, open days, the guidance counsellor and the school’s website and there is evidence of very good communication between school and home in this regard. The home economics department is to be commended on its active role in providing advice for prospective students.
The Transition Year programme is optional in the school. The inclusion of a half-year home economics module in the curriculum for all TY students is to be commended. It provides students who have not studied the subject for junior cycle with the opportunity to experience the subject and therefore help them in making a more informed choice with regard to subjects for the Leaving Certificate. This module has been expertly developed, and content is selected each year on the basis of students’ aptitudes and interests and is allocated two double class periods per week. The module is based on contemporary food and culinary practical skills and aims to provide students with a variety of skills in relation to the planning, preparation cooking and serving of food.
There is very good resource provision and whole school support for Home Economics and a high level of commitment from teachers and management to the organisation, planning and teaching of the subject is evident. Time is allocated for the purpose of subject planning. Class period provision is in line with syllabus recommendations, including at least one double class to facilitate mandatory practical coursework. Effective use is made of experience and expertise of home economics teachers in catering for the needs of students including those with special educational needs (SEN). This practice is in line with the school’s own policy of equal access for all students. Classes are organised on a mixed-ability basis and the home economics department is very pro-active in encouraging all students to fully realise their potential. The school management and teachers are to be commended for encouraging and motivating students to this level.
Management’s support of the teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) is admirable. In addition, management organises school-based in-service on such topics as mixed ability teaching, inclusion of students with SEN and the use of differentiated teaching strategies. Teachers are encouraged to participate in Teacher Professional Networks and they have participated in a variety of in-service training sessions for example those provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service. In addition, management supports the home economics department well in having a commendable practice where students and their parent/guardian are informed in writing of the requirements of the practical and project/coursework component of examinations at junior and senior cycle. A coursework progress report is also completed by teachers, outlining student progress in the completion of mandatory coursework. Such practices are very beneficial to students.
The school’s comprehensive policy for health and safety has been drawn up in consultation with teachers and is reviewed on a regular basis. The school’s safety committee meets at least twice a year and engages in risk assessment in consultation with teachers in the various subject departments. The home economics department has developed its own health and safety statement and guidelines for first aid and there is evidence of very 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 prominently displayed in the kitchen. Appropriate safety equipment is available in the home economics rooms.
There is considerable interest in the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics as more technology becomes available and expertise is developed over time. Currently a shared laptop computer and data projector are available to teachers and access to the school’s computer room can be pre-arranged, subject to availability. Teachers use ICT in their planning and students are regularly encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics during their computer classes and their own study time. It is evident from the school’s impressive IT plan for the future that management is fully committed to the continued improvement of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. This will include greater provision of ICT facilities over time and will support the continued training and up-skilling of teachers as appropriate to assist the integration of ICT into teaching and learning. The school is encouraged to continue its good 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, including those with SEN.
An application for an urgently required extension to the school and refurbishment of the existing building has been submitted to the Department of Education and Science in recent years and is currently at Band 2.4 of the planning process. Currently there are four home economics teachers in the school and it is commendable that two specialist rooms for Home Economic are currently allocated, a kitchen and a separate textiles room which teachers share as necessary. It is recommended that this provision of two such separate facilities for Home Economics as a minimum, ideally adjacent to each other should be provided in the context of future refurbishment plans. Having observed room layout and organisation, it is important to note that such specialist rooms were originally designed to accommodate 20 students for practical classes therefore in the context of safe work practices management should continue to keep all classes to a safe and reasonable size.
The kitchen was extensively refurbished to a very high standard recently at great expense to the school itself. The kitchen and the sewing room are extremely well organised and well resourced with a range of equipment necessary for the teaching of the subject. In the context of annual stocktaking an audit of equipment is undertaken and management is very supportive of requests made for the ongoing replacement and updating of equipment and additional resources as necessary. This is indicative of the school’s commitment to the ongoing development of Home Economics. As well as up-to-date specialist equipment, the home economics department has access to overhead projectors, television and video/DVD equipment. Students generally provide most of the materials required for practical work, however, as a further support for students, the school supplements provision where required.
Due to current pressures on space the school is currently renting a room (based at the local Foxford Sports and Leisure Centre) for Textiles Studies, at certain expense to the school. For a number of reasons, it can be concluded that the location of the textiles room is less that ideal. A number of concerns/issues have been identified and these include: the textiles classroom is some distance from the main school building; inadequate lighting and heating and inadequate storage space for student coursework. It also presents significant challenges for the teaching staff in providing a high quality learning environment for Textiles Studies that meets the needs of students on a permanent basis as the room is also utilised by the local community in the evenings. It is fair to conclude that the situation could have a direct impact on the uptake levels in the subject as well as on the quality of subject provision. This arrangement is not sustainable on a long-term basis. Therefore, bearing in mind the very high uptake of Home Economics, the various health and safety considerations and the requirements of the syllabuses for Home Economics it is strongly recommended that the school should investigate the provision of an alternative appropriate specialist room for the study of Textiles. This should be expedited in line with best practice guidelines in the context of future developments at the school. The addition of ICT facilities to such a textiles room would further enhance its use.
The school is making very good progress with regard to school development planning (SDP). Action planning guided by a planning steering committee is a very positive feature of this good work. The home economics teachers have engaged in formal review of their existing procedures and structures as part of this action planning.
There is clear evidence that the home economics teachers at St. Joseph’s, work well as a team, demonstrate a high-level of co-operation and readily engage in the process of collaborative planning both on a formal and informal basis, and they are to be commended for this. Management schedules dedicated time for meetings of subject departments up to six times per year as part of its commitment to the progress of SDP. In addition teachers meet informally on a regular basis as necessary. The organisation and co-ordination of curricular matters, stocktaking and review of equipment are primarily the responsibility of the subject co-ordinator, who is appointed on a rotational basis. Agenda are decided in advance of department meetings and records of subject department meetings are maintained. The monitoring and review of subject plans to meet students’ needs is built into subject department meetings, with specific review and target setting at the end of each year. Subsequently issues are regularly communicated to the principal. Recent meetings have dealt with such aspects as a review of effective teaching strategies and the use of a subject department policy checklist in line with school development planning advice. The professional commitment and interest of the teachers involved is commendable. Management should continue to support teachers in the ongoing development of collaborative subject planning.
A comprehensive subject plan is being developed for Home Economics, which includes details on the organisation, planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subject. This subject plan is grounded in the school’s mission statement, has clear aims and sets out clear learning targets for each year group. It also includes information on methodologies, teaching resources, in-career development, cross-curricular links, homework, assessment, analysis of results, record keeping, reporting mechanisms, health and safety, first aid procedures, addressing students with special educational needs and records of subject department meetings. In addition well designed, detailed plans of work have been drawn up for each year group, with the more detailed planning evident for TY, displaying the integration of theory and practical work very well. These plans are syllabus based; some are time bound and they provide a clear outline of the course content including the relevant practical and project work to be completed. There is evidence of good practice in planning for common content, revision and assessment in Home Economics. Teachers maintain records of work completed and this aids review and future planning.
In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that this very good work be further developed to include: the specific sequence and timeframes for the completion of relevant practical/project/course work; sequencing and links between theory and the related practical work; integration of subject matter as recommended in the syllabuses; the specific timeframes, expectations and opportunities for homework, revision and assessment and where applicable details on examination preparation. These plans should be seen as working documents, which are used to review subject matter covered and aid planning for the future.
It is commendable that the home economics team regularly analyses student outcomes as evidenced by results in the State examinations. It is notable that the teaching team also considers specific contextual factors as part of this exercise. This useful exercise should inform reflective debate on the teaching and learning of Home Economics and the general whole-school provision for the subject. The home economics teachers should continue to make good use of the home economics syllabuses, teacher guidelines and other relevant documentation to facilitate programme planning at all levels.
It is praiseworthy that the good practice of developing the design process from an early stage in junior cycle, in both food studies and the practical textiles work is adopted. A review of the current programme for textiles is a stated intention of the teachers, and is fully encouraged, as it will add greater variety to the textiles skills programme. In addition, students could be introduced to the skills required for project work e.g. research, investigations, surveys and case studies on an incremental basis from first year onwards. This approach will enable students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of analysis, investigation, problem solving, action planning and evaluation.
The home economics department has gathered and developed an impressive range of teaching aids and resource materials, many using ICT, which are catalogued and readily shared. Useful websites are also listed. In addition to the existing school library, the home economics department has established a mini-resource library in the kitchen offering a variety of learning resources including reference books, leaflets, relevant publications, posters, DVDs, videos and commercially prepared resource packs. It is evident that these resources are used effectively in lessons. The importance of this facility is even greater since the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus, which along with Junior Certificate syllabus, now placed a strong emphasis on developing students’ abilities in guided and independent research and learning. While the provision of resources to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics is adequate, in the context of future planning and students’ needs, ongoing investment in the development and expansion of this very significant resource is recommended.
Teachers are commended for their efforts made in providing opportunities which aim to enhance the students’ experience and enjoyment of the subject and extend learning beyond the classroom through the introduction of visiting speakers, demonstrators, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities such as visits to industry and entry to a variety of local and national cookery competitions. Various successful cross-curricular activities have to date been accomplished with regard to healthy eating campaigns and PE and the Green Schools committee regarding recycling. The existing informal cross-curricular links with subjects such as Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Business and Science are notable and the home economics team plan to further develop these links through the school planning process.
Careful planning is undertaken to ensure that valuable educational experiences are provided for students with special educational needs. The home economics teachers are made aware of any students with special educational needs and liaise with the learning support department in the school on an ongoing basis ensuring that materials are adapted to suit the needs and abilities of students as appropriate. If necessary, extra assistance is provided during practical lessons and with project work. It is laudable that the school provides resources during the in-house and mock examinations which replicate the reasonable accommodation that candidates may expect in the certificate examinations. The home economics personnel plan to familiarise themselves with the drawing up of such students’ individual education plans and their subsequent implementation and review.
The quality of advance planning, individual lesson preparation and teaching and learning were exceptionally high in both the practical and theory lessons observed. Short-term planning for lessons, which included the prior preparation of the materials for class, was very good. This resulted in lessons that were clearly focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students. Subject matter was well structured and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning and appropriate integration of theory with practical skills. Teachers displayed a keen awareness of the students’ learning styles and adapted the teaching and learning to suit the students’ needs. The great enthusiasm and dedication displayed by the home economics teachers to the students in their care is evident.
Teachers make good use of active learning methodologies and this was evident in lessons on food preservation, cereals and care labelling. Students worked in groups or pairs and were provided with various resources such as samples, food products and worksheets to support their learning. Students worked collaboratively and participated actively in providing feedback on the various tasks. Such activities are commendable in that they challenge students and provide opportunities to develop their skills of investigation, critical analysis, evaluation and application of information. This conforms to the principles of teaching for understanding and assists students in developing higher order thinking skills which underpin some of the assessment objectives of the home economics syllabuses. This good practice of employing appropriate active learning methodologies and the use of differentiated teaching materials should be sustained and further developed so that all students are challenged to foster independent learning in oral, written and practical work.
Other teaching methodologies observed included whole class teaching, teacher demonstration, individualised learning, brainstorming and group discussion. Well planned and effective questioning and explaining strategies were used in the classes observed to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding, to support students in the development of higher order thinking skills and to link new information with prior learning. In the context of the various mixed-ability classes observed, differentiation by questioning was evident in that all students were included and targeted, thus encouraging the active participation of students who are less able and to provide greater challenge for students who are more familiar with the subject matter. Differentiation by teacher intervention was occasionally employed during practical work and this could be further developed across all classes by means of group work, pair work, problem-solving and collaborative learning.
Teachers demonstrated very good subject knowledge and explanations were very clear, accurate and contextualised. Much emphasis was placed on students’ understanding of content and processes and there were very good examples of linking the lesson content to students’ everyday experiences. This proved very effective in engaging students with lesson content and in facilitating a good understanding of the new concepts being covered. In some lessons, there was effective integration of specific areas of the course that related to the subject being studied. This is good practice and should be further advanced to reflect the integrated approach recommended in home economics syllabuses.
Teaching was frequently supported by the use of a range of relevant visual and tactile stimuli and resources to enhance teaching and consolidate learning such as charts, student handouts, worksheets and samples. The board and student handouts were used to good effect to emphasise key terminology and summarise lesson content. Where textbooks were used to aid learning this was generally well planned for and other strategies e.g. questioning and explaining were integrated effectively. Materials were clearly planned and presented to ensure student learning and retention. Bearing in mind that a commitment has been given by management to the provision of ICT facilities in all specialist rooms over a period of time, it is recommended that the full potential of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics be explored.
The opportunity to observe students engaged in a number of food studies practical classes highlighted the existence of very well established systems of practice and the department’s thorough preparation of students for the food and culinary skills practical examination. As lessons commenced and at appropriate intervals throughout, clear instruction was provided in relation to steps for the task, importance of hygiene and safety, resource management, nutritional value of food, and the relevant underlying principles of cookery. Good emphasis on explaining of key concepts and development of skills was observed. In all lessons observed the teachers moved constantly around the room assessing student progress, monitoring difficulties and demonstrating best practice. Formal demonstrations to small groups and to individual students and impromptu demonstrations to highlight salient points were utilised effectively. Hygiene and safety notices were displayed in the classroom and safe practices were emphasised at all times.
There was a commendable concern for students’ understanding of content and for the acquisition of appropriate manipulative skills in practical classes. The design brief process is adhered to as part of preparation for practical food studies and textiles classes. Students’ performance and progress could be further enhanced if students in all classes were to use prepared recipe sheets with guidelines detailing equipment, ingredients, timed work plan, and evaluation to assist students in meeting the assigned brief in practical classes. Evaluations of tasks completed are undertaken by students and this informs continuous assessment of student work. Teachers endeavour to develop students’ evaluation skills incrementally form first year and students are encouraged to undertake evaluations of the product, the process and the task itself and make full use of appropriate word banks when undertaking sensory evaluation. This is frequently assigned as homework after practical classes. The approaches to teaching and learning as outlined above reflect many of the principles of best practice.
In all classes, classroom management was very good and teaching and learning took place in a secure, respectful and positive atmosphere. Students’ behaviour was very good in all lessons observed and they were well managed, guided and directed in all learning activities. Their work was monitored carefully by teachers in a very supportive, encouraging and caring manner. Student-teacher rapport was excellent; interactions were engaging, purposeful and mutually respectful and students’ efforts were encouraged and affirmed. Discipline was sensitively maintained and students were attentive, interested and participated well in the learning process. The seating arrangements for students were conducive to full participation and effective classroom management.
The learning environment of the home economics room is enhanced through the display of a number of educational posters and evidence of students’ work and is to be commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students and endeavours to serve as a stimulus and source of motivation for the present cohort of students. Students’ engagement in their learning was good as they were challenged and motivated by the well planned activities. Interaction with the students during various lessons and observation of their work indicated confidence and competence with the subject matter.
Within the teaching team a considerable level of experience and expertise has been attained in the marking of practical work, project work and the written components of the subject in the State examinations. This has a positive impact on the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics at the school. With regard to students’ coursework an appropriate level of teacher guidance and individual student input is evident. Observation of students’ project work, in the area of Childcare and Design and Craftwork indicated a very high level of competence in terms of investigation, organisation and presentation. The very good variety of project work completed by the students, merits particular mention for the standard and level of originality demonstrated. Processes such as appliqué, quilting and embroidery are regular features of the craftwork completed. Students demonstrate best practice in developing the design folder in tandem with the textile or craft item. It is praiseworthy that good use is made of ICT for both research and presentation of coursework. Overall, the evidence of students’ skills, creativity and originality in the area of project work is to be commended.
The teachers set very high expectations for students, encourage learner autonomy and carry out thorough monitoring and appraisal of student work regularly. Student work examined included very good examples of well-organised folders containing a variety of materials relevant to all aspects of the syllabus. The students responded well to questions and demonstrated very good understanding of subject knowledge and various skills in practical work appropriate to their class group and level. Students’ enthusiasm for Home Economics was tangible and they have a sense of pride and achievement in their work and they are supported by a team of very enthusiastic, dedicated and committed teachers.
Regular assessment of student learning is undertaken through a range of assessment modes, which aim to determine student progress and competence and to ensure that each student has ample experience in examination techniques. These include oral questioning, work sheets, written exercises, class tests, in-house examinations and some assessment of project and practical work. The work of TY students is assessed comprehensively through a combination of methods including portfolio assessment and project work. A highlight for TY students is the open evening in May when all their work is displayed for parents/guardians and other students. Where appropriate, the individual teachers record the results of these, a practice which is commendable as it assists teachers in building a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. Homework is regularly assigned to reinforce and extend the learning that has taken place in the class and regular monitoring of student copybooks, workbooks, folders, journals and class tests is evident. Students and their parents/guardians are advised regularly on their progress in the subject. Reports are sent home periodically. Communication with parents/guardians is maintained through parent-teacher meetings, phone calls and letters and through the Home School Community Co-ordinator.
Teachers endeavour to develop common house examinations at Christmas and end of year for students, which is commendable. In addition those preparing to take the State examinations sit pre-certificate examinations in the spring and students’ progress is reviewed and their examination levels are decided in consultation with the subject teachers and parents/guardians.
The school had developed an agreed homework policy, and the home economics department plan to formalise its own guidelines with regard to homework, assessment for Home Economics through the process of subject planning. Practices and procedures in relation to homework, revision and assessment of student learning could be further developed as follows: guidelines regarding the amount of homework that is considered appropriate to the individual year groups should be developed; consideration should be given to developing homework assignments that further promote independent learning and higher order thinking skills in all year groups; revision plans should be developed; allowing the grades awarded for Home Economics during the year to be an aggregate mark for written tests, food and culinary skills practical work, coursework and projects completed during that term. In addition, formative assessment should be further developed across all year groups such that useful teachers’ comments could provide developmental feedback to students on their progress and affirm work well done. This good work illustrates the principles that underpin assessment for learning. It is recommended as good practice. For further information on assessment refer to the NCCA website (www.naac.ie).
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 recommendations are made:
· It is strongly recommended that the school should investigate the provision of an alternative appropriate specialist room for the study of Textiles. This should be expedited in line with best practice guidelines in the context of future developments at the school.
· A review of the current programme for textiles, which is a stated intention of the teachers, should be undertaken.
· The recommendations contained in the report with regard to teaching and learning are provided as a means of building on existing good practice, which was evident.
· Consideration ought to be given to the implementation of the recommendations with regard to enhancing assessment as outlined in the report.
· It is recommended that management encourage and support teachers’ efforts to integrate ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
· In the context of future planning and students’ needs, management should continue to support the home economics team in reviewing existing resources and planning for the acquisition and use of further equipment and teaching resources.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Home Economics at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The school community feels that the report is fair and accurate
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
A Textiles Room has been provided in line with the recommendations.