An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Killina Presentation Secondary School,
Rahan, Tullamore, Co. Offaly
Roll number: 65630B
Date of inspection: 3 May 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 Killina Presentation Secondary School, Rahan, County Offaly. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the home economics department. 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 deputy principal and the 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.
Killina Secondary School is a voluntary co-educational school under the trusteeship of the Presentation Sisters. Home Economics is a very popular subject, as evidenced by the fact that it is an integral part of all curricular programmes offered in the school.
The subject benefits from a very good level of whole-school support. The home economics teaching team is involved in subject planning as part of the school’s on-going engagement with school development planning. Management facilitates this process by allocating formal planning time three times per year. In addition, one period of non-class contact time has been timetabled concurrently on the individual home economics teachers’ timetables to facilitate additional planning time. It was reported by the teaching team that this arrangement is very conducive to facilitating collaborative planning on an on-going basis. The position of subject co-ordinator is held by the senior home economics teacher but there are plans to rotate the position among the team. This would be good practice due to the voluntary nature of the position in order to share the workload and allow each member of the team assume a leadership role for the continued development of Home Economics in the school. Curriculum documentation is disseminated promptly by the principal to the subject co-ordinator and each member of the teaching team is facilitated to attend relevant continuous professional development (CPD) courses.
The strong commitment to CPD apparent among the home economics team contributes positively to the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics. In addition to attending the full-day and evening cluster meetings for the revised Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus, the team recently availed of a school visit by the Home Economics Support Service (HESS). It was noted positively that formal records are kept of key points of information from each in-service course attended, together with a copy of the power point presentation. This good practice ensures that the information is made available to each member of the team and can be referred to as the need arises.
Students and parents are well supported and advised in relation to programme and subject choice through the school guidance programme. Information evenings are held for parents of incoming first-year students and third-year students. The arrangements for student access to options are the subject of on-going review within the school. It is commendable that the process of subject selection has moved away from pre-set bands at pre-entry stage. Home Economics is one of five optional subjects offered in first year. Incoming students select two subjects from the list of five and option pools are generated based on students’ preferences. This has helped to ensure that the mechanism for subject selection remains student-centred and meets the needs of the current cohort of students. At the end of first year students re-select from a revised option list that includes Science, Business Studies, French and German which were core subjects in first year. Uptake of Home Economics is very good. The employment of a second home economics teacher also facilitated the generation of additional class groups. It was reported that Home Economics has become increasingly popular with boys since the options have been reviewed. This is welcome and the value of selecting non-traditional subjects on a gender equity basis should continue to be emphasised. Strategies should continue to be explored by the home economics team to promote the subject among all students in the school. As the final selection of subjects for the Junior Certificate is not made until the end of first year, and as this arrangement can sometimes impede progress through a syllabus, consideration could be given to running a shorter taster programme for part of first year after which students could make their subject selection for the Junior Certificate.
It is commendable that all students taking the Transition Year programme (TY) study Home Economics. Senior-cycle option bands are generated from student preferences and every effort is made to facilitate students in their subject selection. This is good practice. Uptake of Home Economics for Leaving Certificate is very good and the uptake among boys is particularly noteworthy.
All home economics classes are of mixed ability. It is commendable that students are encouraged to aim for high academic standards and, where possible, to take Home Economics at the highest possible level in the certificate examinations.
There is very good provision for students with special education needs. Special needs assistants attend classes as appropriate. Details relating to students’ specific educational needs are communicated to the home economics teachers and this information informs the subsequent choice of teaching and learning strategies deployed in lessons. The learning support and home economics departments collaborate to assist students to complete coursework and improve their literacy skills in preparation for the written assignments in Home Economics. Such good practices are very beneficial in helping students prepare for their certificate examinations. As evidence of the inclusive ethos that permeates the school, Killina Presentation Secondary School hosts a unit for students who have a Moderate General Learning Difficulty (MGLD). This unit is integrated into the academic and social life of the school.
There is good whole-school provision for Home Economics. Current class sizes are in line with what is considered good practice in terms of health and safety requirements. Teaching time allocated to classes in both junior and senior cycle is generally in accordance with syllabus guidelines. One third year group has a particularly good arrangement of class time into two single and one double class periods. This facilitates effective continuity in teaching and learning. In instances where classes are allocated two doubles or one single and one double lesson per week, they should not be timetabled over two consecutive days This arrangement is unsatisfactory as when lessons are tightly concentrated over two days, it results in a gap of almost one week between lessons. This makes effective continuity in teaching and learning very difficult. In addition, it would be preferable that all class groups in the unit for students with MGLD would be allocated one double class period for Home Economics.
There is one dual-purpose specialist room for Home Economics which is very well equipped and organised. As further evidence of the inclusive ethos that permeates the school, a wheel-chair accessible work-bench has been designed for the kitchen. The provision of an annual budget for Home Economics ensures that the specialist room remains well resourced with an appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. As evidence of the on-gong whole-school support for the subject, an additional space adjacent to the home economics room was recently converted into an office and storage area for the subject. This has made the storage of resources and practical coursework much easier and management is commended for their support in this regard. Physical space is at a premium in the school. This has necessitated the use of the home economics room for other subjects. It was reported that this arrangement presents challenges for the home economics teachers in terms of room maintenance and using the room to prepare lessons during their non-class time. While recognising the contextual factors that exist in the school it is advocated that this practice be minimised as additional general classroom space becomes available.
There is a whole-school health and safety policy and it is laudable that the home economics department were involved in the development of this policy. The policy has been mooted for review in light of changes made to the schedule of accommodation. The specialist room is equipped with an appropriate range of health and safety equipment. It is praiseworthy that the teaching team has documented health and safety routines for Home Economics in the department plan and that safety notices are displayed throughout the room. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that the health and safety statement be extended to include the safety procedures for practical textiles lessons. The risk assessment could be developed further to include safety control measures for using the potentially high risk equipment in practical food studies and textile lessons.
Considerable interest has been expressed in developing the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. There is some access to the ICT room, though it is heavily booked. The home economics room is wired for internet access but the home economics department has no ICT hardware or software. As ICT is a useful tool to allow students and teachers engage in the independent and guided research necessary to fulfil coursework requirements in Home Economics, it is advocated that management considers, where resources permit, the provision of dedicated ICT facilities for Home Economics. It is recommended that a strategic plan for the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of Home Economics be developed by the teaching team in consultation with management. This plan should demonstrate concrete strategies for utilising and embedding ICT in the teaching and learning of Home Economics. This plan will be useful in establishing resource needs that can be met over time, as additional funding becomes available.
A very professional and committed approach is taken to subject department planning in Home Economics. The process of collaborative planning has begun and considerable progress has been made, given the fact that the current teaching team has only been working together for two years. The planning documentation compiled by HESS has been used effectively to organise a subject department folder that outlines the organisation of the department. It is laudable that the home economics team carry out a regular SCOT analysis of Home Economics to establish what is working well and prioritise the areas for future development. This very useful exercise has ensured that an informed and pro-active approach is taken to the continued development of Home Economics. As part of this review the home economics team should analyse student outcomes as evidenced by results in the certificate examinations. This exercise should be carried out while bearing in mind any specific contextual factors relating to student ability in the subject. This also will inform reflective debate on the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
Curricular plans are being developed on a collaborative basis and are at an early stage of development. Plans for the Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes outline the list of topics planned for each term. The list of dishes completed in junior cycle is outlined separately and the length of time allocated to each Leaving Certificate topic is clarified. It is laudable the plans are monitored on a regular basis. Considerable interest has been expressed by the teaching team in developing detailed curricular plans. To build on this good work it is recommended that each plan is developed further. The specific time allocated to each topic should be clarified and the lesson content should be sequenced in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in both home economics syllabuses. Expected knowledge and understanding for each module of work should be presented in terms of learning outcomes with particular attention given to the incremental progression of practical skills over the duration of each syllabus. Information on suitable teaching and learning strategies should 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. This work should be progressed on a phased basis, taking, for example, one junior and one senior year group per annum.
The quality of planning evident to support students of Home Economics who have a MGLD is particularly commended. The content covered and the success criteria used is closely linked to each student’s individual learning plan. The role of parents in supporting students’ learning is also included. This is excellent practice. The creative development of worksheets that encourage and foster independent learning is also praiseworthy.
A very interesting home economics module has been designed for TY. The aims and objectives of the programme, together with an outline of course content, teaching strategies and appropriate resources are included in the planning documentation. This is good practice. It is particularly laudable that the module is evaluated by teachers and students at the end of the year and that this information is used to further the development of the module. To extend this good practice it is recommended that clear assessment criteria be devised for the assessment of the project work completed as part of the module. These criteria should be shared with students and used as the basis of constructive feedback on the key pieces of project work assigned.
Planned co-curricular activities provide rich learning experiences for students of Home Economics. Student learning is extended beyond the classroom through a range of planned activities such as the use of guest speakers and demonstrators, field trips to local businesses and participation in competitions. Such practices are an excellent means of broadening students’ knowledge and skills, as well as enhancing their enjoyment of the subject.
Very good quality teaching and learning was evident in the theoretical and practical lessons observed. Short-term planning was very good. Lesson content was consistent with the long-term curricular plans. There was very good continuity with previous learning and a range of appropriate resource materials was used effectively to support students’ learning.
Teachers displayed excellent subject knowledge as evidenced by the attention paid to detail in the explanations of any new concepts taught in each lesson. Deliberate efforts were made to link the lesson content to the everyday experiences of students. This good practice enables students to develop a deeper meaning of the topic being taught. It is laudable that in all of the lessons observed there was very effective integration of specific course areas that related to the topic being taught. In the practical lessons many opportunities were created to allow students to apply their theoretical knowledge to the practical skills being developed. This is in keeping with syllabus recommendations in Home Economics and is very good preparation for the integrated style of examination questions. Very good emphasis was placed on reinforcing and checking students understanding of the technical language associated with the topics being taught. This commendable practice helps students to develop the linguistic skills necessary for written examinations. Overhead transparencies and the blackboard were used to good effect to summarise key points of information. Best practice was observed when students were given time to take down the information into their notebooks
In all of the lessons observed there was a good balance between teacher input and student activity. Lessons generally began with the correction of homework and it was noted positively that an interesting range of homework activities is assigned to reinforce or extend classroom learning. One particularly good example was where students made effective use of ICT to carry out independent research in preparation for a design and craftwork project. Students’ responses indicated that a very good level of useful background information had been acquired. In all the lessons observed group discussion and a range of questioning techniques proved successful in eliciting information and checking understanding. Teachers made deliberate efforts to encourage students to develop full answers to the questions posed and challenged them through questioning to develop the higher-order thinking skills that underpin some of the objectives of home economics syllabuses. This is commendable practice.
It is laudable that learner autonomy is fostered and encouraged in the teaching strategies deployed in home economics lessons. This was evident in a practical food studies lessons observed where students displayed a very high level of self-organisational skills as evidenced by their level of advance preparation and planning for the class and their implementation of the task.
Very good routines have been developed for practical lessons. Particularly impressive was the ability of the students to work independently and in collaboration with each other. They demonstrated a very good standard of culinary and craft skills, given their level of experience and expertise, while sound safety and hygiene routines were evident. There was some good use of spot demonstrations to demonstrate key processes. The potential of this teaching strategy should be considered further as a means of demonstrating key techniques and reinforcing the application of theoretical knowledge to practical skills.
Classroom management was excellent in all the lessons observed. The careful management of the planned learning activities ensured that students remained purposefully engaged throughout all lessons. Student contributions to all lessons was warmly encouraged and affirmed. The practice of the teacher moving around the room during lessons ensured that students had an additional opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive structure.
Observation of student notebooks indicated very good progression in their work. Students use sunshine wheels or concept maps to summarise lesson content in a visually attractive and easy to read format. The system for student notebooks devised by the home economics teachers is particularly laudable as it encourages students to store their worksheets and handouts in a systematic way. It was noted positively that a very good focus is placed on the key stages of the design brief process throughout the junior cycle programme and that students record the key factors that had to be considered in the making of their dish in a food studies lesson. This excellent practice encourages students to reflect on their learning and apply theoretical knowledge to practical skills. It is also very good preparation for the Leaving Certificate Home Economics coursework.
Observation of recent project work in the area of core textiles indicates a good standard of textile skills. It is laudable that students complete a simple design brief in tandem with the item. Design and craft optional work indicated a high level of competence in the appropriate craft skills. The childcare projects observed indicated a very high level of competence in the organisation and presentation of materials. Students used a variety of research methods effectively to produce projects that were clearly linked to child development and displayed a commendable level of originality.
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student achievement in Home Economics and to provide feedback on a regular basis. These include oral questioning, written assignments, module tests as well as the monitoring of project and practical work. It is praiseworthy that where necessary common tests are given in Home Economics. To build on the good work already underway, it is recommended that the written sheets outlining the stages of the design brief followed by students when completing the core textile items be monitored and included as part of an end of year assessment mark.
Results are communicated to parents or guardians twice yearly and at the parent-teacher meetings. The students’ journal is used as an additional communication tool. It is commendable that the home economics team sends out a letter to parents regarding the procedures and requirements for the completion of practical coursework.
Observation of student copybooks indicated some very good practice with regard to the monitoring of student work. Useful teacher comments in copybooks and on tasks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. Consideration should be given by the home economics team to expanding and developing other Assessment for Learning (AfL) practices in the learning and teaching of Home Economics. Further information on AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.
Homework is assigned regularly to all class groups. However, in some instances there is an over-reliance on short-answer style questions. It is recommended that the range of homework assigned be extended to ensure that all students are given regular opportunities to develop skills in long-answer style questions. As part of this discussion consideration needs to be given as to how best to balance the amount of homework assigned with the provision of constructive feedback to students.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The uptake of Home Economics among the male student cohort is particularly good for the Leaving Certificate programme.
· The subject benefits from a very good level of whole-school support.
· A strong commitment to CPD is evident among the home economics team. Key points of information from each in-service course attended are filed to facilitate the dissemination of information among the teaching team.
· The provision of an annual budget for Home Economics ensures that the specialist room remains well resourced with an appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
· A very professional and committed approach is taken to subject department planning in Home Economics.
· Students are encouraged to aim for high academic standards and, where possible, to take Home Economics at the highest possible level in the certificate examinations.
· The quality of planning evident to support students of Home Economics who have MGLD is particularly commended.
· Very good quality teaching and learning was evident in all the lessons observed.
· Observation of student copybooks indicated very good progression in their work.
· The interesting range of homework activities assigned reinforces and extends classroom learning in an effective way.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The health and safety statement for Home Economics should be extended to include the safety procedures for practical textiles lessons.
· A strategic plan for the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of Home Economics should be developed by the teaching team in consultation with management.
· Programmes of work should be developed further on a phased basis, as outlined in the body of the report.
· The range of homework assigned should be extended to ensure that all students are given opportunities to develop skills in long-answer style questions.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the home economics department and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.