An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
St Finianís Community College
Swords, County Dublin
Roll number: 70120F
Date of inspection: 3 and 4 October 2006
Date of issue of report:† 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Finianís Community College, Swords. 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 the subject 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.
St Finianís Community College provides a range of subjects and programmes to cater for all levels of ability and interest. In junior cycle, first years may choose Home Economics from a subject option pool that generally includes Technical Graphics, Materials Technology (Wood), Business Studies and Art. The subject is also available to students following the Junior Certificate School Programme. In senior cycle, subject option pools, which vary from year to year, are generated based on student preference. This commendable student-centred approach to subject choice ensures that the majority of students get their preferred options. Consideration should be given to using this model of subject selection in junior cycle. All students following the Leaving Certificate Applied take Hotel, Catering and Tourism as a module; this was formerly offered as one of the vocational specialisms.
Home Economics is a very popular subject in junior cycle in St Finianís and there is a good gender balance through all years of the cycle. However, uptake in senior cycle gives cause for concern. It is recommended that the subject department, in collaboration with management, should consider how this issue might be addressed. Participation rates at higher level are sometimes low and it is recommended that strategies be explored to increase these rates at both junior and senior cycle. Such strategies might pay dividends in raising student expectations and achievement.†
All home economics classes, other than stand-alone classes for junior cycle students with special educational needs, are mixed ability, resulting in higher and ordinary levels being taught together. Teaching time allocated to Home Economics classes at all levels is adequate and in line with syllabus recommendations. In junior cycle, where all classes have two double periods per week, it is recommended that consideration be given to splitting one of the double class periods into two single periods, thus creating an additional opportunity for class contact time.†
The Home Economics classrooms comprise a kitchen and a sewing room adjacent to each other and the corridor walls at the entrance to the rooms are enhanced with some eye-catching subject-specific artwork. It is commendable that the facilities are well maintained and equipment is updated as necessary. Students and teachers also have access to information and communication technology (ICT) through the schoolís ďcyber library.Ē Attention is paid to health and safety and the Home Economics teachers were involved in the preparation of a health and safety statement for the subject. The health and safety rules for Home Economics are prominently displayed in the classrooms.
There are two qualified and experienced Home Economics teachers operating the department. From time to time, the school has had to rely on the services of an unqualified substitute teacher in the department, due to difficulties encountered in securing the services of a qualified substitute. It was evident during the evaluation that the progress of some students in some aspects of the theory and practical work has been hindered because of this situation. It is strongly recommended that the focus of the department should be on making good this deficiency. It should also be noted that where substitution arrangements are required, substitute teachers should be closely guided by the permanent class teacher. This should also involve close liaison in terms of planning and collaboration so that there is no disruption to studentsí progress.
Co-ordination of the subject is shared between the two Home Economics teachers. Management is very supportive of collaborative planning and formal time is made available for subject department planning several times during the school year. It is commendable that the teachers also meet on a weekly basis to discuss ongoing business. Minutes of these meetings, which were made available during the inspection, indicate that there is a proactive approach to the organisation of the subject department.
Subject planning is well advanced and a comprehensive subject policy document, based on the template from the School Development Planning Initiative, has been developed; this focuses on the organisation, planning, teaching and learning and assessment of the subject in the school. It is commendable that the document also includes agreed programmes of work in the form of agreed lists of topics and practical work, catalogued under the relevant syllabus areas, to be completed in each year of junior cycle and for the HCT modules. Commendably, work is beginning on the development of agreed programmes of work for senior cycle.
It is acknowledged that a considerable amount of planning documentation was prepared for this inspection visit. Teachers have developed individual schemes of work that outline the content to be covered on a term-by-term basis for individual class groups. The schemes presented in tabular form were particularly easy to follow. Some examples of good practice observed in the schemes of work included references to specific methodologies, resources and assessment for particular topics, as well as revision plans for examination classes and records of the work completed to date. Keeping a note of the time taken with particular topics might also be useful in informing the planning process.†
In some cases, the schemes of work further outlined the work to be covered in the short term on a week-by-week basis. In order to enhance the very good work that has already taken place in subject planning, it is recommended that the schemes of work be further developed to focus on the learning outcomes for students, in terms of expected knowledge, understanding and skills. This would ensure that the focus is on learning as well as teaching. The integration of theory with the relevant practical coursework should also be clearly outlined. This work could be carried out on a phased basis. More specific timeframes should also be included where this is not already the case.
Teachers are commended for the wide range of teaching aids and resources that they have developed, using ICT, to support teaching and learning. The resources have been effectively tailored for specific class groups and they are carefully filed according to the relevant syllabus topics. It was noted that a number of lesson plans to be used in the case of teacher absence have also been prepared. There are very good examples of planning and the preparation of specially tailored resource materials for students with special educational needs and for students taking the Junior Certificate School Programme.
There was evidence of good planning and preparation for the lessons observed. Teachers presented written lesson plans outlining the aims and objectives, the resources and methodologies to be used as well as the sequence of each lesson. This resulted in lessons that were well structured with a good level of student participation. The very commendable practice of sharing the objectives with the students was noted; objectives were either written on the whiteboard or presented using the overhead projector. There was a very effective example of returning to each objective to summarise and check learning as the lesson progressed.
Teachers worked hard to ensure that students understood the content of the lessons. Teacher instruction was clear and student interest was maintained by the successful use of a range of teaching strategies, resources and active learning methodologies that were appropriate to the content of the lessons and to the level and ability of the students. As well as teacher instruction and demonstration of practical processes, teaching and learning was supported by the use of the overhead projector, the whiteboard, diagrams, charts, handouts, flowcharts, brainstorming, individual and pair work. Textbooks were appropriately used to emphasise key concepts and vocabulary. There were some nice examples of linking the lesson content to the everyday experiences of the students.
The food and culinary skills lesson observed was purposeful with a clear emphasis on the development of studentsí basic practical skills. The focus on the basic skills was appropriate as this groupís experience of practical work was reported to be extremely limited in the previous year. Key processes were revised from the previous weekís lesson and essential skills were demonstrated where necessary as the lesson progressed. Students were well trained in the procedures for a practical lesson and there was good attention to health and safety. While the food was cooking, opportunities were well used in the lesson to focus on the related theory, using a chart and food samples. The good practice of integrating the design brief process with the practical work from an early stage in junior cycle was noted and this is commended. This ensures that students can acquire and build on the skills of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation on a phased basis throughout the junior cycle.
In all cases, classroom management was very good and teaching and learning took place in a secure and respectful atmosphere. Student participation was encouraged and good use was made of praise to affirm studentsí efforts thus building self-confidence. Teachers moved around the classrooms providing students with the opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a non-threatening and supportive manner. The physical environment of the classrooms is stimulating and is enhanced by the display of a variety of educational posters and studentsí project work.
Student progress is regularly assessed using a range of assessment modes. These include oral questioning, written questions, written tests at the end of sections and at the end of term, revision tests and the formal in-school examinations, during which common assessments are administered. It is commendable that some aspects of studentsí practical work are also assessed and this good practice should be further developed. This will ensure that the assessment modes used reflect the assessment objectives of the syllabuses, and therefore provide a more accurate indicator of studentsí ability in the subject. There were some very good examples of thorough record keeping in relation to studentsí progress. Results are communicated to parents and students on a regular basis.
There is evidence that homework is regularly assigned and there were some good examples of thorough monitoring and marking of studentsí work and of providing them with constructive written feedback. This commendable practice should be sustained and further developed so that students can benefit from feedback on their progress and use it to enhance their own learning. Further information on this practice of assessment for learning is available on the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie).†
Examination of work in studentsí copybooks indicates that most of the questions assigned for homework are generally of the lower-order variety. Oral questioning was used during the lessons to check understanding and previous knowledge. Studentsí responses generally indicated a good knowledge and understanding of the lesson content. In one lesson, there was a nice example of asking students to reflect on and identify the new knowledge they had gained from a section of the lesson. However, most of the questions posed to students involved the recall of information. It is recommended that students at all levels be challenged to a greater extent and provided with opportunities, in both oral and written work, to develop skills such as analysis, application and evaluation of information. Such practices would support the development of higher order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of the Home Economics syllabuses.
The good practice of having students work on past examination questions was noted in a senior cycle class; this is commended. Studentsí practical coursework journals for Leaving Certificate and the project work for Junior Certificate were observed during the evaluation. It is important that students are aware of and adhere to the marking criteria for all components of the examinations. The Chief Examinerís Reports and the associated marking schemes for past examinations issued by the State Examinations Commission should prove a useful source of information for students and teachers. These can be downloaded at www.examinations.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 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.