An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Saint Joseph’s Secondary School
Castleisland, County Kerry
Roll number: 61260U
Date of inspection: 25 and 26 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Castleisland. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days, during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Home Economics is a very popular subject choice for students attending St. Joseph’s Secondary School. As a result it demonstrates uptake levels that significantly exceed national averages, both at junior and senior cycle levels. This is noted as very positive.
The equality of students’ access to optional subjects, including Home Economics, is something that has been reviewed in the school in recent times. This was inspired largely by recommendations made in two previous subject inspection reports, namely Guidance and Science/Chemistry. As a result the following changes are planned. From September 2008, students will no longer be required to choose between Home Economics and Science. This decision is very highly praised. Simultaneously, as part of the taster programme offered in the school, first-year students will study all four of the available optional subjects. This resolve, which is consistent with best practice, is additionally applauded. Science will become a mandatory subject for junior cycle students from September 2009. This is also commended, particularly as it is consistent with the recommended policy of the Department of Education and Science (DES). Management’s action in response to previous recommendations is acknowledged and credited. Continuing on the theme of equality of students’ access to optional subjects, it is also very praiseworthy that student surveys are used to determine senior cycle option blocks. It is suggested that management considers the utilisation of a similar approach in junior cycle. To conclude, in terms of subject choice, it is very clear that both parents and students are very well supported in relation to the very difficult task of choosing optional subjects.
When timetabling Home Economics, every effort is made to ensure that all junior cycle class groups can avail of uninterrupted access to the home economics kitchen. This is commended, as it ensures equality of access for all students to the practical components of the syllabus. While the same level of provision cannot always be guaranteed for senior cycle class groups, the provision of two double periods is adequate compensation. The provision of five class periods for Home Economics in second and third year and six class periods in fifth and sixth year is noted as generous. This exceeds syllabus recommendations and as a result is very highly praised. Best practice informs management’s deployment of the home economics teachers. For example, teachers retain class groups assigned to them from second year to third year and from fifth year to sixth year. This is applauded.
On one level it would appear that Home Economics is well resourced in the school. For example, it is reported by the members of the home economics department that requests for additional resources are greeted favourably and that in fact a request by them to management has never been refused. On the other hand a review of the home economics plan would suggest that there is a need to plan for the updating and replacement of equipment, as well as the provision of additional storage space and display areas. As a result, it is recommended that the members of the home economics department undertake a complete audit of the home economics kitchen. This should be undertaken with a view to identifying equipment that needs to be replaced, new equipment required and how and where additional storage and display space might be provided in the room. It should also itemise other areas of perceived need, some of which were mentioned on the day of the subject inspection and others which have been documented in the subject plan. This includes, for example, a wall-mounted screen and window blinds which would enhance the use of overhead and data projectors. The outcomes of this audit should be used to inform the drafting of a short, medium and long-term plan for the future resourcing of the subject in the school.
While the school houses a relatively modern home economics kitchen, a question exists in relation to the ergonomics of the room design. While the fitted kitchen units appear to be somewhat lower than normal, it was very clear that the mobile work stations are much lower than those usually supplied for home economics kitchens. It is recommended that this finding should be further investigated with reference to guidelines in relation to recommended heights for fitted units and work stations. The planning and buildings unit of the DES should be able to inform in this regard. Simultaneously, the suitability of the room’s floor covering as well as the efficiency of the room’s ventilation system also needs to be examined.
The members of the home economics department report ease of access to information communication technologies (ICT). The school’s ICT room can be accessed via a booking system. In recent times all classrooms, including the home economics kitchen, have been enabled for wireless internet access. A laptop and data projector can be booked for use in classrooms. Considering this, teachers are encouraged to explore how ICT could be used to further enhance teaching and learning.
The school’s health and safety statement, which was originally drafted in 1999, is currently under review. This review is fully advocated. Subject specific health and safety is an area that is being addressed by the members of the home economics department. For example, a room plan which identifies possible hazards has been drawn up, some safety signage has been erected in the room and rules have been devised and are displayed. To progress and develop this further, and as part of the review of the overall health and safety statement for the school, the home economics room should be audited. It is recommended that the approach adopted seeks to identify the hazards in the room, outline the level of risk attached to each hazard and list the guidelines that should be followed or the measures that need to be taken in order to reduce the likelihood of injury or accident. The hazards attached to the room’s dual-purpose use, that is for textile and practical food studies work, should also be referenced. It is important that teachers’ first-hand experience of the facilities should inform this document. Finally the document, which needs to be reviewed on a regular basis, should inform class rules.
Formal meeting time for the purpose of collaborative, subject-department planning is provided at the start and at the end of each school year. It is recommended that management seeks to augment this provision by endeavouring to provide some additional meeting time over the course of the school year.
A team approach has been adopted to the co-ordination of the planning work of the home economics subject department. Good relations and a shared understanding of what is involved in this aspect of the department’s work means that this approach is working well. In addition to the formal meeting time provided by management, the home economics teachers also meet informally on a regular basis in order to progress their planning. This takes place during non-timetabled class periods, as well as during break-times and lunchtimes. This additional commitment is acknowledged and applauded.
Much work has been completed by the department in relation to the development of a subject plan. The content finds its basis in the templates provided by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). While this is acknowledged as a good basis for the plan, the members of the department should not feel restricted by this template. As a result they are encouraged to include in the plan aspects of particular relevance to Home Economics in St. Joseph’s, for example, the recommended resource audit and the resulting plan for the future resourcing of the subject. A very interesting feature of the plan is the inclusion of a number of journal articles from both the Canadian and Irish home economics journals. It would appear from conversations held over the course of the inspection that these well-read articles, citing the likes of Marjorie Brown and Beatrice Paolucci, direct and influence the collective mindset and work of the department. This intellectual engagement is noted and praised. A diagnostic window exercise has also been undertaken by the home economics department. This type of exercise should be reviewed on an annual basis. The SCOT analysis (Strengths, Challenges, Opportunities for Development, Threats) is suggested as a preferred approach to this type of reflective exercise.
Outline programmes of work have been agreed for each year group. That said, it would appear that on occasions teachers may diversify from what has been agreed. While recognising that there is always some room for diversification, it is important that the agreed programmes continue to provide the basis for individual lesson planning and delivery. An individual diversification that is considered worthwhile or important should be discussed at the annual programme review and programmes of work should be amended to account for same. It is noted that the detail provided in the different programmes of work varies somewhat. As a result it is recommended that the members of the department agree a template and an approach that would be applied to all programmes of work. Best practice would provide for the inclusion of topic specific information relating to each of the following: methodologies, resources, homework, assessment modes and techniques and, when and where applicable, revision. Exemplar schemes also provide space for the provision of evaluative comment following the delivery of each topic. Every effort should continue to be made to seek to ensure that the programmes provide for the integration of theory and practical work and, as appropriate the integration of relevant areas of the syllabuses.
Planning for students with special educational needs (SEN) is advantaged by the fact that the home economics teachers have access to details relating to students’ reading ages. In addition, teachers are also provided with a brief synopsis of the specific educational needs of all assessed students as well as suggested strategies for use in class that would enhance a student’s participation, learning and ultimately their achievement. The home economics subject plan also houses a series of downloads relevant to a range of conditions, including autistic spectrum disorders, dyslexia and mild, moderate and severe general learning difficulties. This is indicative of teachers’ interest and desire to up-skill in relation to SEN and is therefore highly commended.
A catalogued resource library is also being developed. Its further development is currently being compromised by a lack of shelving. A review of the available space would suggest that this could be easily rectified. Planning for same is therefore fully encouraged.
The department also demonstrates a genuine interest in cross-curricular planning. Currently, for example, joint meetings are being held between the home economics and business departments, with a view to discussing approaches to teaching, budgeting and other related areas. The obvious pro-activity in this regard is highly praised. Opportunities to do the same with other subject departments should be explored in time.
There was evidence of short-term planning for all lessons observed. Lessons were purposeful. In all cases the intention of the lesson was shared with students as work commenced. Best practice was seen where this included an outlining of the intended learning outcomes. This proved very effective in terms of involving students from the outset and in seeking to devolve a portion of responsibility for learning to the students themselves. This is recommended for wider application. Furthermore, in one lesson, the plan for the next lesson was also shared with students. This inspired even greater student engagement, as students’ achievement in the next lesson was partly dependent on what they were about to learn. This is a very clever strategy that is also recommended for greater use.
Planning also meant that lessons were well structured. In general, work covered was appropriate to students’ level. That said, and as applicable, care should be taken to ensure that students are suitably challenged in terms of planned lesson content and that information is pitched and delivered in a way that matches students’ level and syllabus emphasis and detail. A number of resources were either prepared or collected for use during lesson delivery. These were carefully chosen with a view to assisting teacher explanation and promoting student learning. Many of the resources that were introduced sought to provide visual stimuli for verbal presentations. This approach is commended as it seeks to provide for students who demonstrate a visual learning preference.
The instruction provided to students was clear and accurate. On occasions it was apparent that additional background reading on behalf of the teacher, together with a heightened interest in the subject matter, truly enhanced presentation and delivery. Students’ experience of the world and their prior knowledge were referenced on a regular basis, particularly when new or difficult concepts were being introduced and explained. For example a song by U2, ‘With or Without You’, was mentioned during a microbiology lesson to help students get to grips with the concept of a facultative organism, one that can survive with or without oxygen. This overall approach is highly praised as it helps to foster greater student learning by making lessons more interesting, more relevant and more enjoyable. Simultaneously, efforts were made to introduce and highlight cross-curricular links. In the lesson already referenced, for example, some students were asked to draw on information learned in Biology which they then shared with other students in the class. This is applauded as an approach as it encourages student thought and input, fosters a sense of achievement amongst students, supports the transfer of knowledge from one subject area to another and provides a greater relevance for students, both in terms of the topic being explored and the wider curriculum. Handouts designed to support the instruction provided by teachers were often provided. In addition, usually as the lesson concluded, students were duly informed of the pages in their textbook that related to work covered. These last two strategies are commended for the supports they provide to students in terms of further individual study and learning.
A number of methodologies were incorporated into lessons, many of which called on the active participation of students. This included for example, brainstorming, pair work, group work, and tasks that fostered an investigative approach to learning. The inclusion of such student-centred methodologies is highly commended and therefore further encouraged. When students were engaged in assigned tasks, their work was always closely monitored by the teacher. Simultaneously, teachers’ support, encouragement and assistance were very forthcoming. Worksheets were often provided to support students in such work. A number of these included graphic organisers, which were designed to help students organise their learning into neat packages. This approach, which is reminiscent of mind mapping, is further encouraged. Individual or group activity was always followed by structured feedback. This is noted as best practice, as it means that correct answers are acknowledged and applauded and that errors are discussed and amended.
Questioning was another teaching strategy that was utilised in all lessons. Best practice was where the teacher sought to balance the use of global and directed, and higher-order and lower-order questions. In some lessons questions were very well distributed, often to named students. In others there was a tendency to accept chorus answering. This is something that should be discouraged, as it makes it very difficult for the teacher to determine the level of individual student understanding and learning. Generally speaking, students’ level of answering to questions posed was good to very good.
The excellent practice of delivering the senior cycle, food studies assignments in conjunction with the relevant theory was clearly evident. Students engaged in practical food studies work demonstrated confidence and competence in their efforts and in their practical work. Some provision was made for the teaching of new theory and for the revision of work previously explored with students. While this is commended, there is some scope for increasing this even further. This is recommended as it helps to foster understanding and learning of related theory for all students. It is of course of particular benefit to students who struggle with study and with the memorisation of facts and figures, as it increases the relevance of material previously discussed or read. Furthermore, and for similar reasons, it is strongly recommended that serious consideration is given to the earlier introduction of the design brief approach to practical food studies. This should be reflected in planning documentation. It is suggested that a developmental approach, starting in first year, be adopted. In this way third-year students will be highly accustomed to and well practiced in the completion of brief sheets and the associated evaluation activity. They will also acquire a deeper understanding and appreciation of the design brief approach, which is central to the junior cycle, home economics syllabus.
Classroom atmosphere was notably positive. Teachers encouraged students’ contributions and students responded favourably. Their inputs were always acknowledged and affirmed. Some of the contributions made by students, particularly in senior cycle lessons, were indicative of deep engagement with the topic, reflection and higher-order thinking. In the main, students appeared interested and engaged themselves fully in all assigned tasks. In one instance, where students were not completely challenged by class content, they were easily distracted and tended to be a little unsettled. However, and as referenced previously, this should be easily addressed through a heightened consciousness of students’ levels and syllabus content when lesson planning. The classroom environment, while it was clean, bright and well organised, was a little tired. This can be attributed largely to the faded posters that adorn the walls of the room. It is recommended that this be addressed as soon as is practicable. Fresher posters, together with students’ work, would help to add a new lease of life to the room.
A range of modes is used to assess students’ progress and achievement in relation to Home Economics. This includes some ad-hoc provision for the assessment of students’ practical, project and journal work. It is strongly recommended that systems are established that will lead to a formalisation of the assessment of each of these course components. While it is recognised that periodically a mark relating to students’ practical work is provided in school reports, it is recommended that some consideration be given to the awarding of an aggregate mark. In effect this mark, which would include students’ attainment in all examinable components of a syllabus, would provide a more accurate indicator of students’ actual performance in home economics. The recommended approach is also consistent with the assessment objectives of both home economics syllabuses. Considering the teachers’ collective experience in relation to the correction of these aspects of the state examinations, as well as the fact that sample marking schemes and Chief Examiner’s Reports are easily accessed at www.examinations.ie, it is considered that the teachers are well placed to implement this recommendation.
Currently, in all subject areas, the marks awarded to students at key times during the school year, and as noted in school reports, are based on the continuous assessment of students. It is recommended therefore, that the introduction of at least one formal, in-house examination in all subjects, including Home Economics, is an approach that should be discussed and evaluated at whole-school level. School reports, which are issued twice annually, are handwritten by teachers. This approach has been maintained in the school because of the scope it provides for personalising feedback provided to students in the comments that accompany marks and grades. This decision is worthy of recognition and praise.
Some of the test papers reviewed as part of the subject inspection reflected the style and layout of past state examination papers. This approach is recommended for wider application, particularly because of the continuous assessment approach that is currently in use in the school. The members of the home economics department are presently exploring the introduction of assessment for learning (AfL). Sample approaches have been downloaded by them from the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). This move is fully advocated and encouraged.
Homework was assigned in each of the lessons observed. Students’ copybooks also indicated that students’ work is monitored on a regular basis, although this is more obvious in the copybooks of senior cycle students. A more systematic approach to the monitoring of junior cycle students’ work is therefore recommended. The members of the department are encouraged to vary their approach to monitoring through, for example, a combination of each of the following: a periodic grading of students’ work, the inclusion of constructive feedback and comment-only marking. Teachers are also encouraged to date all monitoring that is undertaken by them.
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.
Published, June 2008