An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
La Sainte Union Secondary School,
Banagher, Co. Offaly
Roll number: 65540A
Date of inspection: 15 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in La Sainte Union Secondary School, Banagher, Co. 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 principal and relevant staff. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
La Sainte Union is a co-educational voluntary Catholic secondary school under the trusteeship of the sisters of La Sainte Union du Sacré Coeur. The school is at an advanced stage of amalgamating with St. Ryanagh’s Community College. The amalgamation will result in a new school being established in September 2007 which will be named Banagher College, Coláiste na Sionna. A new school building will be provided under the Public Private Partnership Building Programme (PPP) 2006. The construction of the new premises is due to commence in 2007.
Home Economics a well-established and popular option subject on the school’s curriculum, albeit traditionally among girls. The uptake of Home Economics in first year is particularly commendable.
First-year students select their optional subjects at pre-entry stage and it is laudable that option bands are generated from student preferences in an effort to organise the junior cycle curriculum to meet the needs of each incoming student cohort. Students select four optional subjects from a list of eight. Home Economics is offered on two subject lines in an effort to facilitate as many students as possible. Students re-select and refine their subject choice at the end of first year when they drop one optional subject. Once again subject bands are generated from student preferences. Home Economics is offered on one band only in second and third year and uptake is traditionally much higher among the female student cohort.
Third-year students are well supported and advised on the task of subject selection for their Leaving Certificate through the school’s guidance programme. It is praiseworthy that each third-year student has an individual careers appointment with the guidance counsellor. In addition to a parents’ information evening, there is a subject choice day where students and teachers of each optional subject talk to third-year students and display related homework and project work in the school hall. This informative event supports students in making informed subject choices. Option bands for Leaving Certificate are generated from student preferences and every effort is made to facilitate students’ choice. Uptake of senior cycle Home Economics is good among the female student cohort.
While recognising the contextual factors that exist in relation to subject choice in the school, but as the uptake of Home Economics is dependent on the proportion of girls in each year group, strategies should be explored to promote Home Economics as an optional subject with appeal for all students, in order to redress the gender imbalance. Possible strategies might include the introduction of a subject notice board in a prominent place in the school, hosting awareness campaigns on relevant issues during the school year and developing cross-curricular projects. In the context of future curriculum planning, a short taster programme should be considered for incoming first-year students to provide an opportunity to sample each optional subject and facilitate a more informed subject choice. The length of time given over to a taster programme should be considered carefully to ensure that students derive full benefit from the initiative while at the same time not impacting negatively on their progress through Junior Certificate syllabuses. To maximise the potential of a taster programme, it would be important that subject departments devise a programme of work for the duration of the taster session that is based on the Junior Certificate syllabus.
Home Economics benefits from a good level of provision and whole-school support. All curriculum documentation and examinations material is disseminated promptly to the home economics department. Teaching time allocated to classes is in line with syllabus recommendations. A shortfall in the provision of concessionary hours by the Department of Education and Science was highlighted as a cause of concern by management. This shortfall presented difficulties for management in ensuring adequate timetabled provision for second year Home Economics during the first half of the current academic year. The arrangement of class time into double and single class periods in second, third and fifth year is particularly commended as a means of ensuring effective continuity in teaching and learning in Home Economics.
All home economics class groups are of mixed ability, which results in higher and ordinary levels being taught together. Students are well supported and advised on the appropriate levels for the certificate examinations by their home economics teacher. They are encouraged to aim for high academic standards and, where possible, to take Home Economics at the highest possible level in the certificate examinations.
There are two specialist rooms for Home Economics, one kitchen and one textiles room. Both rooms, while generally well maintained, are in need of upgrading. Due consideration is given to the active management of health and safety in Home Economics. Teachers were consulted when the whole-school health and safety policy was devised and the gas supply to the kitchen was upgraded to comply with safety standards. However, a lack of running hot water in the kitchen still presents significant challenges for teachers and students of Home Economics, both in terms of health and safety and time management for practical lessons. This issue will be addressed in the context of the new school building that will come on stream in the near future. Safety rules have been devised for home economics students and some laminated safety and hygiene notices are clearly displayed in the kitchen. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that a subject-specific policy documenting health and safety routines for both specialist rooms be developed and included in subject planning documentation. A student-friendly version of this policy should be clearly displayed in both specialist rooms.
Resources are allocated on the basis of teacher requisition and management is very supportive of any requests made by the home economics department. There is a good range of additional resources to enhance the teaching and learning in Home Economics. This includes access to a television and video, an overhead projector and a number of videos and educational packs. There are some reference books in the kitchen. As home economics coursework necessitates student access to updated resource material, it is suggested that the home economics department reviews the resource books in stock to identify any resource needs and develops a reference library that is accessible to students and teachers of Home Economics. On-going investment in this facility is encouraged, as resources permit.
The home economics department has expressed considerable interest in developing the potential of information and communications technologies (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning in Home Economics. ICT can enable students to engage in independent and guided research that is appropriate to the coursework requirements in Home Economics. Furthermore, there are software packages available for use in home economics lessons and some educational websites that are useful in the preparation of classroom resources. Some website addresses are available on the Home Economics Support Service (HESS) website at www.homeeconomics.ie. As the home economics rooms in the new school will be wired for internet access, consideration should be given by management, where resources permit, to the provision of ICT facilities in the new home economics rooms. To promote the use of ICT in Home Economics, it is recommended that the home economics department develop a strategic plan that demonstrates concrete strategies for utilising and embedding ICT in the teaching and learning in Home Economics. This plan will be useful in establishing resource needs that can be met over time, as funding becomes available.
As part of the school’s engagement with the school development planning process, management encourages and is supportive of collaborative subject planning. Management allocates time for subject planning two to three times per year. Consideration could be given to the allocation of additional time where feasible. It was noted positively that in preparation for the impending amalgamation the home economics departments of both schools met to begin the process of collaborative planning. Further progress in this area is highly desirable in order to make plans for the newly amalgamated home economics department coming on stream in September and to plan collaboratively on an on-going basis for first-year students since there is a common enrolment this year.
A commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) is evident in the home economics department. Members of the home economics department have attended the in-service programme for Home Economics for the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus and have experience in the marking of the State examinations in Home Economics. This good practice is to be encouraged, as it is obvious that the experience gained impacts positively on the quality of the teaching and learning in Home Economics.
Good provision is made in Home Economics for students with special education needs. There is good collaboration between the learning-support department and the home economics department. Special needs assistants are present in classes as appropriate. It is laudable that the school provides the resources during the mock examinations that reflect the reasonable accommodation that candidates may expect in the certificate examinations. This good practice is very beneficial in helping students prepare for their certificate examinations.
Subject department planning is underway in Home Economics and the willingness and commitment of staff through their engagement with this process are acknowledged. Good progress has been made in the development of a planning folder for Home Economics. This document outlines key information regarding the organisation of Home Economics in the school. Some good cross-curricular links with subjects such as Biology, Business Studies, English and CSPE have been identified. These links could be developed into interesting cross-curricular projects that would reinforce and link students’ learning. It was noted positively that a self-evaluative approach underpins formal planning in Home Economics. The self-monitoring aids on Assessment for Learning (AfL) techniques are particularly useful and should be used as basis for the further integration of AfL in the teaching and learning in Home Economics. In order to build on the good work already evident, it would be beneficial to refer to the planning material provided by HESS as a means of extending and enhancing future subject department planning in Home Economics. This material can be downloaded from the HESS website at www.homeeconomics.ie.
Curricular plans are available for all year groups. All plans contain a list of topics that will be covered in each term. The junior cycle plans indicate a commendable balance of theoretical and practical coursework but particular cognisance must be taken of the requirements of the core textiles section of the Junior Certificate syllabus at the next review stage. It is laudable that assessment procedures are built into each plan and that there is an appropriate use of past certificate examination papers. To build on the good practices already evident, it is recommended that all programmes of work be amended and developed to include information such as specific timeframes for the delivery of each topic and details on student learning outcomes in terms of expected knowledge and understanding. Information on suitable methodologies for the planned work and the identification of appropriate resources and homework assignments for each area should also be included. This work should be implemented on a phased basis, taking, for example, one junior and one senior year group per annum. Further advice on planning a programme of work for Leaving Certificate Home Economics is available in the NCCA Guidelines for Teachers for the revised Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus.
It is commendable that all plans are reviewed on a regular basis, as subject planning by its nature will always be work in progress and, as such, will always demonstrate room for advancement and revision. It is advocated that, as part of the annual review process, particular attention is given to assessing the effectiveness of the teaching and learning strategies used in the delivery of lesson content.
A variety of practical coursework is planned in the areas of Junior Certificate core textiles and design and craftwork. Very good emphasis is placed on the use of the design brief process in third-year food studies. In order to encourage the further development of students’ higher order thinking skills, it is recommended that design brief process is used as a strategy in teaching food and textiles studies from first year. Students, for example, could complete a simple folder in tandem with the core textiles work or occasionally a food studies lesson could be based on a simple design task. This would enable students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation. It would also provide further opportunities to integrate theory and practice.
A variety of lesson types, both theoretical and practical, was observed during the course of the evaluation and it is evident that a committed and experienced approach is taken to the teaching and learning of Home Economics. The quality of short-term planning for the lessons observed was generally good. Lessons were well structured, though careful attention should be given to the pacing of lessons to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between the time spent on new material and time spent integrating and recapping on previously taught material. All lessons had a clear focus and the commendable practice of sharing the aim of the lesson was noted in all lessons. This strategy could be developed further by sharing key learning objectives and success criteria for each lesson with students. This information could then be used to provide an additional focus and structure to lessons, and facilitate students’ self-assessment of their own progress, which is one of the key principles underpinning AfL. In all the lessons observed the homework activities assigned reinforced or extended effectively the learning that had taken place.
The practical lesson observed was based on preparation for the Junior Certificate food and culinary skills examination. There was a commendable balance between whole-class teaching, individual instruction, spot demonstration and student work. Particularly impressive was the ability of the students to work independently and in collaboration with each other. Students displayed a very high level of self-organisational skills as evidenced by their standard of advance preparation and planning for the class. Students demonstrated a very good standard of culinary skills and clearly established safety and hygiene routines were evident. The lesson was summarised effectively by a discussion of each task completed during the lesson. A wall chart listing the key terminology suitable for the evaluation of tasks could be displayed and used in lessons to support students in developing the evaluative skills necessary for the practical examinations.
In the theoretical lessons observed teacher explanations were very clear, accurate and contextualised and there was a commendable concern for students’ understanding of lesson content. There was some good use of additional resources such as handouts and exemplar material to reinforce key concepts of the lessons being taught. Lesson content was linked to the everyday experience of the students and this proved very effective in stimulating students’ interest. There was some good use of the blackboard to summarise key points of information or to illustrate concepts discussed during lessons. This good practice is encouraged further, particularly where difficult concepts need clarification. The use of mind maps, as an alternative to full paragraphs of text, should be also considered as a visual tool to summarise key points and highlight the interrelationships between topics. To maximise the potential of the blackboard in the learning process, it is important that students are given time to reflect on and record the information in their notebooks. There was some appropriate use textbooks, particularly where students’ attention was drawn to key points or phrases to consolidate learning. However, in order to accommodate all learning styles, care should be taken to avoid an over-reliance on textbooks in the delivery of lessons.
Students were encouraged to remain actively engaged in lessons through a variety of questioning strategies. Questioning proved effective in assessing recall and understanding of concepts and processes. Student responses indicated a good level of knowledge of the key points under discussion. Some very good use was made of questioning techniques that challenged students to analyse and apply the information being discussed in the lesson. This good practice is encouraged to enable students to develop the higher order thinking skills of analysis, interpretation and evaluation of information. In order to build on the good practice already evident it is recommended that a range of teaching strategies that accommodate the various styles of learner be explored further and used in lessons. Particular attention should be given to the inclusion of active teaching methodologies to avoid an over-emphasis on teacher-led activities in lessons where there is a tendency for students to remain passive. Further advice and support on teaching strategies that support a mixed-ability environment and differing learning styles is available from the Second Level Support Service who can be contacted at www.slss.ie.
Classroom management was very good in all the lessons observed. The good practice of taking a roll call was observed in all lessons. The classroom atmosphere was supportive and conducive to learning. There was a very good rapport between the students and the teacher. Students displayed a commendable willingness to participate in all class activities and very good use was made of praise to affirm students’ efforts. Some good use was made of wall space in the kitchen to display educational posters. This good practice should be extended to both specialist rooms to stimulate and actively engage student interest in Home Economics. Displays of students’ work also promote a sense of student ownership and responsibility for the creation of a stimulating learning environment.
Observation of students’ recent project work in the area of design and craftwork indicates a very high level creativity and competence in the appropriate craft and textile skills. The level of originality displayed in the wall-hangings currently under construction is particularly commendable and such creativity should be fostered and encouraged in all craft work. In the case of the optional study, it is particularly laudable that students complete the design folder in tandem with the craft item.
Assessment is an inherent part of the teaching and learning in Home Economics in La Sainte Union secondary school. Formative and summative assessment is used to monitor students’ competence and provide feedback on progress. Formative assessment is carried out on an on-going basis through oral questioning, homework activities, end-of-topic tests, coursework assignments and the monitoring of project work. In cases where students are preparing to sit the certificate examinations, a good emphasis is placed on the use of past examination papers and food studies design briefs. Assessment outcomes are systematically recorded in a teacher’s journal. This good practice ensures that a profile of students’ progress is recorded which is useful when providing advice on examination level to students.
Formal summative examinations are at Christmas and in summer. Fifth-year students are assessed four times per year. Students preparing for the certificate examinations sit mock assessments in the second term. Regular contact is maintained with parents and guardians through written reports and an annual parent-teacher meeting. The student journal is also used as an additional form of communication.
Many commendable features are evident in the system of summative assessment operated by the home economics department. The examination papers set for in-house examinations reflect the format and style of the relevant certificate examination. This is very good preparation for the written examination. It is commendable that the textiles coursework completed in first year is included in the marks awarded. To build on these good practices, it is recommended that the range of summative assessment modes in used first and second year Home Economics be extended to include, where feasible, an assessment of food and culinary skills coursework. In addition, consideration should be given to developing a common assessment format for the summer examinations for first-year students of Home Economics.
The home economics department has developed a homework policy. Homework is regularly assigned to students but the modus operandi for monitoring the written homework varies between year groups. Useful teacher comments in some copybooks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. Very good strategies were evident in persuading students to develop their answers. This good practice should be extended to all year groups as it enhances learning by informing students about their own individual progress, highlights areas for improvement and ultimately challenges and assists students to reach their full potential. In the context of future departmental planning, consideration should be given to implementing AfL practices documented in the homework and assessment sections of subject planning folder made available on the day of the inspection. Further information on AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics a well-established and popular option subject on the school’s curriculum although it is predominantly chosen by girls.
· Home Economics benefits from a good level of provision and whole-school support.
· The evident on-going commitment to CPD impacts positively on the quality of the teaching and learning in Home Economics.
· There is considerable interest in developing the potential of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning in Home Economics.
· Subject department planning is underway and some good progress has been made in the development of subject-specific planning documentation.
· A high level of mutual respect and co-operation was evident in all the lessons observed.
· Observation of students’ recent project work in the area of design and craftwork indicates a very high level creativity and competence in the appropriate craft skills.
· Students of Home Economics are encouraged to aim for high academic standards.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Strategies should be explored to promote Home Economics as an optional subject with appeal for all students.
· A strategic plan demonstrating concrete strategies for utilising and embedding ICT in the teaching and learning in Home Economics should be developed.
· A range of teaching strategies that accommodate the various styles of learner should be explored. Particular attention should be given to the inclusion of active teaching methodologies to avoid an over-emphasis on teacher-led activities.
· The range of summative assessment modes in first and second year Home Economics should be extended to include, where feasible, an assessment of food and culinary skills coursework.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the home economics department and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when 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 Board of Management considered the report at the meeting of 28 May 2007. The Board considered the report to be comprehensive, thorough and very positive. The members of the Board wish to compliment the teachers, the students and the parents for the high standards obtained. The Board also wishes to thank the Inspector who carried out the inspection.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Any recommendations contained in the report will be acted upon immediately