An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Saint Brendan’s College
Belmullet, County Mayo
Roll number: 72050U
Date of inspection: 25 & 26 September 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. Brendan’s College, Belmullet, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 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 subject teachers.
Home Economics is a well established popular optional subject at junior and senior cycle, albeit traditionally among girls. Class groups at both junior cycle and senior cycle are of mixed ability and every effort is made to maintain classes at a reasonable size. The teachers set very high expectations and the majority of students aspire to the Higher Level course. The school management and teachers are to be commended for encouraging and motivating students to this level.
Home Economics is selected by an average of 48% of junior cycle students, which generally results in the formation of two class groups to meet demand. This uptake is commendably high. Teaching time allocated is favourable. Class groups in first year are allocated four class periods i.e. one double and two single classes per week and in second and third year five class periods are allocated i.e. one double and three single classes.
Transition Year (TY) has been introduced to the school for the first time this year. TY students participate in a food and culinary skills unit of Home Economics and are allocated a double and a single period. There are 46 students in TY divided into three class groups. The teachers plan to further develop the modules each year on the basis of students’ aptitudes and interests.
There is a significant gender imbalance from first year onwards in take-up of Home Economics. However, the recent introduction of TY and of a student-friendly open style of subject choice at senior cycle should help address the issue of gender imbalance currently evident in Home Economics. It is noted that management plans to extend this more open style of subject choice to junior cycle in the future. Such initiatives are praiseworthy. In addition, the Home Economics teaching team should continue to investigate and implement strategies that will continue to promote Home Economics as a popular option subject, with appeal for all students at both junior cycle and senior cycle. Currently a classroom subject notice board is used to display student work and local media frequently publicise subject highlights and events. Additional strategies could include the introduction of a display cabinet for project work in a prominent place in the school and the hosting of awareness campaigns on relevant subject issues during the school year.
Home Economics is selected by an average of 42% students in the current fifth and sixth years, which generally results in the formation of two class group. This uptake is impressive illustrating its popularity as a subject choice. Class period provision at senior cycle is good; classes in fifth and sixth year are allocated five class periods per week, including at least one double class, which is in line with syllabus recommendations.
The subject benefits from a very good level of resource provision and whole-school support, a fact that is acknowledged by the Home Economics teachers. Teaching time is in accordance with syllabus recommendations. Formal time is allocated for the purpose of subject planning during the academic year. Curriculum documentation is disseminated promptly by management. Management organises regular school-based in-service and teachers are encouraged to participate in subject associations. The teachers have participated in a variety of in-service training sessions, for example those provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service. The school has a system for induction of new teachers and mentoring of student teachers. New staff reported on the high level of support they received from more established colleagues and on the usefulness of the school’s teacher handbook.
Students are well supported in arrangements for subject choices and choice of levels within subjects at junior and senior cycle through effective use of guidance resources linked to teacher advice, communication with parents, and information evenings at key stages. The Home Economics department is to be commended on its active role in providing advice for prospective students.
There are three Home Economics teachers in the school and the role of subject co-ordinator is currently shared among them. Teachers have access to a general classroom for the delivery of textiles and theory lessons and there is one specialist room which functions as a food studies laboratory (kitchen) and a textiles room. It is well resourced with a range of equipment necessary for the teaching of the subject. Management’s stated intention to have the kitchen refurbished and a suitable extraction system installed is fully encouraged. In addition management and teachers should give further thought to ongoing investment in the upgrading, replacement and maintenance of specialist equipment for both Food Studies and Textiles as necessary in both home economics rooms.
The school recently undertook a health and safety audit and the Home Economics teachers check their rooms on a regular basis and report any necessary work or health and safety issues to the principal via the maintenance book in the staff room. The Home Economics department has developed its own safety statement and there is evidence of good health and safety practices in Home Economics classes.
Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required. Management endeavours to provide for the purchase of additional resources and equipment on the basis of teacher requisition.
The Home Economics department is very well supported by school structures, systems and strategies when providing for students including those with special educational needs (SEN). Special Needs Assistants are allocated to students when necessary. The Home Economics teachers liaise with the learning support department in the school on an ongoing basis and materials are adapted to suit the needs and abilities of students as appropriate.
Teachers use Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) mainly for subject planning and class preparation. They also encourage students to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics during their computer classes and their own study time. Student access to the computer room can be pre-arranged by the teachers, subject to availability. With the impending provision of an extension to the school and the refurbishment of the home economics facilities the school plans continued improvement of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
The school is making very good progress with regard to school development planning (SDP). There is clear evidence that the Home Economics teachers at St Brendan’s College work well as a team, demonstrate a high-level of co-operation and readily engage in the process of collaborative planning, and they are to be commended for this. Management encourages that subject planning group meetings be held once per month. Additionally management provides dedicated formal meeting time during staff planning days for subject departments as part of its commitment to progressing SDP. Agenda are decided in advance of departmental meetings and records of subject department meetings are maintained. Teachers also agree to meet during one of their free class periods and tend to meet informally on a regular basis throughout the week to monitor and review progress. The professional commitment and interest of the teachers involved is commendable.
Subject department planning for Home Economics is ongoing and a comprehensive Home Economics department policy document has been developed which includes details on the organisation, planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subject. In addition course content plans have been drawn up for each year group, with more detailed planning for the senior cycle. These plans are syllabus based, include learning outcomes and 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 and assessment in Home Economics. Individual teachers adapt the main subject department plan to facilitate their own individual planning. The teaching team is commended for its work to date on this plan. However, it is important to note that such planning documents are of an evolving nature, and as such, will always demonstrate room for advancement, revision and improvement. Teachers reported that these plans are reviewed regularly and amendments are made as appropriate. At the next review stage teachers might consider the further development of the course content plans on an individual or collaborative basis to include: specific timeframes for the completion of content; links between theory and practical work; integration of subject matter as well as details regarding revision and exam preparation. This process could be implemented on a phased basis. Furthermore, it is recommended that teachers should introduce the design brief process as early as possible in the junior cycle in both food studies and the practical textiles work as appropriate. This approach enables students to develop crucial knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of analysis, investigation, problem solving, action planning and evaluation. This will also assist students to integrate relevant theory with practical skills.
It is suggested that the Home Economics teachers continue to make good use of the Home Economics syllabuses, teacher guidelines and templates available from the Home Economics Support Service to facilitate more detailed programme planning at all levels. State Examination Commission marking schemes and chief examiners’ reports could be further utilised as a resource to inform the planning and development of future plans of work at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels.
Teachers have built up and systematically filed a range of resources to support teaching and learning in Home Economics. A resource area is available to students in order to enhance their learning. It offers a variety of learning resources including reference books, leaflets and commercially-prepared resource packs. The Home Economics department makes very good use of the overhead projector and classes have access to a television and video when required. On-going investment in the development and expansion of resources is suggested as necessary.
There is evidence of informal cross-curricular planning between Home Economics and Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Business, French, Science and other practical subjects. As part of this teachers endeavour to develop complementary approaches to themes that are common to their syllabuses. Teachers engage in planning and developing extra-curricular and co-curricular activities that aim to enhance the students’ experience and enjoyment of the subject and extend learning beyond the classroom. There are plans to involve the Home Economics team in the development of the TY mini-company.
The quality of teaching and learning was very 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.
Teacher instruction was clear, competent, accurate and frequently supported by the use of such resources as the overhead projector, student handouts, samples, workbooks and textbooks. These were introduced into the lessons at appropriate times and were most effective in enhancing teaching and consolidating learning. Very good use was made of the board for the explanation of theory and concepts and for the provision of direction and guidance in practical classes. Effective questioning strategies were used in all classes 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. Much emphasis was placed on students’ understanding of content and processes and there were very good examples of linking the lesson content to students’ every day experiences.
Teachers utilised whole-class instruction well and there is evidence of some use of active learning in lessons. However it is likely that students would benefit from a greater exposure to active learning methods and other differentiated strategies that would engage them in their own learning. The teaching team should consider the benefits to students of incorporating of more student-centred active learning methodologies for example brainstorming, individualised learning, pair work, group discussion, debating, role-play, problem-solving and collaborative learning. This would have the effect of further challenging students in order to encourage them to take greater responsibility for their own learning. Active learning encourages independent and collaborative learning, key foci of both the junior and senior cycle home economics syllabuses.
It is clear that the teaching team has a strong commitment to the practical components of the syllabuses. The opportunity to observe students engaged in a food studies practical class highlighted the existence of well-established systems of practice and the department’s very thorough preparation of students for the food and culinary skills practical examination. An appropriate emphasis on health and safety practices was evident. Students were encouraged to undertake evaluations of tasks completed.
The Textile Studies programme at junior cycle includes development of skills in such areas as basic hand stitches, embroidery and an introduction to using the sewing machine with a view to the completion of a simple household article. In order to enhance the current good work in textiles it is recommended that at the next review stage the Home Economics team should develop and implement a plan of work for Textile Studies in order to fully comply with the syllabus requirements.
Teachers have attained a considerable level of experience and expertise in the marking of practicals, 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 senior cycle food-studies coursework journals 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 the organisation and presentation of material. The very good variety of crafts completed by the students merits particular mention for the standard and level of originality demonstrated. Processes such as appliqué, quilting, embroidery and crochet are regular features of the craftwork completed. It is praiseworthy that good use is made of ICT for both research and presentation of coursework. Overall, the level of teacher guidance and the evidence of students’ skills, creativity and originality in the area of project work are to be commended.
There is a commitment to expand students’ learning through planned activities both inside and outside the classroom. This is currently achieved through participation in competitions, and planned visits to exhibitions, industry and relevant agencies. Such opportunities should continue to be explored.
Classes were very well managed and while teachers were firm and purposeful in their approach, they demonstrated concern for their students and the manner of their interactions was warm and considerate. The atmosphere in the classes observed was positive, respectful and supportive and thus conducive to learning. Students’ contributions were encouraged and effective use was made of student affirmation.
The students were attentive, interested and participated well in the learning process. Their responses and contributions in general illustrated a commendable level of knowledge and understanding of the subject and very good engagement and skills in practical work. In general students displayed a sense of pride, interest and enthusiasm for the subject.
A range of assessment modes that reflect the assessment objectives of the syllabuses, is used effectively to monitor student progress and competence. These include oral questioning, class tests, homework assignments, workbook questions, examination questions and continuous monitoring of students’ practical and project work.
The Home Economics department has developed a homework policy and homework, which enhances student learning and allows for student progress to be assessed, is assigned regularly. Homework is either marked by the teacher or reviewed as a class activity. Consideration might be given to developing homework assignments that further promote independent learning and higher order thinking skills. Some good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring of student copybooks, folders and class tests. With regard to formative assessment useful teacher comments where evident, provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. This good work is illustrative of the principles that underpin assessment for learning and it is recommended that this good practice already evident should be extended and further developed across all year groups. Further information on assessment for learning is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie.
House examinations are held for all students at Christmas and summer tests are scheduled for the non-exam classes. In addition those preparing to take the State examinations sit mock examinations in the spring. The grades awarded for Home Economics examinations during the year are an aggregated mark for written tests, food and culinary skills practical work, coursework and projects completed during that term. Teachers record all assessment outcomes systematically and advise students regularly on their progress in the subject. School reports are used to communicate these results and student progress to parents and guardians. Furthermore, student progress is reported to parents at the biannual parent-teacher meetings that are held for each year group. Students’ progress is reviewed and their examination levels are decided in consultation with the subject teachers and parents. The homework journal is an additional valuable means of communicating with parents as the need arises.
The school maintains its own records of student achievement in State examinations and the Home Economics team analyses and evaluates student outcomes in the context of national norms. This informs future teaching strategies and learning activities.
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.