An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
St Columba’s Comprehensive School
Glenties, County Donegal
Roll number: 81010J
Date of inspection: 3 December 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Columba’s Comprehensive School, Glenties. 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 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.
Home Economics has a high profile in St Columba’s Comprehensive School. It is an optional subject on the school’s curriculum for both the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate. On entering first year, students may choose Home Economics as one of two optional subjects from a group of five that also includes Technology, Business Studies, Technical Graphics and Materials Technology (Wood). In senior cycle, it is commendable that subject option pools are generated based on students’ choices. It is notable that uptake of Home Economics at both levels is very healthy and well above the national average. However, it is disappointing that very few boys are currently taking the subject in the school. While acknowledging the constraints with regard to curriculum provision and teacher allocation, this issue should be kept under review as part of the school’s development planning process. It is good to note that Home Economics is also available to students taking the Transition Year programme (TY) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). All of the LCA students take two compulsory modules from the hotel, catering and tourism course.
Teaching time allocated to all classes is adequate and in line with syllabus recommendations. However, a number of issues are in need of attention with regard to the timetabling of the subject for some class groups. In the current school year, three of the junior cycle classes are timetabled for Home Economics for a double period over break time. This arrangement is not conducive to the smooth implementation of a food studies practical lesson and it poses restrictions on the development of students’ skills. It is also noted that the total time allocation for home economics classes is distributed over two consecutive days each week for four of the junior cycle class groups. This results in a gap of almost a week between class periods for these students. In order to ensure that all students gain optimum benefit from the time allocation for Home Economics, it is recommended that these issues be addressed in the timetabling of the subject from the 2009/10 school year onwards. In resolving the timetabling issues, consideration should be given to splitting one of the double class periods into two single periods in both junior cycle and senior cycle. This would improve the learning value of the available class contact time each week for students.
The LCA and TY classes are currently timetabled for one triple period per week for Home Economics. Again, in the interests of optimising the use of these class contact periods, some thought should be given to splitting this time into one single and one double period spread throughout the week.
The home economics department currently comprises three members of staff, two of whom have a recognised qualification in Home Economics. The difficulties experienced by management in recruiting suitably qualified staff are acknowledged. However, in planning for the future assignment of teachers to home economics classes it is strongly recommended that management should deploy teachers in line with their subject specialisms so that only teachers who have a recognised qualification in Home Economics teach the subject. This is essential to ensure and maintain quality provision for students taking Home Economics in all programmes offered on the school’s curriculum. The teaching of the subject requires the integrated application of all of the relevant core disciplines as well as the development of key skills in the areas of food studies, textiles, and design and craftwork.
The two specialist rooms for Home Economics have recently been refurbished to a very high standard, as part of a larger building project in the school. One of the work units in the kitchen has been adapted for use by students with a physical disability. The rooms are well organised and well resourced for the delivery of the subject. The home economics department is applauded for the immense commitment in terms of time and energy in the planning and organisation of equipment in the new kitchen in particular. The walls of the classrooms are enhanced with a variety of stimulating materials, including students’ projects, and design and craftwork. Information and communications technology (ICT) is available in both classrooms.
There is evidence of good collaboration amongst the teachers. In addition to formal school development planning meetings, the home economics teachers meet regularly in their own time. Minutes of meetings are maintained and key decisions from subject department meetings are relayed to senior management. It is also good to note that opportunities are provided at staff meetings for reports from the home economics department.
There is a very proactive approach to the co-ordination of the subject. This includes a strong emphasis on developing and maintaining the profile of Home Economics in the school, a reflective and progressive approach to the organisation and planning of the subject and an enthusiastic commitment that involves leading by example.
During the evaluation a large amount of planning documentation was presented. Subject planning for Home Economics is well advanced. The Subject Department Plan 2008/09 provides comprehensive details on the organisational aspects of the subject in the school. Schemes of work have also been prepared for each of the programmes offered. The scheme of work for the Junior Certificate is at an advanced stage of development. The theory and practical work to be completed is presented on a week-by-week basis. It is very good practice that the objectives, skills, methodologies and assessment modes are outlined for each topic. The core textile skills section of the syllabus, relating to garment construction, should be incorporated in planning for the Junior Certificate. The scheme of work for Leaving Certificate is currently being reviewed and further developed in a similar manner to the scheme for the Junior Certificate. In progressing this work, consideration should be given to the sequence in which some of the lessons are presented in order to reflect more fully the integrated approach recommended in the Leaving Certificate syllabus.
The schemes of work for Home Economics in TY and for Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT) in the LCA include an outline of the theory and practical work to be completed on a monthly basis. Commendably, the objectives for each lesson are also outlined. It is recommended that both of these schemes would benefit from review in order to ensure a more incremental and coherent approach to the development of students’ culinary skills. As part of this review, consideration should also be given in each case to the balance of theory and practical work and to how the relevant theoretical knowledge can be integrated with the practical skills. The syllabus for HCT should be useful in this regard. It is noted that the TY plan currently includes some of the theory from the Leaving Certificate syllabus. The delivery of this aspect of the TY plan should also be reviewed to ensure that the approach taken is in keeping with the principles of the TY programme.
In some instances, the schemes of work are being used as daily working documents. There is also evidence that some members of the home economics department engage in the process of self-evaluation with regard to teaching and learning. The greater use of the schemes on a daily basis could further facilitate the process of reflection and self-evaluation. The addition of information such as methodologies, resources and assessment modes that worked or did not work well in lessons could be a useful catalyst for the ongoing review of, for example, effective teaching and learning methods. Some individual planning documentation presented during the evaluation was of a very high quality.
The rationale for the number of double classes used for practical demonstrations in food and culinary skills in the junior cycle would also benefit from review.
The sourcing and development of resources to support teaching and learning in Home Economics is given high priority in the school. A library of resources and reference books is available in the kitchen. These have been carefully catalogued. Past examination papers and marking schemes are also carefully filed.
In all of the classes visited, there was a positive learning atmosphere. There was a very good rapport and a high level of mutual respect between teachers and students.
It was evident that a good deal of attention had been given to the planning of the lessons observed and to the thorough preparation and organisation of resources. All of the lessons had clear aims and these were generally communicated to the students at the outset. In one particular instance, the learning outcomes to be attained by the end of the lesson were clearly defined for students, in written form, as part of students’ lesson materials. These were referred to throughout and at the end of the lesson to check on progress and understanding. Students were also invited to indicate at each stage where they had difficulties in understanding the concepts. This was a most effective approach as it provided a framework for all teaching and learning in the lesson.
Almost all of the lessons observed were well structured and appropriately paced. Where this was not the case, there was scope to focus more clearly on the key concepts and skills to be attained by students and on the amount of work to be completed during the lesson.
There was evidence of high-quality teaching and learning in many of the lessons observed. In a senior cycle class, a double theory lesson on preservation provided all of the characteristics of a lesson that could only be described as outstanding. This lesson was imaginatively and thoughtfully planned. The teaching and learning strategies were well chosen and effectively used, resulting in the active engagement of all students in the learning process. The transitions between the various stages and activities of the lesson were smooth and the balance between teacher instruction and student activity was well measured. Students worked independently, in pairs and as a whole class. There was very good evidence of differentiation and of the integration of theory and practice. There was an appropriate emphasis on subject-specific terminology and good opportunities were created for the development of higher-order thinking skills. The tactics used to elicit higher-order responses from students were impressive. The very good pacing of the lesson ensured that while a good amount of work was completed, students were also given time throughout the lesson to assimilate new content. The lesson was stimulating, and students were challenged, supported and encouraged by the teacher. Observation of this lesson provided clear evidence that all students were making very good progress irrespective of their ability, and that the quality of learning was very high.
In a junior cycle class, students were purposefully engaged and they demonstrated a very good standard of food and culinary skills in what was a well-planned and well-executed lesson. The explanation and demonstration of key processes occurred at appropriate stages. The students were challenged and encouraged to aim for high standards in their work and they responded very well. Individuality and creativity were fostered. It is commendable that the relevant theory was linked to the practical skills in an appropriate manner. Good emphasis was placed on the correct use of equipment and on the maintenance of high standards in hygiene and safety.
In a minority of the practical food studies lessons there was considerable scope for development in terms of the routines and the procedures for the organisation, timing and implementation of such lessons. It is important to note that in all practical lessons there should be a focus on teaching and learning, and on the development of students’ key practical skills, including those relating to health and safety, as well as the completion of the dish or task. The sharing and modelling of good practices between the teachers of Home Economics in this area is recommended.
The range and standard of design and craftwork skills observed in a Junior Certificate class were excellent. As is good practice, students were completing the written aspects of the design brief concurrently with the practical work. The students were industrious and there was a strong sense of student ownership of each piece of craftwork. The manner in which all students were able to discuss their project with the inspector was most impressive. The levels of creativity and originality in the design aspects of the projects were very striking. The lesson provided opportunities for students to learn new skills and to understand how theoretical concepts such as design features applied to the practical work. Some students were so competent that they were able to teach new skills and processes to their peers. All of the activities of this lesson fused seamlessly together. The enjoyment and sense of pride displayed by the students was very noticeable. This lesson was a model of best practice. In addition to the work observed in this class, a selection of design and craftwork pieces from other class groups as well as an array of photographs of students’ recent work provided clear evidence of the very high standards achieved by the students in this area of practical work. The commitment to the development of practical skills and to the attainment of such high standards in the design and craftwork for the Junior Certificate is most praise worthy. This is indeed one of the key strengths of Home Economics in this school.
The range of assessment modes used to assess students’ progress and competence in Home Economics accurately reflects the assessment objectives of the syllabuses. There was some very good evidence of careful attention to the planning of assessment alongside planning for teaching and learning. In one particular class, students were given a homework task of composing examination questions to be used in a subsequent lesson.
Questioning was used in all classes to check on previous knowledge, learning and understanding. It was a concern that, in some classes, all of the questions were of the lower-order variety, focussing only on the recall of knowledge and directing the questions at a small number of students. However, some excellent questioning strategies that involved the use of higher-order thinking skills were also noted. These were most effective in helping students with the application of knowledge and concepts. In such cases, the questions were well spread amongst the class members, there was evidence of differentiation and there was very good use of “wait-time” to allow students to think and to formulate opinions. Students were encouraged to “take time and think it through”. The use of this style of questioning in all classes is recommended. The subject department might find it useful to further explore other questioning strategies such as the “no hands up” rule as recommended in the literature on assessment for learning.
There was evidence of very good practice with regard to the regular setting, checking and thorough monitoring of homework. Observation of students’ work in copies and folders indicated good progress in their work. In the senior cycle class visited, a very orderly approach was noted with regard to the filing in students’ folders of materials, notes, mind maps, handouts and tests.
The good practice of assigning questions from past examination papers for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students is commended. This helps them prepare for the examination by developing proficiency in the interpretation and answering of varied styles of examination questions. It was evident from the students’ work inspected that their answers are thoroughly marked and contain helpful teacher comments that are encouraging and that indicate how improvements can be made.
The results of formal and informal assessments are systematically recorded. The use of a student assessment record sheet was noted in one of the senior cycle classes. A record sheet is attached to each student’s folder. Students’ test results are entered on the individual record following each test and parents sign the sheet. This method of profiling students’ progress provides ongoing and valuable information to students and their parents. It is good to note that student achievement is celebrated in Home Economics. Students from the school achieve very good results in Home Economics in the certificate examinations. It is also notable that almost all students take the higher level in both the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics has a high profile in the school and uptake of the subject for both the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate is well above the national average.
· The specialist rooms have recently been refurbished to a very high standard.
· There is good collaboration amongst the teachers and there is a proactive approach to the co-ordination of the subject.
· Subject planning is well advanced. Schemes of work have been prepared. Some individual planning documentation is of a very high quality.
· In some instances, the schemes of work are being used as daily working documents and there is evidence that the process of self-evaluation has begun.
· The learning atmosphere was positive in all of the classes visited.
· Best practice was noted when the learning outcomes to be attained by the end of the lesson were clearly defined and were referred to throughout and at the end of the lesson.
· There was high-quality teaching and learning in many of the lessons observed.
· A lesson on preservation provided all of the characteristics of an outstanding lesson. Students were making very good progress irrespective of their ability and the quality of learning was very high.
· Students were purposefully engaged and they demonstrated a very good standard of food and culinary skills in a well planned and well executed junior cycle lesson.
· The standard of skills that students achieve in design and craftwork for the Junior Certificate is one of the key strengths of Home Economics in this school. The lesson observed in this area was a
model of best practice.
· The range of assessment modes used accurately reflects the assessment objectives of the syllabuses. There was some evidence of careful attention to the planning of assessment
alongside planning for teaching and learning.
· Some excellent questioning strategies that involved the use of higher-order thinking skills were noted. The assignment of questions from past certificate examination papers is good practice.
· Students achieve very good results in Home Economics in the certificate examinations and it is notable that almost all students take the higher level in these examinations.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The current practices of timetabling double lessons over break time and of distributing the total time allocation for Home Economics over two consecutive days each week should be avoided in future
· In planning for the future assignment of teachers to home economics classes, management should ensure that only teachers who have a recognised qualification in Home Economics teach the subject.
· The schemes of work for TY and the LCA would benefit from a review.
· The sharing and modelling of good practices between the teachers of Home Economics in the organisation, timing and implementation of some practical lessons is recommended.
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 October 2009