An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
St Dominicís High School, Santa Sabina
Sutton, Dublin 13
Roll number: 60830C
Date of inspection: 23 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Dominicís High School, Santa Sabina, 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 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.
St Dominicís High School is an all-girlsí voluntary secondary school. The current enrolment is 595 students.
Home Economics is a very popular subject in St Dominicís High School and it is well established on the schoolís curriculum. Although it is an optional subject in junior cycle and in senior cycle, uptake at all levels is well above the national average. Uptake in junior cycle is significantly above the national figures. There is very good practice in the arrangements for studentsí access to the subject. Subject bands, which vary from year to year, are based on studentsí choices. It is also noted that Home Economics is offered in at least two subject bands in both junior cycle and senior cycle, thus broadening the choice for students. In the compulsory Transition Year programme (TY) all students take a home economics module for half of the school year.
In senior cycle and in the some of the junior cycle classes, timetabled provision for home economics is satisfactory and class periods are well spread throughout the week thus ensuring that students gain maximum benefit from the class contact time allocated. However, a number of junior cycle classes have been timetabled for three periods per week, as opposed to the standard allocation of four periods. This poses challenges for students and teachers in terms of completing the syllabus. It is recommended that this issue be addressed at the earliest possible opportunity. It could perhaps be pursued as part of a review of the current eight-period daily timetable. In addition, in the 2008/09 school year the total time allocation for a number of junior cycle class groups is distributed over two consecutive days each week, thus resulting in a gap of almost a week during which students have no contact with the subject. In the interests of continuity in teaching and learning, it is recommended that consideration be given to the timetabling of Home Economics to ensure that all students benefit from an even distribution of class contact time throughout the week
The home economics department comprises four specialist teachers, almost all of whom are very experienced in the teaching of the subject. Deployment of staff for the subject is very good and it is good practice that teachers are provided with opportunities to teach across all subject levels and programmes. Management encourages and facilitates continuing professional development activities and teachers avail of such opportunities. It is good to note that the teachers are also active members of the subject teachersí association.
There are three specialist home economics rooms comprising two kitchens and a textiles room. One of the kitchens has recently been refurbished to a very high standard. An attractive and stimulating environment has been created both within and outside of the classrooms. The eye-catching displays of studentsí design and craftwork, in particular on the corridor outside of the textiles room and inside this room, add to the learning environment.
Management is supportive of the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in teaching and learning. This is evidenced, for example, by the provision of a range of ICT resources such as computers, digital projectors and an interactive white board in the home economics classrooms. Students and teachers also have access to the computer rooms.
A health and safety statement is in place. It is good practice that the teachers do an annual audit of equipment and resources that facilitates the maintenance, updating and replacement of the equipment as necessary.
The home economics teachers form a very cohesive team and they have a shared vision for the development of the subject. Co-ordination of the department is rotated amongst the team members. This commendable arrangement provides an opportunity for all members of the team to assume a leadership role in the ongoing development of the subject in the school.
There is an enthusiastic, energetic and reflective approach to the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject. The diligence and commitment of the team members are, without doubt, contributing factors to the status and success of Home Economics in the school. It is clear that collaborative planning is central to the work of this department. The teachers meet once a week during lunchtime. The outcomes of these meetings are very clearly recorded in a ĎMinute Bookí which contains records of all of the meetings dating back to 2006.
As part of subject planning, it is good to note that the department has begun the process of self-evaluation. In addition to the identification of what is going well they have outlined a number of areas for development in the form of long-term objectives for the subject in the school. The subject planning folders reviewed during the evaluation provided details about how Home Economics is organised. Schemes of work have also been developed for each year group including the TY programme. These schemes are based on the syllabuses and they outline the theory and the practical coursework to be covered on a term-by-term basis. In order to fulfil one of their long-term objectives, the teachers have already begun to develop the senior cycle schemes of work through the inclusion of learning outcomes, resources and methodologies for specific syllabus areas. In order to complete the cycle of planning for teaching and learning, consideration should be given to the inclusion of assessment strategies, including homework.
The further development of the schemes of work for all year groups is recommended. The tabular format in which the schemes are currently presented is a good framework on which to progress this work. The use of the schemes as everyday working documents to inform teaching and learning will facilitate the development process. It was noted that teachers keep careful records of work completed on a daily basis. This is good practice and these records should now be incorporated into the schemes of work.
Teachers have already made good progress in planning for the integration of ICT in teaching and learning. The departmentís plan to progress this work is encouraged.
The development of resources to support teaching and learning is also a significant part of teachersí planning. Support materials have been created and specially tailored for the different year groups and levels. The resources are filed for easy access and the collaborative approach of the subject department has extended to the sharing of these resources amongst the team members.
Teachers had prepared thoroughly for all of the lessons observed. They shared the planned learning outcomes with the students at the beginning of lessons. In some cases, the outcomes were written on the whiteboard where they remained for the duration of the lesson. Best practice was evident when the teacher referred to each learning outcome to summarise and check learning as the lesson progressed.
The pacing of lessons ensured that the planned learning outcomes were attained, while taking cognisance of the varying abilities of the students. Teachers showed a very strong commitment to helping the students understand new concepts and skills. Key subject-specific terms were emphasised throughout the lessons. There was a good focus on building on studentsí prior learning. Instruction was clear and of a high quality. In line with the recommendations of the syllabus, there was very good evidence of the integration of related syllabus areas as well as the integration of theory and practical work. Good opportunities were used to link many of the topics to everyday life and studentsí experiences.
There were some good examples of the use of active learning methodologies that were appropriate to studentsí needs and abilities and which resulted in an appropriate balance between teacher input and student activity. Good use was made of resources such as textbooks, the whiteboard, handouts, diagrams, food samples, fabric samples, the overhead projector, crosswords and ICT (including the interactive whiteboard) during the lessons. Students were encouraged to highlight key points in their textbooks. The enthusiasm and passion of the teachers for their subject played a strong role in keeping the students focused. The teachers worked very hard during lessons. There is some scope to further explore and extend the use of active learning methodologies in lessons. In particular, it would be worthwhile focusing on how to get all students more actively involved in classroom activities during theory lessons. This would help to transfer more of the responsibility for learning to the students. It is recommended that teachers should share their experiences with each other with regard to the greater use of active learning methodologies in theory lessons.
In the practical lesson observed, it was clear that students have been well trained in the procedures and routines for practical lessons. There were well-planned opportunities for teaching and learning and for the integration of the relevant theory with the practical processes. New skills were demonstrated and explained to the whole class at appropriate points in the lesson. Individuality and creativity were fostered. The established practice of allowing students work individually during practical food studies lessons is commended. This is clearly paying dividends in terms of studentsí skills development and with regard to their competence and confidence in the kitchen.
It was evident during the inspection visit that some evaluation of progress takes place during practical food studies lessons. There is scope to further develop this work particularly with regard to the use of the design brief process. It is recommended that junior cycle students should be introduced to the design brief in simple but developmental stages beginning at an early stage in the cycle. This would further facilitate the development of their skills of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation on a phased basis throughout the junior cycle and in preparation for the Junior Certificate.
A very high standard was noted in studentsí design and craftwork projects for the Junior Certificate. Some of the craftwork skills demonstrated were excellent. It is evident that initiative, creativity and opportunities for independent learning are fostered in this work. In discussion with the inspector, students from a third-year class were very competent in the manner in which they described how they had completed the different stages of the design and craftwork. There was evidence of a sense of pride and enjoyment in what they had achieved. Very good progress was also evident in the completion of the food studies practical coursework journals in fifth year.
In all cases, classroom management was very good. Teaching and learning took place in a pleasant, supportive and encouraging atmosphere. Students were challenged by their teachers and they were appropriately affirmed for their efforts and their work. It was clear that teachers set high expectations for their students. The school is to be commended for its policy of encouraging all students to aim for high academic standards and this is evident from the number of students who take the subject at higher level at all levels in the certificate examinations. Students achieve very well in these examinations.
Questioning was well used throughout lessons to check on understanding, learning and studentsí previous knowledge. Studentsí responses to questions indicated a very good level of knowledge. There was some good evidence of the use of higher-order questions that challenged students and provided them with opportunities to think, to form opinions and to apply their knowledge. This is good practice and the development of this strategy is encouraged. As part of this, teachers might also explore the benefits of Ďno hands upí when questions are posed, or other such strategies which could encourage a great number of students to contribute during lessons in the security of the classroom environment. Further details on the use of the Ďno hands upí approach are available in the literature on assessment for learning.
The practice of assigning questions from past examination papers was noted in lessons and through observation of studentsí copybooks. This helps students interpret questions and become familiar with the answering of various styles of examination questions. In a senior cycle lesson, good practice was noted when students were assigned a Leaving Certificate question, based on the theme of the lesson, for homework. The teacher spent some time in helping the students analyse and interpret the various parts of the question in preparation for the homework.
Studentsí copybooks provided good evidence that homework exercises provide students with opportunities to analyse and apply what they have learned in lessons. Good use is made of the marking schemes from the certificate examinations in providing students with feedback on their progress. Students are also provided with constructive feedback in the form of written comments on their homework and tests.
It is good practice that the variety of assessment modes used to assess studentsí progress in Home Economics in the school reflects the assessment objectives of the syllabuses. All components of the syllabuses are examined in the formal in-house examinations. It is commendable that teachers carry out an analysis of studentsí performance in the certificate examinations. There is good evidence that the experience gained by teachers in the marking of various components of the certificate examinations has a positive impact on studentsí achievement in the subject.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Uptake of Home Economics at all levels is well above the national average. There is very good practice in the arrangements for studentsí access to the subject. Deployment of staff for the subject
is very good.
∑ Management is supportive of the use of ICT and the teachers have made good progress in planning for the integration of ICT in teaching and learning.
∑ There is an enthusiastic, energetic and reflective approach to the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject.
∑ Collaborative planning is central to the work of the home economics department and the process of self-evaluation has begun. Planning for teaching and learning is well advanced.
∑ Best practice was evident when the teacher shared the planned learning outcomes with students at the outset and returned to each learning outcome as the lesson progressed.
∑ Teachers showed a very strong commitment to helping the students understand new concepts and skills. Instruction was clear and of a high quality.
∑ There were some good examples of the use of active learning methodologies which resulted in an appropriate balance between teacher input and student activity.
∑ The practical lesson observed provided evidence of well-planned opportunities for teaching and learning, for the integration of the relevant theory with the practical processes and for the development
of new skills.
∑ Students have achieved a very high standard in the design and craftwork projects for the Junior Certificate. Some of the craftwork skills demonstrated were excellent. Initiative, creativity and
independent learning are fostered in this area.
∑ Students are encouraged to achieve high academic standards and they achieve very well in the certificate examinations.
∑ There are many examples of very good practice with regard to the assessment of studentsí progress in Home Economics in the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ Management should address the timetabling issues highlighted in this report that apply to some junior cycle home economics classes; these relate to the number of class periods allocated each
week to Home Economics and to the distribution of the class periods during the school week.
∑ In the development of the schemes of work, teachers should use the schemes as daily working documents to inform teaching and learning.
∑ Teachers should share their experiences with each other with regard to the greater use of active learning methodologies in theory lessons.
∑ Junior cycle students should be introduced to the design brief in simple but developmental stages, in food and culinary skills, beginning at an early stage in the cycle.
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 2009