An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Drogheda Grammar School
Drogheda, County Louth
Roll number: 63870L
Date of inspection: 10 December 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Drogheda Grammar School. 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, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacherís written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the deputy principal and the subject department. 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.
Drogheda Grammar School was founded under royal charter in 1669. It is a fee-paying co-educational, multi-denominational, boarding and day school. The current enrolment is 267 students comprising 171 males and 96 females. In addition to the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate, the school offers a compulsory Transition Year programme (TY). Home Economics is offered as an optional subject for the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate. All TY students take a fifteen-week module of Home Economics.
Timetabled provision for Home Economics is good and class periods are well spread throughout the week. All first-year students sample the optional subjects for all of the first term. At the end of this sampling period they choose the subjects they wish to study for the Junior Certificate. Currently Home Economics is offered alongside Business Studies and Classical Studies. The proportion of students who take Home Economics for the Junior Certificate is lower than the national norm. Management reported that subject option bands for the senior cycle are formed following a survey of the TY students. The current senior-cycle students chose one subject from Home Economics, History and Physics. Uptake in senior cycle is in line with uptake trends at national level. It is very positive to note the good gender balance in home economics classes at all levels.
One staff member, who is employed privately by the school, is timetabled for Home Economics. There is currently no qualified teacher of Home Economics in Drogheda Grammar School. Management indicated that the school has had difficulty in the past in recruiting a qualified teacher of Home Economics. The staff member involved is commended for her commitment in enabling the school to continue to provide the subject on the curriculum for the past nine years. The training for teaching in Home Economics is a specialist degree programme, incorporating all of the core disciplines, that provides teachers with the knowledge, skills and understanding required to teach the subject. The teaching of Home Economics requires the integrated application of all of the relevant core disciplines as well as the development of the necessary practical coursework skills, particularly in the areas of food studies, textiles and design and craftwork. For these reasons and given that the school intends to continue to provide Home Economics to Leaving Certificate level, it is strongly recommended that the board of management prioritises the appointment of a qualified specialist teacher. The recruitment of a qualified teacher is an essential element of the planning necessary to ensure high quality provision for students taking Home Economics in all programmes offered on the schoolís curriculum.
The facilities for Home Economics comprise one kitchen which is used as a dual-purpose room for food studies as well as for textiles and design and craftwork. In terms of studentsí learning experiences, and given that a significant proportion of the final marks in both the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate is awarded for a range of practical coursework components, the facilities, including the design and layout of the room, are far from adequate. For example, two of the sinks are situated in a corner with very poor access for students. The arrangements for the use of the sewing machines also pose risks in terms of health and safety. Guidelines for health and safety in Home Economics in this school have been developed but these are specific to practical food studies lessons. It is recommended that these guidelines should be extended to include the necessary health and safety procedures for all practical lesson types. It is acknowledged that in recent years management has supported the purchase of some essential equipment for the kitchen. It is a positive development that a new kitchen is included in the schoolís plans for the proposed new extension.
A data projector and a desktop computer as well as a TV and DVD player are available in the kitchen.
School management makes formal time available for subject department meetings once per term. It is good to note that the home economics department meets with some of the other one-teacher subject departments from time to time. This is a good practice in terms of providing support and in sharing experiences.
The work done to prepare the home economics plan is acknowledged. The plan, which is based on templates from the School Development Planning Initiative, contains a range of documents and information on how the subject is organised and delivered in the school. Commendably the schoolís policy on special educational needs is included together with information on the learning needs of individual students.
The subject plan also contains a skeleton programme of work for each year group. These programmes, which are presented in tabular form, indicate the theory and practical work to be covered on a week-by-week basis. Commendably the programme for Home Economics in TY includes the aims, objectives and the modes of assessment. An analysis of all of the programmes of work indicates that they are in need of major review and development in order to meet the needs of the learners and syllabus requirements. It is recommended that the following amendments to the current plans should be made.
The programmes of work should include all areas of the syllabuses in terms of both theory and practical work. There are gaps in the current programmes. The knowledge and skills to be acquired by students should be identified in the form of learning outcomes for each year group. The sequence in which the topics and practical work are currently presented needs to be reviewed in order to ensure a logical and developmental approach to the attainment of knowledge and skills as students move through the junior cycle and the senior cycle. In revising the sequence of the content, attention should also be given to the principles of integration as recommended in the syllabuses. The design brief process should be planned as a key feature of all of the practical coursework. Planning should ensure that students are provided with opportunities to link the relevant concepts and apply the theoretical knowledge to the relevant practical processes.
Serious consideration should also be given to ensuring that the time allocated to the theory and to all the elements of practical coursework reflects the weightings outlined in the syllabuses and the percentage mark allocations in the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate examinations. Currently there is an imbalance in the allocation of time to the various areas of the syllabuses. It is noted that in the sampling programme for Home Economics in first year, students are not provided with any practical food studies lessons. It is strongly recommended that this practice be reviewed. The planned practical work in textiles and design and craftwork in first and second year needs to be reviewed to ensure that students develop the required practical skills to complete the project work for the Junior Certificate.
The learning atmosphere in all of the lessons observed was pleasant, positive and very supportive. There was a very good rapport between students and their teacher and all interactions were characterised by a high level of mutual respect. Students were encouraged and affirmed for their efforts.
A good deal of planning and preparation had been done for the lessons observed. Although not required for the evaluation, written lesson plans were presented. The lesson plans identified the topic, general aims and objectives, the resources to be used and the homework. The lessons began with a roll call and in some cases questions were posed to check on learning from the previous lesson. Students were then introduced to the topic and the general objectives of the lesson. It is good practice that the objectives of a lesson are communicated to students. However, it is important that the objectives be expressed as clear and focussed learning outcomes which provide a framework for the lesson. The learning outcomes should also be used at relevant stages in a lesson to check on studentsí understanding and learning.
Overall the sequencing, pacing and pitch of lessons are in need of attention. There is also a need to focus on learning as well as on teaching throughout the lessons. In the theory lessons the predominant methodology was lecture-style teaching, supported by PowerPoint slides, handouts and the whiteboard. The teacher presented material while for the most part the students remained passive. In order to accommodate studentsí diverse and preferred learning styles, and bearing in mind the benefits of more actively involving students in their learning, it is recommended that active learning methodologies should be incorporated into lessons. The correct use of active learning methodologies would also facilitate the process of differentiation which is so necessary in a mixed-ability class. While questioning was used as a strategy to stimulate discussion it was not always effective in doing so.
In a sixth-year class the topic was Ďto relate the recent budget with the topic of povertyí. While this lesson had great potential to help students integrate related areas of the syllabus, the scope of the lesson was too broad. The level of student engagement was confined to answering questions. It was also clear that students were not familiar enough with the key concepts of both poverty and budgeting in order for effective learning to occur. When planning lessons such as this, the syllabus should be used as a guide in helping to identify what students are required to know. Cognisance should also be taken of studentsí prior learning.
In the practical lesson observed students were working individually on their design and craftwork practical coursework for the Junior Certificate examination. The students were purposeful and there was a sense of enjoyment of the work. It was also good to note that they were keeping notes for the design folder as each stage was completed. An analysis of each individual piece of craftwork indicated that a number of the items did not have the essential craftwork skills and there was no plan to include them. The focus was on making the product without any attention to craftwork skills. Students did not appear to be aware of the examination requirements for this area of practical work. The standard of skills displayed in much of the design and craftwork observed is not in keeping with the standard that would be expected given the stage that these students are at in the junior cycle.
The document Junior Certificate Examination Home Economics Guidelines, issued annually by the State Examinations Commission, should be used to provide students with the necessary guidance to meet the examination requirements. It is important that students have the opportunity to benefit from the marks that are allocated for each component of the examination. The chief examinerís report for Junior Certificate Home Economics available from the State Examinations Commission (www.examinations.ie) would also be a very useful resource for students.
Observation of the classroom activities, interaction with students and an analysis of the work that they have completed to date provided evidence that there is a need to ensure a higher quality of learning in Home Economics in the school. It is a concern that students are not working to their potential in the subject. It is essential to focus on the needs of the learners in order to raise studentsí expectations and to improve standards so that all students achieve their full potential.
It should be acknowledged that the deficits in planning and in teaching and learning result from the lack of specialist training as a teacher of Home Economics, rather than any lack of commitment and professionalism on the part of the staff member.
A range of assessment modes is used to assess studentsí progress in Home Economics. Assessment results are recorded and results are communicated to parents and students on a regular basis each year. There is scope to extend the assessment of studentsí practical work on an ongoing basis and as part of the more formal in-house examinations. The assessment of all components of the syllabuses and the aggregate mark thus achieved for each student provides a more accurate indicator of that studentís achievement in the subject.
Some questioning was used in the lessons observed. It is recommended that greater use be made of higher-order questions to help students develop their skills of analysis, application of knowledge and evaluation of information. Care should also be taken to ensure that questions posed are well spread amongst all class members.
Homework is assigned regularly. However, on the day of the evaluation, no homework copybooks were available. Studentsí notes copies and folders containing notes and handouts are orderly and well maintained.
Overall the percentages of students taking higher level in Home Economics in the certificate examinations are in line with national figures. However, there is room for improvement in the outcomes achieved by students in these examinations. It is a good practice that in-school management analyses the results achieved by students in the certificate examinations. It is recommended that the outcomes of this analysis should be used to inform the planning process and to implement strategies that would ensure that students reach their full potential in Home Economics.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Timetabled provision for Home Economics is good and class periods are well spread throughout the week.
∑ There is a good gender balance in home economics classes at all levels.
∑ A good deal of planning and preparation had been done for the lessons observed.
∑ The learning atmosphere in all of the lessons observed was pleasant, positive and very supportive.
∑ There was a very good rapport between students and their teacher and all interactions were characterised by a high level of mutual respect. Students were encouraged and affirmed for their efforts.
∑ A range of assessment modes is used to assess studentsí progress in Home Economics. Assessment results are recorded and results are communicated to parents and students on a regular basis each year.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ It is strongly recommended that the board of management prioritises the appointment of a qualified specialist teacher of Home Economics.
∑ The guidelines for health and safety in Home Economics should be extended to include the necessary health and safety procedures for all practical lesson types.
∑ The programmes of work are in need of major review and development in order to meet the needs of the learners and syllabus requirements.
∑ The sampling programme for Home Economics in first year should include practical food studies lessons.
∑ The sequencing, pacing and pitch of lessons are in need of attention. There is also a need to focus on learning as well as on teaching throughout the lessons.
Active learning methodologies should be incorporated into lessons.
∑ There is a need to ensure a higher quality of learning in Home Economics in the school. It is essential to focus on the needs of the learners to raise studentsí expectations and to improve
standards so that all students achieve their full potential.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the home economics department and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published May 2010