An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
St Angelaís Secondary School
Ursuline Convent, Waterford
Roll number: 64990D
Date of inspection: 25 March 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Angelaís Secondary School, Waterford. 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 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 subject teachers. 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.
Home Economics is offered as an optional subject in St Angelaís, featuring in each of the schoolís curricular programmes. In addition, the delivery of Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT), a vocational specialism that is offered as part of the schoolís Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme, is managed and delivered by the members of the home economics department. Home Economics is a very popular subject choice in the school, demonstrating uptake levels that exceed national averages both in junior and senior cycles. Much credit is due to the members of the subject department for this very positive finding.
The timetabling of Home Economics is very satisfactory. The time allocated for the delivery of each syllabus is consistent with syllabus recommendations. Double periods are provided for practical work and teachersí contact with each class group is spread over the weekly timetable. While in some instances three class groups may be timetabled for the two home economics kitchens, the subject co-ordinator devises a rota which has ensured an equality of access for all class groups to the rooms and therefore to the related practical components of each syllabus. Class sizes are conducive to the safe and effective delivery of each of the syllabuses. Despite the fact that on a number of occasions two or three class groups in any one year group are concurrently timetabled, students are assigned to mixed-ability class groups. This is commended, and reflects the subject departmentís philosophy whereby all students are encouraged to aim for high academic standards. As a result, a large percentage of students opt for higher-level papers in both of the Certificate examinations. It is also noted that uptake of higher level in the subject is significantly above national norms.
While the subject-option bands offered are pre-set, Home Economics is offered in two out of the three subject-option bands and this, coupled with the fact that, maximum flexibility is assured, means that access to Home Economics in both junior and senior cycles was found to be favourable. In relation to the task of choosing subjects to study, a number of measures are in place, all of which seek to ensure that students and parents are well supported in this difficult task.
Home Economics in St Angelaís is well resourced. Currently, the school houses two kitchens and a sewing room. While the kitchens have been exceptionally well maintained, it has been recognised in the school that they are old and would benefit from some updating. As a result, plans are well underway to provide two new replacement kitchens for Home Economics. This is very positive. In addition to the two new kitchens one of the existing kitchens will be retained, while it is envisaged that the department will have to relinquish the sewing room. This latter is unfortunate. Considering that it is envisaged that most practical food-studies lessons will be delivered in the two new kitchens, it is suggested that as an alternative to retaining the sewing room that the existing kitchen might become a dual-purpose room, which would be used for some cooking as well as for textile work. This would be preferable to making all three kitchens dual-purpose and may allow for the recreation of the distinctive atmosphere that prevails in the current sewing room. If this suggestion is taken on board, the additional hazards that may arise when and where a room is used both for textiles and practical food-studies would need to be identified and addressed. Both would need to be documented in a health and safety statement that is particular to the room in question.
In response to high uptake levels, a team of four teachers has been deployed by management to teach Home Economics in St Angelaís. Managementís periodic frustration relating to the difficulties experienced in seeking to employ a substitute teacher with either a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) or Higher Diploma (H.Dip) in Home Economics was highlighted to the inspector. It is clear that management is quite concerned about the apparent lack of qualified home economics teachers if and when a substitute teacher is required. In light of this situation, management must be commended for seeking to employ an alternatively suitably qualified teacher, who possesses a background in nutrition and food science, and who has experience of planning, organising and managing practical activities in a classroom. In addition, the members of the subject department must also be commended for their willingness to provide ongoing support and assistance to any substitute teacher. It is clear that both measures have been instigated with a view to ensuring good quality teaching and learning in Home Economics in St Angelaís. In light of the situation as described, it is suggested that the department members would look at compiling a short document that would summarise the key principles of each syllabus, together with a set of guidelines that would support such substitute teachers in the preparation of students for project and journal work and in the planning, organisation, delivery and management of practical food-studies lessons. The further development of schemes of work, which will be discussed in more detail in the planning and preparation section of this report, would also be very valuable in this regard. The school also provides what is reported to be a very successful induction programme for new or substitute teachers. Much credit is due to management, and to the staff involved in this programme, for this positive finding.†
Managementís provision for students with special educational needs who opt to study Home Economics is also worthy of recognition and praise. The provision of a room with units that can be adjusted to accommodate students who are confined to a wheelchair is particularly creditable. It is also managementís intention to equip the new kitchens with similar units. This will be even more positive than current provision as, in addition to the equality of access that the existing facilities offer students with special educational needs, it will have the added benefit of seeking to ensure even greater social inclusion for these students. In addition, a number of very generous timetabling measures have resulted in additional teachers being deployed to provide assistance and support to students with specific needs relative to the completion of practical, project or journal work. This is also highly commended.
Subject-specific, health and safety documentation was reviewed as part of the subject inspection. Such documentation provides a set of guidelines or rules for use in practical food-studies or textile lessons. Management, together with subject department members, is encouraged to carry out a new audit of each of the specialist rooms. The approach adopted should seek to identify any possible hazards, the risk attached to each identified hazard and the control measures that either need to be established or followed in order to reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring. The resulting document would provide a subject-specific and room-specific health and safety statement for Home Economics in St Angelaís. In turn, the outcomes of each audit should inform a review of the existing classroom rules.
The provision of formal meeting time, intended to promote and support collaboration within subject departments, is indicative of managementís support for subject planning. In addition to these formal meetings, the members of the home economics department meet on a very regular basis, more often than not during non-timetabled class periods. This additional commitment is commended. The practice of recording the business of each of these meetings is well established in the home economics department, with records dating back to August 2006. A subject co-ordinator, who has overall responsibility for the planning work of the home economics department, has been appointed. Currently, this position is linked to the schoolís schedule of posts of responsibility. It is good to note that this practice is under review in St Angelaís, as best practice indicates that the position of co-ordinator is rotated amongst all department members. Despite the existence of a subject co-ordinator, it is very clear that the home economics teachers have adopted a very successful team approach to subject planning.
As part of the subject departmentís approach to planning, a series of medium-term goals has been identified. The progress made in relation to some of these goals is noted and commended. As a means of building on this very positive approach to planning, the members of the department are encouraged to complete a SCOT analysis. This would allow for the identification of the subjectís strengths, the challenges to the subject, the opportunities for development and any possible threats to Home Economics. In line with good School Development Planning (SDP) practice, the members of the department are encouraged to prepare action plans for the areas for development that may arise upon completion of this analysis. These might identify, for example: specific aims, the actions required to achieve each aim, the time-scale for achievement of the aims, the personnel involved and the criteria against which the departmentís work or progress can be measured and evaluated.††
While some work has been completed in relation to the development of outline programmes of work, much work remains to be done. It is recommended therefore that the department prioritises this area of their planning work. The existing outline programmes of work have been agreed between all members of the subject department and have been generated using information and communication technology (ICT); these are two key features of good programmes plans. However, two other key features of good programme plans were less evident; these are that the programmes are based on the syllabus as opposed to a text book and that, at a minimum, they identify work to be completed on a term-by-term basis. Teachers are strongly encouraged to incorporate the latter two features. Other positive qualities of good outline programme plans were evident in the lessons visited; these include: coherency, thereby ensuring a developmental approach to acquiring knowledge and skills; the integration of practical coursework and project work with the relevant theory; and the inclusion of the design brief approach as a key feature of all practical coursework and project work from an early stage in junior cycle. Teachers are commended for this finding.
A suggested approach to advancing programme planning in the department is the further development of the existing outline plans of work, so as to ensure that they possess all of the qualities identified in the previous paragraph. When further developed, these outline programmes of work will prove very valuable to all teachers, but in particular to any new or substitute teachers, especially when it proves impossible to employ a subject specialist. In time, the development of more detailed programmes of work is also suggested for consideration. These might include provision for the topics to be covered together with details of the resources, methodologies and teaching strategies to support teaching and learning in each topic. Details relative to suitable homework activities and assessment modes could also be provided. The inclusion of an area for teacher comment following topic completion is also well worth considering, as this would make a very valuable contribution to the recommended annual review of programmes of work, whilst also ensuring that the programmes are of a working nature. This information is ideally presented in tabular format although it can take any format. The grounding of topics to be covered in desired learning outcomes is also an area that should be explored going forward. In terms of planning for the delivery of the Junior Certificate home economics syllabus, the revised draft syllabus is a good reference point in this regard. It is available to download from the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie. On a more specific note, the members of the home economics department are strongly encouraged to review the TY module, with a view to grounding the ten-week programme in a set of desired learning outcomes. In tandem with this, an identification of the aims and objectives of each weekly session should also be considered.
Some very good examples of planning for the provision of co-curricular and cross-curricular activities were identified as part of the subject inspection. One cross-curricular activity provided saw one fifth-year home economics class working in conjunction with the fifth-year Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) class group on an enterprise project. A second year interculturalism project was also organised which, in turn, inspired a greater whole-school focus on and celebration of diversity. †
The members of the home economics department have developed a very impressive room-based, resource library. The library provides a very large selection of cookery books and subject-specific, reference books, together with four, large sets of childcare resources. The library also houses a series of resource files to which all teachers have access. The latter is particularly commended and the continued development of this resource is fully encouraged.
The overall quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics in St Angelaís is very good. There was evidence of very fine short-term planning for lessons observed. This resulted in well-structured and appropriately paced lessons, which took full account of studentsí levels and abilities. A number of resources had been prepared and collected for use over the course of lesson delivery. This included lesson-specific worksheets, recipe sheets, evaluation activities, a PowerPoint presentation, a selection of books, food samples, and a series of topic-specific props. In addition, the whiteboard was well utilised in all lessons to support and foster studentsí learning. Its use in practical food-studies lessons promoted a sense of student autonomy and independence that is commended. In one such lesson, the additional use of a PowerPoint presentation had a similar impact and effect. In addition to the pre-prepared and pre-collected resources provided for lessons, teachers also recognised and made great use of in-class resources. For example, in one senior cycle lesson, the teacher drew on the light switch in the room to help explain and illustrate the working principle of a thermostat.
In almost all instances, the plan for the lesson was openly shared with the students. Best practice was observed where this included an identification of lesson stages or student tasks, together with the desired learning outcomes. This approach is recommended for use in all lessons and reflects what was agreed by the subject department as one of the three assessment for learning (AfL) strategies that they would seek to address in their teaching over the course of this school year. The instruction provided to students was very clear, very sound and very well-informed. A range of teaching strategies was utilised, a number of which sought to involve students directly in the lesson. This consciousness is applauded, and therefore as an approach to teaching is further encouraged. A good, self-evaluation tool in this regard is to ask oneself, both at lesson planning and delivery stages, ĎWhat demands does this lesson place on my students?í Another significant trait of the teaching of Home Economics in St Angelaís was the provision that was made by teachers for the visual learner. Home Economics is a subject that very much lends itself to this approach, and so it is always very positive to see this being used to full advantage. Teachers are commended for this very positive finding. The activities chosen were carefully designed, and it was clear that they were chosen with a view to reinforcing the teaching and learning in each topic. In one junior cycle lesson, for example, which focused on the principles of kitchen design and layout, formal teacher instruction was followed by an activity which allowed students to apply the theory that was explored to a variety of settings and situations. It was very clear that learning was taking place. Teachers supported students through all activities, monitoring their participation, encouraging their efforts and, as required providing advice and guidance. Their efforts in this regard are also applauded.
Questioning was effectively utilised in all lessons, with a mix of global and directed questioning evident. Teachers allowed sufficient wait-time to allow students to think about and compose their responses, subtly prompting and supporting students who demonstrated a difficulty in answering questions posed to them. There were some fine examples of the incorporation of higher-order questions too. This, which is highly praised, is further encouraged. Studentsí answers to questions demonstrated that learning was taking place. †
The more unusual use of ICT in practical food studies lessons was observed in one lesson. PowerPoint files, together with the necessary hardware, were effectively utilised to guide and direct students through the task at hand. In addition, a series of support slides, which were designed to introduce relevant theory, had also been prepared, and these were utilised in the latter half of the lesson. These particular slides, that appealed strongly to the visual learner and whose use was complemented by teacher input and a series of carefully chosen questions, inspired studentsí curiosity and their enthusiastic participation. The use of ICT in practical food-studies lessons is particularly commended as, rather than writing directions on a board, it allowed the teacher to be down in the heart of the classroom in order to monitor, advise and support students. Therefore, this use of ICT is further encouraged.
In all practical lessons, students worked confidently, demonstrating a competence that was consistent with their level of experience relative to each syllabus. Best practice was observed where whole-class instruction and on-spot demonstrations punctuated student activity. These interventions proved very valuable in terms of ensuring proper procedure and the development of studentsí skills relative to the preparation and cooking of food. As a result, this approach is recommended for inclusion in all such lessons. Almost all of the practical food-studies lessons observed provided for the introduction or revision of theory that related to the task at hand. This is very highly praised and therefore, as applicable, is recommended for wider use. Each lesson also provided an opportunity for students to undertake an evaluation of their work and of the finished dish. This is another very laudable practice. A very commendable feature of the worksheet used to facilitate this, is the provision it made for a formal, written identification of the relevant page numbers of the textbook. It is suggested that some consideration be given to seeking to vary the style and level of challenge in the evaluation sheets that are issued to each of the year groups, from first year through to fourth year. The overarching emphasis on resource management and consumerism in some of the practical classes observed is noted and praised, as is the task approach to practical food-studies that formed the basis for each lesson.
Relations between teachers and students were notably positive. Students responded favourably to a very effective management by teachers of all student activities. Students were attentive and appeared interested in lesson content. Participation levels were high in all lessons, as demonstrated by studentsí willingness to ask and answer questions and to contribute comment or opinion. Teachers have high expectations of their students.
The members of the home economics department have prepared a brief, summary document which details the overall approach to the formal assessment of studentsí progress and achievement in the subject. This is commended. Furthermore, the approach evident in this document is consistent with the schoolís overall policy in relation to assessment. This is equally praised. The further development of this subject-specific assessment policy, to include some more detail relative to the departmentís approach to the assessment of project, practical and journal work, is recommended. To this end, it is suggested that the document would outline the very specific assessment strategies utilised in the determination of studentís attainment in each of these three areas.
It is very positive that studentís progress in all examinable components of the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate syllabuses is assessed, and that a mark, grade or comment relative to each area is identified in the reports that are posted home at key times during the school year. This is consistent with syllabus recommendations. As a means of enhancing existing good practice, the members of the home economics department are strongly encouraged to consider the additional provision of an overall aggregate mark in reports, as this would provide an even more accurate indicator of studentsí actual achievement in Home Economics, whilst also informing expectations relative to the Certificate examinations. Teachers are also encouraged to address, on a more formal level, the marking of at least one of the Leaving Certificate food-studies assignments. Teachers expressed some hesitancy in relation to this suggestion. Perhaps, therefore, it is an area where peer assessment could be introduced. As students must have a clear understanding of what they are to look for in their peersí work, teachers would need to prepare, in conjunction with their students, a guide to marking. The Chief Examinerís Report - Leaving Certificate Examination 2007, the Food Studies Coursework Guidelines and the recording criteria provided in each journal, together with exemplars issued by the Home Economics Support Service, should inform the preparation of same. This exercise would prove very valuable, both in terms of highlighting best practice to students in relation to the completion of journals and in terms of providing some formal indication to students of their progress and achievement relative to journal work.
The practice of issuing common examination papers at key times during the school year is established practice in the home economics department. The assessment papers reviewed also demonstrated a consistency with the design and layout of past Certificate examination papers. Both approaches are praised. Reporting to the parents of home economics students is supported by very good record-keeping practices. In addition to sending reports home, an annual parent-teacher meeting is organised for each year group.† ††
Homework was assigned in each of the lessons observed on the day of the subject inspection. A review of a small number of studentsí copybooks indicated that homework is assigned on a regular basis. These same copybooks also indicated that teachers seek to vary the types of homework activities assigned. This is commended and further encouraged. Studentsí copybooks also demonstrated an approach to monitoring that provided for the annotation of studentsí work. Comments provided affirmed studentsí efforts, whilst providing encouragement and direction for future exercises. It is clear that the teachers of home economics follow the agreed school homework policy. To further ensure a more consistent approach within the department, teachers are encouraged to discuss their individual approaches to homework with a view to the preparation, in time, of a subject-specific homework policy.
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.
Published December 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1†† Observations on the content of the inspection report†† ††
The Board of Management welcomes this very positive report on the Teaching and Learning of Home Economics in St .Angelaís School.
The findings, as outlined in the report are consistent with the views of the BOM and staff.
Area 2†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
††††† †††††††††activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection. †††††††††
The Board of Management and staff acknowledge the recommendations made dint the report and have already begun to implement them.