An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Ennis Community College,
Harmony Row, Ennis, County Clare
Roll Number: 70830N
Date of inspection: 25 February 2009
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ennis Community College. 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 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. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
There is a long tradition of Home Economics at Ennis Community College where it is a popular subject option at junior cycle and reasonably popular at senior cycle. The gender balance in uptake significantly exceeds the national average and is particularly commendable at junior cycle. Classes are organised on a mixed-ability basis and every effort is made to attract students of all abilities to study Home Economics. The teachers are pro-active in encouraging all students to fully realise their potential. Hotel, Catering and Tourism is a popular vocational specialism offered to Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students. In order to strengthen uptake particularly at senior cycle, it is recommended that the home economics team investigate and implement strategies that will continue to promote Home Economics as an option subject, with appeal for all students.
An Irish medium post-primary unit (Aonad Lán Gaeilge), founded in 1993, is attached to Ennis Community College and under the auspices of County Clare Vocational Education Committee (VEC). Home Economics is offered to all students attending the Gaelcholáiste. Transition Year (TY) is offered only in the Gaelcholáiste. The inclusion of a home economics module in the curriculum for TY students is to be commended as it provides students who have not studied the subject for junior cycle with the opportunity to experience the subject and therefore help them in making a more informed choice with regard to subjects for the Leaving Certificate. It is commendable that home economics personnel have up skilled themselves in order to be competent in delivering the subject through the medium of Irish. Much credit is due to both school management and the home economics department for the progress made to date with regard to provision of Irish medium classes for students of home economics.
The provision of a short taster programme in first year that allows students to sample all optional subjects in order to make an informed choice is praiseworthy. The school is commended for the student-centred approach to subject choice in both junior and senior cycle, where subject option groupings are created based on students’ initial open choice. It was reported that students are well supported in arrangements for subject choices and levels within subjects through effective use of guidance resources, linked to teacher advice, communication with parents, and information evenings at key stages.
The home economics teachers are made aware of any students with special educational needs and liaise with the learning-support department in the school on an ongoing basis ensuring that materials are adapted to suit the needs and abilities of students in line with best practice.
There is good resource provision and whole-school support for Home Economics and a sound commitment to the planning and teaching of Home Economics is evident. Time is allocated for the purpose of subject planning. Every effort is made to maintain classes to a reasonable size to ensure safe work practices and an additional class group is usually formed when the subject is over-subscribed. Class period provision is in line with syllabus recommendations and is particularly favourable in senior cycle. Deployment of teachers facilitates their rotation across all subject levels and programmes and provides for a continuity of teachers from year to year in any one programme when this is practicable. Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required, and management endeavours to provide for the purchase of additional resources and equipment on the basis of teacher requisition, which supports the subject well.
A strong commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) is evident. There is active engagement with the Teacher Professional Network for Home Economics as well as a variety of school-based in-service training on such topics as inclusion and differentiation. Engagement by the home economics department in the marking of various aspects of the subject in the State examinations is to be commended as it provides opportunities to increase the breadth and depth of professional expertise within the team and so enhances students’ learning experiences. In addition, the home economics teachers are to be highly commended for their commitment to improving their Irish language skills through a variety of individual training courses and through the pursuit of post graduate qualifications in Irish.
Currently there are two specialist rooms i.e. kitchens that have a dual purpose, functioning as combined food studies laboratories and textiles work areas. The school is concerned that the absence of any significant upgrading, refurbishment or modernisation of the kitchens since the provision of both rooms is constraining development of the subject. It is noted that the school has submitted a plan for infrastructural developments to the Department of Education and Science. In view of the fact that both kitchens are in need of refurbishment, and bearing in mind health and safety considerations and syllabus requirements at junior and senior cycle, it is recommended that the facilities for Home Economics be improved in line with best practice guidelines. In the absence of a specialist room for textiles, personnel should be vigilant regarding safety issues vis-à-vis the use of a dual purpose room for food and textiles studies. In the context of any future building developments at the school it is recommended that the provision of a newly refurbished specialist room for textiles should be seriously considered. Provision for information and communication technologies (ICT), adequate storage space for specialist equipment, teaching resources and student coursework and project work should be incorporated into any future plans for the home economics rooms.
A review of the school’s existing health and safety statement is a stated intention of management. Risk assessments have been carried out in both home economics rooms and identified risks should be addressed as appropriate. The home economics department has developed its own safety guidelines and there is evidence of good health and safety practices in home economics classes.
The home economics teachers work well together as a team and this is exemplified by the collegial, professional and collaborative approach taken to planning for the teaching and learning of the subject. A very good blend of experience and expertise exists between the two home economics teachers in the school and the role of subject co-ordination is currently undertaken by the senior home economics teacher. There are regular, formal, planning meetings and the good work done at these meetings is supported by frequent informal meetings and records of subject department meetings are maintained. Both teachers readily engage in the recommended practice of collaborative planning and there were many examples of collaboration, with a generous sharing of knowledge, ideas, experience and expertise in the areas of curriculum organisation, planning and delivery.
The home economics department has made good progress in developing a subject plan, which includes details on the procedures for the organisation of the subject in the school, as well as issues of a direct pedagogical nature such as planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subject. In addition outline curricular plans of work have been drawn up for each year group. There is evidence of good practice in planning for common content and assessment in Home Economics. A comprehensive textile studies programme is implemented at junior cycle. This involves the development of skills in such areas as basic hand stitches and then proceeding to using the sewing machine and in time the completion of a household article. This incremental development of students’ skills is commendable. More detailed plans of work have been developed for the LCA. Individual teachers adapt the main curricular plans to facilitate their own individual planning. Teachers maintain records of work completed and this aids review and future planning. State Examination Commission marking schemes and chief examiners’ reports are well utilised as a resource to facilitate programme planning at all levels. The home economics teachers make an important contribution to programme planning for the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the TY and the LCA. Home Economics personnel contribute to regular JCSP profiling meetings in order to monitor student progress.
In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that the outline curricular plans are developed into short-term schemes of work. They should outline in an integrated manner a more detailed breakdown of the content to be covered, the corresponding learning outcomes to be achieved, the resources and methodologies employed to support the teaching of topics and the revision and assessment modes used by teachers. In addition, the curricular plans for both the first-year taster programme and TY should reflect all elements of the home economics programmes, so as to allow students to make an informed choice with regard to subject options. These plans should be seen as working documents, which are used to review subject matter covered and aid planning for the future. This work could be fully implemented on a phased basis using ICT to assist regular updating. It may be helpful to tabulate these plans of work as this would facilitate teachers in the future preparation, regular review and update of subject planning. Plans of work pertaining to Gaelcholáiste classes should in future be written in Irish and developed over time.
With regard to cross-curricular planning there is ongoing engagement with teachers of Science, Business, Religion, Mathematics and other subjects as appropriate. Co-curricular activity is well supported through cookery demonstrations, participation in competitions, visits to catering establishments and the use of guest speakers on selected topics that support and enhance learning. The teachers have expressed their intention to continue to explore and further develop such opportunities to extend learning beyond the classroom.
While teachers already use ICT in class preparation and to produce resources for class, usage of ICT as a teaching tool in classrooms remains an area for development. Access to the school’s computer rooms can be pre-arranged by the teachers, subject to availability. Students are also encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics. Considering the willingness of the home economics teachers to integrate ICT into lessons it is recommended that management encourage and support this initiative in the context of continued improvement of ICT resources to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. The merits of providing laptops and data projectors for the home economics rooms were discussed during the evaluation, in addition to the provision of television and video/DVD equipment.
In addition to the existing school library, resource areas have been developed in each kitchen and are accessible to students in order to enhance their learning. They offer a variety of learning resources including reference books, leaflets, relevant publications, posters, DVDs, videos and commercially prepared resource packs. Teachers have accumulated and systematically filed a good range of teaching resources to support teaching and learning in Home Economics. The provision of resources through the medium of Irish is an ongoing challenge for teachers of Home Economics in scoileanna gaeltachta and gaelcholáistí. Most text resources for Home Economics are published in English. However, a range of Irish-medium teaching aids, resource materials, and class notes covering a range of syllabus topics have been developed and are effectively tailored to support specific year groups by home economic personnel. It is evident that these resources are used effectively in lessons.
There was evidence of very good teaching and learning in the lessons observed. Short-term planning for lessons, which included the prior preparation of the materials for class, was good. Lessons were clearly focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students. Learning outcomes for the lessons were clear and shared with students at the outset and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning and appropriate integration of theory with practical skills. The teachers showed an awareness of the students’ learning styles and adapted the teaching and learning to suit the students’ needs. In the Gaelcholáiste lessons observed classroom instruction was provided through the medium of Irish. This commitment to the promotion of the Irish language is in line with school policy and the teacher’s efforts to meet these challenges are praiseworthy.
The school is committed to helping all students to reach their potential and is continually active in providing resources for all students, including those with learning-support needs, language-support needs, a disability, other special educational needs or from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds. It is evident that the teaching team has a strong commitment to inclusion and the use of differentiated teaching approaches. Some examples of good practice were observed in relation to supporting students with many of the above needs during home economics classes.
The use of appropriate active learning methodologies such as brainstorming, problem solving, pair work, group work, role play and peer learning demonstrated the teachers’ student-centred style. Other teaching methodologies observed included whole-class teaching, teacher demonstration, individualised learning, the use of worksheets and the board. Effective questioning and explaining strategies were used in the classes observed 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. Where it existed the observed use of visual material in the delivery of concepts was very worthwhile as it facilitated understanding and enhanced students' learning environment. 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. Such elements of best practice should continue to be incorporated regularly into lessons.
Teacher instruction was clear, 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 effective in enhancing teaching and consolidating learning. However, taking into consideration the variety of learning styles and of students’ abilities in the school, it is recommended that more audio-visual stimuli and ICT be utilised in the teaching of Home Economics as appropriate. The provision of equipment to support this as outlined earlier in the report will be essential in achieving this goal. Regarding the use of textbooks best practice was observed when they were used creatively as an aid to learning and other strategies for example questioning and explaining were integrated effectively. It is praiseworthy that teachers adopt the good practice of using the design brief process, in both food studies and the practical textiles work. Students’ performance and progress in this area could be further enhanced if students were to be introduced to the design brief process in simple but developmental stages from an early point in junior cycle.
Student-teacher rapport was very good and students’ efforts were encouraged and affirmed. This reflects well the student-centred ethos permeating the school. Students were well managed, guided and supported in all learning activities. This contributed to a positive classroom atmosphere that was conducive to effective learning. The learning environment of the home economics room is enhanced through the display of a number of educational charts and photographic evidence of students’ work and is to be commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students.
Students were attentive and eager to participate in learning activities and demonstrated great interest and enthusiasm for the subject. Observation of students’ project work, in the area of Design and Craftwork indicated a good level of skill in terms of investigations, organisation and presentation. 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. The teachers carry out monitoring and appraisal of student work regularly. Observation of and interaction with students indicated that they had a good understanding of subject knowledge and various skills in practical work appropriate to their class group and level.
The home economics department has developed guidelines for homework and assessment in line with the school’s draft homework policy which is commendable. It is good that homework is assigned regularly to reinforce or extend the learning that has taken place in the class and is subsequently either marked by the teacher or reviewed as a class activity. Good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring of the student copybooks and folders. Written work completed in students’ copybooks and workbooks reflected the mixed-ability nature of classes. In relation to formative assessment some useful teacher comments, 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.
Student progress and competence in Home Economics is monitored and assessed effectively by a range of assessment modes. These include for example, oral questioning, regular class assessments, homework assignments, examination questions and continuous monitoring of students’ practical and project work. Students are awarded an aggregated mark throughout the year based on written tests, food and culinary skills practical work, coursework and projects. The school operates a system of continuous assessment, for first and fifth-year students, culminating in end-of-term reports to parents. In addition, State examinations classes sit house examinations in November and pre-certificate examinations in the spring. Teachers endeavour to develop common house examinations at Christmas and at the end of the year for students. Assessment in LCA is based on the completion of key assignments and required tasks. While it is acknowledged that TY students maintain a journal of work completed, further consideration should be given to regular assessment of students’ learning in TY; as assessment should be viewed as an integral part of teaching and learning.
An appropriate examinations’ focus is evident that provides student motivation for tasks. In order to provide students with more opportunities for examination preparation, it is suggested that students be allocated more of the section-B-style State examination questions to answer for homework and that these be introduced to students as early as is feasible. During the evaluation discussion on the topic of assessment suggested that an analysis of the results obtained by students in the State examinations in the context of national norms could usefully inform subject planning. The adoption of this practice is to be encouraged and in doing so one should be mindful of individual students’ abilities and achievements.
Students’ progress is assessed regularly and reports are sent home periodically. There are appropriate mechanisms in place to support communication between the school and parents. These include parent-teacher meetings, letters, phone calls, meetings by appointment, and formal reports. The homework journal is an additional valuable means of communicating with parents as the need arises.
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 recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Home Economics at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2009