An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Mullingar, County Westmeath,
Roll number: 63290Q
Date of inspection: 19 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. 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 home economics 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 a vibrant and well-established subject on the curriculum in Loreto College. It is an optional subject in junior and senior cycle, with the exception of Transition Year, where all students study Home Economics.
Home Economics is a very popular subject in junior cycle as evidenced by the participation rates which are consistently high. Incoming first-year students choose their optional subjects prior to entering the school. There are two pre-set option bands; Home Economics or German and Music or Art. Students select one subject from each of the option bands. High participation rates in Home Economics result in the generation of eight mixed-ability class groups. However, at the end of first year, students re-select one subject from a pre-set band of Home Economics, German, Art or Music. Normally there are only four home economics class groups timetabled for second year. These arrangements may result in students who studied Home Economics for all of first year not being able to continue the subject into second and third year. While recognising the contextual factors that exist in the school, it is recommended that the mechanism for choosing optional subjects in junior cycle be reviewed with a view to making this process as student-centred as possible. Consideration could be given to generating option pools based on student preferences or introducing a taster programme where students could sample German, Home Economics, Music and Art for a short period of time to allow them make a more informed subject choice.
It is commendable that Home Economics is a core subject for students who take the Transition Year programme. The student-centred approach to subject choice for Leaving Certificate is commendable. Option pools are generated from student preferences and a conscious effort is made to accommodate all students in their subject selection. It is praiseworthy that the guidance counsellor meets third-year students to advise on subject and programme selection. The principal, year head and subject teachers also play a role in this regard. Senior cycle uptake had dipped in recent years since the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus in Home Economics. However, this trend has been reversed and the home economics team is highly commended for their efforts.
The subject benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support. Teaching time allocated to classes in both junior and senior cycle is in accordance with syllabus guidelines. Classes are spread throughout the week to ensure steady progress. While it is not possible for teachers to retain their class groups into second year because of subject choice arrangements, a conscious effort is made to ensure teacher continuity in second and third year and throughout senor cycle. The second home economics kitchen is currently being fully re-furbished and equipped under the Department of Education and Science Summer Works Scheme. This will provide additional accommodation for practical lessons.
The school has embarked on the process of subject department planning as part of their engagement with School Development Planning. A subject convenor has been appointed for Home Economics. At present, the position is shared between two members of the team and other team members support this work. As the position is voluntary, consideration could be given to rotating the position of subject convenor among the team on an annual basis to share the workload. Formal time is allocated for subject department planning three times a year. In addition, at the request of the home economics team, one period of non-class contact time has been timetabled concurrently on all the individual timetables to facilitate additional formal planning time.
There is a commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) and this is facilitated and encouraged by management. All teachers have attended in-service for the revised Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus and LCA Hotel, Catering and Tourism. They regularly attend the local network meetings run by the Home Economics Support Service and the Association of Teachers of Home Economics. This is good practice as the experience gained can impact very positively on the quality of learning and teaching of Home Economics in the school.
The three specialist rooms, two kitchens and one textile room are very well maintained and organised with an appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. In addition to the specialist equipment the home economics team has access to a television, a DVD player and an overhead projector. There is a budget for replacing or updating equipment and the home economics team acknowledge that management is very supportive in this regard.
There is a school health and safety policy and a subject-specific policy is included in the department plan. During the course of the evaluation it was noted that a high priority is placed on health and safety in terms of classroom routines and procedures. It is particularly praiseworthy that the health and safety rules are clearly displayed at each work unit in the kitchen. Evidence from departmental meetings indicates that health and safety issues are regularly reviewed and monitored by the home economics team. This is very good practice.
Home economics students have access to information and communication technology (ICT). At present home economics students, mainly in senior cycle, use ICT for coursework research and project presentation. There is computer access in the staffroom. It is commendable that there will be a computer and printer with internet access in the new kitchen. To make maximum use of this valuable resource the potential of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics should be explored and developed. Useful website addresses are available on the Home Economics Support Service website at www.homeeconomics.ie.
The home economics team readily engages in the task of collaborative subject planning. In addition to the formal time provided as part of the school calendar, the team meets at least once a month to progress department work. This level of commitment to the process of subject department planning has proved very effective in progressing subject-specific policies in health and safety, homework and assessment, as well as a very good range of planned co-curricular activities that support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. It is praiseworthy that an agenda and minutes are provided for each formal meeting. From reviewing the subject documentation and minutes of departmental meetings it is evident that a systematic, collaborative and very professional approach is taken to subject planning in Home Economics. The teaching team is commended for their efforts in this regard. It is important to note that subject planning by its nature will always be work in progress and, as such, will always demonstrate room for advancement and revision. Therefore, it is important to monitor regularly and review the implementation of subject-specific polices.
Good progress has been made in the development of common programmes of work for each year group. These schemes outline the list of topics that will be covered in each term, and in some cases, clearly outline a sequence of content that integrates the practical coursework with theoretical knowledge. It is recommended that the existing schemes of work be developed over time to include information on the sequence of topics to be covered and specific timeframes for the delivery of each topic. The sequencing of lessons should maximise the integration of theoretical knowledge with practical skills and be in line with syllabus guidelines and recommendations. Suitable teaching strategies, the identification of appropriate resources as well as time for revision and assessment should be included in each plan. The implementation of each plan should be evaluated at regular intervals. It is further recommended when plans are being reviewed that attention is given to evaluating the success of the teaching strategies used in order to maximise student learning. Further advice on subject planning is available from the Home Economics Support Service at www.homeeconomics.ie.
The home economics team has collected and developed a range of resources including DVDs, videos, educational packs, posters, leaflets, reference books and worksheets to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. The 3-D models of the food pyramid are particularly impressive. These resources are catalogued to ensure easy access for each member of the team. The home economics team should review the current library of resource books to identify any resource needs that have arisen from the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus. Furthermore, management is requested to consider supporting the ongoing investment in the maintenance and expansion of this resource library, as resources permit.
Planned co-curricular activities provide rich learning experiences for students of Home Economics. Student learning is extended beyond the classroom through a range of planned activities such as the use of guest speakers, field trips to local businesses and institutions, and participation in competitions. In addition, the home economics team is involved in cross-curricular planning with Business Studies, Geography, Science, Art and the modern languages. The teaching team also advise students who want to learn a new skill in preparation for the Gaisce Awards Scheme. These practices are an excellent means of broadening students’ knowledge and skills, as well as enhancing their enjoyment of the subject.
A variety of lessons types, both theoretical and practical was observed. Short-term planning for all lessons was of a high standard. Written lesson plans outlined planned learning outcomes, which were consistent with the long-term plan, and the teaching strategies to be employed. This good practice ensured that lessons had clear aims and had good continuity with previous work. Lessons in the main were well structured. However, careful attention should be given to the pacing of lessons to ensure that an adequate amount of time is given to assimilate new concepts or to avoid situations where a disproportionate amount of time is spent checking work from previous lessons so that progress is made through planned material. Appropriate resource materials such as handouts, worksheets, product samples and 3-D models were used effectively to support students’ learning. It is particularly commendable that the design of some worksheets encouraged students to apply the knowledge gained in the lesson. This excellent practice encourages the development of higher-order thinking which is a key skill underpinning the assessment objectives of home economics syllabuses.
All lessons observed were very well managed and clear classroom routines were evident. Lessons generally began with the correction of homework and student-teacher interaction indicated a very good understanding of previously taught material. It is suggested that when short workbook style questions are being assessed orally in class, that time is given for students to check their own progress and correct errors. This would also allow time for teachers to monitor progress and provide assistance or clarification if required. The good practice of sharing the objectives of the lesson was noted in all lessons. Homework that reinforced or extended student learning was assigned at the end of each lesson.
It is evident that the rationale of revised syllabuses in Home Economics has informed the teaching and learning strategies adopted by the home economics team. Teacher explanation was very clear, accurate and contextualised. There was a commendable concern for students’ understanding of new concepts and there was some effective integration across relevant areas of the syllabus. The blackboard was used to very good effect to clarify difficult concepts, emphasise key terminology or summarise key points of a discussion.
Active learning was a central feature of all the home economics lessons observed. This ensured a good balance between teacher input and student activity and resulted in very good learning outcomes in the lessons concerned. Students remained active participants in theoretical lessons by writing material on the blackboard, completing worksheets, placing food samples on a food pyramid or evaluating samples of food packaging. There was some very good use of worksheets. A particularly good example occurred in a lesson where students worked in groups or pairs to interpret, apply and analyse the information covered in the lesson. The activity was time bound and included a reporting back phase. These are key components to the success of group-work activities.
In all the lessons observed there was an excellent rapport between students and teachers. Very good used was made of praise to affirm students’ efforts. On-going student-teacher interaction was facilitated by very good use of questioning strategies to introduce topics and to check students’ experiences and knowledge of the topic being taught. On several occasions questioning techniques challenged students to think more deeply about the topic under discussion. This proved very effective in getting students to make links between topics and apply the knowledge gained to new situations. This practice is laudable as it fosters a deeper understanding of the subject matter being taught.
Students displayed an impressive ability to work independently and in collaboration with each other in a practical food studies lesson observed. A very high level of self-organisational skills and a very good standard of culinary skills in the preparation, cooking and serving of dishes were evident. Due attention was paid to safety and hygiene throughout the lesson. Teacher movement around the room provided opportunities for students to seek individual help in a very supportive manner. It is commendable that students were encouraged to try different accompaniments and demonstrate their individuality and creativity in the serving of dishes. It is suggested, where time allows, that the evaluation stage be formally included in the lesson to guide students in developing the evaluative skills necessary for the practical examinations.
The physical environment of the home economics rooms was enhanced by displays of students’ project work, photographs of student achievements and a range of appropriate educational posters and leaflets on topics relevant to Home Economics. Such practices are highly praiseworthy. It is important that these displays are changed on a regular basis to stimulate and maintain student interest.
Students have a very positive attitude toward Home Economics. Observation of students’ recent project work in the areas of Craft and Design, Childcare and Food Studies indicated a very good level of competence in the organisation and presentation of materials and in the appropriate craft and research skills. It is worth noting that the Chief Examiners’ Reports and associated marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission are very useful for further guidance and advice on the coursework components at junior and senior cycle. These documents are available at www.examinations.ie.
In the lessons observed there was evidence of the effective implementation of the school’s homework policy. Homework is regularly assigned to monitor and reinforce student learning. This is recorded in the students’ homework journal which is monitored by parents and teachers. Observation of student copybooks indicated very good progression in their work. It is laudable that all students are encouraged to systematically store notes and handouts from class.
Some excellent practice was evident with regard to the monitoring of homework. Useful teacher comments in copybooks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. Consideration should be given by the home economics team to expanding and developing the Assessment for Learning (AfL) practices already evident in the learning and teaching of Home Economics. Further information on AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student achievement in Home Economics. These include oral questioning, written assignments and class tests as well as an assessment of some practical coursework. All assessment outcomes and attendance are systematically recorded in the teachers’ journal. This good practice helps to build a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over time. It is commendable that these profiles are used by the teachers to provide advice on examination levels to students and parents. Furthermore, it is highly commendable that the home economics team regularly analyse student outcomes as evidenced by results in the certificate examinations. This very useful exercise can inform reflective debate on the teaching and learning of Home Economics and the general whole-school provision for the subject. All students are effectively challenged to reach their full potential in Home Economics. This is reflected in the very good learning outcomes achieved.
Formal in-house examinations take place at Christmas and in summer. Students preparing to take the certificate examinations sit mock examinations in the second term. Results are communicated to parents or guardians twice yearly and at the parent-teacher meetings. Home economics students are assessed primarily on a written paper, though in some instances a textiles coursework component is included in junior cycle examinations. It is very admirable that, where applicable, common examination papers are drafted on a collaborative basis for the formal in-house examinations. As a means of developing end-of-term examinations for Home Economics it is recommended that the range of assessment modes be extended to include an assessment of the food and culinary skills coursework. Where practicable, junior cycle students could be awarded an aggregated mark for a written paper, a practical food studies assignment and any project work undertaken in the area of textiles or design and craft. The inclusion of the food studies coursework journal should be considered as an assessment component in the senior cycle in-house examinations. The appropriate State Examinations Commission’s marking scheme should guide the development and application of assessment criteria. These revised assessment procedures would prove an accurate indicator of the student’s ability in the subject as they mirror closely the procedures for the certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
Home Economics is a very popular subject on the school curriculum. Junior cycle uptake is very high.
Home Economics benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support.
The specialist rooms are very well maintained and organised with an appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. A new home economics kitchen is near completion and will provide additional space.
There is a very good range of planned co-curricular activities that support the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
The school has embarked on the process of formal subject department planning. A professional, committed and collaborative approach is evident among the home economics team in embracing this initiative.
Good progress has been made in the development of a subject department plan and common schemes of work have been developed for each year group.
Active learning was a central feature of the home economics lessons observed.
There was an excellent rapport between students and teachers in the lessons observed.
Routines and procedures for the maintenance of student copybooks are well established.
Students remained purposefully engaged in their learning and displayed a very good understanding and knowledge of the key concepts that related to the topics being taught.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Mechanisms for choosing optional subjects in junior cycle should be reviewed.
The collaborative schemes of work should be progressed over time, as outlined in the report.
When monitoring the schemes of work, attention should be given to evaluating the success of the teaching strategies used in order to maximise student learning.
The range of assessment modes should be extended to include, where feasible, an assessment of the food and culinary skills coursework component.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
After 1st year, students may choose one of Art, German, Home Economics, Music. Classes for 2nd year in these subjects are based on the students’ choices.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Review of 1st year subject choices