An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Granard, County Longford
Roll number: 63730 S
Date of inspection: 3 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School, Granard Co. Longford. 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 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.
Subject provision and whole school support
Home Economics is a vibrant and well-established subject in the school’s curriculum. Participations rates in junior and senior cycle are very good although uptake has been traditionally much higher among the female student cohort.
There are two home economics teachers in Cnoc Mhuire and the subject benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support. Both teachers take junior and senior cycle classes and it is commendable that, where feasible, teachers retain their class group through all years of the junior or senior cycle programme. Teaching time allocated to classes is in line with syllabus recommendations. The arrangement of one double and three single lessons periods in senior cycle ensures a good spread of lessons throughout the week. This commendable arrangement facilitates effective continuity in teaching and learning. Junior cycle classes are allocated two double periods. However, care should be taken to ensure that the lessons are not distributed over two consecutive days, as this results in a gap of almost one week between home economics lessons. It is laudable that all curriculum documentation is promptly disseminated to the home economics team.
While there has always been a tradition of subject department planning in the school, the process of formal subject department planning began last year as part of the school’s engagement with the School Development Planning Initiative. The home economics department is one of seven subject departments to progress formalised planning in phase one of this initiative. Management facilitates collaborative planning by allocating formal planning time three times a year. The home economics team arranges additional meetings as the need arises. This level of commitment to collaborative planning is very praiseworthy. It is commendable that minutes are kept on file, though consideration could be given to the provision of an agenda prior to meetings.
A very strong commitment to continuous professional development is evident among the home economics team. This process is well supported and encouraged by management. The home economics teachers have attended the in-service training for the revised Leaving Certificate home economics syllabus and one member of the team is currently involved in a CPD initiative to evaluate teaching strategies used in the classroom. This commitment to relevant CPD is admirable and it is obvious that the experience gained has impacted very positively on the quality of learning and teaching of Home Economics in the school.
All home economics classes are of mixed ability. Incoming first-year students select optional subjects at pre-entry stage and a variety of supports are in place to assist them in their selection. An open day is held for pupils in the catchment area and an open night is held for parents. Senior management and other staff members are available to provide additional advice at the two subsequent enrolment sessions. Home Economics is offered in a pre-set band against Technical Graphics. Uptake of Home Economics is very strong but predominantly among the female student cohort. While recognising the contextual factors that exist in relation to subject choice in the school, but as the option band has not been reviewed in a number of years, it is recommended that strategies be explored to promote Home Economics as an optional subject with appeal for all students, in order to improve gender balance. Consideration could be given to the introduction of a short taster programme that would allow students make a more informed subject choice. Alternatively the option blocks could be reviewed as Home Economics is offered against a subject that could be perceived as a traditional male subject. Other strategies might include the introduction of a subject notice board in a prominent place in the school, hosting awareness campaigns on relevant issues during the school year and the development of cross-curricular projects.
It is commendable that students the Transition Year programme (TY) study two home economics related modules, one in catering and one in crafts. The modules have a very generous combined timetable allocation of six class periods per week. However, it is recommended that as part of a review of the current home economics modules, the teaching team in consultation with senior management, consider the how best to arrange the six periods into lessons in order to maximise the benefits to be gained from this timetabled allocation.
The student-centred approach to subject choice for Leaving Certificate is praiseworthy. 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. Senior cycle uptake of Home Economics is good, though, as has been mentioned in the whole school context, it is traditionally much higher among the female student cohort.
The home economics department is very well resourced. There are two specialist rooms, one kitchen and one textiles room. Each room has an appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. A major refurbishment of the kitchen will begin during this academic year. In addition to the basic specialist equipment, the home economics department has overhead projectors, a television and video recorder and access to a DVD player. There is a network access point in the textiles room and a laptop with wireless broadband access is available for use. The department receives an annual budget to update and replace minor resources. This is very good practice as Home Economics coursework necessitates access to updated information.
The whole-school health and safety policy was reviewed last year and it laudable that staff were consulted as part of the process. The home economics department has a subject-specific policy that outlines health and safety procedures for practical lessons. These rules should be clearly displayed on the walls of both specialist rooms. It was noted positively that as part of health and safety policy in Home Economics, the teaching team has carried out a hazard identification and risk assessment that outlines specific safety control measures with specific pieces of equipment. This assessment should be reviewed and updated on an annual basis.
A very committed approach is taken to subject department planning. The formal planning time allocated by management is used to discuss programmes of work, organise the specialist rooms and plan for resources. At present there is no formal subject co-ordinator. It is recommended that one member of the teaching team acts as the home economics co-ordinator. As the position is voluntary, it could be rotated among the teaching team on an annual basis. This practice would share the workload and allow each team member to assume a leadership role.
Programmes of work are available for each year group. As one of the teachers has only been recently appointed, this work was carried out primarily on an individual basis. However, it is particularly commendable that the process of collaborative programme planning has begun, as evidenced by the outline framework of agreed topics for the first-year programme. This is good practice as it encourages consistency in planning and provides opportunities for teachers to share the workload and their expertise in the development of programme plans.
All programmes of work outline the topics to be covered on a monthly basis. In some instances, the content outlined demonstrated very good sequencing and progression of work. There was also some very good integration of topics as recommended in the revised syllabuses for Home Economics. To build on the collaborative approach to subject planning already evident in the department, it is recommended that at the next review stage, and on a phased basis, all plans be modified to include appropriate syllabus references, an outline of expected knowledge and content that reflects the integrated approach recommended in the syllabuses, teaching strategies, suitable resources and homework activities. Particular emphasis should be placed on encouraging appropriate integration of topics across core areas of the relevant syllabuses and on ensuring that the content is sequenced in a manner that builds on students’ prior knowledge and experiences. Further advice on subject planning is available from the Home Economics Support Service at www.homeeconomics.ie and in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) Teacher Guidelines for the revised Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus. These plans should continue to be monitored on an annual basis and particular attention given to the effectiveness of the planned teaching and learning strategies.
The variety of practical coursework planned in the areas of textiles and design and craftwork is laudable. The introduction of a simple design brief folder that would be completed in tandem with the textile or craft item should be considered by the teaching team. This would enable students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation. It would also provide further opportunities to integrate theory and practice. Furthermore, it was noted positively that the home economics team inform parents and guardians with regard to the coursework requirements in Home Economics.
Two very interesting and challenging modules have been planned for TY. As the modules have not been reviewed recently, it is recommended that each module is reviewed and developed further. The revised module plans should include student learning outcomes in terms of expected knowledge and understanding, planned teaching and learning strategies, assessment criteria and cross-curricular activities. Information and advice on writing a TY module is available in the leaflet Writing the Transition Year Programme which is available from the Second Level Support Service at www.slss.ie.
The annual budget has been used effectively by the teaching team to collect a range of resources to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. The team should consider developing a small resource library in one of the specialist rooms where books and leaflets on topics relevant to Home Economics could be displayed and be easily accessible to home economics students and teachers alike. As part of the development of modern resources, the teaching team should plan for the further integration of information and communications technology (ICT) as an additional tool to support teaching and learning in Home Economics.
A very good range of co-curricular activities forms part of the home economics programme in the school. Students’ learning is extended beyond the classroom through a range of planned activities such as the use of guest speakers and links with local businesses. Students in TY participate in mini-companies while other home economics students participate in a variety of competitions. Such practices are highly commended as they broaden students’ knowledge, experience and ultimate enjoyment of the subject.
There was evidence of very high quality teaching and learning in the lessons observed during the course of the evaluation. There was very good short-term planning and preparation for all of the lessons observed. Appropriate resource materials such as worksheets, posters, overhead transparencies and food samples were prepared in advance and used effectively to support student learning. This resulted in very good learning outcomes for the students.
All lessons were very well structured and purposeful and generally well paced. At the beginning of each lesson teachers discussed the key learning outcomes for the topic with students. These were displayed on one corner of the blackboard and could be referred to throughout the lesson. This very good practice enabled students to focus on their own learning and facilitated self-evaluation, which is one on the key principles underpinning Assessment for Learning (AfL).
Students responded well to the effective use of a range of teaching strategies that were appropriate to the delivery of the revised home economics syllabuses. Excellent use was made of brainstorming exercises to establish students’ prior knowledge and experiences of the new topics being introduced. Teachers worked very hard to ensure that students understood the concepts being taught. Explanations were clear, accurate and contextualised. Of particular note were the efforts made to link the topics being taught with previous learning and on occasion, specific areas that related to the topic being taught were effectively integrated into lessons. This is very good practice as junior and senior cycle syllabuses in Home Economics recommend that the content is taught within a framework that integrates related elements and processes.
Teachers have adopted a very visual approach to the teaching of Home Economics. In some lessons observed, posters proved very effective in illustrating key points, while in another lesson, Lego blocks proved useful in illustrating the chemical structure of a nutrient. Of particular note was the effective use of “mind maps” as a tool to summarise topics on student handouts. The further use of mind maps, rather than full paragraphs of text, should be considered when summarising information on the blackboard, as key points and interrelationships between topics can be efficiently highlighted. There was very good evidence of reinforcing and checking students’ understanding of the language of Home Economics. This is commendable as it helps them develop the necessary linguistic skills in preparation for the written examinations.
Active learning is a central feature of Home Economics lessons in Cnoc Mhuire. Worksheets were used effectively to reinforce learning and questioning strategies encouraged students to recall and apply the information learned in class. Particularly impressive was a group activity that occurred in a theory class where students, after working on their group task, presented their findings to the class group. This is an ideal teaching strategy for mixed-ability groups as student learning is reinforced through peer collaboration. The activity also facilitated the development of oral and written communication skills and encouraged student creativity.
In the practical lesson observed there was an appropriate balance between teacher instruction and student work. The preparation, cooking and serving of dishes were effectively “staged” through spot demonstrations which illustrated the key food preparation and cooking processes to students and reinforced the application of scientific principles to practical skills. This typifies best practice in the teaching of food studies. Students had a very good standard of culinary skills and sound safety and hygiene routines were evident
A very good rapport and a high level of mutual respect and co-operation were evident between the students and teachers. Very good use was made of praise to affirm students’ progress. Students displayed a sense of security in seeking clarification or assistance during lessons and it was obvious that the practice of the teacher moving around the room gave students the opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive manner. Observation of and interaction with the students indicated a very good understanding of material related to the topic being studied. They displayed an impressive ability to work independently and in collaboration with each other during groupwork and in practical lessons.
The physical environment of the home economics rooms is enhanced by displays of educational posters and student project work. Students’ work is also recognised and commemorated through colourful photographic displays. These displays should be updated regularly.
In line with the whole-school assessment policy, a range of assessment modes, both formative and summative, is used to monitor student competence and provide feedback on progress. The home economics team have developed a subject-specific assessment policy that outlines assessment and homework procedures. Formative assessment is carried out on an on-going basis through oral questioning, worksheets, homework activities, coursework assignments and the monitoring of project work. Class tests are administered at frequent intervals. Assessment outcomes are systematically recorded in a teacher’s journal. This good practice ensures that a profile of students’ progress is recorded which is useful when providing advice on examination level to students.
Reports are issued to parents or guardians twice-yearly. The home economics department operate a commendable system of assessment where an aggregate mark is awarded for a written examination and the relevant coursework component. This good practice mirrors the range of assessment modes used in the certificate examinations and therefore should be an accurate indicator of student achievement. Results at Christmas are based on continuous assessment from a range of written examinations and relevant coursework undertaken during the first term... Summer grades are awarded on the basis of a formal written examination and an assessment of relevant coursework. Students preparing to take the certificate examinations sit mock examinations in the second term. It is highly commended that students are encouraged to aim for highest academic standards and that the home economics department aims to ensure that students take the certificate examinations at the highest level possible. It was noted positively that very good learning outcomes are achieved.
In all the lessons observed, homework was carefully planned to expand on and enhance the work carried out in class. It is laudable that some homework activities were designed to accommodate the different learning styles through the use of word searches, mind maps and illustrations. Very good practices were evident in the monitoring and annotating of student copybooks and coursework. Particularly impressive is the system being developed for first-year students that is based on the use of “comment only” marking and the affirmation of student effort. This can be further developed through the extension of other AfL practices. Further information on AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.
Observation of student copybooks indicated very good routines with regard to the maintenance and layout of student work. Students should also be encouraged to incorporate handouts, worksheets and mind maps into their copybooks so that they are easily accessible when revising work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
Home Economics is a vibrant and well-established subject on the junior and senior cycle curriculum, albeit traditionally among girls.
The subject benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support.
The specialist rooms are well resourced and a major refurbishment of the kitchen is about to begin.
Effective subject department planning is evident and collaborative schemes of work are being developed on a phased basis.
A very good range of co-curricular activities forms part of the home economics programme in the school.
There was evidence of very high quality teaching and learning. Students responded well to the effective use of a range of teaching strategies that were appropriate to the delivery of the revised home economics syllabuses.
The atmosphere in all lessons observed was very supportive and conducive to learning, with a high level of mutual respect and co-operation evident.
Students demonstrated a very good level of knowledge and understanding of the key concepts related to the topics being taught.
Students’ work is recognised and commemorated through colourful photographic displays in the home economics rooms.
Very good practices are evident in the monitoring and annotating of student copybooks and coursework.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Strategies should be explored to promote Home Economics as an optional subject among the male student cohort.
The Transition Year module should be reviewed and developed as outlined in the body of the report.
Collaborative programme planning should continue and over time all programmes of work should be developed to include an outline of expected knowledge and understanding that reflects the integrated approach recommended in Home Economics syllabuses as well as appropriate teaching strategies and resources.
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
The Board of management of Cnoc Mhuire, Granard, Co. Longford is very pleased with the findings of the inspection report. It affirms the diligent work and commendable practices of the Home Economics Department.
The inspection itself was carried out in a very fair and professional manner.
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 Home Economics Department intend to use the recommendations as a springboard for continued improvement in their subject.