An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Árd Scoil na nDéise
Dungarvan, County Waterford
Roll number: 64900W
Date of inspection: 20 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Árd Scoil na nDéise, Dungarvan. 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 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Home Economics is firmly established on the curriculum in Árd Scoil na nDéise. It is an extremely popular subject in junior cycle and while it is reasonably popular in senior cycle, uptake is not comparable with that which is witnessed in second and third year. The reduction in the number of students opting to study Home Economics to Leaving Certificate level is a national trend, due in the main to the recent introduction of the revised Social and Scientific Home Economics syllabus. In an attempt to reverse such a trend, it would be important that consideration be given to the design and implementation of a series of strategies intended to further encourage the senior student cohort to study Home Economics to Leaving Certificate level.
Home Economics is an optional subject in the school, with the exception of first year and Transition Year (TY) where, in both instances, all students are required to study Home Economics for the entire year. Management is deserving of credit for the student exposure to choice subjects that such a system ensures but particularly so in this instance, in light of the scenario identified in the school regarding Home Economics in senior cycle.
The subject benefits from a very good level of subject provision and whole-school support. The school houses a Home Economics department which is most impressive in size, accommodating no less than three kitchens and two dress-design rooms. The subject is well-resourced and the department has a direct input into deciding how allocated monies should be spent. Time-tabling of Home Economics is very adequate. Sufficient time is allocated to the subject in both junior and senior cycle and on the whole, there is a good spread of students’ weekly contact time with Home Economics. Subject to time-tabling constraints, it is good to note that teachers retain the classes initially assigned to them in junior cycle and also in senior cycle. The school operates a very equitable system with regard to subject choice. Students are surveyed with reference to their preferred area of study and the results of this have a direct bearing on the design of the subject bands in any particular year. Home Economics students are encouraged to aim for high academic standards as evidenced by the substantial number of students who take higher-level papers in both of the State examinations.
Management is to be commended for the provision of formal time throughout the school year for subject department meetings. The collaboration that this practice encourages is an important facet of planning for teaching and learning and therefore the provision of this time is welcomed and fully encouraged. The provision of an agenda and the keeping of minutes, as a means of recording the business of these meetings, are noted as very desirable practices. A subject co-ordinator, who has overall responsibility for the work of the Home Economics team, has been appointed. This position is currently part of a post holder’s assigned duties. It is recommended that, as an alternative to current practice, consideration be given to appointing each of the subject teachers to this position on a rotational basis. This is a fairer approach in that the organisational and administrative responsibilities, which are a naturally onerous part of subject planning, are then shared amongst the entire subject department.
Management fully supports teachers’ continuing professional development in their subject area. As a result, it has facilitated teacher attendance at the in-service provided by the Department of Education and Science and has also accommodated school visits by a member of the Home Economics Support Service team. Members of the subject department also freely give of their own time in order to attend the Support Service’s network meetings, as well as those organised by the Association of Home Economics Teachers. Any official subject documentation received in the school is passed onto the co-ordinator, who is responsible for the dissemination of this information.
The annual review of the school’s health and safety policy is very commendable as is the display of the relevant section of the policy in each of the Home Economics kitchens. The subject-specific section of the policy might be developed in time as suggested during the feedback meeting. Some concern exists with regard to the adequacy of the mechanical ventilation system in the kitchen which was operational on the day of the inspection. It is recommended that the effectiveness of the system be further investigated and, if deemed necessary, the replacement or upgrading of the unit be considered by management as a matter of priority.
Schemes of work have been developed for each of the year groups. A common approach to the delivery of the curriculum at junior cycle is standard practice in the subject department. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to the delivery of schemes of work for senior-cycle classes also. The schemes which have been devised might also be further developed over time. Suggested enhancements include provision for the following areas: topics to be covered on a term-by-term basis, suitable methodologies, appropriate and available resources, topic-specific assignments and homework; assessment modes, links between theory and practical work, integration of subject matter and where required, examination preparation and revision. This process is involved and quite time intensive, so it is recommended that it be carried out on a phased basis, taking perhaps one junior and one senior year group per annum. It is important that course syllabuses and Guidelines for Teachers are recognised as the basis for such detailed planning. As is current practice in the Home Economics department, the schemes should be monitored, reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis. An effective mechanism that can be employed to facilitate this review and evaluation is to provide space on the planning template for the provision of teacher comment following delivery of a certain topic or activity. This is very effective in informing any revisions of the schemes and will also reinforce the working nature of these planning documents.
As part of the review process, it is recommended that the TY scheme be re-examined with a view to the role it could play in encouraging a greater number of senior-cycle students to study Home Economics to Leaving Certificate level. The inclusion of elements of some of the more interesting facets of the Leaving Certificate syllabus might, for example, be one approach that could be adopted. However, if Leaving Certificate material is chosen for study it should be done on the clear understanding that it is to be explored in an original and stimulating way that is significantly different from the way in which it would be treated in the two years to Leaving Certificate.
In connection with the noted reduction in the number of senior-cycle students opting to study Home Economics for the Leaving Certificate, it is suggested that the identification of approaches designed to reverse this trend form part of the agenda of future planning meetings and informal discussions of the department. Some possible approaches might include the development of a Home Economics notice-board at a prominent location within the school. This could be used to display student work, to highlight the career-relevance of the subject, to publicise students’ positive perceptions of the subject and to outline course content. It is also pertinent that the recent revision in the senior-cycle food and culinary skills coursework journals be highlighted to students, even if only on an informal basis.
Commendably, the department is currently in the process of developing a subject-specific planning document. This is being compiled as part of the formal planning time provided by management for meeting as a subject department. To date, much of the work that takes place during these meetings is of an organisational and documentary nature. Notwithstanding the necessity and significance of such work, it is recommended that consideration also be given to the greater inclusion of issues with a direct pedagogical influence. Furthermore, the completion of a SWOT analysis is also recommended in order to identify the subject’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for development and possible threats. The results of this can be used to assist the department in the drawing up of a plan for the long-term development of the subject in the school.
In planning for the provision of students with special educational needs (SENs), there was some evidence of the design and provision of differentiated worksheets. This is noted as very commendable practice. The department also reports a good level of communication and collaboration with the school’s learning support teacher. The subject department demonstrates an openness to planning for co-curricular activities and for the establishment of cross-curricular links between Home Economics and subjects such as Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). These approaches are welcomed and further encouraged.
It is good to note that the subject department recognises the significant role that past State-examination papers can play in directing planning for and delivery of the curriculum. The stated intention to utilise the Chief Examiner’s reports in a similar fashion is fully encouraged. As discussed during the feedback meeting the department might consider up-skilling in terms of Information Communication Technology. This would greatly advantage the department in their planning work, particularly in the development and review of schemes of work, as well as in the delivery of certain elements of the curriculum.
The Home Economics department has established a subject-specific library and it is recommended that consideration be given to planning for the expansion and development of this very significant resource. The importance of this facility is even greater since the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus which, along with the Junior Certificate syllabus, now places a strong emphasis on developing students’ abilities to engage in guided yet independent research and learning.
Lessons were consistent with planned programmes of work and there was evidence of a very satisfactory level of short-term planning and preparation. A number of pre-prepared resources were utilised very effectively throughout lessons, in order to enhance and support the planned teaching and learning. The practice of sharing with students the intended outcomes of each lesson was obvious in the majority of cases, as was the linking of new content with work previously covered. When new topics were being introduced, considerable efforts were made to draw on students’ previous subject knowledge and life experiences. These approaches to topic introduction are fully encouraged as they foster student interest and engagement in lesson content from the outset, whilst also highlighting the relevance and, on occasions, the gravity of the planned work. In the main, lessons were well-paced and cognisant of students’ levels and abilities.
Instruction was very clear, succinct and accurate and in the majority of lessons there was an impressive non-reliance on the textbook. In all lessons, significant attempts were made to thoroughly explain concepts by, for example, contextualising information being presented in order to make it more relevant and meaningful to students. In one lesson in particular, the blackboard was used to great effect to simplify and summarise some of the more difficult facets of the topic being investigated. This approach is further encouraged in the delivery of lesson content. In the majority of lessons, the very good practice of highlighting to students the links between knowledge being presented and other areas of the Home Economics course was carried out to great effect. This modus operandi is also encouraged for a number of reasons but particularly for the role it can play in preparing students for examination questions on higher-level papers.
Generally speaking, while different methodologies were utilised in the delivery of lesson content, there is some scope for varying class momentum and style through the greater incorporation of an even wider range of teaching methods. In certain circumstances, teacher input predominated. The inclusion of strategies designed to involve students more earnestly in the learning process is recommended. The incorporation of some of the more active methodologies that will transfer a greater degree of the responsibility for learning on to the students themselves might be one way of achieving a greater balance between teacher input and student commentary and participation.
Students’ practical work in the food-studies area of the Junior Certificate course, which was observed on the day of the inspection, was of a notably high standard. There was good emphasis placed on the development of students’ skills, adherence to the principles of hygiene and safety, the presentation of food and the evaluation of product and process. As a result it can be concluded that students are being well-prepared for the practical examination in third year. In order to capitalise on all of the learning potential offered by practical classes, it is recommended that opportunities to link theory with practical work be fully availed of over the course of lessons.
Questioning was a significant feature of each of the lessons. Most of the questions posed to students were of a recall nature and student answering of these questions demonstrated a good level of knowledge of the topics being explored. As a means of enhancing students understanding of Home Economics, the increased inclusion of higher-order type questions is recommended. This style of questioning, which focuses on the ‘why’ end of the questioning spectrum, requires students to synthesise, apply and evaluate information in addition to remembering and reciting facts. In certain circumstances, there was a tendency to accept ‘chorus answering’ from students. It is recommended that measures be employed to discourage this propensity. Furthermore, it is recommended that questioning to determine understanding of new information being presented be incorporated into the already established and observed good practice of summarising lesson content.
Whilst a firm and purposeful approach was adopted to the delivery of lesson content by teachers, the rapport between teachers and students was also very good-natured. Students were most respectful in their interactions and extremely well behaved. Student contribution was readily affirmed. Classrooms could be enhanced through, for example, the greater display of more posters, photographs and relevant newspaper and magazine articles. Room-based exhibitions of the great variety of students’ craft work as well as their project work, which are generally beautifully executed and presented, might also be considered.
Students of Home Economics in Árd Scoil na nDéise are assessed using a number of approaches. Students’ progress is evaluated orally in class on a very regular basis as well as through the provision of written assessments on completion of a chapter or topic. It was good to note that the examination papers observed were devised in a manner that reflects the style of question and approach to marking used in the State-examination papers. In one class it was noted that students were required to systematically file examination papers alongside their own answer papers, which is a great resource for students when revising topics. The good practice of getting students to write out and appropriately file the correct answer to any wrong answers was also noted in the same class. The appraisal of students’ practical and project work is also an integral part of the department’s approach to assessment in the subject. This is welcomed and fully encouraged.
First-year students of the subject are provided with a common assessment paper for the in-house summer examination. This practice is very praiseworthy and it is good to note that the department is planning for the introduction of a common end-of-year examination paper in second year also. In time, such an approach should be extended to all year groups.
The school has devised a comprehensive policy on homework and study and the Home Economics department has also completed some subject-specific work in this area. There is evidence of the regular setting and monitoring of homework by the teachers. Some of this monitoring provides very good examples of work which has been comprehensively annotated. This approach is very commendable as it provides students with guidance as to how they might expand on and improve their answering of particular questions. In addition to this excellent approach it is recommended that, periodically and particularly in examination classes, students’ work also be graded. Ideally, students would be supplied with a suitable marking scheme when the work is being assigned and the same scheme would then be applied by the teachers when the work is being corrected. This has the added advantage of training students in the interpretation of marking schemes and in other examination techniques such as timing and depth of treatment.
Students’ progress and achievement in the subject is systematically recorded and filed. This information provides the basis for the feedback provided to parents or guardians at the parent-teacher meetings, which are held once per annum for each year group. Reports are also issued twice a year, at Christmas and also during the summer vacation.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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.