An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Fingal Community College
Swords, County Dublin
Roll number: 70121H
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Fingal 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, deputy principal and the subject teachers. The board of management 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 Fingal Community College and it is good to note that uptake of the subject is strong and increasing steadily. Subject option pools, which vary from year to year, are formed based on student preference. The school is commended for this student-centred approach to subject selection in both junior and senior cycle, thus ensuring that the subject is accessible to all students. Hotel, Catering and Tourism is available to the students taking the Leaving Certificate Applied where it is offered either as a vocational specialism or as a module in alternate years.
The subject benefits from good provision and whole school support. Teaching time allocated to classes is adequate and in line with syllabus recommendations. Class periods are generally well dispersed throughout the week thus ensuring that students gain maximum benefit from the class contact time. The arrangement in place for the provision of extra support in the subject to a small number of junior cycle students is commended.
All Home Economics classes are mixed ability. While students at all levels achieve very good outcomes in the subject, participation rates at higher level are sometimes low. It is recommended that this issue be monitored on an ongoing basis and that consideration be given to how participation rates at higher level might be improved, thus raising students’ expectations. This issue might be addressed as part of school development planning and opportunities to involve parents in the process should be considered.
During the evaluation, a check on students’ attendance at lessons indicated that a number of first year students do not attend the timetabled double class period on Mondays, due to their involvement in a School Completion Programme activity. While the merits of participation in this activity are acknowledged, it is unsatisfactory that the students involved miss their practical lesson in Home Economics and thus the development of essential practical coursework skills is hindered. It should be noted that practical coursework is a substantial examination component of the Junior Certificate. It is recommended that this issue be addressed as a priority.
The specialist rooms for Home Economics are very well maintained and organised and are well resourced for the effective delivery of the subject. However, due to restrictions on classroom space in the school, the specialist rooms, of necessity, are used for the delivery of other subjects; this is less than ideal from a health and safety perspective. A health and safety statement for Home Economics has been included in the school’s health and safety policy and key messages in relation to health and safety are prominently displayed in the kitchen.
Students are encouraged to use information and communication technology (ICT) to research practical coursework assignments and for the presentation of project work. Access to the computer room is available but limited due to the demands of the whole school.
There are currently two experienced Home Economics teachers in the school and there is very strong evidence of a collaborative approach to the organisation and planning of the subject. Management is supportive of collaborative planning and some formal time is made available during the school year for subject department meetings; however, the teachers also meet very regularly throughout the year in their own time. The subject meetings are minuted and this process informs ongoing planning; the diagnostic window is also used to review progress in the subject from year to year. This very good practice is commended. Planning for the subject is at a very advanced stage and the home economics department is commended for the significant amount of work and commitment involved in this process. A comprehensive subject policy document has been developed that includes details of the organisation, planning, teaching, learning and assessment of Home Economics in the school. It is noteworthy that subject planning takes cognisance of both the needs and the cultural contribution of the increasing number of students who attend the school from many countries around the world.
Detailed schemes of work have been developed for each year group and programme, and it is laudable that they are monitored and reviewed on an ongoing basis. Commendably they are syllabus-based and provide a very clear outline of the course content to be covered, over the relevant junior or senior cycle, on a week-by-week basis. The schemes are coherent and indicate a developmental framework to support students in building on knowledge, understanding and skills. There is clear evidence of the appropriate integration of theory with the relevant practical coursework and homework activities and past examination questions have been identified for a wide range of topics. In some sections of the schemes, learning outcomes have been outlined under specific topics. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all topics so that the focus is always on what the students should attain in terms of knowledge, understanding and skills as appropriate. It might also be useful to add an extra column to the tabulated schemes so that a note could be kept of particularly useful resources and methodologies that are used to support teaching and learning for specific topics; this could be done on a phased basis.
A very good range of commercial resources has been collected to support the teaching and learning of the subject and it is noted that the resources are carefully catalogued and shared among the teachers; this is good practice. In addition, the teachers have developed an excellent range of resource materials, using ICT, including worksheets, handouts, overhead transparencies and a variety of test materials, on a range of syllabus topics. These have been appropriately tailored for specific year groups and the development of materials for students with special educational needs has been prioritised.
In all of the classes visited, there was evidence of very good advance planning and preparation. Lessons had a clear focus, were well structured and the good practice of sharing the learning objectives with the students was noted. Continuity with previous lessons was maintained by the use of questioning to check learning and understanding, by linking lesson content with previous knowledge and through the integration of theory with the relevant practical work. Such good practice is commended. A nice balance was also achieved in linking learning both to everyday life and to the requirements of the examinations.
There was very good evidence of high quality teaching and learning, characterised by clear teacher instruction, the effective use of a range of appropriate resources and methodologies and a good balance between teacher input and student activity. Students responded positively to the range of teaching strategies used including, for example, brainstorming, pair work and group work, problem solving activities, practical work, worksheets, feedback and discussion on the results of research conducted by students in advance of lessons, and the creative use of mnemonics and anagrams to help students remember difficult concepts. This resulted in a stimulating learning environment, where students engaged actively with the learning process and independent learning was fostered. Commendably in all lessons, emphasis was placed on the development and reinforcement of essential subject-specific vocabulary. Good use was also made of the whiteboard, the overhead projector and the textbook. Questioning was generally well used and most lessons contained a combination of questions that required recall of knowledge and open questions where students were challenged to analyse and apply the information from the theme of the lesson. This good practice is commended, as it helps students develop the higher order thinking skills that underline the assessment objectives of the Home Economics syllabus, particularly in senior cycle. Questions from students were also welcomed.
The practical lesson observed was very well managed with an appropriate focus on both teaching and learning. It was clear that students have been well trained in the correct procedures for the operation of a practical lesson and appropriate emphasis was placed on the correct use of equipment and appliances as well as the maintenance of high standards in hygiene and safety. The development of skills was facilitated by a staged approach where clear instructions and the explanation and demonstration of key processes occurred at appropriate stages in the lesson. Students were constantly challenged and encouraged to reach a high standard in all aspects of the practical work and in the evaluation of the food, with the teacher providing tips for success along the way. The very high standard of practical food and culinary skills observed during the evaluation is applauded.
An examination of students’ copybooks, tests, practical work, project work and practical coursework journals provided evidence of very good progress in their work. The use of a simple worksheet to introduce first years to part of the design brief process in practical cookery class is commended. It is recommended that this process be further developed in second and third year so that students are very au-fait with the process, in preparation for the food and culinary skills examination for Junior Certificate.
The display of a range of educational posters and students’ project work in the classrooms provides a print-rich and stimulating learning environment. Classroom management was efficient and students responded positively to the firm and challenging, but very encouraging and affirming manner of the teachers. Observation of classroom activities and interaction with students indicates a positive approach and an enthusiasm for Home Economics on the part of students and their teachers.
It is evident that careful attention is given to the planning of assessment and the monitoring of students’ work. Commendably, common examination papers are used for the formal in-house examinations. Teachers are commended for the use of a variety of assessment modes, including the assessment of practical and project work, which reflect the assessment objectives of the syllabus. There was good evidence of the systematic recording of the results of both formal and informal assessments. This is useful in profiling students’ progress in the subject. Results are communicated to parents on a regular basis.
An inspection of teachers’ planning documents, students’ copybooks and students’ tests and assessments indicates clearly that very effective use is made of questions from past papers in the State examinations, throughout all stages of junior cycle and senior cycle. This is commendable as students develop competence in the application of knowledge, they become more familiar with the style and layout of examination questions as well as developing good examination techniques. There was some very good evidence of the marking of questions and tests using similar marking criteria to what is used in the State examinations. It is clear that the students are benefiting from the teacher’s experience in this area. It is also noteworthy that the marks awarded for tests and homework questions were accompanied by some very good assessment for learning practices where helpful teacher comments provided students with affirmation and, where necessary, with suggestions for development. Further information on assessment for learning is available on the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie).
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 deputy principal and 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
With regard to the comment “that participation rates at higher level are sometimes low”, the teachers felt that this comment did not allow for the range of ability, social background and linguistic skills of the students opting for H.E., some of whom did not study Home Economics at Junior Cert Level.
We were pleased with the very fair and favourable evaluation. It is encouraging to read that the “very high standard of practical food and culinary skills observed during the evaluation is applauded” and that there was “very good evidence of high quality teaching and learning”.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
As a priority Management did address the issue of first year students missing their practical lessons on Mondays due to involvement in SCP. This practice was discontinued with immediate effect. The present second and third year design brief process, in cookery class will be reviewed.