An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Jobstown Community College
Tallaght, Dublin 24
Roll number: 70141N
Date of inspection: 26 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Jobstown 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 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 the home economics team. 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 enjoys a high profile in Jobstown Community College. The uptake of Home Economics amongst the male student cohort is particularly noteworthy.
Home Economics is an optional subject in the junior and senior cycle curriculum. The mechanism for subject selection is student-centred and good efforts are made to accommodate student choices. In the first term a short taster programme operates to allow first-year students to sample each subject on the option bands for three weeks. This commendable practice facilitates a more informed subject choice and is instrumental in reducing gender bias in relation to subject choice. Junior cycle uptake of Home Economics is very good and there is a commendable gender balance in each Junior Certificate Home Economics class.
Senior-cycle students select the established Leaving Certificate programme or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. Students are supported and advised on their programme and subject choices through the school’s guidance programme, as well as advice from each subject teacher. It is laudable that option pools are generated from student preferences and that every effort is made to cater for the requests of all students. Hotel, Catering and Tourism is a vibrant vocational specialism in LCA. Uptake of Leaving Certificate Home Economics has varied in recent years as it is dependent firstly on the number of students who select the Leaving Certificate programme, and then on the number who select Home Economics. There is currently no Leaving Certificate Home Economics class in sixth year as the number of students who chose Home Economics was too small to create a viable class. Uptake of Home Economics in fifth year is good. The home economics team is commended for their efforts in this regard. This situation needs to be monitored closely. The home economics team, in consultation with management, is encouraged to continue to explore strategies to promote the subject for Leaving Certificate.
There is a very good level of provision for Home Economics. Teaching time allocated to classes is in line with syllabus recommendations and generally demonstrates a very good spread of lessons throughout the week. This practice facilitates effective continuity in teaching and learning. However, in instances where classes meet their teachers for two lessons each week, they should not be timetabled over two consecutive days as this arrangement results in a gap of almost one week between lessons.
An experienced, committed and caring approach is evident in the teaching and learning of Home Economics. There are two home economics teachers in the school and it is commendable that teachers retain their assigned class groups through the junior and senior cycle programmes if possible. The position of subject co-ordinator, which is voluntary, alternates between the teachers. This is good practice to share the workload and to allow each member of the team to assume a leadership role in the continued development of the subject in the school. Management facilitates subject department planning through the provision of formal planning time on a regular basis throughout the academic year.
The home economics team displays a commendable commitment to continuous professional development (CPD). Members of the teaching team have some past experience in marking the certificate examinations. Teachers are interested in participating in the marking of the practical examinations in Home Economics. This very good practice is encouraged as the experience gained impacts very positively on the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics. Management is requested to facilitate this practice where feasible.
Whole-school support for the subject is very good. The two specialist rooms are well maintained and resourced with a range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. Additional resources are allocated by teacher requisition and management is supportive of requests made for additional equipment and materials. It is commendable that the home economics team plan for the systematic upgrading of small items of equipment. This good practice ensures that resources are upgraded on a phased basis. The current plans to upgrade the stock of saucepans should be pursued, as resources permit. It was noted positively that an arrangement is in place where the cost of materials for Home Economics is subsidised by the school who in turn provide the ingredients for practical lessons. This highly commendable student-centred initiative supports maximum engagement with the subject and effectively optimises students’ learning.
Good provision is made in Home Economics for students with special education needs. Special needs assistants attend classes where appropriate. If feasible, small class groups are generated. A second teacher is deployed as a resource teacher to some home economics classes to provide additional individualised support to students. This strategy is commended as a means of maximising the inclusion of all students in lessons.
There is considerable interest in developing the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. There is a dedicated computer with Internet access in the home economics department. The provision of a dedicated printer should be considered, if resources permit. Specific actions to develop the potential of ICT have been identified by the home economics team. These actions include the uploading of home economics materials on line for the students and the purchasing of a digital camera for the department. The home economics team, in consultation with management, should pursue these worthwhile initiatives.
There is a whole-school health and safety policy. It is commendable that staff members are invited to feed into a review of the specialist rooms. It was evident from the minutes of subject department meetings that the home economics team regularly review the health and safety issues in the specialist rooms. The arrangement of the flexes at the back of the kitchen merits attention at the next review stage.
Good progress is being made in the development of a subject department plan. A systematic and reflective approach is evident in the manner by which the work of the department is organised. Good use is made of the planning templates produced by the Home Economics Support Service (HESS) to progress a subject plan for Home Economics. An agenda is prepared and minutes are taken for each planning meeting. The minutes of the meetings are recorded under the headings topic, action and outcome. This very good practice has ensured that there is good follow-up between meetings. It was also noted that the home economics team carry out a regular SCOT analysis of Home Economics in the school. This very useful self-evaluative tool has ensured that an informed and pro-active approach is taken to the continued development of Home Economics. Key priorities identified for action include the further integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of Home Economics, and devising a module for the proposed Transition Year programme (TY) that is being considered by the school. In the context of future planning, it is recommended that the home economics team review the operation of the book scheme for Home Economics. At present in first and second year students’ textbooks are retained and used only in classes. This must present some challenges for first-year and second-year students in completing homework activities.
Schemes of work have been developed for all year groups. While each scheme was originally based on a collaborative plan, each teacher has further developed the plans to suit the needs of individual class groups. Some good practice was evident in the schemes reviewed. The number of class periods allocated to each unit of work was clarified. While separate plans for theory and practical work were provided, it was clear that there was some good integration of theory with practice. To build on the good practice already evident, it is recommended that collaborative plans for all year groups be developed on a phased basis. Each collaborative plan should outline students’ knowledge and understanding in terms of expected learning outcomes. The lesson content of all plans should be sequenced in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in home economics syllabuses and promotes the incremental progression of knowledge and skills. Information on suitable teaching and learning strategies and resources should also be included. This work should be completed on a phased basis and monitored regularly, perhaps one junior and one senior cycle plan per year. Individual teachers will still have the flexibility to adjust the schemes to suit individual class groups.
In reviewing the Junior Certificate plan it is recommended that particular attention be given to reviewing the implementation of the core textiles section. Planning for core textiles should provide students with opportunities to complete stages of the design brief process. If students completed a simple design brief folder in tandem with the items made in first and second year, they would have opportunities to build up skills in the analysis, implementation and evaluation of a task. This would be very good preparation for the certificate examinations. Planning for the completion of the optional study coursework also needs attention to ensure that students have this work completed at an earlier stage in third year.
A good range of resources has been collected for use in the home economics department. This is good practice as home economics syllabuses necessitate access to updated information for students and teachers. It is commendable that the home economics department plays an active role in the extra-curricular and co-curricular programme in Jobstown Community College.
All lessons had a clear focus. It is commendable that in all instances the aim of the lesson was shared with the students, though at times there was scope to adjust the pace and pitch of lessons to maximise students’ learning. In order to augment students’ learning, it is recommended that clear, concise learning outcomes are developed for each lesson. When planning the sequence of the learning outcomes it is important to be mindful of students’ needs and relevant syllabus requirements. These outcomes, if shared with the students from the outset of the lesson, will scaffold the lesson structure and enable students to have a clear focus throughout the lesson. This good practice could also be used to consolidate learning and facilitate students’ self-evaluation of work covered in each lesson.
A range of teaching strategies was observed in the lessons visited. Teachers displayed very good subject knowledge and students’ understanding was greatly enhanced in instances where deliberate efforts were made to link the new subject matter being taught with previous learning or with students’ own experiences. This technique proved highly effective in engaging students with the lesson content. Some very good use was made of the classroom board and visual aids to simplify key points of information to enhance students’ understanding. Best practice was observed in instances where students were provided with opportunities to reflect on this information and record key points into their copybooks. Such very good practice is encouraged further. Questioning strategies were used to assess students’ recall and understanding of lesson content. Some very good use was made of questioning techniques that challenged students to analyse and apply the information being discussed in the lesson. This very good practice enables students to develop the higher-order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of the home economics syllabuses. Questioning strategies proved most effective in lessons where there was an appropriate balance of global and directed questions in order to eliminate students’ tendency to chorus answer and to assess individual levels of student knowledge and understanding.
Good practice was observed in the planning of practical lessons in food studies. All the lessons observed were based on the completion of a task rather than solely on the making of a dish. This highly-commendable strategy complements the rationale underpinning home economics syllabuses. Good routines are established for practical lessons. The ‘stepped approach’ evident on the students’ handout is a very useful tool to clarify the procedures for the preparation and cooking of the dish. Students demonstrated a good ability to work independently and in pairs. They demonstrated a good standard of culinary skills, given their level of experience and expertise. There was some good use of spot demonstrations to demonstrate key processes. The potential of this teaching strategy should be considered further as a means of refining and emphasising key food preparation techniques and reinforcing the application of theoretical knowledge to practical skills. This strategy also provides opportunities to remind students of the relevant safety and hygiene routines. To build on the good practices observed it is recommended, where feasible, that the evaluation stage of the task is planned as an integral component of the lesson to assist students in the developing of the higher-order skills of evaluating a complete task. This would prove very useful to students as they prepare for the practical examinations.
Planned learning activities were well managed with a very good rapport evident in all the lessons observed. Pupil participation was warmly encouraged and affirmed. The practice of the teacher moving around the room during lessons ensured that students had an additional opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive structure. It was also noted that the special needs assistants also provide a valuable level of appropriate support to students. The home economics team is commended for the efforts taken to enhance the learning environment of the specialist rooms with colourful displays of posters and relevant newspaper articles. The safety notices in the kitchen and textiles rooms are particularly noteworthy.
In general students are making good progress in Home Economics. Observation of students’ notebooks indicated some good progress in their work. The LCA folders are particularly noteworthy. However, there was significant variation in the quality of some of the other notebooks observed. It was reported that a number of whole-school issues particularly in relation to levels of absenteeism and non-compliance with classroom routines regarding the use of textbooks and notebooks can hinder progress. The school is actively seeking ways to address this situation and is commended for the progress made to date. At subject department level the home economics team should review the system for student notebooks. They should continue to explore ways that would encourage students to keep a notebook that includes key points of information covered in theoretical and practical lessons, and that would facilitate the systematic storage of any handouts and worksheets distributed in class. The resulting notebook would prove an excellent tool for ease of reference for student revision and the completion of homework assignments.
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student achievements and to provide feedback in Home Economics. These include oral questioning, class tests and the on-going observation and monitoring of practical coursework. It was reported that non-compliance in relation to written homework activities was presenting a significant challenge for the home economic teachers. The completion of homework assignments is very valuable to consolidate classroom learning. In addition the monitoring of such work provides teachers with additional opportunities to include positive, formative comments in copybooks which are a helpful means of guiding students on how to improve their written work. This is a whole-school issue that may be best addressed through reviewing the effectiveness of the current whole-school policy on homework. At subject department level it is recommended that the home economics department devise a homework policy for Home Economics. Particular attention should be given to ensuring that the range of homework activities assigned provides all students with regular opportunities to develop skills in the wide range of question styles typical of the certificate examinations in Home Economics. Strategies to address students’ non-compliance with homework should be considered. For instance, in cases of serious non-compliance, consideration could be given to developing further in-class opportunities for students to complete work which can then be taken up and monitored. The practice of not allowing first or second year students take home the text book needs to be considered carefully. It is essential that students have adequate information to empower them to complete homework exercises.
Very good records of students’ progress are maintained in teachers’ journals. This good practice helps to build a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over time and provides a useful evidence base when providing advice on examination levels to students and parents. Information on students’ progress is provided to parents at parent-teacher meetings and through the provision of written reports. The school places a strong focus on positive reinforcement and rewarding students’ efforts. A range of postcards which were designed by students have been printed. The home economics team is encouraged to use this mechanism as an additional reward to acknowledge students’ achievement.
A commendable system of summative assessment operates for the in-house examinations in Home Economics. Grades awarded to students at key times of the year comprise an aggregate mark which reflects students’ achievement in the relevant practical coursework components. This good practice mirrors the arrangements for the certificate examinations and can be a reliable indicator of students’ progress in Home Economics.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics enjoys a high profile in Jobstown Community College. The gender balance evident in all home economics classes is particularly noteworthy.
· The mechanism for subject selection is student-centred and good efforts are made to accommodate student choice.
· An experienced, committed and caring approach is evident in the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
· The student-centred approach evident in the manner by which the ingredients are provided for practical lessons is highly commendable.
· There is a very good level of provision and whole-school support for Home Economics.
· Good provision is made in Home Economics for students with special education needs.
· There is considerable interest in developing the potential of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
· Good progress is being made in the development of a subject department plan. A systematic and reflective approach is evident in the manner in which the work of the department is organised.
· There was good advance planning and preparation for the lessons observed. The advance preparation of a number of additional resources facilitated students’ learning.
· Planned learning activities were well managed with a very good rapport evident in all the lessons observed.
· A commendable system of summative assessment operates for the in-house examinations in Home Economics.
· The school places a strong focus on positive reinforcement and rewarding students’ efforts. A laudable range of original postcards have been printed by the school to acknowledge student achievement.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Collaborative plans that outline students’ expected knowledge and understanding in terms of expected learning outcomes should be developed on a phased basis. Each plan should be sequenced in a manner that reflects the integrated and coherent approach to the incremental progression of knowledge and skills.
· Planning for the Junior Certificate core textiles and optional study should be reviewed.
· Clear and concise learning outcomes should be shared with students from the outset of each lesson as a means of augmenting students’ learning.
· A homework policy should be developed for Home Economics.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the home economics team and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published , September 2008