An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

 

 

Subject Inspection of Home Economics

REPORT

 

 

Coláiste Dhúlaigh,

Coolock, Dublin 17

Roll Number: 70330Q

 

 

 

Date of inspection: 10 November 2006

Date of issue of report:  22 February 2007

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Dhúlaigh, Coolock, Dublin 17. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Home Economics is a very popular subject in Coláiste Dhúlaigh. The subject is an integral part in all curricular programmes offered in the school. Of particular note is the fact that the subject remains equally popular among the male and female student cohort. The home economics team is commended for their efforts in this regard

 

It is commendable that all students have the opportunity to study Home Economics. A system of banding is in operation in junior cycle. Students who are in the top band are offered Home Economics as an optional subject and a variety of supports is in place to support students in making their subject choices. There is a transfer programme for incoming first-year students. In addition to an open day, sixth class students from the feeder schools have the opportunity to visit the school for a morning to sample optional subjects. In September a short taster programme enables students to sample each subject on the option bands for two weeks. This provides additional opportunities to make informed subject choices. Such practices are commendable. However, it is important to review periodically the length of time given over to the taster programme to ensure that students have enough time to get a true flavour of each subject so that the full benefits of this initiative are enjoyed by students. Home Economics is a core subject for classes in the middle band and within the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP).

 

In senor cycle all transition year students have the opportunity to study a module in Home Economics. For the Leaving Certificate, students select the established Leaving Certificate programme or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) Programme. Students are supported and advised on programme and subject choices through the school’s guidance programme, as well as advice from year heads, class tutors and subject teachers. It is commendable that option pools are generated from student preferences and that every effort is made to cater for the requests of all students. It is laudable that Hotel, Catering and Tourism and Child and Community Care are offered as vocational specialisms in LCA. This ensures that students who took Home Economics for their Junior Certificate and progress into LCA can build on the knowledge and skills already developed in junior cycle.  

There are four home economics teachers in the school and a high level of co-operation and mutual support is evident. The teaching team is supported by a home economics assistant who provides valuable support in the maintenance of the specialist rooms and in the provision of materials for food studies practicals. The co-ordination of department work forms part of a special-duties post. It is laudable that formal planning time is provided by management as part of the calendar of staff meetings and that an agenda is provided and minutes recorded for each meeting. The home economics team arranges additional meetings as the need arises. This level of commitment to collaborative planning is very praiseworthy. There is strong commitment to on-going CPD evident among the teaching team. In addition, members of the team have a variety of experience in the marking of the certificate examinations in junior and senior cycle. It is obvious that the experience gained contributes positively to the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics.

 

There is good whole-school support for Home Economics. The school has two specialist rooms with an interconnecting preparation area. The specialist rooms have recently undergone major refurbishment and are finished to a very high standard. Resources are allocated on the basis of teacher requisition and management is supportive of requests made for updating or replacing equipment. As a further support for students, ingredients for food studies and basic textiles materials are supplied by the school. This is commendable practice.

 

In general the teaching tine allocated to classes is in line with syllabus recommendations. While recognising the contextual factors that exist in relation to timetabling, it is recommended that for the future the time allocated to fifth year home economics classes should be in line with the recommendations set out in the Leaving Certificate Home Economics (Scientific and Social) syllabus to ensure that there is sufficient time to cover all areas of course content.   Teaching time allocated to classes in junior cycle is in line with syllabus recommendations; however, consideration could be given to reviewing how this time is arranged into double and single periods. Consideration might be given to extending the arrangement of one double and two single periods per week to all junior cycle classes in the interest of creating a more even spread of class contact time throughout the week. The additional opportunities created for class contact time is also advantageous as double class periods for theoretical lessons can be very demanding on students.

 

High priority is placed on health and safety in Coláiste Dhúlaigh. There is a whole-school health and safety policy that includes specific information for working in the home economics rooms. This policy is currently being reviewed and updated and a member of the home economics team is on the school’s health and safety committee. It is laudable that the specialist rooms are checked on a regular basis and any necessary work is reported. 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 safety notices are clearly displayed at each cooker in the kitchen. A copy of the health and safety policy for Home Economics should be included in the subject department folder.

 

There is considerable interest in developing the potential of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics and some very effective use of ICT was evident during the course of the evaluation. It is commendable that ICT facilities are about to be installed in the home economics department. 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 further. Useful addresses are available on the Home Economics Support Service website at www.homeeconomics.ie

Very good provision is made for students with special education needs. Small classes are established where feasible and special needs assistants attend classes where appropriate. The school is commended for providing the resources during the mock examinations that reflect the reasonable accommodation that candidates may expect in the certificate examinations. This commendable practice can significantly improve the learning outcomes for students and boost their confidence and self-esteem as they prepare to sit the certificate examinations. Of particular note is the collaborative effort and time given by the home economics teaching team to devise worksheets and develop appropriate learning strategies to support students with special educational needs.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

The home economics department is well organised. The co-ordinator, in consultation with senior management and the home economics teachers, oversees the allocation of specialist rooms, the organisation of ingredients for practicals and the purchase of resources for the department. There is a sense of a very committed and collegial subject department team. The formal planning time allocated by management is used to discuss programmes of work, student progress and plan for resources. It is evident from the minutes of department meetings that a collaborative approach underpins many aspects of this work and this is commended.

 

Programmes of work have been devised for each year group. These programmes were developed at different times, using a variety of templates and consequently there is some variation in the level of detail included. Several commendable features are evident in the plans made available during the course of the inspection. It is praiseworthy that the junior cycle programme of work is presented in a manner that integrates theoretical knowledge with practical skills and that time is included for revision and assessment. The content is generally listed as main topics but on occasion details of specific learning outcomes for certain topics are included. This good practice is to be encouraged. It was noted positively that, in planning for the JCSP, the content covered is clearly linked to the learning targets and statements that are subsequently included in the students’ Profile Handbook. Dedicated time is also allocated to cross-curricular projects. These good practices are in keeping with the rationale underpinning the JSCP. Senior cycle plans outline a list of topics that will be covered in each term. It is laudable that the LCA plans include some information on the resources and teaching strategies that will be used in the delivery of lessons.

 

The introduction of the design brief process from an early stage in first year is a commendable feature of the strategies deployed in the delivery of the Junior Certificate programme in Home Economics. This enables students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation and provides opportunities to integrate theory and practice.

 

Subject planning by its nature will always be work in progress and, as such, will always demonstrate room for advancement and revision. To build on the good practices already evident, it is recommended that all programmes of work be amended and developed to include information such as specific timeframes for the delivery of each topic and details on student learning outcomes in terms of expected knowledge and understanding. Information on suitable methodologies for the planned work and the identification of appropriate resources and homework assignments for each area should also be included. This work should be implemented on a phased basis, taking, for example, one junior and one senior year group per annum. Further advice on planning a programme of work in Home Economics is available in the NCCA Guidelines for Teachers for the revised Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus. The Home Economics Support Service also provides advice on programme planning at www.homeeconomics.ie

 

It is further recommended as part of the annual review of the programme plans, that the home economics team collectively assess the effectiveness of the teaching and learning strategies used in the delivery of lesson content. Consideration could also be given to the use of differentiation to support further diverse student learning needs. An example of this would be using differentiated worksheets or assignments where the task could be extended or reduced according to students’ ability. Teachers are also encouraged to continue to explore and share successful strategies for managing effective learning.

 

A range of planned cross-curricular and co-curricular activities enhances the home economics programme in the school. Cross-curricular planning is an integral part of the LCA programme and of JCSP Home Economics. Student achievement is commemorated through on-going displays of student work and at annual school events such as the JSCP Christmas party. Student learning is extended beyond the classrooms through a range of planned activities such as visits to the library or local businesses to fulfil the coursework requirements in some curricular programmes. These practices are highly commended as they broaden students’ knowledge and skills, increase their self-esteem and confidence and enhance their enjoyment of Home Economics.

 

The teaching team has collected and developed a range of handouts and worksheets for lessons and it is commendable that these materials are shared among the teaching team. Coursework requirements in Home Economics necessitate access to updated information and students should be encouraged to engage in independent and reflective research. Therefore, it is recommended that consideration be given, where resources permit, to the development of 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. This exposure to a print-rich environment can also contribute to the continued development of student literacy skills. To complement this initiative, the home economics team should carry out a review of the existing stock of reference books to establish any resource needs that have arisen from the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

The quality of short-term planning for all lessons observed was good. The advance preparation and sourcing of appropriate resource materials enhanced the learning outcomes for the students in the lessons observed. Lessons were generally well paced and structured. However, attention should be given to the pacing and sequencing of lesson content in cases where new concepts that students find difficult to grasp are being introduced.

 

All lessons had a clear focus and the commendable practice of sharing the aim of the lesson with students was noted. In one instance, this strategy was enhanced by the development of specific learning outcomes that were clearly explained to students. These were displayed on the whiteboard and were referred to at various stages throughout the lesson. These outcomes scaffolded the lesson structure and enabled students to maintain a clear focus throughout the lesson. This good practice is encouraged further as a strategy that would allow students to consolidate their learning and facilitate the self-evaluation of work covered in the lesson.

Teachers demonstrated a commendable concern for students’ understanding of lesson content and explanations were generally very clear. Some good use was made of brainstorming exercises to stimulate interest and establish students’ prior knowledge and experiences of the new topics being introduced. Students were given adequate time to take the information into their notebooks. This is good practice. Specific areas that related to the topic being taught were effectively integrated into some lessons. This very good practice is encouraged as junior and senior cycle syllabuses in Home Economics recommend that the content is taught within a framework that integrates related elements and processes. There was some good reinforcing and checking of students’ understanding of the key terminology and technical language of the topics being taught. An extension of this strategy was evident in one of the home economics kitchens where clearly labelled photographs illustrating some key food preparation processes were displayed on colourful posters. This is commendable practice as it can help students to develop the necessary literacy skills in preparation for the written examinations.

 

Questioning was used to elicit students’ prior experiences and check understanding of the topic being taught. On occasion, questioning strategies challenged students to think more deeply about the topic under discussion by requiring them to apply the information or link it to other related topics. This is good practice and its wider use is encouraged in order to develop the higher order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of home economics syllabuses. Questioning strategies proved most effective when students were requested to raise their hands before a respondent was chosen and where the questions were directed to individual students. Such practices proved effective in monitoring individual levels of student knowledge and understanding and avoided chorus answering.

 

Many good examples of active learning were observed during the course of the evaluation. This is very praiseworthy as activities like group work, pair work, discussion or case studies can encourage student collaboration and co-operation and enable them to reinforce and apply the learning that took place in the lesson. Particularly impressive was a case study activity that challenged students while working in groups to apply the information covered in the lesson. On another occasion, students worked successfully in pairs to distribute, conduct and analyse a questionnaire. In a number of lessons the worksheets used were particularly well designed in actively engaging students to reinforce and check their understanding of the material covered. Such activities reflect the teaching strategies recommended in home economics syllabuses. However, particular attention should be given to ensuring that students have adequate prior background information to ensure that such activities can be managed smoothly.

 

Leaner autonomy is encouraged in Home Economics. This was particularly evident in the LCA lessons observed where the appropriate balance of teacher input and student participation ensured that very good learning outcomes were achieved. Worksheets that enabled students to plan their tasks encouraged them to take responsibility for their own learning and fostered the development of personal time management skills. Some excellent use was made of ICT in one of the home economics lessons observed. Part of the lesson was held in the computer room where students use spreadsheets to present and analyse data from a questionnaire. Students were highly engaged in this project and demonstrated very good ICT skills.  

Effective use was made of praise to affirm student progress in all lessons. Classroom management in most lessons was very good. There was a good rapport and, in general, a high level of mutual respect was evident. Teacher movement around the room gave students the opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive structure. However, in a small number of lessons a significant amount of teacher time was taken up dealing with a minority of students who engaged in low-level disruptive behaviour such as incessant chatter, inattention and inappropriate calling out. This impacted negatively on the quality of learning in the lessons concerned. Teachers are commended for the calm and sensitive manner displayed in dealing with these issues as they arose. Of particular note was the effective use made of the school’s code of behaviour, including the constructive use of the ladder of referral and the use of the student journal to provide positive feedback on improved behaviour. The home economics teaching team should collaboratively continue to explore and share strategies for the effective management of planned learning activities. Particular attention could be given to the seating arrangements in some classrooms. However, improving student behaviour is a whole-school issue and it is important that the whole staff continue to discuss and support each other in the consistent implementation of strategies for managing low-level disruptive behaviour in classrooms.  

 

The physical environment of the specialist rooms was enhanced by displays of educational posters and student project work. Such practices are highly praiseworthy as they help to stimulate student interest and promote a sense of student ownership and responsibility for the creation of a stimulating learning environment. Of particular note were the notices displayed on the walls of the specialist rooms that encourage a collective student-teacher responsibility and ownership of the rooms in an effort to ensure that rooms are maintained to a high standard.

 

 

Assessment

 

A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student progress in Home Economics. This includes oral questioning, homework assignments, class tests and the continuous monitoring of coursework. Very good use is made of past papers from the certificate examinations in drafting class tests and in-house examinations. The good practice of providing the breakdown of marks for each part of the question was noted on some examination papers. This practice is encouraged as a means of developing students’ exam techniques in areas such as the interpretation of marking schemes, depth of treatment and time management.  It is good to note that, in addition to the written examination papers, students are assessed on aspects of home economics coursework such as the practical food and culinary skills component at junior cycle. This practice reflects the assessment objectives of the syllabuses and the provision of an aggregate assessment mark is a more accurate indicator of a student’s actual ability in the subject.

 

In order to build up a profile of students’ progress over time, records of class tests, coursework and attendance are recorded systematically in the teachers’ journals. This information can prove useful when providing advice on examination levels to students and parents. In-house examinations are held at Christmas and in summer. Students preparing for the certificate examinations sit mock examinations during the second term. Student progress is communicated to parents or guardians through written reports and at parent-teacher meetings. During the course of the evaluation it was reported that it is difficult to encourage students to take the higher level option for the Junior Certificate Examination in Home Economics. Non-attendance can also be an obstacle in relation to completing coursework which is a mandatory part of various home economics syllabuses. Further consideration should be given to devising strategies that, in the medium term, would judiciously increase student aspirations and result in a larger cohort of students opting to take the higher level option for the Junior Certificate Examination in Home Economics, while at the same time keeping in mind student abilities.

 

Currently there is no whole-school homework policy. It is intended to discuss the development of such a policy during this academic year. Homework was regularly assigned in the lessons observed and some very good practice was evident with regard to the monitoring of homework and class tests. In some instances exemplar answers were provided for class tests to indicate the differences in the depth of treatment expected in various question styles. Useful teacher comments in some copybooks and examination scripts provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. These good practices encourage students to reflect on their work and highlight areas for improvement.  They are illustrative of some of the principles that underpin Assessment for Learning (AfL). To build on the practices already evident, it is recommended that a homework policy for Home Economics is developed by the teaching team. This policy should include details on the type and regularity of homework assigned to junior and senior cycle classes. Particular attention should be given to avoiding an over-reliance on homework activities that solely assess recall and understanding of information. Occasionally homework should also encourage the higher order skills of analysis, interpretation and application of information. Teachers should consider how best to balance the amount of homework assigned with the provision of constructive feedback to students that affirms the work that is well done and highlights areas for development. Particular emphasis should be placed on developing further the AfL practices already discussed in the correction of student work. Further information on AfL is available on the NCCA website at www.ncca.ie. The effectiveness of this policy should be reviewed on a regular basis. This level of planning will contribute positively to overall school development planning initiatives in this area.

 

Observation of student copybooks and folders indicated some good progression in work and, in some instances, there was evidence that the guidelines issued to classes regarding the maintenance of notebooks and homework copybooks are working well. However, there are various systems for student notebooks in operation across the home economics department and there was some variation in the quality of student work, particularly with regard to the maintenance of notebooks. It is recommended that the home economics team review the modus operandi for the maintenance of student notebooks. This review should include the development of a system that would encourage students to incorporate the worksheets, handouts and evaluation sheets used in lessons into their notebooks. This would prove a useful revision aid to students.

 

Observation of some students’ recent and current project work in the areas of Craft and Design indicated a good level of competence in the organisation and presentation of materials and in the appropriate craft 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.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • Home Economics is popular and well-established subject in Coláiste Dhúlaigh. It is an integral part of all curricular programmes offered in the school.

  • The specialist rooms are very well maintained and resourced.

  • Health and safety is given high priority in the home economics department.

  • There is considerable interest in developing the potential of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. Some very effective use of ICT was evident in the teaching and learning observed.

  • Very good provision is made for students with special education needs.

  • The strong commitment to on-going CPD evident among the home economics team contributes positively to the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics.

  • There is a sense of a very committed and collegial subject department team.

  • Formal subject planning is underway and many commendable features are evident in the programmes of work that were made available during the course of the inspection.

  • All the lessons observed had a clear focus and a commendable concern was shown for students’ understanding of the topic to ensure that successful learning outcomes were achieved.

  • Active learning is a central feature of the teaching strategies employed in home economics lessons.

  • A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student progress in Home Economics.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

  • All programmes of work should be developed on a phased basis, as outlined in the report.

  • As part of the review of programme plans, the home economics team should collectively assess the effectiveness of the teaching and learning strategies used in the delivery of the lesson content.

  • Consideration should be given, where resources permit, to the development of a resource library for Home Economics in one of the specialist rooms.

  • A homework policy should be developed for Home Economics. 

 

 

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.