An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Macroom, County Cork
Roll number: 71030J
Date of inspection: 13 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in McEgan College, Macroom. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning 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 and subject 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.
Home Economics is firmly rooted in the curriculum offered in McEgan College. This is due in no small way to the fact that all junior cycle students study Home Economics. In senior cycle in the college, Home Economics is offered as an optional subject. Uptake levels in the subject amongst the current fifth-year and sixth-year students are impressively high, demonstrating levels that surpass national averages. It is positive to note that, in addition to the relatively large number of girls opting to study Home Economics in senior cycle, a quite significant number of boys also choose Home Economics as an optional subject for the Leaving Certificate examination.
Students’ access to the subject is enhanced significantly by the fact that Home Economics is a compulsory subject in first, second and third year. In senior cycle, the fact that all Transition Year (TY) students are timetabled for a double period of Home Economics is also very favourable. Initially, prospective fifth-year students are given an open choice when deciding the optional subjects they wish to study to Leaving Certificate level. The outcomes of this determine how the subject blocks are eventually organised. This system of subject choice, which is based on student preferences, is applauded. Home economics students are encouraged by their teachers to aim for high academic standards and are successful in the pursuit of this goal.
Home Economics is well supported and provided for in the college. Timetabling of the subject is quite satisfactory. Sufficient time, which is consistent with syllabus recommendations, is allocated to the teaching of the subject in junior and senior cycle. In general, students’ contact with the subject is nicely spread over the weekly timetable. This is further encouraged when timetabling the subject in the future. The provision of double periods facilitates students’ access to the practical components of both syllabuses. Currently, the teaching of sixth-year Home Economics is being shared between both members of the subject department. This is not ideal. The assurance provided by management on the day of the inspection that this is a rare and once-off occurrence, is welcomed. Future timetabling arrangements should strive to avoid this practice.
The college houses one kitchen, which is utilised for the delivery of all aspects of the syllabus, including practical work and theory. One of the walls in the room houses an alcove, into which is set an old, no longer operational, solid fuel cooker. This is a wonderful feature and a great asset of course to the delivery of certain facets of the home economics syllabuses. The preservation of this feature in the room is to be credited. In recent times, money provided by the parents’ association in the college has facilitated the partial refurbishment of the kitchen. The association’s role in this regard is noted and highly praised. Planning for the completion of the refurbishment is encouraged. Management’s attention is also directed to the floor covering in the room which does not provide for a non-slip surface. This needs to be addressed as a mater of priority. On a lesser point, consideration should also be given in time to the provision of blinds on the windows in the room. This would allow for a more effective use of technologies such as overhead and data projectors. When the refurbishment of the kitchen is complete, planning to enhance the equipment available for the textile section of the Junior Certificate syllabus should be prioritised. This is recommended in order to ensure that students have access to the resources required for the completion of a household item and a simple item of clothing, both of which are mandatory requirements of the junior cycle syllabus. One of the college’s information and communication technology (ICT) laboratories is positioned directly opposite the home economics kitchen. Access to this room for use in the delivery of the home economics syllabuses is reported to be very good. This is very positive. The fact that an internet access point has recently been installed in the kitchen and that teachers have access to a portable laptop computer and data projector, is also noted and praised. This is very favourable to the greater incorporation of ICT into the delivery of syllabus content.
A health and safety statement has been prepared by the home economics department. Teachers’ work in this regard has been supported by the provision of guidelines by the County Cork Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The statement, which is rather generic in nature, should be reviewed to take account of the actual kitchen in the college. This review should accommodate an identification of any hazards attached to working in the room, the degree of risk associated with each hazard and then the control measures that either need to be put in place or must be followed in order to reduce the likelihood of a hazard occurring. Classroom rules should find their basis in the outcomes of this review and the associated revised health and safety statement.
The home economics department has adopted a team approach to the co-ordination of subject department planning. This approach is working very well in the department in question. The size of the department, together with the high degree of collaboration that is apparent amongst it members, lends itself very well to this approach. The teachers are supported by management in this task through the provision of formal meeting time, approximately three times during the school year. Members of the home economics department also meet informally on a very regular basis, as required. This additional commitment is noted and applauded. Agendas are set and minutes are maintained for each of the formal meetings held. It is recommended that this excellent practice be extended to the informal meetings.
A subject plan is being prepared by the department. Currently, a separate plan exists for junior and senior cycle class groups. It is recommended that the department merge these two plans into one complete document, as there is a lot of overlap in content between them. Time and energy would be better spent developing and enhancing an overall plan rather than maintaining two separate documents. The department is encouraged to revisit, on a regular basis, the SWOT (‘strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for development and threat’) analysis which has been carried out in the subject. The outcomes of this will help in the formulation of goals for the immediate and future development of Home Economics in McEgan College.
Programmes of work have been devised for each year group. It is good to note that these are time-bound and based on the syllabuses. They also, very commendably, provide space for teacher comment and evaluation following the completion of planned work. This informs the review of schemes, which is ongoing in the department. The detail in some of the schemes relating to methodologies, resources and homework is commended. The department is encouraged in its efforts in this regard and the continual expansion and development of these key areas is advocated. In time, schemes could be further enhanced through the inclusion of areas such as assessment and revision. It is strongly recommended that provision for the textile component of the junior cycle syllabus be reflected in the relevant schemes. A strengthening of the task-based approach to food studies work in junior cycle schemes of work is also advised. The scheme of work for the current sixth-year class should reflect the fact that it is being delivered by two teachers. This is something that needs to be addressed immediately. This will help to ensure that all concerned are very clear in relation to their obligations with regard to the work that needs to be covered. The home economics department, when revising and planning the schemes for the next school year, is asked to consider the advantages attached to delivering the fifth-year food studies tasks in conjunction with the relevant theory. The contents section of the TY scheme could provide for more detail with regard to planned work.
There was some evidence of planning for a fostering and development of cross-curricular links between Home Economics and other subjects offered on the curriculum in the college. Links between home economics and computer studies on occasions, for example, are well established. This practice is to be credited. The department is also encouraged to utilise opportunities that arise during lesson planning and delivery to link subject matter in Home Economics with that in other subjects such as Art, Business, Geography, History, Science and so on. This very natural cross-curricular linking of subject matter, as seen in one lesson, provides opportunities for the reinforcement of knowledge, skills and understanding developed in other curriculum areas, as well as increasing the relevance of present learning for students. References should, however, demonstrate more substance.
Planning for students with special education needs (SEN) is very much alive and well in the home economics department. Provision, for example, has been made for the splitting of some class groups. This helps to ensure a smaller student-teacher ratio. Special needs assistants (SNAs) are available as required. Strong lines of communication have been established with the SEN team in relation to the needs of individual students. Charts that had been prepared by teachers, and that reflected the ‘key word’ approach to new terms and concepts, were on display over the whiteboard in the kitchen. This approach is further encouraged. Planning for students with SEN has also been enhanced in recent times as a result of formal input received by teachers as part of whole-staff in-service days. To date these sessions have concentrated on providing for students with autism and dyspraxia. Areas such as differentiation and mixed-ability teaching have also been explored. Training in this area is on-going. Management is to be commended for the organisation of this type of continuing professional development for all staff in the college.
Lessons delivered on the day of the subject inspection were generally consistent with planned programmes of work. This is commended as good practice. Significant efforts were made in all lessons to link the new topic with recent or previous lessons. Students’ knowledge of related subject matter was used very cleverly in one lesson to introduce the topic of the day. In this instance, students were questioned with regard to the minerals they had previously studied. A discussion evolved around the different types of minerals and the foods that are recognised as good sources of the minerals. The dialogue between teacher and students culminated in a highlighting of each of the minerals’ functions. This provided a very good lead in to the lesson of the day, which focused on the teeth. This strategy was very beneficial as it revised work previously covered, while checking student learning of this information and enhanced the relevance of the planned lesson content for the students. This is but one example of good teaching that was observed on the day.
Lessons were very purposeful and the open sharing of the lesson purpose with the students as lessons began was effected in every lesson. The resources that were collected, organised and often prepared for each of the lessons observed, were indicative of the short-term planning that preceded lesson delivery. Resources used during topic exploration included: word searches, question sheets, note-making templates, handouts, ‘key word’ posters, samples of fruits, vegetables and other foods, kitchen equipment, a variety of packaging materials and dental products. The use of note-making templates is a strategy that is further encouraged. An exploration of mind-mapping approaches could also help in this regard.
Instruction provided to students was clear and accurate. A strong feature of all instruction was the contextualisation of information so as to make the topic more meaningful and relevant to the students in the class. This was achieved by drawing on students’ life experiences to introduce or explain a concept. The inspection took place during Seachtain na Gaeilge and teachers responded accordingly by providing the occasional few Irish words and sentences throughout lessons. This is to be credited.
Overall, lessons were well organised and structured. Information presented was generally suitably pitched. In one instance, however, it was felt that students could have been challenged further by increasing the volume of new work investigated with students. A range of strategies was incorporated by teachers into the delivery of lesson content. These included: whole-class instruction, textbook work, note-taking and note-making, brainstorming, the completion of worksheet activity both individually and in pairs, group work and the execution of teacher-led practical tasks. The majority of these called on the direct involvement of all students in the class. This approach, which reflects best practice, is highly praised. When planning for each activity undertaken with students, two factors should continue to guide and influence chosen exercises, the first being the purpose of the activity and the second being the intended learning outcome. At times some of the activities engaged in might have been better placed in the lesson. The whiteboard was utilised to great effect over the course of lessons to aid recap of work previously covered, to highlight the lesson’s key concepts and to plot lesson progress. This is praised.
The inclusion of a number of different visual stimuli in the delivery of all lessons was most impressive. These were used very effectively to reinforce the spoken or written word, to explain difficult concepts, to enhance attention levels and to make learning more interesting, more accessible and more fun. Such an approach is highly commended and therefore encouraged in all lessons. One lesson in particular, provided either a two-dimensional or three-dimensional visual for almost every key concept that the lesson was designed to teach students. As a result, this lesson, which focused on the preservation of food, a topic which students often find monotonous and tiresome, was extremely engaging. The level of thought that went into the planning of this lesson was significant. The result was excellent teaching that was accompanied by very notable student learning.
Students engaged in practical work demonstrated a strict adherence to established systems and practices. Students were well-informed in relation to assigned tasks and demonstrated a confidence in their own abilities. This was facilitated by good teaching during the lessons observed, as well as effective monitoring of student work. Significant efforts were made to link students’ practical work with related theory. This is commended and noted as excellent practice. In some instances attempts to achieve such links were really ambitious. This tended however, to stall or halt student progress rather than add to the learning experience. In order to minimise this effect, only the key and particularly relevant theory, that will perhaps, for example, add to students’ successful completion of an assigned task, should be discussed and highlighted with students. The delivery of this information should also be carefully considered so as to ensure maximum student attention levels and therefore maximum learning. On-spot demonstrations were used appropriately to bring students from one section of the lesson to the next. This could be a good time and place to provide a more focused linking of theory and practical work.
Students were questioned throughout lessons. This strategy was used very effectively. A nice balance was struck between the use of directed and global questions, with a significant percentage of students being included in the answering of questions posed. When required, teacher prompts helped some students to figure out the correct answers. In the main, students answered questions posed in a knowledgeable and competent manner. Students remained focused and attentive in all lessons.
The rapport that existed between teachers and students was very positive. Interactions were warm, friendly and respectful. Students were happy to contribute to class content either through the asking or answering of questions. Students’ sense of security and ease was also apparent in the way that a number of students were most eager to provide insightful comments or relate personal life stories relevant to the topic being explored.
Students’ progress and achievement in Home Economics is determined through the use of a number of different assessment modes. As a natural part of most lessons, students are examined orally in class in relation to work previously covered. All students possess test copybooks. Written tests are administered regularly, usually upon completion of a chapter or topic. All class groups are formally assessed by subject teachers, approximately every six weeks. Students’ results in these assessments are inputted by teachers into the college’s e-portal system. Teachers also provide a comment relevant to student progress and achievement. Following this, results are posted home. This comprehensive approach to providing parents and guardians with regular and structured feedback on student performance is to be commended. Parent-teacher meetings, which are held once a year for most classes and twice a year for examination classes, are another way of facilitating communication between teachers and parents or guardians. The organisation of an additional meeting for examination classes is a very laudable practice in the college.
Students’ project and practical work is also assessed. It is very commendable that students’ achievement in these two areas is included in the mark awarded to students at key times during the school year. This mark, which encompasses all examinable components of the syllabus is a more true reflection of students’ actual achievement in home economics and as an approach, is highly credited. Strategies such as table quizzes and games are also used by teachers to gauge students’ achievement and to introduce an element of fun into the area of assessment.
Students in examination classes are required to sit formal, in-house examinations at Christmas. These students also sit pre-examinations following the February mid-term. While the assessment of all other students at Christmas is based on continuous assessment, they are required to sit formal, in-house examinations prior to the summer holidays.
Homework was assigned in each of the lessons observed on the day of the inspection and student copybooks suggest that this is regular practice in home economics lessons. This is consistent with the college’s homework policy. Care should be taken to ensure that students are fully prepared for all homework that is assigned to them. The monitoring of student homework provided some good examples of comment marking. This practice is further encouraged. The department is also encouraged to consider grading homework periodically. This would provide students who perform well in homework but not so well in written tests, with a sense of achievement that perhaps might not otherwise be recognised. It would also provide teachers with another means of determining students’ strengths, weaknesses and overall abilities.
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 principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.