An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Ballincollig, County Cork
Roll number: 71103K
Date of inspection: 28, 29 and 30 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig. 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 three 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 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 in Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig is very well provided for and the level of whole school support for the subject is also noted as extremely positive.
A healthy number of students opt to study Home Economics for the Junior Certificate. At senior cycle level, efforts made over the course of 2006/2007 resulted in a dramatic improvement in terms of overall uptake in Leaving Certificate Home Economics. This was manifested in an increase in uptake that exceeded 100 per cent between September 2006 and September 2007. Much credit is due to the members of the home economics department for their efforts made in this regard. Home Economics is a more popular subject choice amongst the school’s female student cohort than it is amongst the male student cohort. Nevertheless, boys are represented in each year group. The members of the subject department are encouraged to sustain the strategies they have established which seek to ensure a greater gender balance in uptake in Home Economics. The home economics department is also charged with the delivery of Hotel, Catering and Tourism, one of three vocational specialisms offered as part of the school’s Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. It is commendable that all LCA students study HCT.
Home Economics is one of nine optional subjects offered to junior cycle students attending the school and one of sixteen optional subjects available for study by senior cycle students. It is, therefore, optional to students of all year groups with the exception of Transition Year (TY). All TY students undertake a six-to-eight week life-skills module entitled ‘Survival – Living on Your Own’. This initiative is highly commended firstly, for the skills it seeks to foster in students and secondly, for the exposure to the subject that it provides for students who have not studied Home Economics in junior cycle and who may be considering it as an option for senior cycle. While the school does not operate a taster programme in first year, a very comprehensive, staged approach to subject choice has been developed in the school. The approach adopted seeks to ensure that incoming first-year students, together with their parents, are very well informed and thoroughly supported in the onerous task of selecting subjects. A similar approach exists for third-year and TY students prior to their progression on to fifth year. In addition, students’ preferences are used to determine option subject blocks. A considerable degree of flexibility is also exercised during the first term, for students who wish to change from one option subject to another. This student-centred approach to subject choice is highly commended. Continuing on the theme of student access it is clear, from a comparison of students’ participation levels against national norms, that students’ participation at higher level in the State examinations is actively promoted and encouraged by the members of the home economics department. This is highly praised.
The timetabling of Home Economics in Coláiste Choilm is noted as excellent. The time allocated to the delivery of both syllabuses is fully consistent with syllabus recommendations. This is highlighted as best practice and therefore applauded. Double periods, which are required for the practical aspects of the subject, are also provided. Students’ contact with the subject is appropriately spread over the weekly timetable and class sizes are most conducive to the safe and effective delivery of the more practical components of Home Economics. It is very clear that efforts are made to avoid the consecutive timetabling of two or more class groups for each of the two specialist rooms. This consciousness is commended for the equality of student access to the practical components of both syllabuses that it seeks to guarantee. It is particularly commended in light of the difficulties that attach to seeking to timetable four teachers for two rooms. Management is encouraged in its efforts to continue to timetable in this manner and with this consciousness. Best practice also informs the deployment of the home economics teachers. Every effort is made, for example, to ensure that teachers retain the classes assigned to them in first year through to third year and in fifth year through to sixth year. Furthermore, classes are allocated to teachers on a rotational basis.
Home Economics is very well resourced in the school. Both kitchens are highly organised, appropriately equipped and well maintained, with full use being made of all available storage space. Despite the fact that the flooring in both kitchens is not of a non-slip nature, the inspector was assured that this is not a cause for concern. Nevertheless, both management and the members of the home economics department are encouraged to keep this under review. Plans to provide room-based access to information and communication technologies (ICT) are fully advocated. A safety statement for the school, which dates to 2004, has been developed. In terms of subject matter that is relevant to Home Economics, it contains general guidelines which pertain to the use of electricity, electrical equipment, plugs, sockets, leads and gas, as well as a subject-specific section. Hazards and risks have been identified and procedures designed to secure health and safety are also detailed. A most comprehensive review of the school’s current practice in relation to health and safety has just been completed. It is clear from reading this twenty-five page document, that when each of the recommendations outlined in the review has been addressed the school will be well placed in relation to its obligations pertaining to health and safety. The school’s work in this regard is very praiseworthy.
Management’s support for the concept and practice of collaborative, subject-department planning is clearly evident. The provision of time for between four and six formal meetings over the course of each school year is very highly commended.
The professionalism of each and every one of the members of the home economics department is reflected in their planning and preparation, both for lessons observed and in relation to subject department planning.
A subject co-ordinator is appointed annually on a rotational basis. That said, the planning work of the department is very much shared amongst all members of the home economics department. A SCOT analysis, which informs the planning work of the department, is completed on an annual basis. This practice, which provides for an identification of the subjects strengths, challenges, opportunities for development and any apparent threats, is highly praised. It is indicative of the ‘reflective practitioner’, a title that can be deservedly applied to each member of the home economics department. In addition to the formal meetings that are organised, the home economics teachers also meet informally, usually on a weekly basis and more often as required. It is good to note that agendas are set and minutes are maintained for all formal department meetings.
It is very clear that the home economic teachers work extremely well as a team and demonstrate very high levels of collegiality and co-operation. As a result, much progress has been made by the department in terms of subject department planning. A very comprehensive subject plan has been developed, which provides information relating to all recommended areas. Outline programmes of work have been agreed and drafted for all year groups. These are fully recognised by the teachers as a work in progress. This is most refreshing. The outline programmes are quite well developed. They make provision for the topics to be covered as well as, although in a more general sense, practical food studies work, textile projects, homework, resources, classroom activities and teaching strategies. The further development of these outline programmes, vis-à-vis an application of each of the areas listed previously to each individual topic, is recommended. Provision for assessment in these more detailed programmes should also be considered. There was evidence in teachers’ diaries of evaluation following the delivery of topics. This informs programme review, which takes place on an annual basis. This laudable practice is highly praised. It is suggested that the recommended expanded schemes of work could incorporate space for this very valuable exercise.
The materials examined as part of the subject inspection, which included a large number of individual teacher files, indicate that there is a very strong focus on planning and preparation for teaching and learning. It was also very clear that providing for the broad spectrum of students’ needs, within the context of the relevant syllabus, guides planning and preparation for teaching and learning. This manifested itself in a number of ways including an expanding collection of resources, including books and games. Flashcards, posters, worksheets and handouts, which have been designed and prepared by the members of the home economics department and which are geared towards the often very specific requirements of students with special educational needs (SEN), enhance this resource. Teachers are encouraged in their efforts to continue to extend and develop this budding resource collection. Other small yet significant initiatives, such as the provision of flash cards on cupboard doors, have been put in place to support the integration, inclusion, participation and achievement of all students. The teachers’ work in this regard is highly commended. Constant communication with the members of the resource department and students’ special needs assistants (SNAs) also makes a very valuable contribution to teachers’ provision for students with SEN.
Planning for the organisation of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, designed to enhance, support and extend students’ learning, is another aspect of the work of the home economics department in Coláiste Choilm. Students are encouraged to participate in competitions, including the Young Scientist Competition. This departure is worthy of particular recognition and praise. Students also benefit from the input of a range of guest speakers and participate in a number of visits out, relevant to the various syllabuses and topics that they are studying. The teachers’ desire to provide for such activities and their genuine interest in and enthusiasm for these projects is also highly commended. A number of cross-curricular initiatives have also been explored, the most significant one being the ‘Health & Fitness’ week. This and other such pursuits are fully encouraged. The maintenance of a photo album dating back to the 1980’s clearly portrays both students’ and teachers’ involvement in such activities. This initiative is applauded.
The four-teacher-strong department demonstrates a commitment to teaching and learning, as well as an energy and enthusiasm for their work, which is most impressive. Their individual and collective passion for Home Economics is palpable and openly shared with all whom they encounter.
The standard of teaching observed in all classes was highly commendable. From this, and in combination with clear evidence of student learning, it can be concluded that the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics in Coláiste Choilm is excellent.
Short-term planning for every lesson was very effective and of a very high quality. To elaborate, a very large selection of top-quality resources had been prepared and collected for use in lessons. This included the more usual resources such as pre-prepared acetates, handouts, worksheets and sample selections of examination questions, although the quality of each was noted as very high. In addition resources such as note-making templates, graphic organisers, word searches, crosswords, anatomy models, plug tops, flexes, screwdrivers, food products, food packages and video clips were all introduced to great effect. Furthermore, lessons were carefully planned and structured and very appropriately paced. Lessons demonstrated clear aims and these were openly shared with students. In some instances these were presented as learning outcomes and were discussed with students as lessons commenced. This is suggested for greater application. All lessons featured a lesson summary which made provision for the checking of students’ understanding and learning. This is highlighted as excellent practice.
An extensive number and range of methodologies and strategies were utilised in the delivery of lesson content, all of which called on the active participation of students. Co-operative learning was to the fore in one junior cycle revision lesson that focused on the skin, the teeth and the heart. Students were organised into groups and set a task. This involved an exploration of anatomy models from which ensued a natural group discussion which was led by the activity provided for students in the accompanying worksheets. Students worked enthusiastically and in a committed and interested fashion. Their work was carefully monitored by the teacher and support and assistance was provided on demand and as required. The learning experience was well conceived and planned and so the advantages to students were clearly evident, with students recognising and appreciating a number of these.
Group work was very effectively employed in a TY lesson that focused on fire safety. An effort was made to form balanced groups by assigning each student a colour. Students of each colour, for example green, were then requested to sit together. A corresponding worksheet, for example the green worksheet, was issued to each group. Groups were issued with just one worksheet to share. This limiting of resources is a very clever way of ensuring that students have to work together in order to complete the task and in order to experience success. As a minor suggestion, some provision should be made as the activity concludes to ensure that all students have some record of what they learnt from the activity. A carefully planned homework exercise, for example, might provide for same. Key roles were assigned to group members, while clear instructions were also issued to all students in relation to the task. This was highly focused on outcomes and what it was that students hoped to achieve by taking part in this activity. A time limit was set for the activity, which was closely adhered to. The teacher circulated amongst the groups throughout the task. The activity concluded with feedback being provided by the spokesperson of each group to the whole class, which often gave rise to a class discussion. A perfectly timed, staged fire alarm was introduced shortly after completion of these group tasks. This was a very effective way of allowing students to determine their level of learning, whilst highlighting to them the significance and importance of the subject matter they had just explored.
An investigative approach to learning was adopted in a first-year textiles lesson where students were being introduced to the sewing machine. Following some relevant teacher input, students were paired off and the machines were distributed. Each student was issued with a worksheet which outlined the different parts of the sewing machine. The pairs of students were then instructed to examine the machine and outline what they now understood to be the function of the various machine parts. Students were encouraged to ‘turn, twist and examine’ as a means of helping them apply what they had heard and figure out the functions of the parts not yet formally explored with the teacher. Students thoroughly enjoyed this investigative exercise. The fact that students are working to a design brief, and that they are preparing their design folders in conjunction with the production of the textile item, is also worthy of recognition and praise.
In addition to the strategies detailed previously other approaches incorporated included task-based exercises and learning centres. A strategy referred to as a ‘ghost walk’ was introduced in another lesson to facilitate an unobtrusive review of the work of students’ peers. Teachers’ varied approach to lesson delivery succeeded in an admirable level of provision for all three of the preferred learning styles, be that visual, auditory or kinaesthetic. When and where possible teachers introduced visuals which were designed to support students’ understanding and foster learning.
Teacher instruction was clear and concise and took cognisance of students’ levels and abilities. Anecdotes were effectively used in a number of instances in order to highlight significant points and to increase the relevance of a point being made or explored. Questioning was effectively used in all instances. There was a good balance between global and directed questions, which were well distributed amongst the students in the class. Higher-order questioning, in addition to questions requiring student to recall learned information, were also well utilised. This is further encouraged. Students’ responses indicated that they were very knowledgeable in relation to the topic being explored and quite knowledgeable in relation to work previously covered.
The home economics department in Coláiste Choilm have adopted, from first year, a task-based approach to food studies practical work. This strategy, which is consistent with syllabus recommendations, is very highly commended. In a fifth-year food studies practical lesson it became clear that students were embarking on the assignment following a very thorough analysis of the relevant task and having considered the resources, procedure, key factors and safety and hygiene issues relevant to the dish they would be preparing and cooking. This, which is consistent with the approach outlined in the syllabus, is noted as very good practice. As a result, students were well informed in relation to the task at hand and answered questions posed to them in a competent and confident manner. It was great to see that formal teacher input remained a significant part of the lesson, with all opportunities to teach, emphasise and remind being fully utilised. This approach, coupled with on-spot demonstrations and individual one-to-one instruction helped to ensure full student participation and a good quality of learning.
A wonderful atmosphere prevailed in each classroom. Interactions between teachers and students were notably positive. Students were extremely willing to contribute to lesson content and their contributions were encouraged, welcomed and appropriately affirmed. Phrases such as ‘You’re doing great’, ‘That is brilliant’ and ‘Maith an cailín’ were very forthcoming. Students were highly engaged in lesson content and very eager to participate in all planned activities.
In conclusion, it was abundantly clear that the members of the home economics department, whether consciously or sub-consciously, have agreed a philosophy for and an approach to the teaching of Home Economics in Coláiste Choilm. This impacts on the work of all the home economics teachers and guides and directs their approach to teaching and their concern for student learning. The consistency in approach to teaching and the efforts employed to foster student learning by each of the four teachers was quite exceptional and very, very impressive. As individuals they cannot be praised enough for this. Well done!
A range of assessment modes is employed in order to determine students’ progress and achievement in Home Economics. In junior cycle, this includes the very formal assessment of students’ project work and a more informal, continuous assessment of students’ practical food studies work. Monitored project work, reviewed as part of the subject inspection, included an achievement slip which highlighted the overall grade as well as a breakdown of this result. A key is also supplied. This is designed to provide a verbal explanation of the mark awarded, for example, ten is equivalent to excellent while four or five can be equated with satisfactory. This approach is highly praised, as it reflects that which is used in the marking of Junior Certificate project work. It is recommended that the members of the home economics department strongly consider introducing a system that would provide for the more formal assessment of the practical food studies work of junior cycle students. Oral questioning in class, topic tests and formal in-house examinations are also used to ascertain students’ advancement and attainment. When and where feasible, common examination papers, or at a minimum papers with elements in common, are issued to students of the same year group for the recently introduced formal, in-house examinations. Every effort is made to ensure that these assessment papers reflect the layout and style of past State examination papers. Both measures are commended. Students’ work, including test papers and test corrections, is systematically filed in folders. A test results chart, indicating students’ achievement for each month of fifth and sixth year was evident in a number of files.
Lessons often commenced with the monitoring, correction or examination of homework assigned in a previous lesson. Homework was issued in each lesson, with students’ copybooks indicating that this is the norm. It was also clear that students’ work is checked and corrected regularly, with some fine examples of comment marking in evidence. Copybooks also demonstrate that teachers vary the type of exercises assigned for homework. This is also commended. The regular monitoring of students’ key assignments was also apparent. Students’ folders also indicated that templates designed to assist LCA students in the completion of key assignments are issued on a regular basis. It is suggested that a recording and signing off document for all completed key assignments be utilised with all LCA class groups.
Teachers’ diaries housed records relating to students’ attendance, participation and achievement. This is used to inform feedback provided to parents. The dialann, or student diary, is one of the mechanisms utilised by teachers to communicate with parents. School reports and parent-teacher meetings also assist in this regard. The department is strongly encouraged to consider issuing an aggregate mark in the school reports. This would reflect students’ achievement in all examinable components of a syllabus, be that written, project, practical or journal work.
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.
Published, June 2008