An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Killucan, Co. Westmeath
Roll number: 71430C
Date of inspection: ††17 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Columba College, Killucan, Co. Westmeath. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the home economics department. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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 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 a popular subject on the schoolís curriculum as evidenced by the good uptake of Home Economics in junior and senior cycle.
The arrangements for subject choice in first year have been the focus of an on-going review within the school in recent years. It is commendable that pre-set bands of subject options have been discontinued in favour of a taster programme. In addition to the revised arrangements facilitating more informed subject choices, it was reported that this change has been very instrumental in reducing gender bias in relation to subject choice. Home Economics is now seen as a realistic option among all students in the school. Management and the home economics team are commended for their efforts in this regard. However, as the arrangements for subject choice is under continual review, it would be useful to reconsider the length of the taster programme. The final selection of subjects for the Junior Certificate is not made until the end of first year. The current timetable allocation for first-year Home Economics is one double period each week. This can impede progress being made in the syllabus as best practice occurs when Junior Certificate classes are allocated the equivalent of four class periods per week for Home Economics. Therefore, consideration should be given to running a shorter taster programme for just part of first year or reviewing the number of class periods allocated to the optional subjects. Supports are in place to advise first-year students and their parents in the final selection of optional subjects. It is laudable that the option pools at the end of first year are generated from studentsí preferences and that every effort is made to accommodate students in their subject selection. This good practice ensures that the curriculum programme offered meets the needs of each incoming student cohort.
Home Economics is a very popular Leaving Certificate subject. A subject information evening is held for the parents of third year students and the guidance counsellor meets all students in third year to advise them about senior cycle subject choices. In an effort to accommodate as many students as possible option pools are created from studentsí preferences. These practices are commendable.
Home Economics benefits from a good level of provision. Teaching time allocated to classes, with the exception of first year is in line with syllabus requirements. However, the distribution and arrangement of this class time throughout the week merits attention. In almost all cases home economics lessons are distributed over two consecutive days each week. In the case of one senior cycle class for example a treble period class is timetabled on Thursday morning and a double period class on Friday. This arrangement is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. Lessons are tightly concentrated over two days resulting in a gap of almost one week between lessons. This makes effective continuity in teaching and learning very difficult as it limits the frequency of class contact time. The arrangement of senior cycle lessons into double and treble period classes affects the pacing of lessons and slows down the introduction of new content, thus impacting on effective progress through a syllabus. Students who are absent on a day when a number of home economics lessons are scheduled are particularly affected. In order to optimise the learning environment for students while recognising the current contextual factors that exist in the school , it is recommended that the timetabling arrangements for Home Economics should be reviewed. Care needs to be given to ensure that students can benefit from a more even distribution of class contact time throughout the week. In addition, management could consider the feasibility of an alternative arrangement of class time into two single and one double lesson in junior cycle and one double and three single lessons in senior cycle. However, any rearrangement needs to be carried out in the context of a review of the timetabling of option subject bands.
All home economics classes are mixed ability and decisions on levels for the certificate examinations are taken in consultation with parents. Students are encouraged to aim for high academic standards and where possible, to take Home Economics at the highest possible level in the certificate examinations. As part of subject planning, subject teams should be encouraged to analyse studentsí outcomes as evidenced by results in the certificate examinations.† But consideration must also be given to specific contextual factors that exist in the school as part of this exercise. This analysis should inform reflective debate on teaching and learning of Home Economics throughout the school.
The subject benefits from a good level of whole-school support. Curriculum documentation is disseminated promptly by the principal to the home economics team and each member of the teaching team is facilitated to attend relevant continuous professional development (CPD) courses. Formal subject department structures are at an early stage of development in Columba College. Management has prioritised the on-going development of formal subject planning for the academic year 2007/08 in order to move the focus of school development planning onto teaching and learning. This should be actively pursued. To facilitate this worthwhile initiative, it is recommended that formal planning time should be allocated for the purpose of subject department planning perhaps initially as part of the agenda of staff meetings. Due to the small size of the school some of the formal time could be used to schedule periodic cross curricular subject department meetings. These meetings could be particularly valuable in the case of one teacher departments to provide a forum where the collective expertise of the group can be shared on areas of common interest such as, teaching methodologies, classroom management, equipment provision as well as health and safety procedures. Further advice and support on subject department planning is available from the Second Level Support Service at www.slss.ie.
There is one dual-purpose specialist room for Home Economics that was built in 1992. This room is generally well maintained and resourced with a range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. Resources are allocated on the basis of teacher requisition and management is very supportive of requests made for additional equipment and materials. In the recent past some equipment has been replaced and updated on a phased basis. The home economics team in consultation with management should now plan for the upgrading and replacing of the larger pieces of equipment such as cookers on a phased basis as resources permit. It was reported that some of the cookers are not fully functional. This should be addressed as a matter of priority, through a local service engineer.
There is a range of health and safety equipment in the specialist room and procedures are in place for reporting accidents. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that the health and safety rules for Home Economics be clearly displayed at regular intervals in the specialist room. A review of the whole-school health and safety statement is underway. This laudable project is being led by the deputy principal and another member of staff who have recently completed a health and safety course. It is noted positively that the home economics team is contributing to this review and audit. As part of the whole-school health and safety routines, an annual room check should be carried out to ensure that due attention is given to the maintenance and servicing of the specialist equipment. As the health and safety policy is currently being reviewed this is an opportune time for the home economics team, in consultation with management, to review and develop the health and safety statement for Home Economics. The amended statement should outline the specific safety control measures for using any potential high risk specialist equipment in Home Economics and a maintenance plan for the servicing of specialist equipment. A copy of the amended health and safety statement should be included in the subject department folder. This statement should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
Given the fact that the current teaching team has only been working together for a short time, collaborative planning is at an early stage of development. However, some good progress has been made. The willingness and commitment of the home economics team in embracing this process is acknowledged and commended. At present there is no subject co-ordinator and the work is shared among the team. As formal subject planning has been prioritised by management for the academic year 2007/08, it is recommended that a subject co-ordinator be appointed. A description of the role of the subject co-ordinator should be included in the subject planning documents after discussion among the team. The role normally involves chairing meetings, keeping records of decisions taken, liaising with the home economics teaching team and senior management on matters relating to the subject, and disseminating relevant information from the Department of Education and Science, the State Examinations Commission, the Home Economics Support Service (HESS) and other relevant bodies. It is advocated that this position be rotated among the team to share the workload and allow each member of the team assume a leadership role for the continued development of Home Economics in Columba College.
Some good progress has been made in the compilation of a subject plan. The materials produced by the Home Economics Support Service could prove beneficial in the further development of the subject plan. These materials can be accessed at www.homeeconomics.ie.
Formal programmes of work are at an early stage of development and there is some variation in the level of detail presented in the programmes for different year groups. All programmes outline a list of topics to be covered each term. In some cases details are given in relation to the amount of time to be spent on each topic and the planned teaching strategies. It is particularly praiseworthy that the home economics team has developed a scheme of work for the first-year taster programme that is based on the percentage allocation of time for each core area of the Junior Certificate syllabus. As a next step, it is recommended that collaborative programmes of work be developed for each year group. Each programme should be based on syllabus requirements and presented in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in home economics syllabuses. The specific timeframe allocated to each topic should be noted to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between practical coursework and theory. Expected knowledge and understanding for each module should be presented in terms of learning outcomes and particular attention should be given to the incremental progression of practical skills over the duration of each syllabus. Information on suitable teaching and learning strategies should also be integrated into the planned work. The identification of appropriate resources and homework assignments for each area can be included as each plan is implemented by individual teachers. Some of this work is already completed in individual planning documentation. This work should be progressed on a phased basis taking for example, one junior and one senior year group per annum. Further advice on planning a programme of work for Leaving Certificate Home Economics is available in the NCCA Guidelines for Teachers for the revised Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus. †As subject planning by its nature will always demonstrate room for development, it is important that all plans are collaboratively reviewed. As part of this review, particular attention should be given to the collective evaluation of the effectiveness of the teaching and learning strategies deployed as well as the range of homework activities assigned.
Two issues need to be considered in planning the Junior Certificate programme. Planning for the core textiles section of the syllabus must be reviewed to take full account of current syllabus requirements. In addition further opportunities should be explored to integrate the design brief process as a teaching and learning strategy in Home Economics from first year. Students could complete a simple design brief in tandem with the core textiles work. This would enable students to develop over time the essential knowledge and skills in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation. It would also provide further opportunities to integrate theory and practice.
A range of resources such as, reference books, videos, posters and worksheets has been collected and developed by the home economics team. The teaching team has prioritised the need to expand the mini resource library in the home economics room. This laudable initiative is worth pursuing, as the changing nature of coursework in Home Economics necessitates access to a wide range of updated materials. As a first step the home economics team could catalogue existing resources to establish any resource needs that can be met over time as resources permit.
Good provision is made in Home Economics for students with special education needs. Special needs assistants attend class as appropriate and provide valuable assistance to students in their care. The home economics team is made aware of the specific education needs of students through liaising with the learning support department.
There is some effective integration of information and communications technology (ICT) evident to support home economics students in completing coursework. This good practice is encouraged and commended. Cross-curricular linkages with subjects such as Science, Art, Business, SPHE and CSPE are identified in the subject plan and are highlighted informally in home economics lessons. It was noted positively that student learning is extended beyond the classroom through some planned activities such as the use of guest speakers and demonstrators.
A range of theoretical lessons was observed during the course of the evaluation. In all cases the quality of advance planning and preparation was good. Lesson content was consistent with the long-term programmes of work. All the lessons observed had a clear focus with very good links made to previous learning. However careful attention should be given to the pacing of lessons to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between the time spent recapping on previously taught material and the time spent on new material. In addition, activities that give students time to assimilate or reinforce concepts should be built into the delivery of each lesson.†
The commendable practice of sharing the aim of the lesson with students was noted in all the lessons observed. This strategy could be developed further by sharing clear and concise learning outcomes and success criteria for each lesson with students. This information could then be used to provide an additional focus and structure to lessons, and allow students to consolidate their learning and facilitate self-evaluation of their progress.
In all instances teacher explanations were clear and accurate. The deliberate efforts made to link new material with prior learning proved very effective in engaging students with lesson content. Of particular note was where specific areas of the course that applied to the subject being taught were deliberately integrated into the lesson content. This very good practice, which reflects the rationale underpinning syllabuses in Home Economics, is encouraged further. Studentsí understanding of the material being taught was particularly enhanced in lessons where the content taught was linked to their everyday experiences or where examples were used to clarify concepts. This commendable practice fosters a deeper understanding of lesson content.
In all the lessons observed some good emphasis was placed on reinforcing and checking studentsí understanding of the key terminology for the topic being taught. This praiseworthy practice is encouraged as it helps students to develop the necessary linguistic skills in preparation for the written examinations. It also complements the promotion of literacy skills across the curriculum. Some good use was made of the black board to summarise information and draw studentsí attention to key points or phrases to consolidate learning. This good practice is encouraged further. In lessons where students were preparing for the forthcoming certificate examinations a good emphasis was placed on past examination papers. Attention was focused on enabling students to develop key skills in reading an examination question and interpreting the marking scheme. This is excellent preparation for the written examinations.
Some teaching strategies were deployed to encourage students to remain actively engaged with the lesson. Teacher led discussion was evident in all lessons. In some lessons students worked individually on a task to reinforce or extend their learning. Questioning strategies proved effective in assessing recall and understanding of concepts and processes. 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 a good balance of open and closed questions and where students were given adequate time to formulate their own answers. It is advisable to occasionally direct questions to individual students to minimise the practice of chorus answering and assess individual levels of student knowledge and understanding.
In order to build on the good practices already evident in the teaching and learning of Home Economics, it is recommended a range of teaching strategies that accommodate the various learning styles should be incorporated into the delivery of all home economics lessons. Particular attention should be given to the inclusion of active teaching methodologies to avoid an over-emphasis on teacher led activities in lessons where there can be a tendency for students to remain passive. Further advice and support on teaching strategies that support a mixed ability environment and differing learning styles is available from the Second Level Support Service who can be contacted at www.slss.ie
Classroom management was very good in all the lessons observed. A high level of mutual respect characterised all classroom interactions and contributed to a pleasant learning environment in all the lessons observed. Interactions with students during the course of the evaluation indicated that they generally had a good understanding of the material being studied.† The physical environment of the home economics room is enhanced by a range of educational posters. This is good practice as it results in the creation of a stimulating text rich environment that reinforces learning and engages student interest.†
Observation of studentsí recent and current project work in the area of craft and design indicated a commendable level of creativity and originality in the interpretation of their design brief. The standard of craft skills displayed in some instances was very high. To build on this good work, students should be further encouraged to illustrate their creativity and originality in the analysis, interpretation and evaluation of their design brief when writing up their support folder. It is worth noting that the chief examinersí 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.
Observation of student copybooks and notebooks indicated significant variation in the quality and of student work. Best practice was observed in classes where students kept notebooks that charted their progression in the theoretical and practical work, and where the handouts and worksheets given out in class were stored systematically for ease of reference for student revision. In some copybooks very good use was made of mind maps to summarise work. It is recommended that the home economics team, as part of the next phase of subject planning, should standardise a system of student notebooks to extend and develop the good practices already evident.
Good progress is evident in the completion of the Leaving Certificate practical coursework assignments. But there is a need to review the procedures for recording the information into the official coursework journal to ensure that students record their work into the this journal issued by the State Examinations Commissions on the completion of each assignment.
Formal in-house summative examinations are held at Christmas and summer. In addition students preparing to sit the certificate examinations sit mock examinations in the second term. Feedback on student progress is also available at parent-teacher and by teachersí comments in the studentsí journal. Results are communicated to parents or guardians twice yearly and at the parent-teacher meetings. The studentsí journal is used as an additional communication tool at the discretion of the home economics teacher.
Currently summative assessment procedures in Home Economics are solely based on a written paper only. As the certificate examinations in Home Economics incorporate an assessment of studentsí practical coursework, it is recommended that the range of summative assessment modes used in Home Economics should be extended. This would ensure that assessment grades which are issued to students at key times during the school year would provide an aggregate mark that reflects achievement in all examinable components of the syllabus. The documentation issued by the State Examinations Commission should inform the assessment criteria used.
Formative assessment is carried out using a variety of assessment modes such as, oral questioning, homework activities, class tests as well as the on-going monitoring of studentsí practical coursework. Records of student attendance, class tests and homework activities assigned are stored systematically in the teachersí diaries. This is good practice.
There is no agreed homework policy for Home Economics and significant variation was evident with regard to the type and regularity of written homework assigned. Some good practice was evident in the monitoring and annotating of student work. Useful comments by teachers in some copybooks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work which had been well done. This good practice needs to be extended to all class groups. As the regular assignment and monitoring of homework is an essential component of formative assessment it is recommended that the home economics team develop a homework policy that outlines procedures for the type and regularity of homework for each year group. The first stage in this process is to review the type and regularity of the homework activities currently assigned to all class groups. Particular attention needs to be given to the balance and range of homework activities assigned to avoid an over-emphasis on any one aspect of the syllabus or on any one style of question. Due consideration must also be given to balancing the amount of homework assigned with the provision of constructive feedback as this advice enhances learning by informing students about their own individual progress, highlights areas for improvement and ultimately challenges and assists students to reach their full potential. The homework policy should also consider the subsequent responsibilities of the students on receipt of this marked work. The effectiveness of this policy should be reviewed on a regular basis. This level of planning will contribute positively to the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics and support the whole school planning initiative about to start in the academic year 2007/08.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Home Economics is a popular subject on the schoolís curriculum. Commendable initiatives have been taken to promote Home Economics as a realistic option among all students in the school.
∑ A student centred approach is taken to subject choice for junior and senior cycle. Parents and students are advised and supported throughout this process.
∑ The continued development of formal subject department structures is a management priority for the academic year 2007/08.
∑ Home Economics benefits from a good level of provision and whole school support.
∑ The home economics team is contributing to the whole school health and safety audit that is currently underway.
∑ The process of collaborative subject department planning has begun in Home Economics. Collaborative schemes of work are at a very early stage of development.
∑ There is some effective integration of information and communications technology (ICT) evident to support home economics students in completing coursework. †
∑ Classroom management was very good. A high level of mutual respect characterised all classroom interactions and contributed to a pleasant learning environment in all the lessons observed.
∑ Observation of studentsí recent and current project work in the area of craft and design indicated a commendable level of creativity and originality in the interpretation of their design brief.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ Consideration should be given to the timetabling of Home Economics to ensure a more even distribution of class contact time throughout the week.
∑ The health and safety statement for Home Economics should be reviewed and developed. The health and safety rules for Home Economics should be clearly displayed at regular intervals around the specialist room.
∑ The collaborative programmes of work should be developed further as outlined in the body of the report.
∑ Particular attention should be given to the inclusion of a range of active teaching methodologies in all home economics lessons to avoid an over-emphasis on teacher-led activities.
∑ The teaching team should develop a homework policy for Home Economics that outlines the type and regularity of the homework activities assigned and gives due consideration to balancing the amount of homework assigned with the provision of constructive feedback.
∑ The range of assessment modes should be extended to include, were feasible, an assessment of the relevant practical coursework components.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the home economics department and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.