††† An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Nenagh Vocational School,
Nenagh, Co. Tipperary
Roll number: 72440K
Date of inspection: 4 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Nenagh Vocational School, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. 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 teacher, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teacherís written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. 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.
There has been a long tradition of Home Economics as a popular optional subject in Nenagh Vocational School. Commendably, all first year and Transition Year (TY) students study Home Economics and it is an optional subject in all other year groups. Home Economics has traditionally been an optional subject selected mainly by girls, although there may be grounds for optimism that this is gradually changing. The school is encouraged to continue to support students in choosing to make less traditional subject choices.†
Class period provision is generally in line with syllabus recommendations, including at least one double class to facilitate mandatory practical coursework. First year students benefit from the opportunity of experiencing the full range of optional subjects on the curriculum in the form of an extended taster programme. Optional subject choices for junior cycle are made on transfer to second year where Home Economics is usually selected by over half of junior cycle students. While this arrangement facilitates students in making a more informed choice with regard to subjects available for junior cycle, as a consequence Home Economics is allocated just one double class period per week during first year. While students are making satisfactory progress, this time allocation makes it difficult for students to benefit to a fuller extent from the study of the syllabus. In order to ameliorate the impact of reduced time allocation in first year and to continue to enable all students to take the subject in first year, management should support home economics personnel in exploring the further development of the existing informal cross-curricular links so as to engage in cross-curricular planning for first year students in conjunction with Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Science and Business Studies teachers. In doing so teachers involved should endeavour to develop complementary approaches to themes, which are common to each of their syllabuses. In addition, teachers could explore and plan for the incremental development of studentsí transferable skills across programmes.
The Transition Year (TY) programme is optional in the school and the inclusion of a Home Economics module in the curriculum for all Transition Year students is to be commended as it provides students who have not studied the subject for junior cycle with the opportunity to experience the subject and therefore help them in making a more informed choice with regard to subjects for the Leaving Certificate. The focus of the TY module is mainly design and craft work. In the context of a whole school plan for TY greater consideration should be given to formal programme planning for TY Home Economics in the future and in doing so alternative home economics modules should be devised each year on the basis of studentsí aptitudes and interests.
Management operates a very open and student-centred system of subject choice, which ensures that students have unrestricted access to subjects such as Home Economics. Students and their parents are well supported in choosing subjects and levels within subjects. Every effort is made to ensure that all students are placed in their subject option of choice. This student-centred approach to subject choice is praiseworthy. The school is encouraged to continue to investigate and implement additional strategies that will continue to promote Home Economics as a popular option subject, with appeal for students of all abilities and interests, but especially male students at both junior cycle and senior cycle.
Home Economics is an optional subject for the remainder of senior cycle. The school reports that numbers are generally on the increase in senior cycle and at the time of this evaluation just over one third of the senior cycle cohort had selected Home Economics. It is important that management continue to regularly review timetable provision for optional subjects such as Home Economics on a regular basis so as to ensure equality and promote gender balance.
There is good whole school support and provision for Home Economics and management and personnel are committed to the organisation, planning and teaching of the subject. Time is allocated for the purpose of subject planning. Home economics personnel have participated in a variety of in-service training sessions for example those provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service. Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required. There is a modest budget allocated annually to the subject and in addition, management endeavours to provide for the purchase of additional resources and equipment on the basis of teacher requisition. School structures, systems and strategies support the home economics teacher well when providing for studentsí needs including those with special educational needs (SEN).
The Vocational Education Committee (VEC) has circulated generic policies on health and safety for specialist rooms for all of its schools in order to ensure compliance with current legislation. The home economics department should now further develop this policy so that it is tailor made to the schools own home economics facilities for both food studies and textiles. There is evidence of good health and safety practices in Home Economics classes and appropriate safety equipment is available in the Home Economics rooms.
An application for an extension of nine classrooms, a PE hall and refurbishment of the existing building including the home economics facilities has been submitted to the Department of Education and Science and is currently at stage three of the planning process. It is commendable that two specialist rooms are allocated adjacent to each other for Home Economics, a kitchen which functions as a food studies laboratory and a separate textiles room. However, the absence of any significant upgrading, refurbishment or modernisation of the home economics facilities since the provision of both rooms is impeding development of the subject. In view of the current poor condition of the home economics facilities and bearing in mind health and safety considerations and current curricular requirements for Home Economics it is recommended that the refurbishment of both home economics rooms be progressed as a matter of priority for the school in line with best practice guidelines. Provision for adequate storage space for specialist equipment, teaching resources and student coursework/project work should be incorporated into any future plans for the home economics rooms. In the context of annual stocktaking an audit of equipment is undertaken and management is supportive of requests made for the ongoing replacement and updating of equipment as necessary. Management should continue to support the subject teacher with regard to ongoing investment in the upgrading and maintenance of specialist equipment and teaching resources as necessary in the home economics rooms.
There is limited access to the schools information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities for home economics students. Currently, ICT is mainly used in class preparation, however, it was identified during the inspection that the home economics teacher has a great desire to incorporate more ICT into teaching and learning as more technology becomes available and expertise is developed over time. Students are also encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics during their computer classes and their own study time. Considering the willingness of the home economics teacher to integrate ICT into lessons it is recommended that management encourage and support this initiative in the context of continued integration of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. In the context of future developments at the school a positive start would be the provision of a laptop computer and a data projector for home economics. Also the provision of blinds for the windows should be investigated, as this would facilitate the use of the overhead projector in lessons.†
The Home Economics department is in the process of developing a subject plan for Home Economics, which includes some details on the organisation, planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subject. This subject plan clearly outlines aims and objectives for the subject and includes some information on teaching resources, class seating plans, health and safety, addressing students with special educational needs and details on procedures for assessment, record keeping and reporting to parents.
In addition outline curriculum content plans of work have been drawn up for each year group with the exception of Transition year. These plans are syllabus based and provide a clear outline of the content including the relevant practical and project work to be completed each term. However, it is important to note that such planning documents are of an evolving nature, and as such, will always demonstrate room for advancement, revision and improvement. In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that this good work be further developed to include more detailed short-term plans of work. These should be seen as working documents, which are used to review subject matter covered and aid planning for the future. This planning should incorporate additional and more specific information relating to delivery of the programmes. Suggested additions include: reference to expected learning outcomes; the specific sequence and timeframes for the completion of relevant practical/project/course work; choice of teaching methodologies; choice and use of resources; links between theory and the related practical work; integration of subject matter as recommended in the syllabuses; the specific timeframes and opportunities for homework and assessment and where required details on examination preparation. This process could be implemented on a phased basis. Records of work completed should be maintained as this aids review and future planning. Well-structured revision plans and summary notes on various aspects of the course are key features of subject planning. These revision plans should be dovetailed around studentsí learning of new material. Good use should be made of the home economics syllabuses, teacher guidelines and other relevant documentation to facilitate programme planning at all levels.
The Textile Studies programme at junior cycle includes development of skills in such areas as basic hand stitches and an introduction to using the sewing machine. As the textiles programme is currently underdeveloped it is recommended that the process of devising and implementing a plan of work for Textile Studies begin immediately in order to fully comply with the syllabus requirements. The further development of specialist facilities and equipment for textiles studies will be essential in achieving this goal. Furthermore, in the context of planning for junior cycle coursework it is recommended that the design brief process should be introduced as early as possible in the junior cycle in both food studies and the practical textiles work as appropriate. In addition, students should be introduced to the skills required for project work e.g. research, investigations, surveys and case studies on an incremental basis from first year onwards. Such an approach will enable students to develop crucial knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of analysis, investigation, problem solving, action planning and evaluation. This will also assist students to integrate relevant theory with practical skills.
Opportunities are provided which aim to enhance the studentsí experience and enjoyment of the subject and extend learning beyond the classroom through the introduction of visiting speakers and extra-curricular and co-curricular activities such as entry to a variety of local and national cookery competitions.
In the ongoing work of subject planning, the home economics department should consider the merit of engaging in an analysis of student achievement in State examinations in the context of national norms. In doing so one should be mindful of individual studentsí abilities and achievements. This could benefit individual subject departments by informing future planning of teaching strategies and learning activities.
The Home Economics department has developed and gathered a good variety of teaching resources, cookery books and videos and commercially prepared resource packs, which suggests that the potential exists for the development of a home economics resource library. The provision of same would promote the progression of self-directed and independent research and learning, as encouraged throughout the relevant syllabuses. Therefore, in the context of future planning it is recommended that management provide some initial financial assistance and then ongoing investment in the development and expansion of such a resource library to support teaching and learning in Home Economics.
Careful planning is undertaken to ensure that valuable educational experiences are provided for students with SEN. A particularly positive feature with regard to supporting students is the provision of supplementary teaching using various models such as team-teaching and in-class support. The Home Economics teacher is made aware of any students with SEN and liaises with the learning support department in the school on an ongoing basis ensuring that materials are adapted to suit the needs and abilities of students as appropriate. This practice is in line with the schoolís own policy of equal rights of access for all students.
There was evidence of good teaching and learning in both the practical and theory lessons observed. Effective short-term planning for lessons, which included the prior preparation of the materials for class, was observed. This resulted in lessons that were clearly focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students. Lessons were well structured and in line with syllabus requirements. Learning outcomes for the lessons were shared with students at the outset and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning.†
Teacher instruction was clear, competent, accurate and frequently supported by the use of such resources as the whiteboard, student handouts, samples, workbooks and textbooks. These were introduced into the lessons at appropriate times and were most effective in enhancing teaching and consolidating learning. Good use was made of the board for the explanation of theory and concepts and for the provision of direction and guidance in practical classes. Taking into consideration the variety of learning styles and of student abilities in the school, it is recommended that more audio-visual stimuli and ICT be utilised in the teaching of Home Economics as appropriate. In some lessons observed an appropriate examinations focus was evident which provided student motivation for the task at hand.
Lesson presentation was characterised by the use of a range of teaching strategies such as whole class teaching, oral questioning, demonstration, discussion, explanation, the use of textbook, worksheets and the white board. These strategies were appropriate and effective in engaging students and in aiding their understanding of the topic. Whole-class instruction was utilised well, however, teaching and learning were particularly effective where opportunities were provided for students to engage with lesson content in an active way. There were some examples of the use of appropriate active learning methodologies such as use of brainstorming, pair work and group discussion. Good practice was observed where students were encouraged to think, consider, analyse and synthesise issues and answers during activity based learning. This practice is commendable as it assists students in developing higher-order thinking skills and should continue to be incorporated regularly into lessons.† Therefore, it is recommended that consideration should be given to the benefits to students of incorporating more student-centred and differentiated active learning methodologies in theory lessons for example brainstorming, individualised learning, pair work, group discussion, debating, role-play, problem-solving and collaborative learning. This would have the effect of further challenging students in order to encourage them to take greater responsibility for their own learning. Active learning encourages independent and collaborative learning, key foci of both the junior and senior cycle home economics syllabuses. Textbooks and workbooks provide some useful ideas for the implementation of active learning. In addition, the Special Education Support Service (www.sess.ie) and the Second Level Support Service (www.slss.ie) should be consulted in this regard.
Good awareness of the studentsí learning styles was demonstrated and the teaching and learning was adapted as appropriate to suit the studentsí needs. This was particularly evident in a lesson where team teaching was employed. While there is an agreed protocol for team teaching at the school, there is scope for greater planning and collaboration among teachers involved in team teaching so as further enhance the benefits of such approaches to students.†
Good practice was demonstrated in utilising studentsí experiences and prior learning to introduce and develop new concepts. Good efforts were made to allow for the integration of skills. Effective questioning and explaining strategies were used in the classes observed to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding, to support students in the development of higher order thinking skills and to link new information with prior learning. Where best practice was observed, questions were carefully sequenced and graduated, leading students to higher-order thinking and encouraging them to make personal aesthetic responses. Building on this methodological strength, it is suggested that students occasionally be encouraged to answer questions after consulting in pairs/groups, thus allowing them time to develop multi-faceted answers to higher-order questions and enabling students with literacy difficulties to contribute their insights to the formulation of those answers.
In the food studies practical work observed students displayed a level of competency in following instructions and in the handling and organisation of equipment and class materials that was commensurate with their level of experience and ability.† The good use of demonstration during practical work observed is to be commended as it allows students to observe modelling the proper execution of procedures, processes and skills. Formal demonstrations to small groups and to individual students and impromptu demonstrations to highlight salient points were therefore utilised effectively. Differentiation by teacher intervention was discreetly employed during practical work and this could be further developed across all classes by means of group work, pair work, problem-solving and collaborative learning. Students worked collaboratively and participated actively in tasks. There was a commendable concern for studentsí understanding of content and for the acquisition of appropriate manipulative skills in practical classes. In order to further enhance practical work it is recommended that opportunities to link theory with practical work be availed of fully in practical classes, as this should consolidate studentsí understanding and knowledge of food and the principles of cookery. Studentsí performance and progress could be further enhanced if students were to use a timed written work plan during practical classes. Students should be encouraged to systematically go through the recipe; method and utensils required at the lesson outset and discuss agree approximate times for each stage in the preparation, cooking and serving of the dish. Good use should continue to be made of the board as a back up to students work plans. Furthermore, students are encouraged to undertake simple evaluations of tasks completed and this informs continuous assessment of student work. In order to develop this work further, students should be encouraged to undertake evaluation of the product, the process and the task itself and to make full use of appropriate word banks when undertaking sensory evaluation. An appropriate emphasis on health and safety practices was evident. The department is to be commended for adopting strategies that help to overcome health and safety issues and other difficulties with regard to ensuring the safe conduct of practical classes.
Classroom discipline was sensitively maintained through teacher movement around the room and by appropriate lesson content pacing. Student-teacher rapport was very good and studentsí efforts were encouraged and affirmed. This contributed to a positive classroom atmosphere that was conducive to effective learning. Students were well managed, guided and directed in all learning activities and their work was monitored in a supportive, encouraging and caring manner. The students were generally well behaved and secure in their interactions with the teacher and were affirmed and encouraged in all their contributions and efforts.
The learning environment of the Home Economics room is enhanced through the display of a number of educational posters and evidence of studentsí work and is to be commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students. The teacher carries out regular monitoring and appraisal of student work and promotes good study and revision practices. Student work examined included good examples of well-organised folders containing a variety of materials relevant to all aspects of the syllabus. Observation of studentsí project work, in the area of Design and Craftwork indicated a high level of competence in terms of creativity, organisation and presentation. It is praiseworthy that good use is made of ICT for presentation of coursework. Overall, the level of teacher guidance and the evidence of studentsí skills, creativity and originality in the area of project work are to be commended. In general, students demonstrated good understanding of subject knowledge and various skills in practical work appropriate to their class group and level.
A range of assessment modes is used to appraise student competence and progress in Home Economics including oral questioning, homework, in-class writing assignments, class tests to support continuous assessment, formal examinations some assessment of project and practical work. Formal assessments are held for the non-exam classes at Christmas and at end of year. In addition those preparing to take the State examinations sit pre-certificate examinations in the spring. Records of studentsí work, attendance and examination results are recorded systematically and students are advised regularly on their progress in the subject. School reports and parent-teacher meetings are used to communicate these results and student progress to parents and their examination levels are decided in consultation with the subject teacher and parents.
Practices and procedures in relation to homework, revision and assessment of student learning in Home Economics are varied and there are plans to formalise these procedures through the process of subject planning i.e. through the development of a homework and assessment policy for Home Economics. In order to progress this work consideration should be given to allowing the grades awarded for Home Economics during the year to be an aggregate mark for written tests, food and culinary skills practical work, coursework and projects completed during that term. Guidelines regarding the amount of homework that is considered appropriate to the individual year groups should be developed. While some good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring of student copybooks, workbooks, folders, journals and class tests consideration might be given to developing homework assignments that further promote independent learning and higher order thinking skills in all year groups. With regard to formative assessment useful teacher comments could provide developmental feedback to students on their progress and affirm work well done. This good work is illustrative of the principles that underpin assessment for learning and it is recommended that this good practice should be further developed across all year groups.
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 recommendations are made:
∑ In order to ameliorate the impact of reduced time allocation in first year and to continue to enable all students to take the subject in first year, management should support home economics personnel in exploring the further development of the existing informal cross-curricular links so as to develop complementary approaches and to plan for the incremental development of studentsí transferable skills across programmes as outlined in the report.
∑ It is important that management continue to regularly review timetable provision for optional subjects such as Home Economics on a regular basis so as to ensure equity and promote gender balance.
∑ In view of the current poor condition of the home economics facilities and bearing in mind health and safety considerations and current curricular requirements for Home Economics it is recommended that the refurbishment of both home economics rooms be progressed as a matter of priority for the school in line with best practice guidelines.
∑ Management should continue to support the subject teacher with regard to ongoing investment in the upgrading and maintenance of specialist equipment and teaching resources as necessary in the home economics rooms.
∑ It is recommended that management encourage and support the continued integration of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
∑ In the context of a whole school plan for Transition Year (TY) greater consideration should be given to formal programme planning for TY Home Economics in the future.
∑ Various suggestions with regard to enhancing curricular planning in Home Economics as detailed in the report should be implemented over time.
∑ It is recommended that the process of devising and implementing a plan of work for Textile Studies begin immediately in order to fully comply with the syllabus requirements.
∑ It is recommended that consideration should be given to the benefits to students of incorporating more student-centred and differentiated active learning methodologies in theory lessons.
∑ The various recommendations contained in the report with regard to teaching and learning are provided as a means of building on the current good practice which was evident.
∑ Consideration ought to be given to the implementation of the various recommendations with regard to enhancing homework and assessment as outlined in the report.†
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teacher of Home Economics at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.