An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Coláiste Naomh Cormac
Kilcormac, County Offaly
Roll number: 72520I
Date of inspection: 3 December 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Naomh Cormac. 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 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 the relevant staff. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Home Economics is an integral part of all the curricular programmes offered in the school. It is a popular subject, as evidenced by the very good participation rates in junior and senior cycle.
In first year Home Economics is offered on a pre-set band with Materials Technology Wood and Technical Graphics. Students have the opportunity to study each subject on the option band as part of a taster programme. This good practice assists students in making an informed choice and can be instrumental in reducing gender bias in relation to subject choice. It is laudable that all students taking the Transition Year (TY) programme study Home Economics. Leaving Certificate option bands are generated from student preferences and every effort is made to facilitate all students in their subject selection. Uptake of Home Economics in junior and senior cycle is traditionally much stronger among the female student cohort. The home economics department, in consultation with school management, should explore strategies to promote Home Economics as an optional subject with appeal for all students. One of the strategies that the school could consider would be to re-examine the subject option blocks for the taster programme. Consideration could be given to generating junior-cycle option bands from an initial survey of in-coming students’ preferences.
All home economics classes are mixed ability. All students are challenged to reach their full potential in the subject. They are encouraged to aim for high academic standards and, where possible, to take Home Economics at the highest possible level in the certificate examinations. Participation rates at higher level for the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations are very good.
Teaching time allocated to classes is generally very good and in line with syllabus recommendations. In most instances the arrangement of classes into double and single lessons is particularly conducive to effective continuity in teaching and learning. To build on the good practice already evident it is advocated that the TY home economics classes should not be timetabled on two consecutive days of the week, as this arrangement results in a gap of almost one week between home economics lessons.
The subject benefits from a very good level of whole-school support. Formal time is allocated three times per year for the purposes of subject department planning. It is commendable that, as part of subject planning, the teachers of Home Economics, Materials Technology Wood, Metalwork, Business and Information Technology meet in plenary session. Cross-curricular subject meetings provide an ideal forum where the collective expertise of the group can provide mutual support and advice on areas of common interest. It is a particularly beneficial arrangement in the case of one-teacher subject departments. There is good communication between the principal and the home economics department. This good practice ensures that a cohesive approach is taken to the continued development of the subject in the school.
There are very good facilities and a wide range of resources available to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. There is one dual-purpose specialist room which functions as a kitchen and a textiles room. This room is very well maintained and has adequate adjoining storage space. Additional resources are allocated on the basis of teacher requisition and management is very supportive of any requests made for updating materials. It is highly commendable that the school provides the necessary ingredients for all candidates taking the Junior Certificate Food and Culinary Skills Examination. This practice facilitates equality of opportunity for all candidates taking the examination and is indicative of the student-centred ethos that permeates the school.
Health and safety is given priority in subject planning for Home Economics. It is commendable that the whole-school health and safety policy identifies the potential hazards for textiles and food studies lessons. However, at present the hazards are listed in two separate lists; one for a textiles room and another list for a kitchen. At the next review stage it is recommended that this list be reviewed to acknowledge the fact that the specialist room in Coláiste Naomh Cormac is a dual-purpose room. Furthermore the safety procedures for practical textile lessons should be displayed clearly in the area of the room where the specialist textiles equipment is used by students.
In the case of one class group there is a mis-match between the number of students in the class and the design specification and layout of the home economics room. Management is conscious of the challenges that this presents to teaching and learning, particularly in practical lessons, and has taken the necessary steps to ensure that all home economics classes in subsequent year groups are kept to a manageable size. Bearing in mind the health and safety implications for practical lessons it would be important that this revised arrangement be maintained.
There is a strong commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) and this is facilitated and supported by management. There is on-going engagement with the Home Economics Support Service (HESS) and the Association of Teachers of Home Economics. It is obvious that the experience gained has impacted positively on the quality of learning and teaching of Home Economics in the school.
There is a long tradition of subject planning evident in the home economics department. Good use has been made of the materials provided by the School Development Planning Initiative and HESS in developing a subject planning folder. Schemes of work that outline the topics to be covered have been developed for each year group. It is commendable that learning outcomes have been devised for some of the topics listed. Of particular note is the fact that these schemes have been evolving over many years and that a proactive and reflective approach is being adopted to their on-going development and review. In planning for the Leaving Certificate programme it was noted positively that the sequence of lessons is based around the coursework assignments. Class time is also allocated to explaining the routines for compiling the coursework journals. This very good practice promotes a student-centred approach to the completion of the food studies practical coursework. To develop this good work further, it is recommended that on a phased basis each scheme is modified and presented as a series of time bound units of work. The outcomes, in terms of students’ expected knowledge and understanding, should be sequenced in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in the syllabuses. Appropriate resources, teaching strategies and homework activities should also be included. If the schemes of work were in an electronic format, subsequent reviews would be made easier.
Some teaching strategies are integrated into the schemes of work. It is commendable that the design brief process is introduced as a strategy from an early stage in first year. This very good practice enables students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation. These are key skills required by candidates taking the certificate examinations in Home Economics. From reviewing the planning documentation made available on the day of the inspection, it is evident that formal whole-class demonstrations are an integral part of the teaching and learning of Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate practical food studies coursework. Considering the breadth of the home economics syllabuses and the necessity to promote active student learning, it is recommended that the inclusion of this strategy, in its current format, in the teaching of practical food studies be reviewed.
Two very interesting home economics modules have been planned for TY. It is commendable that key skills and learning outcomes have been identified for each module. An interesting range of project and practical coursework is incorporated into each module.
Cross-curricular links are firmly established with a number of subjects. These links have resulted in the completion of a variety of very interesting cross-curricular projects. Home economics students also participate in a range of co-curricular activities. These practices are highly commended as a means of reinforcing students’ learning and broadening their knowledge and skills, as well as enhancing their enjoyment of the subject.
An experienced and committed approach is taken to the teaching and learning of Home Economics. There was good advance planning and preparation for the lessons observed. Appropriate resource materials such as exemplar food products and handouts were prepared in advance and used effectively to support student learning. All the lessons had a clear focus and were, in most instances, well paced.
The aim of each lesson was made clear from the outset and the content chosen was suited to the level and ability of the students. As each lesson progressed key learning outcomes for the topic were shared with students. This strategy proved effective in providing an additional focus and structure to the lessons. Some strategies used to summarise the lesson content and consolidate students’ learning were particularly praiseworthy. One good example observed was where individual students had to outline one new piece of information that they had learned in the lesson. It was obvious that this strategy consolidated learning effectively by affording an opportunity for the teacher to check students’ understanding of any new concepts and provide additional clarification on new points of information. As a means of augmenting students’ learning, it is recommended that further consideration be given to the type of written homework activities that are assigned at the end of a lesson in order to reinforce and extend students’ learning.
In each of the lessons observed the teacher displayed excellent subject knowledge, as evidenced by the attention paid to detail in the explanations given. Good use was made of the classroom board and worksheets to clarify and summarise key points of information. Best practice was observed when students were given adequate time to take the information down into their copy books. There was good emphasis on explaining the technical language or key terminology associated with the topics being taught. This very good practice assists students in developing the literacy skills necessary for the certificate examinations in Home Economics.
As recommended in home economics syllabuses, deliberate efforts were made to present the material being taught in a manner that integrated related elements and processes. One particularly good example of this occurred in a lesson where the teacher gave a formal demonstration to illustrate the properties of starch. The use of a formal whole-class demonstration, in this instance, proved very effective in enhancing students’ understanding and application of scientific knowledge. Home economics syllabuses emphasise the importance of supporting students to develop their own practical skills in the areas of food preparation and cooking process on a phased basis. Therefore it is recommended that while formal demonstrations have their uses, the appropriate use of this strategy, particularly in the area of the practical food and culinary skill lessons, be reviewed.
A range of global and directed questions was used effectively to assess students’ understanding and encourage them to link the new concepts being taught with prior learning. It is particularly commendable that the questions posed challenged students to link the topic being taught to related syllabus areas already covered. On occasion, the questioning techniques challenged students to analyse and deduce further information about the topic under discussion. This is good practice and its wider use is encouraged in order to support students’ higher order thinking skills.
Teaching and learning took place in a calm, affirming and supportive atmosphere. Classroom management was uniformly very good. All classroom interactions were characterised by the high level of mutual respect and co-operation. Student contributions to all lessons was warmly encouraged and affirmed.
Students are making good progress in Home Economics. They displayed a good knowledge and understanding of the concepts being taught. Observation of students’ practical coursework in the areas of core textiles and design and craftwork indicated a very high level of competence in a wide range of appropriate craft and textile skills. A very high level of creativity and originality were evident in the interpretation of the design briefs. A variety of childcare projects was observed during the course of the evaluation. Projects that demonstrated a clear link with child development, utilised a variety of research methods and had well developed conclusions relevant to the stated aims were illustrative of very good practice. It is worth noting that the chief examiners’ reports and associated marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission are very useful for further guidance and advice on the Junior Certificate coursework components. These documents are available at www.examinations.ie.
Students’ progress and competence in Home Economics is monitored through a range of assessment procedures that includes oral questioning, written assignments, class tests, monitoring of project and practical work and end of term formal examinations. Observation of some project work and examination scripts indicated some very good practices with regard to the monitoring and annotating of student work. Useful teacher comments provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. These good practices enhance learning by informing students about their own progress and highlighting areas for improvement. This ultimately challenges and assists students to reach their full potential. Further information on Assessment for Learning (AfL) is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website at www.ncca.ie.
The type and range of homework activities assigned is a very important element of the formative assessment process. Therefore it is recommended that a homework policy be developed for Home Economics. Particular attention should be given to the range of homework activities assigned to each year group and how best to balance the amount of homework assigned with the provision of constructive feedback to students. The range of homework assigned should ensure that all students have regular opportunities to develop skills in the wide range of question styles typical of the certificate examinations in Home Economics. Some activities should also engage students in independent research and the application of higher order thinking skills such as the analysis and evaluation of information. In addition, the homework policy could outline the subsequent responsibilities of the students on receipt of the marked work.
Formal in-house summative examinations take place at Christmas and summer for all home economics students. Students preparing for the certificate examinations take mock examinations in the second term. Reports are issued to parents after these examinations and feedback on student progress is also reported on at the annual parent-teacher meetings. It is commendable that the marks awarded for Home Economics incorporate an assessment of some of the practical coursework, particularly in the textiles area. To build on this good practice it is recommended that the range of summative assessment modes used in junior cycle be extended to include an assessment of students’ practical food and culinary skills. 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.
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 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.