An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Mayfield Community School
Old Youghal Road, Mayfield, Cork
Roll number: 91400F
Date of inspection: 10 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection Report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mayfield Community School. 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 subject teacher. 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 comment.
Home Economics is well established on the curriculum in Mayfield Community School. It is a relatively popular subject, with quite a healthy uptake in both cycles, although stronger at junior cycle. A good percentage of boys opt to study Home Economics in the school but, once again, their participation is more obvious at junior cycle. As a result of these two identified trends in overall uptake levels in Home Economics, it is recommended that consideration be given to the design and implementation of strategies that would further encourage the total student cohort, but particularly the male student cohort, to study the subject to Leaving Certificate level. Some strategies for this will be suggested in the planning section of this report.
Home Economics is an optional subject in the school, with the exception of first year where all students are required to study a half-year module of the subject. It is unfortunate that, as a result of staffing and time-table constraints, the school’s Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme does not offer any of the relevant Home Economics vocational specialisms, for example, Childcare/Community Care or Hotel, Catering and Tourism. Resources permitting in the future, particularly because of the benefit that such an approach would have for the students, the introduction of a year-long Home Economics programme in first year and provision for the delivery of the specified LCA vocational specialisms are highly recommended.
Students in the school are very well supported, advised and assisted when making subject choices at the end of first year and again before progressing on to senior cycle. The school is to be commended for its operation of what can be described as a very equitable and student-centred approach to subject choice. Subject option pools are generated from student surveys and every effort is made to facilitate each student in his/her preferred subject choice. This system is proving fair and successful, as evidenced by an overall satisfaction rating of 98%. Students of Home Economics are encouraged to aim for high academic standards and are urged by the department to work towards taking a higher level paper. As a result, generally speaking and particularly at Leaving Certificate level, the majority of students sit a higher level paper in the State examinations. Considering the very good results being achieved by some students opting to take the ordinary level paper in the subject in the Junior Certificate State examinations, consideration should be given to strengthening approaches that are currently in place, in order to judiciously encourage a larger cohort of the student body to take the higher level option at junior cycle.
On the whole Home Economics benefits from a good level of provision and management is very supportive of both the subject and the work of the department. Management deserves credit for providing time each term for teachers to engage in formal subject planning. The observed practice of providing an agenda and minuting the business of such meetings is very praiseworthy. This approach is fully encouraged particularly in one-teacher departments where, if such records are not in place, continuity and subject development can be compromised in instances where mid to long-term teacher absences arise. The department is provided with a budget to cover the cost of ingredients and craft materials, and additional resources, for example kitchen equipment, are allocated on the basis of requisition. Management is committed to encouraging and supporting teacher continuous professional development (CPD) and so facilitates attendance at in-service and marking conferences, as well as the participation in the marking of the practical examinations in Junior Certificate. Official documentation from, for example, the State Examinations Commission, is disseminated promptly to the teacher concerned.
The department houses two specialist rooms. The subject kitchen is in need of renovation and modernisation and so it is encouraging to note that plans are underway to carry out this very necessary work. In tandem with such work and in the interests of health and safety, it is recommended that the need to provide a mechanical ventilation system in the kitchen be investigated and, if deemed necessary, be considered as a matter of priority. It is very creditable that management has facilitated the networking of the Home Economics department to broadband and that in the not too distant future it is intended to provide room-based up-to-date ICT equipment, including a permanently mounted data projector. In fact, the school’s overall approach to the incorporation of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) is exemplary in nature and as a result is deserving of much recognition and praise.
The school has developed a whole-school safety statement which is currently being revised. It is strongly recommended that, in due course, the Home Economics department develops its own subject-specific safety statement. As discussed, this might be an interesting project for the Transition Year (TY) students, whose work in the area should be facilitated, directed and guided by the teacher.
The Home Economics department is in the process of developing a subject-specific policy document, which in itself is evidence of departmental commitment to the very important and essential area of planning. It should be noted that the development of this policy document is a continual process and so a ‘living’ policy will always demonstrate room for revision, advancement and improvement. The current document is fairly comprehensive and includes items such as: subject- specific goal identification exercises; details of subject provision; programmes of work; copies of students’ past reports; results for the 2005 State examinations; extra curricular and co-curricular activities and a record of teacher CPD. As a means of enhancing the work to date, it would be beneficial to refer to the planning materials provided by the Home Economics Support Service, at one of their recently organised network meetings. This material, along with other information on the topic of planning, can be accessed on the support services website at www.homeeconomics.ie.
The programmes of work which have been developed outline work to be covered on a term-by-term basis and specify in a general way topics to be covered, methodologies, resources, homework and assessment. This approach is reflective of good practice in the area of curricular planning. It is recommended however, that these programmes be developed in time to include detailed provision for the following: a comprehensive list of topics to be covered; more specific timeframes for the delivery of each topic; suitable methodologies for each area of planned work; the identification of appropriate resources for each area; suitable topic-specific assignments/homework; assessment types and options; links between theory and students’ practical work; integration of subject matter, as well as exam preparation and revision, when and where appropriate. This is quite an involved and detailed process and so it is recommended that it be implemented on a phased basis taking, for example, one junior and one senior year group per annum. This very specific time-bound approach to programme planning is recommended, as it will provide assurances for teachers and students alike that required coursework will be covered at an appropriate pace. The general integration of topics on the syllabuses, along with the linking of practical work with theory, are also strongly advocated in order to make student learning more purposeful and meaningful. Such detailed plans will undoubtedly enhance the quality of both teaching and learning in the subject, whilst highlighting opportunities for developing best practice. The plans should be working documents, utilised by teachers in their day-to-day work and ideally, when and where relevant, should provide scope for the addition of teacher comment and/or evaluation following delivery of each of the planned lessons.
A suggested current focus for planning for the long term development of the subject is the design of strategies intended to greater encourage the senior student cohort, but particularly the male student body, to study the subject to Leaving Certificate level. Some possible approaches might include: developing a Home Economics notice-board at a prominent location within the school that might be used to highlight, for example, the career-relevance of the subject, the interesting co-educational features of the syllabuses and some positive male and female student perceptions of Home Economics. It would also be pertinent to highlight, even on an informal basis, the significant reduction in the workload of the senior cycle food and culinary skills coursework journals. The students’ experience of the subject in TY might also be utilised as a means of attracting more students to the subject at Leaving Certificate level. This could be achieved in a number of ways, for example, by designing TY syllabuses that relate in minor ways to some of the more interesting facets of the Leaving Certificate syllabus and by providing students with tasks that induct them in the skills required for independent student research and learning, which the new syllabus at Leaving Certificate level is designed to encourage and promote.
The recently initiated planning for the intention of developing cross-curricular links between Home Economics and other subjects on the school’s curriculum is very commendable and so is greatly encouraged. Home Economics in TY, offers a myriad of opportunities to further develop this area of planning. It is commendable that planning for resources to support teaching and learning also features in the work of the department. A variety of support materials including videos, charts, reference books, educational packs and leaflets have been gathered together and these can be accessed by students for their own independent research and study.
There was evidence of a very satisfactory level of prior planning and preparation for each of the lessons observed over the course of the subject inspection. A range of pre-prepared materials and teaching-aids, which was gathered together in advance of each lesson, was utilised to great effect to support and enhance the intended student learning. Such items included: posters and charts, word-banks, worksheets, handouts and some topic related props and samples.
At the outset of each lesson, students were provided with a clear aim for the lesson and this approach is very commendable. Lessons were well structured and in the main well paced, but it is recommended that a swifter approach be adopted to the delivery of certain facets of lesson content, for example time spent on revising work previously covered, so that there is sufficient class time remaining to cover all of the work actually planned for the lesson and in turn for the term. Teacher instruction was clear and accurate and there was a notably impressive non-reliance on the textbook. Significant efforts were made to contextualise the information which was presented over the course of the lessons. This was achieved by drawing on students’ previous knowledge and their everyday experiences, in order to help them understand and learn the more abstract concepts and facts.
The observed teaching incorporated a good variety of methodologies and on the whole the approaches utilised were very student centred. Examples of the methodologies contained in the lessons visited included: whole-class instruction, board-work, individual worksheet activity, pair work, activities designed around the concept of discovery learning, one-to-one individual tuition and demonstrations. It is worth noting that some of the more activity-based methodologies actively encouraged student involvement in the learning process and allowed for the sharing of ideas, the expression of opinions, the development of critical thinking skills and an enhanced personalisation of the lesson content for the students. These strategies are fully welcomed and their continued and increased inclusion in the delivery of the Home Economics curriculum is strongly advocated for the reasons outlined above, but also because such an approach supports independent, collaborative and co-operative learning, which are key foci of both the junior and senior Home Economics syllabuses.
The good practice of questioning students was a dominant feature of the observed lessons but it is recommended that, rather than accepting ‘chorus answering’ from the whole class group, that the practice of directing questions to individual students be adopted. On a further note when using questioning to examine work previously covered, to check student understanding, or as a means of assisting lesson summary, it is advisable that students be instructed by their teacher to close all copies, notes and books. Some excellent examples of the incorporation of higher order questioning were apparent in all of the classes visited. This very desirable practice is to be commended as it fully prepares students for the higher level paper in the State examinations, as well as for life in general.
The practical class visited deserves the description of ‘exemplary in nature’. The teaching that took place was firmly focused on the development of students’ culinary skills and the very thorough explanation and application of the processes and principles of cooking. Not only were students being well prepared for the practical examination at the end of third year, but they were also receiving a wonderful education that will stand to them for years to come. Students were encouraged to really think about what they were doing and about the information that was being imparted to them. They were encouraged to work independently, to use their initiative and to develop their critical thinking skills. There was a good emphasis on safety and hygiene throughout the lesson and a firm but gentle insistence on student adherence to established systems and procedures.
The nature of the interactions between teacher and students can be described as very positive. A keen awareness of the individual characters in the classes was evident and all students were engaged in classroom activity. A befitting amount and style of humour was introduced on occasions by the teacher and this was very much appreciated, enjoyed and appropriately reciprocated by students. Student contributions, which were very forthcoming, were encouraged, welcomed and readily affirmed. Students remained focused and attentive throughout each of the lessons which can be attributed in no small way to the effective systems that have been established in order to manage classroom activity and student participation.
The amount of questions volunteered by the students during the lessons is testament to the high degree of student participation and engagement in classroom activities. Observation of student responses to questions and their approach to their work, demonstrated a good level of understanding and knowledge of Home Economics. Overall, the quality of teaching seen during this inspection was very good and certainly conducive to optimum learning by students.
Students’ progress and achievement in Home Economics are determined and assessed using a variety of methods. The department’s impressively varied approach to assessment includes: the oral questioning of students in class; the provision of written exercises completed both in class and at home; the organisation of topic tests; the examination and grading of students’ project work; the assessment of students’ skills in the area of practical food studies; the evaluation and marking of senior students’ food journals and the organisation of formal in-house examinations twice yearly. It is good to note the commitment to assessing aspects of required coursework, for example, the practical food and culinary skills component at junior cycle, and including the results of same as part of the overall student assessment grade at key times during the year. This practice reflects the assessment objectives of the syllabuses and the provision of an aggregate assessment mark is a more accurate indicator of a student’s actual ability in the subject.
Systematic records of the assessment findings and results for each student are maintained and these are communicated to parents and guardians through the issuing of a school report following both of the formal in-house examinations and through the annual parent teacher meeting held for each year group.
Examination of student copybooks indicated that there is a very obvious and established pattern of regularly setting and monitoring homework. This work is corrected, but the approach being used provides students with very little constructive feedback. It is recommended therefore that the practice of providing explanatory notes and helpful comments along with the correction of work, be applied more consistently and more thoroughly to the monitoring of students’ homework. This approach informs students of the reasons for their progress or lack of progress, challenges them to improve and affirms work that is well done. Such an approach is referred to as assessment for learning (AFL) and further information on this practice is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie. Furthermore it is recommended that periodically, work assigned for homework also be graded. This would provide students with another means of assessing their own individual progress in the subject, whilst also providing teachers with a vehicle for effectively comparing work completed at home, with that which is carried out in school. Ideally, but particularly in fifth and sixth year classes, students would be provided with appropriate marking schemes when work is being assigned and this in turn would be applied by the teachers in the correction of same. This has the added advantage of further developing students’ exam techniques in areas such as the interpretation of marking schemes, depth of treatment and time management.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 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.