An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
St Dominicís College
Cabra, Dublin 7
Roll number: 60731F
Date of inspection: 1 May 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Dominicís College, Cabra. 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 two days 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 teachers.† 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 subject teachers. 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 enjoys a high profile in St Dominicís College. Student uptake of Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate Home Economics is very good. It is an optional subject in the Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes while Hotel, Catering and Tourism is a vibrant vocational specialism in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme.
Incoming first-year students select optional subjects at pre-entry stage. It is commendable that Junior Certificate option bands are generated based on student preferences and that Home Economics is offered more than one option line. This facilitates great flexibility in accessing subjects. Leaving Certificate option bands are also generated from an initial survey of studentsí preferences. The high uptake of Leaving Certificate Home Economics normally results in the formation of at least three class groups. However, the practice of concurrent timetabling of Home Economics on only one option line should be reviewed. This practice can restrict assess to the specialist rooms, given the high demand from other home economics programmes. If the subject was placed on more the one option band it would give greater flexibility in terms of both room timetabling and student choice.
Junior cycle classes are banded. The home economics team makes a commendable effort to encourage as many students as possible to take the higher level option in the Junior Certificate Home Economics examinations. †The home economics team is adopting a proactive approach to the formation of Leaving Certificate classes to meet studentsí needs and ensure successful outcomes. The concurrent timetabling arrangements for Leaving Certificate Home Economics facilitates the formation of mixed ability, banded or streamed classes, all of which† have been investigated and trialled over the years by the home economics team. In the current school year four mixed-ability classes followed a common programme for the first term of fifth year and were assigned into banded classes based on the results of a common Christmas exam. There is a high level of collaborative planning to complement this process. This is indicative of the commitment of the team to ensuring students reach their full potential. As the Leaving Certificate syllabus is designed for mixed-ability settings and the practical coursework is common to both levels, it is recommended that the common programme be reviewed to allow as many students as possible to remain in mixed-ability classes for a greater part of fifth year.†
Home Economics forms part of the Transition Year (TY) programme. To broaden the learning experiences of TY, the school co-operates with a local all-boys secondary school. The home economics department contributes positively to this collaborative project by providing a cookery module for the male students.
Very good practice is evident in the deployment of staff to Home Economics. The teaching team comprises five subject specialists, all of whom display a very high level of commitment and enthusiasm for the continued development of high-quality subject provision. It is evident that the team work as an effective cohesive unit. The position of subject co-ordinator rotates to share the workload. It is laudable that teachers rotate between the various programmes and, where feasible, retain their class groups for the duration of each programme. There is a very good level of engagement among team members with relevant continuous professional development (CPD). It was noted positively that a report compiled from each in-service course attended forms part of the agenda of subsequent planning meetings. Planning documentation reviewed indicates that this practice is having a very positive impact on on-going departmental planning.
Teaching time allocated to Home Economics and LCA Hotel, Catering and Tourism is in line with syllabus requirements. The arrangement of class time into double and single lessons is particularly conducive to effective continuity in teaching and learning. First-year students have three forty-five minute classes per week. While best practice in the timetabling of Home Economics suggests the equivalent of four thirty-five to forty minute class periods per week, the longer class time for the duration of the junior cycle programme redresses any initial shortfall. However, in the context of the upcoming curriculum review it would be important that the number of class periods for first-year Home Economics would not be reduced.
There is excellent provision of resources for Home Economics. The specialist rooms are well organised and maintained to a very high standard. The recent provision of a dedicated data projector for the department will facilitate the further incorporation of information and communications technology (ICT) into the teaching and learning of the subject. Health and safety procedures are in place for Home Economics. A hazard risk analysis has been completed in the home economics department and preventative measures have been identified. †These are linked to the whole-school policy. Clear procedures are in place to report accidents and student-friendly versions of rules for home economics lessons have been developed. To build on these very good practices it is recommended that the hazard list be extended to include the common specialist equipment used in practical textiles lessons.† Appropriate safety notices should also be displayed at key points around each textile room. The maintenance schedule for specialist equipment should also be included in the policy documentation.
Subject department planning is facilitated by senior management as part of the calendar of staff meetings. In addition, the home economics team meets very frequently throughout the academic year. A cohesive approach is evident between whole-school planning and the work undertaken by the subject department team. For instance, in the current academic year a whole-school focus was placed on collaborative programme planning, common assessments and planning for students with additional learning needs. This has impacted positively on recent initiatives within the home economics department. It is laudable that copies of the minutes of subject team meetings are forwarded to the principal and school development planning co-ordinator to maintain good communication on planning matters.
Subject-specific planning is at an advanced stage of development. The effectiveness of the teamwork evident among the teachers is recognised as a key strength in facilitating this work. A strong culture of self-evaluation as well as reflective and progressive practice is evident among team members. Ongoing planning is underpinned by modern educational philosophies. This informed approach is contributing positively to the high quality of teaching and learning evident. For instance following a recent in-service on Assessment for Learning (AfL) a summary document was produced by the co-ordinator. This document has formed the basis of teaching, learning and assessment initiatives currently being trialled by the team to support student progress and achievement. This is very good practice. Formal programme reviews are routinely carried out. It is particularly commendable that students participate in formal reviews of the home economics modules in TY.
Common programmes of work for all curricular programmes are well advanced. Each plan specifies the number of class periods for each topic, suggested teaching strategies and suitable resources. It is particularly good practice that time for revision and class tests have been incorporated into the plans. To complement the whole-school initiative in the areas of special educational needs and further enhance programme planning, it is recommended that that differentiated learning outcomes should be devised for each topic and integrated into each plan over time. An assessment column could also be included in the planning template used in order to record the findings of the investigative work currently being undertaken by the team.
Good planning is evident for Junior Certificate Home Economics. The programme plan demonstrates some very good integration between relevant theory and practical work. At the next review stage it is recommended that the range of practical coursework completed in first year be extended to promote a more balanced and incremental approach to the development of procedural and manipulative skills in the area of food and culinary skills. The items made as part of the core textiles would also benefit from a review to ensure full compliance with the current syllabus requirements. †Consideration should be given to the completion of a simple design brief in tandem with the item made to further enable students to develop skills in the areas of task investigation, problem solving and planning, This would complement the evaluation work †already being †undertaken the students.
Very close collaborative planning is evident for the Leaving Certificate programme. This is very good practice, given the current arrangements for the organisation of senior cycle Home Economics. Very good progress has been made in the development of common programmes of work for the Leaving Certificate syllabus. However, the current fifth-year programme would benefit from a review to enhance the integration of the coursework assignments with relevant theoretical knowledge. The sequence of introducing assignments from each area of practice should be carefully monitored to ensure that an incremental approach to the acquisition of knowledge and skills is being facilitated, particularly in the early part of fifth year.
There is very good planning for students with additional educational needs. Very good collaboration between the learning support and home economics departments has helped to identify suitable strategies and highlight key terminology that needs to be reinforced with students.† It is particularly laudable that the home economics team have agreed the format of worksheets developed in terms of font style and layout to enhance readability. The differentiated test papers being drafted by team members at the time of the evaluation should prove very effective in assisting literacy development. The conscientious manner is which this work is undertaken in very commendable and is indicative of the student-centred ethos of the home economics department.
There is a very good range of additional resources available to support home economics lessons. The resource catalogue will prove useful in identifying further needs. †Given the willingness of team members to share materials, the development of electronic resource folders containing PowerPoint presentations, worksheets, web links and handouts could also be considered.
Very high quality teaching and learning was observed during the course of the evaluation. The level of advance preparation and planning undertaken by individual teachers was very good. Written lesson plans outlined the key learning outcomes and the range of teaching strategies to be deployed in each lesson. To complement the very good work already evident and to assist in the further development of the collaborative programme plans, it is recommended that differentiated learning outcomes be devised for each lesson. These outcomes should outline the knowledge and skills that students must, should and could acquire in the lesson. This information should then inform the questions and activities posed when designing worksheets and homework activities.
Resource materials such as worksheets, exemplar food products and student handouts effectively supported studentsí learning. Of particular note was the use of authentic materials such as floor plans from show houses that served to enhance understanding by linking the material being taught to everyday experiences. Some commendable use of ICT was evident in the preparation of resource materials. During some of the lessons observed there was scope for using the student textbook to support learning. Therefore, it is recommended that the home economics team gives some consideration to strategies that promote the use of class textbooks both as an effective revision tool and as a learning aid for students.
Lessons were well structured and paced at a level that suited studentsí needs. Very good links were established with studentsí prior learning and own experiences to facilitate a good level of understanding. †As part of the teamís focus on AfL, learning outcomes were shared and discussed with students from the outset of all lessons. This proved effective in supporting lesson structure. Teachers displayed very good levels of subject knowledge and a commendable emphasis was placed on attention to detail and to the reinforcement of key terminology during each lesson. There was some very good use of the classroom board to support learning through the noting of key points of information and using visual images to enhance understanding. This good practice is encouraged further.† To optimise inclusive practice, dictation of information to students for inclusion in their notebooks should be avoided.
Some excellent student revision strategies were observed in lessons. Very good practice was evident in instances where key headings for each topic were shared with students to refine the focus of their revision. Of particular note was the very good use made of mnemonics as a tool to enable students to remember information. It was noted positively that these mnemonics are used consistently by all home economics teachers within the department from first year through to sixth year. It was evident that this is a very effective means of reinforcing learning. A commendable focus was placed on enabling student to link and apply relevant information. This is particularly important when preparing students for the integrated nature of questions typical of examination papers. Worksheets and student revision sheets also served as effective guides to revising material. During these lessons there was some good use of pair work to encourage the students to share and evaluate key points of information. The use of such strategies is recommended further to ensure an appropriate balance between teacher-led and student-led activity.
Very good classroom routines were evident in the practical lessons observed. An appropriate balance between whole-class teaching, spot demonstration and individual student attention was evident. The attention to detail in the teacher instructions given supported the effective development of a very high standard of organisational, procedural and manipulative skills among students. It is commendable that the evaluation stage was an integral component of the food studies lesson observed.† Questioning strategies proved effective in facilitating students to justify the evaluative statements made. This very good practice supports high-quality evaluation of tasks among students.
Independent learning is fostered among students. One notable strategy was observed in a practical craftwork lesson. At the start of the lesson students had to set the individual goals to be achieved during the lesson. This proved effective in encouraging students to take responsibility for their work. This could be developed into a reflective journal as part of the TY home economics programme. Resource libraries have been established in each specialist room. This very good practice supports students in undertaking the independent research necessary to fulfil practical coursework requirements.
Learning was assessed and routinely summarised throughout lessons. Questioning strategies were used effectively to stimulate student interest, reinforce learning and check understanding. On occasion students were challenged, by questioning, to analyse and apply information. This very good practice encourages the development of the higher-order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of home economics syllabuses. Best practice was evident in lessons where there was a good balance of open and directed questions in order to assess individual levels of student understanding.
Homework is regularly assigned in home economics lessons. However, there is scope to review the range of homework given to students. Therefore it is recommended that the home economics team review the range of question styles assigned to ensure that students at all levels are provided with further opportunities to complete questions that promote the incremental development of the higher-order thinking skills such as the analysis, interpretation synthesis, and of evaluation of information.
Students enjoy Home Economics and demonstrate a sense of pride in their work. During the evaluation they demonstrated a very good understanding and application of the key concepts in each lesson observed. Students displayed a very good standard of practical skills, given their level of ability and experience with some exceptionally high standards of cross-stitch skills evident among the TY projects observed.
Some excellent practice was noted in the procedures adopted for the maintenance of student notebooks. This practice should be standardised within each programme across the department.† As note-taking is a key strategy used in many classes to assist student learning, it is recommended that the use of graphic organisers be considered as an alternative to using full paragraphs of text. For instance, mind maps can be an effective visual tool to support learning and highlight the interrelationships between topics.
A very positive and affirming atmosphere permeated all of the lessons observed. As students completed practical tasks, effective teacher monitoring together with some very good use of probe questions helped to refine each studentsí skills. The learning environment of each specialist room is greatly enhanced by the displays of studentsí project work, photographs of student achievements and a range of appropriate educational posters.† Themed notice boards also display a range of articles and leaflets on relevant topics. Such practices are highly praiseworthy as they help to stimulate and engage student interest.†
Students of Home Economics are encouraged to aim for high academic standards and, where possible, to take Home Economics at the highest possible level in the certificate examinations.
Progress and achievement are monitored on a regular basis. Some very good summative assessment practice is evident in the organisation of the in-house examinations. Where appropriate, students are awarded an aggregated mark for a written examination and an assessment of the relevant coursework components. As these procedures assess all components of the syllabuses and support the relevant assessment objectives, they are a good indicator of studentsí performance in the subject.
It is commendable that common written examinations are drafted and that differentiated examination papers are set where necessary. To enhance this good practice, it is recommended that the format of the written papers set be reviewed to ensure that all papers are in line with the style and format of the relevant certificate examination. This practice trains students in the development of examination techniques such as timing and the depth of treatment required in the answers given. Attention should also focus on the inclusion of some questions that assess studentsí higher-order thinking skills such as the analysis and evaluation of information. The assessment objectives of home economics syllabuses outlined in syllabus documentation would prove a useful resource to inform the drafting of questions.
An interesting range of coursework is completed as part of TY Home Economics. It is recommended that assessment criteria be devised for the project work undertaken and incorporated into the planning documentation. These criteria should be linked to the intended learning outcomes of the modules and form the basis of student feedback. When reviewing learning outcomes it is important to be particularly mindful of facilitating the incremental progression of studentsí knowledge and skills
Very good formative assessment practice is evident in the home economics department. In-class activities, observation of practical coursework and the regular assigning of homework activities support on-going monitoring of student progress.† Regular class tests and detailed monitoring of student notebooks also ensure that thorough student profiles are assembled.
Studentsí contribution and progress in home economics lessons are affirmed through the provision of regular feedback. Interesting strategies are used by individual teachers. For instance,†† in-class reward schemes encourage students to work as effective teams in practical food studies lessons.† A Sewing Machine Driving Licence Certificate is awarded when students become proficient in using the sewing machine. Such practices are commended as a means of encouraging positive student progress.
To complement the teamís focus on AfL some excellent practice is evident in the monitoring of student work. Observation of student copybooks indicated that studentsí written work is well monitored. †Students are provided with constructive comments highlighting areas where improvements can be made and affirming good work. It is laudable that students are required to use these comments when completing subsequent work and to do test corrections. One lesson observed began with a class discussion about what each student learned from the teacher comments made on a recently-corrected test. It was obvious that this routine practice has proved effective in enabling students to reflect on their learning and progress to date. It is commendable that some team members are investigating the feasibility of peer monitoring and the reviewing of exemplar work as an additional formative assessment strategies. To formalise the very good work evident, it is recommended that an agreed assessment policy be documented for Home Economics. This policy should outline the range of summative and formative assessment strategies used. In devising this policy, particular attention should be given to reviewing the layout of written examination papers and to extending the range of homework assigned for each year group to promote the development of higher-order skills.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Home Economics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, December 2009