An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Drumfinn Rd. Ballyfermot, Dublin 10
Roll Number: 60732H
Date of inspection: 21 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Caritas College, Ballyfermot, Dublin 10. 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 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 home economics teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Home Economics is a well-established subject in Caritas College, as evidenced by the fact that it is an integral part of all curricular programmes offered in the school.
The subject benefits from very good participation rates in junior and senior cycle programmes. Incoming first-year students and their parents are supported in the transition into secondary school by the transfer programme that operates in the school. It is commendable that all students have the option to study Home Economics in first year where it is a core subject for students who take the Junior Certificate School Programme and an optional subject for students who are taking the Junior Certificate programme. Where Home Economics is an optional subject, it is offered on a pre-set band against Science. A taster programme operates where students have the opportunity to sample Home Economics for half the academic year and Science for the remainder. This laudable initiative enables students to make informed subject choices. While the fact that subject availability can be restricted by resources available to the school is acknowledged, it is advocated that management consider reviewing this current pre-set option band with a view to broadening the manner by which subjects are offered. The feasibility of generating option bands from an initial survey of students’ preferences so that they are not so restricted in relation to subject choice could be considered. In addition the length of time given over to the taster programme should be considered carefully to ensure that students derive full benefit from the initiative while at the same time not allowing it to impact negatively on their progress through Junior Certificate syllabuses.
It is praiseworthy that all students have the opportunity to study modules in Food Studies and Craft as part of the Transition Year programme. Leaving Certificate students choose their optional subjects at the end of third year or transition year, and are supported and advised as part of the school’s guidance programme. It is laudable that modules related to Home Economics are offered as vocational specialisms as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme (LCA). This allows students who took Home Economics for their Junior Certificate and progress into LCA build on the knowledge and skills already developed in junior cycle.
Home Economics benefits from a good level of provision and whole-school support. Teaching time allocated to classes is generally in line with syllabus recommendations, though the triple period for one particular junior cycle band needs careful monitoring. This arrangement may be beneficial for practical lessons but is challenging for both students and teachers in theoretical lessons. There are two home economics teachers on the staff. It was noted positively that they are deployed in a manner that allows each teacher to extend and deepen their experience and expertise in the subject in all the curricular programmes, while at the same time bearing in mind specific interests and expertise.
Formal subject department planning began three years ago and was introduced on a phased basis across different subject departments. This process was facilitated by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Management is most supportive of the continued development of this process as evidenced by the fact that formal planning time is allocated to staff on a very regular basis. The willingness and commitment of the home economics team in embracing this process is acknowledged and commended. It was noted positively that an agenda and a record of the main decisions taken are kept on file to ensure continuity between meetings. It is recommended that collaborative curricular planning becomes a regular item on the agenda of future meetings. At present there is no subject co-ordinator and the work is shared among the team. 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 calling and 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 Caritas College.
Good provision is made for students with special education needs in Home Economics. Small classes are formed and special needs assistants attend classes as appropriate. The home economics team makes a conscious effort to adapt worksheets and teaching strategies to accommodate all learning needs. This work should form part of the agenda of planning meetings so that teachers can share individual expertise and discuss effective strategies. The school provides the resources during the house examinations and the mock examinations that reflect the reasonable accommodation that candidates may expect in the certificate examinations. This commendable practice is effective preparation for the certificate examinations.
There are two modern specialist rooms, one kitchen and one textiles room. Each room is very well maintained and resourced with an appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of the subject. Colourful displays of wall charts and posters create a stimulating, print-rich environment. Resources are allocated on the basis of teacher requisition and management is very supportive of any requests made for additional resources. The school has a recent health and safety statement, which was developed by an external consultant. The policy outlines the risk factors and specific safety control measures for some equipment used in home economics lessons. Safety rules are clearly displayed and procedures are in place to report any accidents and breakages in the specialist rooms. As part of the subject department planning process the home economics team should review and update where necessary the health and safety policy for Home Economics, to include a risk assessment and specific safety control measures for all the key equipment used in practical food studies and textiles lessons. This assessment should be reviewed and updated on an annual basis. A copy of the amended health and safety policy for Home Economics should be included in the subject department folder. A clear list of safety rules for practical textile lessons that includes specific safety rules for using textile equipment, such as the sewing machine, iron and ironing board should also be displayed in the textiles room.
Considerable interest has been expressed in developing the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. There is some access to the ICT room, though it is already heavily booked. The textiles room is wired for broadband access but the home economics department has no ICT hardware or software. As ICT is a useful tool to allow students and teachers engage in the independent and guided research necessary to fulfil coursework requirements in Home Economics, it is advocated the management considers, where resources permit, the provision of dedicated ICT facilities for Home Economics. To complement this work, the home economics team should develop a strategic plan that demonstrates concrete strategies for utilising and embedding ICT in the teaching and learning of Home Economics. This plan will be useful in establishing resource needs that can be met over time, as additional funding becomes available.
The home economics team readily engages in the process of subject department planning and some good progress has been made in the development of a subject planning folder. This document outlines key information regarding the organisation of Home Economics in the school. The planning documentation developed by the Home Economics Support Service would prove beneficial in the further advancement of this folder. This information can be accessed at www.homeeconomics.ie.
Curricular planning currently takes place mainly on an individual basis. A commendable willingness is evident among the home economics team to embark on the process of collaborative curricular planning. Collaborative planning is very beneficial as it shares the workload of curricular planning among the team and prevents duplication of work. It also facilitates the sharing of expertise and encourages professional dialogue. Therefore as a next step in curricular planning, it is recommended that common programmes of work be developed for each year group. All programmes should include the specific time allocated to each topic and the lesson content should be sequenced in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in both home economics syllabuses. Expected knowledge and understanding 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 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. Some of this work is already completed in some of the 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 in the delivery of lesson content. If the plans were available in electronic format subsequent amendments could easily be made.
A variety of coursework is planned for junior cycle. It is recommended that the practical coursework component of Junior Certificate core textiles be reviewed to ensure compliance with syllabus requirements. The introduction of a simple design brief folder that would be completed in tandem with the textile items produced should be considered by the teaching team. This would enable students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation. It would also provide further opportunities to integrate theory and practice. In addition the State Examinations Commission documentation, for example the Junior Certificate coursework guidelines and related Chief Examiner Reports, must inform future planning for the childcare optional study.
A Transition Year plan has been compiled that aims to develop students’ skills in the areas of Food Studies and Crafts. To develop the good work already evident it is recommended that the programme of work for each module be developed further to include specific aims and objectives for each module and a detailed outline of student learning outcomes in terms of expected knowledge and understanding. The inclusion of too much Leaving Certificate course content should be avoided. In addition, clear assessment criteria should be devised for the assessment of all project work undertaken. These criteria should form the basis of any monitoring of student work and subsequent feedback given. Information and advice on writing a transition year module is available in the leaflet Writing the Transition Year Programme which is available from the Second Level Support Service at www.slss.ie.
The teaching team has collected a range of resources to support the teaching and learning of home economics. In addition, there is a dedicated overhead projector, television and video recorder for the home economics department as well as a range of classroom videos, posters, reference books and class sets of additional textbooks. As home economics syllabuses necessitate access to a range of updated information and resources management is requested to consider supporting the ongoing investment in the maintenance and expansion of this resource library. To complement this initiative, the home economics team should review the current stock of resources in both specialist rooms and identify any resource needs that have arisen and that can be addressed on a phased basis, as resources permit.
The quality of short-term planning for the lessons observed was very good. Written lesson plans outlined the planned learning outcomes and the teaching strategies to be employed. This good practice ensured that lessons had clear aims and had good continuity with previous work. In some lessons there was good cross-linking of interrelated syllabus areas. This practice could be further developed in all lessons as home economics syllabuses recommend that information be taught within a framework that integrates the related elements and processes. Appropriate resource materials, such as handouts and worksheets, were prepared for lessons and used effectively to support students’ learning. It is particularly commendable that the design of some worksheets encouraged students to engage in a degree of independent learning that was appropriate to their level and experience.
All lessons were very well structured and purposeful and generally well paced. In some instances the key learning outcomes for the topic were displayed on a corner of the blackboard and were discussed with students. This proved very effective in scaffolding lesson structure. Further use of this very good practice is encouraged as it can enable students to focus on their own learning and facilitate self-evaluation at the end of a lesson.
A variety of appropriate teaching and learning strategies were deployed effectively in the lessons observed. Teachers displayed a commendable concern for students’ understanding of lesson content. Explanations were linked to students’ own experiences and this proved very effective in stimulating students’ interest, assisting understanding and consolidating learning. There was some very good use of the blackboard and flip charts to summarise key points of information in a visually attractive manner. Best practice was observed where students were given time to take down this information into their copybooks. There was good evidence of reinforcing and checking students’ understanding of the language of Home Economics. This good practice helps students develop the necessary linguistic skills in preparation for the written examinations. This strategy could be extended by displaying posters of the key words for the topics under discussion in lessons.
Questioning was used to stimulate student interest and to check understanding. On occasion, students were challenged by questioning to analyse and apply information. This highly commendable practice should be incorporated into all lessons to develop students’ higher-order thinking skills. Questioning strategies proved most effective in lessons were 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 direct questions to individual students to minimise the practice of chorus answering and to focus individual student attention on lesson content and assess individual levels of student knowledge and understanding.
Active learning was a central feature of all the home economics lessons observed. Students remained active participants in theoretical lessons by answering questions, completing worksheets and design briefs and participating in group-work and pair-work. A particularly good example of group-work occurred in a lesson where students in groups of four worked on a task that required them to interpret, apply and analyse information necessary to progress the lesson. The activity was time bound, involved the nomination of group members to key roles to complete the task and included a reporting-back phase. These are key components to the success of group-work activities. This activity was particularly useful in assisting students in developing higher-order thinking skills. To build on these good practices it is recommended that activities that encourage the development of students’ higher-order thinking skills be integrated further into class and homework and assessment activities.
In the practical lesson observed students worked well independently and in pairs. They displayed a good standard of culinary skills and were competent in following instructions and in the handling and organisation of equipment. Due attention was given to the active management of health and safety. Throughout the lesson, the teacher circulated among work units and it was obvious that this practice gave students the opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive manner. Consideration should be given to the use of spot demonstrations to “stage” the preparation, cooking and serving of dishes in practical lessons. Spot demonstrations provide opportunities to re-emphasise key food preparation processes and apply theoretical knowledge to practical skills. The worksheet used in the lessons was particularly well designed to allow students gather the key information needed for writing up the evaluation stage of the assignment. It is suggested, where time allows, that a group discussion be used as a strategy for summarising the key points of information learned practical lessons. This would prove useful in assisting students in recording assignments and design briefs.
Planned learning activities were managed effectively in all the lessons observed. A good rapport and a good level of mutual respect and co-operation were evident between the students and teachers. Good use was made of praise to affirm students’ progress. Students remained purposefully engaged in their own learning and displayed a sense of security in seeking clarification or assistance during lessons. It was obvious that the practice of the teacher moving around the room gave students the opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive manner. Students remained engaged in lesson content and displayed a good understanding of the key concepts under discussion.
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor progress and provide feedback to home economics students. Formative assessment is carried out on an on-going basis through oral questioning, student observation, written assignments, and the assessment of practical and project work. Class tests are also administered at frequent intervals.
Formal in-house examinations are held at Christmas and in summer. Students preparing for the certificate examinations sit mock examinations in the second term. All assessment outcomes are systematically recorded in the teachers’ journal. This good practice helps to build a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over time. Assessment outcomes and progress reports are communicated to parents or guardians twice a year. Feedback on students’ progress is also available at parent-teacher meetings and by teacher comments in the students’ journal.
Observation of students’ copybooks indicated some good progression in their work, however there was some variation in quality of student work presented, particularly with regard to the maintenance of class notebooks. Consideration could be given to developing a system for notebooks where students could record work and store handouts in an easily accessible and systematic fashion for the duration of the Junior Certificate or Leaving Certificate programme.
Homework is regularly assigned to all classes. In all the lessons observed the homework assigned aimed to reinforce or extend learning. It was noted positively that on occasion the homework exercises encouraged the students to analyse, apply or research information. In the case of students preparing to sit the certificate examinations there was some good emphasis on past examination papers. It is advocated that homework exercises and examination questions, as well as assessing recall of factual information, should aim, on occasion, to develop and assess students’ high-order thinking skills. Some very good practice was evident in the monitoring of student work. Useful teacher comments in copybooks and on test papers provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. Consideration should be given by the home economics team to expanding and developing such Assessment for Learning (AfL) practices. Further information on AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.
It is intended to develop a whole-school homework policy as part of the school’s on-going engagement with school development planning. At present there is no agreed homework or assessment policy for Home Economics. Therefore to complement the initiatives about to begin at whole-school level, it is recommended that an agreed homework and assessment policy be developed by the home economics team. This policy should document an agreed assessment format for the in-house examinations for each year group. It is recommended that the current range of assessment modes used by extended, where feasible, to include an assessment of the relevant coursework components at key times during the year. If students of Home Economics are awarded an aggregated mark for a written paper and relevant coursework components, this proves a more reliable indicator of students’ ability in the subject. The assessment criteria used should be based on the related certificate examination. The homework section of the policy should aim to develop guidelines on the type, regularity and monitoring of the homework assigned and could outline the subsequent responsibilities of the students on receipt of the marked work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics is an integral part of all curricular programmes offered in the school.
· The subject benefits from a good level of provision and whole-school support.
· The specialist rooms are very well resourced and considerable interest has been expressed in developing the potential of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
· Formal subject department planning has begun in Caritas College. This process is facilitated and supported by management.
· Some good progress has been made in the development of a subject planning folder. A commendable willingness is evident among the home economics team to embark on the process of collaborative curricular planning.
· The quality of short-term planning for the lessons observed was very good.
· Students remained engaged in lesson content and displayed a good understanding of the key concepts under discussion. Very good routines for practical lessons were evident.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The appointment of a subject co-ordinator, which could be rotated among the team, should be considered.
· Common programmes of work should be developed for each year group over time as outlined in the report.
· Planning for the practical coursework component of Junior Certificate core textiles should be reviewed to ensure compliance with syllabus requirements.
· An agreed homework and assessment policy for Home Economics that reflects all the assessment objectives of revised syllabuses should be developed.
Post-evaluation meetings were 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Those teachers involved found the inspection helpful and that it was conducted in a most supportive way. Ideas and suggestions were welcomed.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Some timetabling issues will be dealt with in the planning for 2007/2008