An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Wilsonís Hospital School,
Multyfarnham, Co. Westmeath
Roll number: 63300Q
Date of inspection:†† 4 May 2007
Date of issue of report:† 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Wilsonís Hospital School, Multyfarnham, Co. Westmeath. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the home economics department. 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 relevant staff. 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.
Home Economics makes an important contribution to the broad curriculum offered in Wilsonís Hospital School.
Home Economics is an optional subject for junior and senior cycle. First-year students select their subjects at pre-entry stage and it is laudable that option bands are generated from student preferences in an effort to organise the junior cycle curriculum to meet the needs of each incoming student cohort. Students select two optional subjects from a list of five. The principal sends out literature to support and advise students and parents with regard to subject choice. It is praiseworthy that the principal liaises with the home economics staff concerning the content of the subject information supplied. Uptake of Home Economics for the Junior Certificate is good with a commendable uptake among the male student cohort.
The Transition Year (TY) programme is compulsory for all students and it is laudable that a ten-week module in Home Economics forms part of the programme offered. Students entering the Leaving Certificate programme are well supported and advised in relation to subject choice. All TY students receive input on subject choice through the schoolís guidance programme and by presentations made by individual subject teachers. Once again option pools are generated from studentsí preferences and every effort is made to accommodate students in their subject choice. Uptake of Home Economics is good for Leaving Certificate.
The subject benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support. The arrangement of the teaching time allocated to Home Economics is in line with best practice. All junior-cycle classes have four class periods per week, while Leaving Certificate classes have five classes per week. The arrangement of this time into double and single periods is conducive to effective continuity in teaching and learning. The efforts of the schoolís management authorities to ensure that there is a very good spread of classes across the week is commendable.
There is one dual-purpose specialist room, which functions as a kitchen and a textiles room. The room is well maintained. The provision of an annual budget for Home Economics ensures that the room remains well resourced with an appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. As evidence of the on-going whole-school support for the subject, an additional preparation and storage area will be provided as part of the new extension which will begin in the near future. This facility will allow for the safe storage of the dress design equipment, when not in use, the completed project work for the certificate examinations, and facilitate the systematic storage of the large bank of additional resources that has been collected by the home economics staff.
The very strong commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) evident within the home economics department impacts positively on the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics. Home economics staff has attended the in-service training sessions provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service (HESS) and has a wide range of experience in the marking of the certificate examinations in Home Economics in junior and senior cycle. School management is commended for the manner in which they facilitate and support this work.
The co-ordination of Home Economics forms part of a post of responsibility. Formal time is allocated twice a year, at Christmas and Easter, for the purposes of subject department planning. Consideration could be given to the allocation of additional time, perhaps at the beginning and end of the school year, as part of the calendar of staff meetings. The principal sets part of the agenda for the planning meetings. This practice has proved effective in enabling work at subject department level to feed into whole-school policy formation. The principal liaises with the home economics staff who provides feedback from subject department meetings. This good practice ensures that a cohesive approach is taken to the continued development of the subject. It is commendable that, as part of subject planning, the teachers of Home Economics, Music, Technical Graphics, Classical Studies and Art meet in plenary session. This is good practice. Cross-curricular subject meetings provide an ideal forum where the collective expertise of the group can support and advise each other on areas of common interest such as teaching methodologies, classroom management, equipment provision as well as health and safety procedures. It is a particularly beneficial arrangement in the case of one-teacher subject departments.
Issues concerning health and safety are given high priority in the school. There is a well-developed whole-school health and safety policy. A safety committee meets once a month and the home economics staff can highlight any issues of concern. Safety routines for home economics lessons are well established. The specialist room is equipped with a range of health and safety equipment and the health and safety statement for home economics is clearly displayed at each sink. This is good practice.
A collaborative and integrated strategy is adopted to optimise student learning in Home Economics. This is evident through the collaboration that exists between the home economics department and other sections of the school. There is regular contact between the home economics department and year heads to ensure that a focused, caring and co-ordinated approach is taken to supporting students. Students who have special education needs receive additional support in completing coursework through on-going collaboration with the learning support department. It is laudable that the school provides the resources during the mock examinations that reflect the reasonable accommodation that candidates may expect in the certificate examinations. This good practice is very beneficial in helping students prepare for their certificate examinations.
There is some interest in the potential of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. Home economics students have access to the computer room as part of the supervised evening study. It is advocated that the potential of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics be explored further by the home economics department.
A professional and reflective approach is taken to subject department planning in Home Economics. A well-organised planning folder outlines the key information regarding the organisation of Home Economics in the school. Routines for theoretical and practical food studies lessons are well developed. It is advocated that the routines for practical textile lessons and the procedures concerning the maintenance schedule for the key equipment be included in this section of the planning folder. The procedures established for the development of student notebooks and homework routines are particularly praiseworthy.
Planned programmes of work are available for the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and TY programmes in Home Economics. It is commendable that all plans are reviewed on a regular basis. The Junior Certificate plan outlines separate lists of the theoretical topics and practical dishes that are completed over the three years of the syllabus. A commendable level of detail concerning the resources and teaching methodologies used were evident in the plan. To build on this good work it is recommended that this plan be amended to indicate an outline of lessons for the three years of the syllabus that reflects the integrated approach recommended in home economics syllabuses. Expected knowledge and understanding should be presented in terms of learning outcomes and the specific time allocated to each topic should be specified. Particular attention should also be given to incremental progression of knowledge and skills over the course of the junior cycle programme.
A variety of practical coursework is completed in the area of core textiles. First-year students complete a household item. However, the making of the item of clothing, which is also a syllabus requirement, is taught mainly through formal demonstration, with some student involvement. As one of the aims of core textiles is to enable students to develop their creativity and practical textiles skills, it is recommended that teaching strategies deployed in the core textiles section of the Junior Certificate be reviewed. Further opportunities to integrate the design brief process should be considered. Consideration should be given to the completion of a simple scrapbook or folder in tandem with the textile items completed. 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 opportunities to integrate theory and practice.
An interesting home economics module is planned for TY. It is commendable that the information supplied includes the specific timeframe allocated to each topic, the resources used and teaching strategies deployed. To further enhance this good work, it is recommended that assessment criteria be developed for the evaluation of the TY module in Home Economics. These criteria should be shared with students and used as the basis of constructive feedback on the key pieces of project work assigned.
The plan of work for the Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus contains several commendable features. Lesson content is presented in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in the syllabus, however the specific timeframe allocated to each topic should also be included. It is particularly praiseworthy that additional practical food studies lessons are incorporated into the plan to provide additional opportunities to link theoretical knowledge to practical skills.
A very good range of additional teaching resources has been collected and filed systematically to support student learning in Home Economics. Students are also supplied with the necessary ingredients for practical food studies lessons. Studentsí learning is extended beyond the classroom through a range of planned activities such as the use of guest speakers and demonstrators and the successful participation in competitions. Another particularly good strategy deployed in Home Economics is where students who have a particular expertise in an area related to Home Economics are provided with opportunities to share that expertise with the class. Such praiseworthy practices broaden studentsí experience and ultimate enjoyment of the subject.
A very committed, conscientious and dedicated approach is taken by the teaching staff to the teaching and learning of Home Economics. Short-term planning for the range of theoretical and practical lessons observed was very good. Very good links were made with previous learning and a commendable emphasis was placed on presenting the information in a manner that integrated relevant theoretical knowledge to practical coursework skills. This very good practice is indicative of the teaching strategies that underpin home economics syllabuses.
Very good quality teaching and learning was evident in all the lessons observed. The aim of each lesson was shared with the students. This practice proved effective in providing a structure and focus to lessons. All lessons were appropriately paced and summarised at regular intervals in a manner that facilitated effective student learning.
In each lesson observed the home economics teacher displayed excellent subject knowledge and a commendable emphasis was placed on attention to detail in the explanations given during each lesson. Explanations were very clear, accurate and detailed. At times when students sought clarification in lessons, higher-order questioning techniques were used to very good effect to encourage students to establish links with previous learning as well as analyse and apply the information taught in the lesson. This very good practice encouraged students to think for themselves and solve problems in a manner that avoided an over-reliance on teacher-led answers. This resulted in very good learning outcomes for students, as evidenced by the comprehensive knowledge and understanding displayed by the students of the key concepts in all the lessons observed.
A visual approach is taken to the teaching and learning of Home Economics. The blackboard was used effectively to summarise information in a visually attractive manner. In the textile lessons observed very good use was made of exemplar materials that clearly illustrated the key processes being taught. There was very good evidence of reinforcing and checking studentsí understanding of the technical language of Home Economics. This laudable practice helps students develop the necessary linguistic skills in preparation for the written examinations.†
It was noted positively that the practical food studies lesson observed focused on a student assignment rather than solely on the preparation, cooking and serving on a dish. The task required students to compare and contrast two methods for making meringues. The lesson plan provided ideal opportunities for students to apply their theoretical knowledge to practical skills. The provision of a student worksheet would have proved beneficial in allowing students compile the information gained in comparing and contrasting the two methods. Students were also encouraged to vary the basic recipes, which is a very good technique in encouraging student creativity and broadening their experiences in culinary skills. There was some good use of spot demonstrations to demonstrate key processes. The potential of this teaching strategy should be considered further as a means of demonstrating key techniques and reinforcing the application of theoretical knowledge to practical skills. Students displayed a very high level of self-organisational skills, as evidenced by their level of advance preparation and planning for the class. They demonstrated a very good range and standard of culinary skills and sound safety and hygiene routines were evident.
Learner autonomy is fostered and encouraged in Home Economics. Observation of studentsí notebooks indicated that effective use is made of ICT to generate summary notes from home economics lessons. In addition to their class textbook, there is a range of additional textbooks stored in the home economics room for student use. It is commendable that students are encouraged to use these books to supplement class materials and extend their learning.
Planned learning activities were well managed. The good practice of taking the roll was observed in all lessons. A very caring, affirming and calm learning atmosphere permeated each lesson observed and a high level of mutual respect and co-operation characterised all interactions that took place. 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. The physical environment of the home economics room is enhanced by a display of themed educational posters, relevant leaflets and newspaper articles.
Students enjoy Home Economics and demonstrate a great sense of pride in their work. Observation of studentsí recent project work in the area of design and craftwork indicates a high level of competence in the organisation and presentation of materials and in the appropriate craft and textile skills. A commendable level of creativity and originality is fostered in the planning and making of the craft item.
All students of Home Economics 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.
Studentsí progress and achievement in the subject is assessed on an on-going basis through oral questioning, homework assignments and continuous monitoring of studentsí practical and project work. Class tests are administered at regular intervals. Records of studentsí attendance, class tests and homework activities are recorded systematically in the teacherís journal. This good practice helps to build a profile of studentsí progress and achievement in the subject over time and is a useful evidence base when providing advice to students on examination levels for the State examinations.
In-house examinations are held at Christmas and summer. Results are communicated to parents or guardians twice yearly. The studentsí journal is used as an additional communication tool and it is laudable that this document is checked by the class teacher on a regular basis. At present the result for Home Economics that is issued on the school report is based on a written paper only. As the certificate examinations in Home Economics consist of a written examination and an assessment of relevant coursework components, it is recommended that the range of assessment modes used in Home Economics be extended to include, were feasible, an assessment of the relevant practical coursework components. This would mean that grades 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 and would form a more accurate indicator of the studentís ability in the subject. The relevant marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission should inform the assessment criteria used.
Observation of student notebooks indicated very good provision in their work. It is evident that as recommended in syllabuses, the work is recorded in manner that integrates related elements and processes. Regular use is made of relevant newspaper articles and leaflets to enable students to relate the concepts covered in class to everyday experiences. This good practice fosters a deeper understanding of the topics covered in lessons. It was noted positively that students store this information in a systematic way to ensure that a considerable bank of work is built up and easily accessible for revision purposes. Observations made on the Leaving Certificate coursework assignments indicated that students had successfully completed a number of coursework assignments; however, it is recommended that routines and procedures for the recording of assignments into the official journal be reviewed to ensure that students record their work into the official journal on completion of each assignment.
Homework is regularly assigned to all year groups to reinforce or extend the learning that has taken place in the lessons. To enhance this good practice it is recommended that the homework policy for Home Economics be reviewed to ensure that the range of homework assigned to all year groups is representative of all the key areas of the syllabus. Particular attention should be given to ensuring that all students are given regular opportunities to develop skills in long-answer style questions on a phased basis over the duration of the junior and leaving certificate programme.
Homework is monitored regularly either as part of in-class work or collected for more detailed monitoring. There was some very good practice evident in the monitoring of student work. Sound advice was apparent in relation to the completion of coursework assignments. Some useful teacher comments in copybooks and on examination scripts provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. These good practices are encouraged further as regular constructive feedback enhances learning by informing students about their own individual progress, highlights areas for improvement and ultimately challenges and assists students to reach their full potential. This practice is illustrative of some of the principles that underpin Assessment for Learning (AfL). Further information on AfL is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Home Economics makes an important contribution to the broad curriculum offered in Wilsonís Hospital School.
∑ The subject benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support.
∑ The specialist room is well maintained. An additional preparation and storage area has been included in the schedule of accommodation for a new extension.
∑ A very committed, conscientious and dedicated approach is taken by the teaching staff to the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
∑ The very strong commitment to CPD impacts positively on the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics.
∑ A collaborative and integrated strategy is adopted to optimise student learning in Home Economics.
∑ A very professional and reflective approach is taken to subject department planning in Home Economics.
∑ Very good quality teaching and learning was evident in all the lessons observed. The attention to detail emphasised in the development of practical skills was particularly commendable.
∑ Learner autonomy is fostered and encouraged in Home Economics.
∑ A very caring and affirming rapport characterised all interactions in the lessons observed.
∑ Students enjoy Home Economics and demonstrate a great sense of pride in their work.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ The teaching strategies deployed in the delivery of the core textiles section of the Junior Certificate should be reviewed.
∑ The programmes of work should be developed on a phased basis, as outlined in the body of this report.
∑ The range of assessment modes should be extended to include, were feasible, an assessment of the relevant practical coursework components.
∑ The homework policy for Home Economics should be reviewed to ensure that the range of homework assigned to all year groups is representative of all of the key areas of the syllabus.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the home economics staff and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.