An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Meán Scoil Mhuire,
Longford Town, Co. Longford
Roll number: 63760E
Date of inspection: 11 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 Meán Scoil Mhuire, Longford Town, Co. Longford. 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 home economics team. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the home economics teachers. 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 is a well-established subject in Meán Scoil Mhuire. The subject contributes positively to all the curricular programmes offered in the school.
Meán Scoil Mhuire aims to provide a holistic education programme for all students. In an effort to provide a broad curriculum, all first-year students study all subjects offered by the school for the Junior Certificate programme. This arrangement allows students to make an informed subject choice at the end of first year. While this is a commendable initiative the current arrangement for the formation of the class groups for Home Economics needs to be reviewed. There are four mixed-ability base classes in first year. Students remain assigned to their base class for all subjects. This means that there are four class groups for theoretical lessons in Home Economics. Because of the practical nature of Home Economics, each class group is then split into two separate groups for practical lessons, as the number of students in each base class is too large bearing in mind health and safety considerations. This arrangement merits attention for a number of reasons. The arrangement necessitates that each first-year home economics class is shared between two teachers. One teacher takes the entire class for theory and half of the class for practical lessons. The second teacher takes the remainder for practical lessons only. As there is only one kitchen and one textiles room, one half of the class is doing practical textiles while the other half is doing practical food studies. The teaching of Home Economics requires the integrated application of all the related core disciplines as well as the integrated delivery and application of relevant practical coursework components. This necessitates a coherent developmental approach to the planning and delivery of lessons. Such an approach is very difficult given the facts that two teachers share each class and that students in the same theory class are concurrently completing different practical coursework components. In addition, by splitting the four class groups for practicals, eight groups are generated for practical lessons. This has necessitated the deployment of non-subject specialists to teach Home Economics in first year only, and has put extra pressure on the use of the specialist rooms. In this context, it is recommended that the time-tabling arrangements for Home Economics be reviewed. The revised arrangement should facilitate the formation of discrete class groups for Home Economics that are of a reasonable size, given the practical nature of the subject. This will result in only one teacher being assigned to each home economics class in first year. As this review will have a knock-on impact for other subjects, it should be carried out in the context of a full review of the whole-school timetable for first-year students. As an alternative, consideration could be given to introducing a short taster programme for part of first year.
Students, and their parents, are well supported and advised in relation to subject choice as part of the school’s guidance programme. Of particular note is the subject choice day that is held for senior-cycle students where subject teachers and students set up displays in the school hall detailing the content and career paths for each Leaving Certificate optional subject. It is commendable that the option bands in second year and fifth year are generated from students’ preferences and that every effort is made to accommodate students in their subject selection. The very good uptake of Home Economics for the Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes is indicative of the vibrant role that the subject plays in the holistic programme offered in the school. In addition it is praiseworthy that all students taking the Transition Year programme (TYP) study Home Economics.
Students are challenged to reach their full potential in Home Economics. They are well supported and advised on the appropriate levels for the certificate examinations by their home economics teacher. It was noted positively that 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.
There is good whole-school support for Home Economics. Curriculum documentation is disseminated promptly by the principal to the home economics teachers. Time-tabled provision for Home Economics is mostly in line with syllabus guidelines. The arrangement of class time into single and double periods in second year and third year, and for Leaving Certificate Home Economics is particularly commendable as it facilitates effective continuity in teaching and learning. In the context of a review of time-tabling in first year, Home Economics would benefit from the allocation of an additional class period and the scheduling of the double class across the break should be avoided.
The very good uptake at Leaving Certificate level sometimes allows for two home economics classes to be timetabled concurrently. At present this arrangement is used to allow the formation of an ordinary and higher level class from the beginning of fourth year. It was reported that this can present challenges. Given the specific contextual factors in the school, it is recommended that the benefits of the concurrent timetabling arrangement in fourth year be maximised. Consideration should be given to the formation of two banded or mixed-ability groups for the early stages of the Leaving Certificate programme in Home Economics. This group can be refined into higher and ordinary level as students progress through the syllabus.
There are seven teachers teaching Home Economics, five of whom hold a recognised teaching qualification in Home Economics. While the commitment and professionalism of all staff involved in the delivery of Home Economics is acknowledged and commended, it is recommended that management should carry out the deployment of teachers in line with their subject specialism and ensure that only those who hold a recognised teaching qualification in Home Economics are deployed to home economics classes. There is a strong commitment to Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and this is facilitated and supported by management. Members of the teaching team have attended the in-service training sessions provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service and are actively involved in the Association of Teachers of Home Economics. Some members of the team are experienced in the marking of the certificate examinations in Home Economics. It is obvious that the experience gained has impacted positively on the quality of learning and teaching of Home Economics in the school.
Formal subject department planning was introduced in 2005. Responsibility for the maintenance of the specialist rooms and the organisation of the examinations in Home Economics forms part of a post of responsibility. The position of subject co-ordinator rotates among the team. This is good practice because of the voluntary nature of this position. This practice also allows each member of the team to assume a leadership role in the continued development of Home Economics in the school. Formal planning time is allocated twice a year. Management is very supportive of the continued development of subject department planning as evidenced by the fact that extra planning time will be made available during the next academic year. An agenda and minutes are kept on file for all planning meetings. This good practice ensures that there is good continuity between planning meetings.
Specialist room provision is very limited, given the number of students opting for Home Economics and the range of curricular programmes to which Home Economics contributes. Additional classrooms are used for theoretical lessons. The fact that there is only one kitchen is placing significant limitations on the quality of access to practical food studies lessons. While bearing in mind the specific contextual factors in relation to the supply of specialist rooms, the home economics team should plan access to the kitchen very carefully to ensure that where possible class groups have access to the room on a more regular rotation basis, rather than just for part of a year. This is particularly important to facilitate the integration and application of theoretical knowledge and skills with the relevant coursework assignments. The continued upgrading and development of resources to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics is a priority for management. A dedicated television and DVD player have been ordered for the home economics department. During the course of the evaluation, it was reported that a major refurbishment of the kitchen will begin shortly. This is a praiseworthy project. As a means of increasing capacity for practical food studies lessons, school management and the home economics team should discuss the feasibility of converting the textiles room into a dual-purpose room that could accommodate food studies and textiles practicals.
Health and safety is given high priority in Home Economics. As recommended in the whole-school health and safety statement, the home economics team has developed a code of good practice for the subject. The teaching team has produced a well-developed health and safety statement which includes safety control measures for the use of some potentially high risk equipment in Home Economics. To build on this good practice the team should display safety notices for practical textile lessons at key points in the textiles room.
There is some interest in developing the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. Access to the ICT room is limited but each specialist room is wired for broadband access and a dedicated laptop has been ordered for the home economics department. Observation of some student project work indicated very competent use of ICT to support learning. As ICT is a useful tool to allow students and teachers to engage in the independent and guided research necessary to fulfil coursework requirements in Home Economics, it is advocated that the home economics team 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 further resource needs that can be met over time, as additional funding becomes available.
A professional approach is taken to subject department planning and some very good progress has been made in the development of a subject department plan. It is evident from the minutes of department meetings that many collegial practices underpin the process of subject planning. This has resulted in some very effective practices underpinning the work of the department. Common assessment tests are drafted for in-house examinations to ensure consistency in the assessment of all students within a specific year group. Some effective teaching strategies have been devised. Of particular note are the banks of key words that have been developed for the main topics taught in Home Economics. This deliberate emphasis placed on the technical language of Home Economics is very commendable and if implemented on an on-going basis will contribute positively to the development of literacy skills across the curriculum.
Subject planning for Home Economics demonstrates a commendable commitment to maximise the inclusion of all students in lessons. The importance of differentiating teaching for students with special education needs is recognised by the home economics team. There is very good collaboration between the home economics and learning support teams. It was noted positively during the evaluation that the home economics team, in association with a learning support teacher, has devised a series of differentiated learning strategies to be deployed in home economics lessons to take account of the wide range of student abilities. It is particularly praiseworthy that these strategies include provision for students who have a particular talent in the subject. It is important that the effectiveness of these strategies is evaluated at planning meetings. As a next step to planning for differentiation, the home economics team could develop over time a series of differentiated teaching resources to support the teaching of topics that students find particularly challenging.
Outline curricular plans for all year groups are stored in the department folder. It is evident from the minutes of team meetings that the plans are reviewed at regular intervals. This is good practice. The junior-cycle plans outline the list of chapters, topics and practical coursework that will be covered in each year. In some instances, homework activities have been included. It was noted positively that a very good emphasis is placed on the design brief process in food studies lessons in third year. The Leaving Certificate plan is based on the skeleton framework produced by the Home Economics Support Service. Each outline plan is developed further in the individual teacher planning records that were observed during the course of the evaluation. In a number of cases these planning records contained considerable detail with regard to the learning outcomes for each lesson, the teaching strategies deployed and resources used, as well suitable homework activities. This is very good practice. To build on this work, it is recommended that the planning records maintained by individual teachers are used as the basis for the phased development of detailed collaborative curricular plans for junior and senior cycle classes. Each curricular plan should include the specific timeframe allocated to each topic. This will help to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between practical coursework and theory. The lesson content should outline expected knowledge and understanding in terms of learning outcomes. Information on suitable teaching and learning strategies and the identification of appropriate resources and homework assignments should also be included. Much of this work is completed in the detailed planning records presented by individual teachers during the course of the inspection. In drawing up the plans particular attention must be placed on the incremental progression of practical coursework skills and on sequencing lesson content in a manner that integrates related knowledge, understanding and skills within and across core areas of the syllabuses. A copy of the amended curricular plans should be stored in the subject planning folder and their effectiveness reviewed at regular intervals as part of the agenda for team meetings.
A variety of practical coursework is planned in the areas of core textiles and design and craftwork for Junior Certificate Home Economics. However, it is recommended that planning for the core textiles section of the Junior Certificate syllabus be reviewed to ensure compliance with syllabus requirements. Clear, achievable learning outcomes should be established for each core textiles project, while at the same time bearing in mind the level of access to the textiles room. These learning outcomes should dictate the items produced and the teaching strategies deployed. It is commendable that some first-year students complete a simple design brief in tandem with the textile item produced. This good practice should be extended where necessary and include a simple critical appraisal of the finished item.
The vibrant home economics programme developed for TY is particularly commendable. The content covered focuses on the development of key skills that are necessary for Leaving Certificate Home Economics but are progressed in an imaginative manner. There is very good integration across related areas of course content and the imaginative range of teaching and learning strategies that are deployed are indicative of the principles and ideals of TY. Assessment for the module is well thought out and, commendably, students are involved in the evaluation of the programme.
The extensive extra-curricular and co-curricular programme planned by the home economics team contributes positively to students’ enjoyment and learning in Home Economics. Very good cross-curricular links have been established. Particularly noteworthy are the TY cross-curricular projects with Irish, Spanish and French. Guest speakers are invited into home economics lessons and field trips are planned to reinforce student learning. The school has completed successfully in the Young Social Innovators Project and the quality and range of projects completed over the years are highly commended. The school has also successfully participated in a range of cookery competitions. These highly praiseworthy practices broaden students’ knowledge and skills, encourage collaboration with the local community and neighbouring schools, and enhance students’ enjoyment of the subject.
A range of additional resources and teaching aids has been collected and developed to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. Some of these teaching aids are stored in shared resource folders while some other resources are listed in the subject plan. In order to build on this good practice, it is advocated that a list of all the main resources available is documented. It is suggested that an electronic folder for Home Economics which can be accessed by all the team is the most efficient way of storing this information. Other documents relating to the teaching of Home Economics, including syllabuses, chief examiners’ reports, material from the support services and the year plans could also be stored in this folder.
Good quality teaching and learning was evident in all the lessons observed. Lessons were well structured, purposeful and generally paced at a level that suited the varying abilities of students. The main aim of the lesson was shared with the students and this provided an effective focus as all lessons commenced. In lessons where students were preparing for the forthcoming certificate examinations an appropriate emphasis was placed on past examination papers. A particularly good emphasis was placed on the development of key skills in reading an examination question and interpreting the marking scheme. This is excellent preparation for the written examinations.
There was some very good variation in the deployment of teaching strategies to accommodate the variety of student learning styles evident in classes. Teacher explanations were clear, accurate and contextualised. There was some good integration with previous learning. A deliberate effort was made to link students’ own experiences to the subject matter being taught and to use additional resource material to clarify concepts and procedures. This was achieved in a variety of ways. Overhead transparencies of cartoon and film characters proved very effective in a lesson on family structure. In other lessons a range of exemplar products and textile samples illustrating stitching techniques supported learning effectively. Teachers are commended for their efforts and ingenuity in preparing these resources which stimulated student interest and assisted understanding of lesson content. However, when using visual aids, care should be taken to ensure that they are large enough to optimise their potential in assisting learning.
Lessons were summarised in a variety of ways. There was some good use of the blackboard to compile key points of information. Best practice was observed when students were given the opportunity to take the information into their copybooks. Of particular note was the very effective use of “mind maps” as a tool to summarise key points of information and highlight the interrelationships between topics. In all the lessons observed the homework assigned reinforced or extended the learning that had taken place.
Students were encouraged to remain actively and purposefully engaged in their learning throughout lessons. Questioning was used to good effect to assess recall and understanding of information. At times students were challenged by questioning to analyse and apply the information. This good practice encourages the development of higher-order thinking skills which is one of the aims of home economics syllabuses. Best practice was observed in lessons where there was an appropriate balance of open and closed questions and where questions were regularly directed to individual students to assess learning and avoid chorus answering. Pair work, group activity and discussions also proved effective in actively engaging students in their own learning. One particularly good example of a group discussion centred round a newspaper article on buying a house. The article proved effective in assisting understanding and allowing students to apply the knowledge gained in class to everyday experiences. Such good practices are commended.
Planned learning activities were managed effectively. The good practice of taking the roll call at the beginning of each class was noted. Seating was appropriately arranged so that students and teachers could move safely around the room. Very good rapport and a high level of mutual respect were evident in all the interactions observed during lessons. Students displayed a commendable ability to work on their own and in groups. In all the lessons observed student responses were encouraged and affirmed. The practice of the teacher moving around the room during lessons ensured that students had an additional opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive structure.
Observation of student copybooks indicated some very good progress in their work. Best practice was observed in instances where the work was recorded in a manner that integrated theoretical knowledge and practical coursework and where the handouts and worksheet given in class were stored systematically for ease of reference for student revision. Interaction with students indicated that they had a very good understanding of the key concepts taught in each lesson.
Very good practice is evident with regard to the recording of coursework assignments into the official State Examinations Commission journal. It is commendable that students, in completing the childcare projects, are encouraged to use a variety of research methods and that student originality is fostered. Observation of students’ recent and current project work in the area of design and craftwork indicated some very good levels in the skill factor displayed. It is worth noting that the chief examiners’ reports and associated marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission are useful for further guidance and advice on the coursework components. These documents are available at www.examinations.ie.
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student achievement in Home Economics and to provide feedback on a regular basis. These include oral questioning, written assignments, class tests as well as the monitoring of project and practical work. While the actual homework that is assigned is left to the individual teacher, it is commendable that a list of types of homework activities has been agreed among the teaching team and documented in the department plan. Student attendance and assessment outcomes are systematically recorded in a teacher’s diary. This good practice ensures that a profile of students’ progress is recorded which is useful when providing advice on examination level to students.
In-house examinations are held at Christmas and in summer. Students preparing to the take the certificate examinations sit mock examinations in the second term. Reports are issued to parents or guardians twice yearly. Feedback on student progress is also available at parent-teacher meetings.
It is very admirable that, where applicable, common examination papers are drafted on a collaborative basis for the formal in-house examinations. Observation of house examination papers indicated that they are well designed with an appropriate emphasis on the style and format of the relevant certificate examination. There is some inconsistency in practice with regard to the range of assessment modes used for in-house examinations. In some instances an aggregate mark reflecting achievement in a written examination and practical coursework is used. This is good practice. It is recommended that the home economics team agree an assessment format for all in-house examinations. The range of summative assessment modes used in Home Economics should be extended, where necessary, to include an assessment of the related practical coursework components. An aggregate assessment mark that includes all components of the certificate examination is an accurate indicator of the student’s ability in the subject and, where feasible, should be incorporated into assessment practices.
Observation of student copybooks indicated that work is very well annotated on a regular basis. Useful teacher comments in copybooks and test papers provide valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirm work well done. The attention to detail evident in some of the feedback given is highly commended. Consideration should be given by the home economics team to expanding and developing other Assessment for Learning (AfL) practices in the learning and teaching of Home Economics. Further information on AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics is a well-established subject on the school curriculum.
· Management is very supportive of the continued development of subject department planning.
· The continued upgrading and development of resources to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics is facilitated by management. A major refurbishment of the kitchen will begin shortly.
· Students are well supported and advised in relation to subject choice. (The current arrangement of home economics classes in first year will be mentioned under recommendations below.).
· Subject planning for Home Economics demonstrates a commendable commitment to maximise the inclusion of all students in lessons.
· The vibrant home economics programme developed for TY is particularly commendable.
· Good quality teaching and learning was evident in all the lessons observed. There was some very good variation in the deployment of teaching strategies to accommodate the variety of student learning styles evident in classes.
· Students’ work is very well annotated on a regular basis.
· The extensive extra-curricular and co-curricular programme in Home Economics contributes positively to students’ enjoyment and learning in the subject.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The arrangements for the formation of home economics classes in first year should be reviewed.
· The benefits of the concurrent timetabling arrangement in fourth year should be maximised.
· The individual planning records maintained by the teaching team should be used as the basis for the further development of detailed junior and senior cycle curricular plans.
· Planning for the core textiles section of the Junior Certificate syllabus must be reviewed.
· The range of summative assessment modes used in Home Economics should be extended, where necessary, to include an assessment of the related practical coursework components.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the home economics department and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.