An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
De La Salle College
Dundalk, County Louth
Roll number: 63891T
Date of inspection: 14 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College, Dundalk. 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 the subject teachers. The board of management 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 was formally introduced to the curriculum of De La Salle College, Dundalk in the 2004-2005 school year. The provision of a new home economics kitchen as part of an extension to the school, as well as managementís desire to broaden the curriculum, led to this initiative. Prior to this, the subject was available on a limited basis through a co-operative arrangement with a neighbouring school. It is currently offered as an optional subject in junior cycle, and while a taster programme is not in place, subject choice is commendably based on a student-centred approach. Uptake of Home Economics is very healthy and the school reports that the numbers choosing the subject are increasing. It is also included in the Transition Year (TY) programme. Discussions with management during the evaluation indicated that it is intended to offer the subject to Leaving Certificate level in the next school year.
Two teachers are timetabled for Home Economics. However, there are no qualified teachers of Home Economics in the school. In 2004 when the subject was introduced, efforts made by management to recruit a qualified home economics teacher were unsuccessful and two science teachers offered to teach it on a trial basis. The teachers involved are commended for their enormous efforts and generosity in enabling the school to deliver the subject.†
The training for teaching in Home Economics is a specialist degree programme, incorporating all of the core disciplines, that provides teachers with the knowledge, skills and understanding required to teach the subject. The teaching of the subject requires the integrated application of all of the relevant core disciplines as well as the development and application of the necessary practical coursework skills, particularly in the areas of food studies and textiles, resulting in a coherent developmental approach. For these reasons and in the light of the schoolís intention to provide the subject to Leaving Certificate level, it is strongly recommended that the board of management renew its efforts to appoint a qualified teacher of Home Economics. The recruitment of a qualified teacher is an essential element of the planning necessary to ensure quality of provision in this specialist area.
For the majority of classes teaching time is adequate and class periods for the subject are well spread throughout the week thus ensuring that students benefit from an even distribution of class contact time. However, one of the second year class groups has been allocated one double and one single period, whereas all other junior cycle classes have four periods. This deficit erodes the time necessary for the completion of the syllabus and results in less frequent class contact time during a week. It is recommended that every effort be made to avoid this situation in the future.†
The home economics facilities are well resourced and management is very supportive of requests made for the ongoing replacement and updating of equipment. The school availed of a grant from the Department for the purchase of sewing machines. Currently, these are used mainly for the completion of a basic cushion in first year. There is scope for the greater utilisation of the machines in the development of studentsí skills in textiles and to ensure that the required core area of the junior cycle syllabus on textiles is completed. A computer is available in the classroom and this is networked. Students and teachers also have access to the computer room. It is commendable that regular stock taking is carried out in the kitchen. There is a school policy in relation to health and safety and a set of health and safety rules have been drawn up for Home Economics.
Management is supportive of collaborative planning and facilitates a number of formal subject department meetings during the school year. It is commendable that these meetings are minuted and copies of the minutes were made available during this evaluation. The teachers also meet informally in their own time. Subject planning has begun and the teachers are commended for the time involved in this process to date. A subject plan, based on templates from the School Development Planning Initiative, has been developed that includes details for the organisation and delivery of Home Economics. It also sets out lists of topics to be completed, on a week-by-week basis, as well as lists of dishes for food and culinary skills for first, second and third years.
An analysis of the planning documentation indicates that there is scope for development. It is recommended that the plans should be further developed to ensure that the focus is on the learning outcomes for students in terms of knowledge, understanding and skills. The plans should reflect the integrated approach recommended in the syllabus, including the appropriate integration of the practical coursework with the relevant theory. They should also include details of the methodologies and resources that will be used so that students can engage in the learning process. The order of how the content is presented through all years of the junior cycle needs to be reviewed to ensure a developmental and coherent approach to teaching and learning in the subject; it is important that students are supported in building on basic skills. In some cases, the time allocated to certain areas of the syllabus needs to be reviewed so that it reflects the syllabus weightings. It is noted that the textile skills section which is a core part of the syllabus, and in particular the section dealing with garment construction, is currently not planned. It is recommended that this issue is addressed so that students have the opportunity to experience all core areas of the syllabus over the three-year cycle.
Teachers are commended for the amount of time and dedication devoted to the preparation of resources mainly in the form of handouts and acetates, all of which are carefully filed according to each chapter of the textbook. Summary notes based on textbook chapters have also been prepared for students. It is commendable that teachers share resources with each other. There is also some evidence of planning to extend learning beyond the classroom, for example through participation in the Seafood Education project, as well as a visit from a childcare manager and a cookery demonstration from a chef.
The first impression on entering the classroom is of a stimulating and inviting learning environment. The classroom is bright and the walls are adorned with a wide variety of educational posters as well as some project work completed by students. The efforts involved in the provision of this print-rich learning environment are commended. The good practice of taking the roll call at the beginning of lessons was noted. In all cases, the classroom atmosphere was pleasant, students were very well behaved and there was a good rapport between students and their teachers. Teachers moved around the classrooms and students responded well to the use of encouragement and affirmation.
Short-term planning including the preparation of some resources for the lessons observed was in evidence. Each lesson was centred on a specific topic which was revealed to the students at the outset. It is recommended that, in addition to this, all lessons should have clearly defined learning outcomes for students. The syllabus should be used as the guide when planning the learning outcomes. Sharing the outcomes with the students will then provide a focus and a structure for the lesson as well as for their learning. It is also essential that lessons reflect the integrated approach recommended in the syllabus. To ensure that progress is made in covering the syllabus in the time allocated, it is recommended that the pacing of lessons be given priority as part of subject planning.
The theory lessons observed began with either the return of marked tests that students had completed in a previous lesson or, in one case, revision of work in preparation for a short test administered later during the lesson. The administration of tests, following the completion of a section, is an integral feature of Home Economics in the school and it is commendable that studentsí progress in learning is monitored. However it was noted in some of the lessons observed, that the completion of tests greatly reduced the time available for the teaching and learning of new material. To make optimum use of available class time, it is recommended that the amount of time assigned to teaching and learning is appropriately balanced with other activities.†
The level of student engagement with lesson content varied between lessons. The predominant teaching style was traditional. This generally involved the teacher presenting material on the board or on the overhead projector and students transcribing the material into their copybooks. In some cases, this was accompanied by questioning and, where required, teachers explained the concepts to the students. Regarding active learning methodologies, a nice example was observed whereby students, working in pairs, had to identify a variety of coded milk samples. An accompanying work sheet and the use of a word bank supported students in the application of their knowledge. This was followed by an examination of the nutritional information supplied on the milk cartons. All students engaged actively and enthusiastically with this activity and it ensured a good balance between teacher input and student activity. In order to ensure a learning environment where students are fully engaged with the learning, it is strongly recommended that a range of active learning methodologies be explored and incorporated into teaching and learning. This would facilitate the varying learning styles of students and foster independent learning.
In some class groups, students are required to maintain folders which are organised very methodically with chapter summaries, notes and tests filed according to the chapters in the textbook. Observation of studentsí work in their homework copybooks indicates considerable variation in the standard of work produced.
It is praiseworthy that the projects for the optional study in Childcare for Junior Certificate were almost completed at the time of this evaluation. In the completion of the projects, it is recommended that careful attention be paid to the Guidelines for Optional Study Projectwork in the Junior Certificate Examination Home Economics Guidelines as issued by the State Examinations Commission.†
In the practical lesson observed the focus was on the completion of a dish and the dish was completed in the time available. It is to be noted that the home economics syllabus requires that practical work should focus on the development of studentsí practical skills as well as on the completion of the task. It is good practice that the preparation of ingredients, such as the chopping of vegetables, should always be carried out by students during the lesson. This helps students in their preparation for the practical food and culinary skills examination, which is worth thirty five per cent of the final mark in the Junior Certificate. A code of practice in relation to classroom organisation and the procedures involved in the implementation of practical lessons was not in evidence. The establishment of such a code would, for example, ensure that students organise themselves efficiently at the beginning of the lesson and ensure that high standards in hygiene and safety are maintained at all times. While students worked in pairs, the teacher moved around the classroom providing students with help on a need-to-know basis. It is essential that all students receive clear instructions during a practical lesson and that the demonstration of key processes and new skills be integrated appropriately into lessons. The students would benefit from more opportunities to integrate the relevant theory into practical lessons to support them in the application of knowledge. Interaction with students indicated that many of them had difficulty in understanding the principles involved in the practical processes. Observation of studentsí practical skills raised some concerns about the standard they have achieved in the light of the requirements of the junior cycle syllabus. It is commendable that students have recently been introduced to the design brief process. Further guidance in this area is required, so that students become familiar with the language and the processes involved. It is strongly recommended that the procedures for the implementation of practical lessons be reviewed in light of the above.
The range of assessment modes used to assess studentsí progress in Home Economics is commended. This includes oral and written questions, workbooks, chapter and section tests, continuous assessment, individual projects and some assessment of the food and culinary skills. There is scope to further develop the assessment of practical work by, for example, introducing a practical examination as one of the assessment components at the end of first year. It is good practice that common assessments are used in the formal in-house examinations, where there are two class groups. There were some very good examples of systematically recording the results of studentsí assessments; this is very useful in tracking progress. Assessment outcomes are formally conveyed to parents at regular intervals throughout the year.
Homework is regularly assigned and the effort involved in the marking of studentsí work is well invested. In this regard, it is important that the amount of homework set is balanced against the capacity to provide feedback to individual students. Further information on the practice of providing feedback to students using assessment for learning approaches is available on the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie).
In studentsí written and oral work, a tendency was observed to focus on questions of the lower-order variety. It is recommended that students be challenged to a greater extent and provided with opportunities, in both oral and written work, to develop skills such as analysis, application and evaluation of information. This is necessary to support the development of higher order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of the syllabus and which are required in the Certificate examinations.
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:
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
The Board of Management notes the recognition of the many commendable practices in Home Economics. In terms of the Inspection process affirming the work of management, staff and students, it is important that the process has recognised the progress made in a new subject area in less than 3 years and before a cohort of students has sat a public examination. The Board also notes the many helpful recommendations for the further development of the subject. The Board feels it is important that the inspection process recognises the time constraints involved in practical lessons and the diversity that may be in a class group.
Area 2:† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the†† inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board has applied for a curricular concession for a teacher of Home Economics for 2007/08. Department of Education and Science has granted a concession. As recommended, an end of year practical exam is being offered to First & Second Year students. Subject teachers will continue to build on the progress made in subject planning to date and will incorporate the recommendations in the report on delivery of lessons and procedures for practical lessons into their review of planning.