Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Árd Scoil Mhuire FCJ,
Bruff, Co. Limerick.
Roll number: 64020P
Date of inspection: 21March 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Árd Scoil Mhuire FCJ, Bruff, Co. Limerick. 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 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 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 is firmly established on the curriculum at Árd Scoil Mhuire where it is a popular subject choice in junior cycle and reasonably popular in senior cycle. It is selected mainly by girls, although a small number of boys also take the subject. Commendably, all 44 first year students study Home Economics for the year and optional subject choices for junior cycle are made on transfer to second year. This extended taster programme permits students to study the full range of optional subjects in first year and should facilitate students in making a more informed choice with regard to subjects available for junior cycle. On transfer to second year Home Economics is usually selected by over a third of junior cycle students. This arrangement is currently being monitored and will be reviewed over a period of time in consultation with the partners involved.
Class period provision in second and third year is favourable. However, with regard to first year, in order to accommodate the extended taster programme all optional subjects have been reduced to one double class per week. While provision at this level is currently below the usual four class periods, allocated to optional subjects, through this initiative students can experience the full range of optional subjects in first year. In order to make good this shortfall in teaching time and to continue to enable all first year students to take the subject, it is recommended that teachers should explore the further development of the existing informal cross-curricular links so as to engage in formal cross-curricular planning in conjunction with Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Science and Business Studies teachers. In doing so teachers involved should endeavour to develop complementary approaches to themes, which are common to each of their syllabuses. The existing informal cross-curricular links with subjects such as Languages, Construction Studies, Business and Science are notable. Teachers could also explore and plan for the incremental development of students’ transferable skills across programmes. In addition if the extended taster programme is considered to be effective and if it should continue then it is recommended that management support teachers in developing and sustaining such cross-curricular links as suggested above.
The Transition Year (TY) programme is optional in the school and the inclusion of a Home Economics module in the curriculum for all TY students is to be commended as it provides students who have not studied Home Economics for junior cycle with the opportunity to experience the subject and therefore help them in making a more informed choice with regard to subjects for the Leaving Certificate. This module is allocated one double class period per week. The module is based on contemporary food and culinary practical skills and aims to provide students with a variety of skills in relation to the planning, preparation cooking and serving of food. Students are involved in undertaking a variety of practical cookery assignments. It is hoped that this might increase interest and uptake in Home Economics for Leaving Certificate.
Home Economics is an optional subject for the remainder of the senior cycle where almost one fifth of the cohort has selected Home Economics this year. Class period provision at senior-cycle is in line with syllabus recommendations, including at least one double class to facilitate practical coursework. Students and their parents are well supported in choosing subjects and levels within subjects. The home economics department is to be commended on its active role in providing advice for prospective students. Management operates a very open and student-centred system of subject choice, which ensures that students have unrestricted access to subjects such as Home Economics. This student-centred approach to subject choice is praiseworthy. Students of Home Economics are encouraged to fully realise their potential. The school management and teachers are to be commended for encouraging and motivating students to this level. The school is encouraged to continue to investigate and implement additional strategies that will continue to promote Home Economics as a popular option subject, with appeal for students of all abilities and interests, but especially male students at both junior cycle and senior cycle. The Home Economics team should be more proactive in the context of future marketing of the subject so as to increase participation rates.
There is good whole school support and resource provision for Home Economics. Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required. Requests for additional resources and items of equipment for the subject are made through the principal and these requests invariably receive favourable consideration. The school currently has one full time teacher of Home Economics and another part-time teacher who is shared with a neighbouring school. The teachers have participated in a variety of in-service training sessions for example those provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service. Management supports teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) and organises school-based in-service in such areas as mixed-ability teaching and special education as appropriate.
The school has engaged in risk assessment in consultation with teachers in the various subject departments and a review of the school’s existing health and safety statement is a stated intention of management. There is evidence of very good health and safety practices in home economics classes and reference is made to food hygiene and safety in the planning documents for Home Economics.
There is evidence of good support structures for students including those with special educational needs (SEN). Special Needs Assistants are allocated to students as appropriate. The home economics teachers are made aware of any students with SEN and liaise with the learning support department in the school on an ongoing basis ensuring that materials are adapted to suit the needs and abilities of students as appropriate.
The home economics facilities consist of a kitchen and a sewing room located in an outside prefab. In order to fulfil the syllabus requirements both teachers need to have access to both rooms on a rotational basis to conduct practical work in food and textiles. The prefab classroom is not considered appropriate for the teaching of the textiles component of the programme due to such health and safety issues as inappropriate workspace, the movement of sewing machines and trailing flexes from sewing machines. In addition the lack of suitable storage space for textiles equipment and project work is not ideal. This is compounded by the compulsory requirements for practical textiles work at junior cycle. It is noted that the school up until recent years had a separate specialist room for textiles studies. Therefore, in the context of students having access to their full curriculum entitlements, with regard to practical work and in the context of safe and efficient work practices and the requirements of the syllabuses for Home Economics it is recommended that the provision of an alternative newly refurbished and equipped specialist room for textiles should be progressed as a matter of priority for the school in line with best practice guidelines. The addition of ICT facilities to such a textiles room would further enhance its suitability.
The school currently has submitted an application to the Department of Education and Science for a grant towards equipment for the kitchen. This should be pursued without delay and in future greater consideration should be given to ongoing investment in the upgrading, replacement and maintenance of specialist equipment in the Home Economics rooms on a regular basis. In view of the fact that the kitchen is in need of refurbishment, (many ovens are not working properly and the floor covering needs to be replaced) and bearing in mind health and safety considerations and syllabus requirements at junior and senior cycle it is recommended that refurbishment of the kitchen be investigated as a matter of priority for the school in line with best practice guidelines.
Teachers have access to shared television and video/DVD equipment. In addition as the home economics teachers make frequent use of the overhead projector (OHP), the installation of white screens should be prioritised in both home economics rooms. Access to the school’s multi media room and computer laboratory can be pre-arranged by the teachers, subject to availability. Teachers use information and communication technologies (ICT) in class preparation and in the delivery of lessons, and have produced a variety of teaching resources using ICT. However, it was identified during the inspection that teachers have a great desire to incorporate more ICT into teaching and learning as more technology and expertise are developed over time. Management is committed to supporting the continued training and up-skilling of teachers as appropriate to assist the integration of ICT into teaching and learning and this is commendable. Students are also encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics during their computer classes and their own study time. Considering the willingness of the home economics teachers to integrate ICT into lessons it is recommended that management encourage and support teachers’ efforts to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics in the context of continued improvement of ICT. This might best be achieved by the provision of a suite of six to eight computers with printers in a suitable room, which could be booked and accessed by subjects other than Home Economics. An alternative approach would be the provision of shared laptop computers, printers and data projectors in the home economics rooms.
Management is supportive of subject department planning and the home economics department readily engages in the recommended practice of collaborative planning both on a formal and informal basis. A team approach to the co-ordination of the work of the home economics department has been adopted. Teachers tend to meet once a term during their own time and informally on a regular basis throughout the week to monitor and review progress. Agenda are decided in advance of department meetings and records of subject department meetings are maintained. The professional commitment and interest of the teachers involved is recognised.
The home economics department is making good progress with regard to the development of a subject plan for Home Economics. Outline curriculum content plans of work have been drawn up for each year group. These plans are syllabus based and provide a clear outline of the content including links between theory and the related practical work to be completed each term. Teachers maintain records of work completed and this aids review and future planning. The teachers are complimented on the work to date in this area.
In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that this good work be further developed to include more detailed short-term plans of work for all year groups which should be seen as working documents, which are used to review subject matter covered and aid planning for the future. This planning should incorporate additional and more specific information relating to delivery of the programmes. Suggested additions include: reference to expected learning outcomes; the specific sequence and timeframes for the completion of relevant practical/project/course work; choice of teaching methodologies; choice and use of resources; integration of subject matter as recommended in the syllabuses; the specific timeframes and opportunities for homework and assessment and where required details on examination preparation. Teachers are also advised to consider the benefits to students of the incremental development of skills in accordance with level and ability. This process could be implemented on a phased basis. The teachers review and record progress as appropriate to meet students’ needs. The home economics teachers should continue to make good use of the home economics syllabuses, teacher guidelines and other relevant documentation to facilitate programme planning at all levels.
The Textile Studies programme at junior cycle includes development of skills in such areas as basic hand stitches and an introduction to using the sewing machine. As the textiles programme is currently underdeveloped it is recommended that the home economics team begin the process of devising and implementing a plan of work for Textile Studies in order to fully comply with the syllabus requirements. The development of specialist facilities for textiles studies as outlined earlier in the report will be essential in achieving this goal. Furthermore, it is recommended that teachers should introduce the design brief process as early as possible in the junior cycle in both food studies and the practical textiles work as appropriate. This approach enables students to develop crucial knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of analysis, investigation, problem solving, action planning and evaluation. This will also assist students to integrate relevant theory with practical skills.
The home economics department has developed a good range of teaching aids and resource materials, using ICT, that are effectively tailored for specific year groups, all of which are carefully filed according to the relevant syllabus topic. In addition the preparation of specially customised and well-illustrated resource materials, for students with language difficulties is commendable. As part of their collaborative approach, teachers share resources and equipment. Mini-library/resource areas have been developed and are accessible to students in order to enhance their learning. They offer a variety of learning resources including reference books, leaflets, relevant publications, posters, DVDs, videos and commercially prepared resource packs. It is evident that these resources are used effectively in lessons and recently teachers have put forward a request for financial assistance to upgrade these essential resources. In the context of future planning management should continue to support the home economics team in reviewing existing resources and planning for the acquisition and use of further teaching resources in the context of students’ needs.
Short-term planning for lessons, which included the prior preparation of the materials for class, was very good. Lessons were clearly focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students. Learning outcomes for the lesson were clear and shared with students at the outset and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning and appropriate integration of theory with practical skills. The teachers showed an awareness of the students’ learning styles and adapted the teaching and learning to suit the students’ needs.
Teachers displayed a high level of subject matter expertise in the topics under study and instruction was clear, accurate and contextualised and frequently supported by the use of a range of relevant visual and tactile stimuli and resources to enhance teaching and consolidate learning such as overhead transparencies, student handouts, worksheets, interior design magazines, samples and the board. Materials were clearly planned and presented to ensure student learning and retention. Where textbooks were used to aid learning this was generally well planned for and other strategies e.g. questioning and explaining were integrated effectively. Good efforts were made to relate chosen subject matter to the lives of the students and to allow for the integration of skills.
Student interest was stimulated and maintained by the use of a variety of teaching strategies appropriate to the abilities and interests of the students. Teaching and learning were particularly effective where opportunities were provided for students to engage with lesson content in an active way. There were some very good examples of the use of appropriate active learning methodologies such as use of brainstorming, pair work, peer presentation and sensory analysis testing. Very good practice was observed where students were encouraged to think, consider, analyse and synthesise issues and answers during activity based learning. This practice is commendable as it assists students in developing higher-order thinking skills and should continue to be incorporated regularly into lessons. Other teaching methodologies observed included oral questioning, teacher spot demonstration, individualised learning, explanation, board work and the use of worksheets.
Effective questioning and explaining strategies were used in the classes observed to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding, to support students in the development of higher order thinking skills and to link new information with prior learning. Much emphasis was placed on students’ understanding of content and processes and there were very good examples of linking the lesson content to students’ every day experiences. These approaches reflect many of the principles of best practice.
The expert use of demonstration during food practical lessons observed is to be commended as it allows students to observe teachers modelling the proper execution of procedures, processes and skills. Formal demonstrations to small groups and to individual students and impromptu demonstrations of highlight salient points were therefore utilised effectively. Students worked collaboratively and participated actively in tasks. Best practice was observed when a recipe sheet/work plan and associated time planning were incorporated into the lesson. Good attention to hygiene and safe work practices was evident. Students are encouraged to undertake evaluations of tasks completed and this informs continuous assessment of student work. Good emphasis on the understanding of key concepts and development of appropriate practical skills was observed.
Students were well managed, guided and directed in all learning activities and their work was monitored carefully by teachers in a very supportive, encouraging and caring manner. This contributed to a positive classroom atmosphere that was conducive to effective learning. The students were well behaved and secure in their interactions with teachers and were affirmed and encouraged in all their contributions and efforts. Discipline was sensitively maintained and students were attentive, interested and participated well in the learning process. The seating arrangements for students were conducive to full participation and effective classroom management. Students were challenged and motivated by the learning activities and they were attentive and demonstrated great interest and enthusiasm for the subject. The learning environment of the Home Economics room is enhanced through the display of a number of educational posters and evidence of students’ work and is to be commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students. The students were keen to participate in class activities and demonstrated good understanding of subject knowledge and good teamwork skills in practical work undertaken appropriate to their class group and level.
Observation of students’ project work, in the area of Childcare indicated a good level of competence in terms of investigations, organisation and presentation. Teachers should ensure that students develop a clear link with child development and ensure a clear focus when undertaking a literature review for the Childcare coursework option. It is praiseworthy that good use is made of ICT for both research and presentation of coursework. Student work examined included some good examples of well-organised folders containing a variety of materials relevant to all aspects of the syllabus. Overall, the level of teacher guidance and the evidence of students’ skills, creativity and originality in the area of project work are to be commended. The approaches to teaching and learning as outlined above reflect many of the principles of best practice.
Practices and procedures in relation to homework, revision and assessment of student learning in Home Economics are thorough and teachers plan to formalise these procedures through the process of subject planning. This good work will be further enhanced subsequent to the development of a whole-school policy on homework and assessment, which is currently before the board of management for ratification.
A number of assessment modes are utilised in order to monitor and determine student progress and achievement in Home Economics. These include oral questioning, work sheets, written exercises, class tests, in-house examinations and some assessment of project and practical work. In so far as possible the grades awarded for Home Economics examinations during the year are an aggregated mark for written tests, food and culinary skills practical work and projects completed during that term. The individual teachers record the results of these, a practice which is commendable as it assists teachers in building a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. Students’ progress is reviewed and their examination levels are decided in consultation with the subject teacher and parents. Communication with parents is maintained through school reports three times a year, annual parent-teacher meetings and phone calls as appropriate. The student journal is an additional valuable means of communicating with parents as the need arises.
Homework is regularly assigned to reinforce or extend the learning that has taken place in the class and good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring of the student copybooks and folders. In relation to formative assessment some useful teacher comments, provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. This good work is illustrative of the principles that underpin assessment for learning and should be further developed across all year groups. In the context of ongoing planning teachers should consider the merit of subject departments engaging in an analysis of student achievement in State examinations. In doing so teachers can celebrate student achievements and it could also benefit subject departments by informing future planning of teaching strategies and learning activities.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· All first year and Transition Year students study Home Economics and it is an optional subject in all other year groups.
· Management operates a very open and student-centred system of subject choice, which ensures that students have unrestricted access to subjects such as Home Economics.
· There is good whole school support and resource provision for Home Economics.
· There is evidence of good support structures for students including those with special educational needs.
· Teachers use information and communication technologies (ICT) in class preparation and in the delivery of lessons and management are committed to supporting the continued training and up-skilling of teachers as appropriate to assist the integration of ICT into teaching and learning.
· Management is supportive of subject department planning and the Home Economics department readily engages in the recommended practice of collaborative planning both on a formal and informal basis.
· The home economics department is making good progress with regard to the development of a subject plan for Home Economics. Outline curriculum plans of work have been drawn up for each year group with good integration of theory and practical work.
· Teachers displayed a high level of subject matter expertise in the topics under study and instruction was clear, accurate and contextualised and frequently supported by the use of a range of relevant resources.
· The students were keen to participate in class activities and demonstrated good understanding of subject knowledge and good teamwork skills in practical work undertaken appropriate to their class group and level.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· In order to make good the shortfall in first year teaching time for Home Economics, it is recommended that teachers should explore the further development of the existing informal cross-curricular links so as to engage in formal cross-curricular planning in conjunction with Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Science and Business Studies teachers.
· It is recommended that management support teachers in developing and sustaining such cross-curricular links as it could have further benefits such as planning for the incremental development of students’ transferable skills across programmes.
· It is recommended that the provision of an alternative newly refurbished and equipped specialist room for textiles should be progressed as a matter of priority for the school in line with best practice guidelines. The addition of ICT facilities to such a textiles room would further enhance its suitability.
· Bearing in mind health and safety considerations and syllabus requirements at junior and senior cycle it is recommended that refurbishment of the kitchen be investigated as a matter of priority for the school in line with best practice guidelines.
· As the home economics teachers make frequent use of the overhead projector, the installation of white screens should be prioritised in both home economics rooms.
· Considering the willingness of the home economics teachers to integrate ICT into lessons it is recommended that management encourage and support teachers’ efforts to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics in the context of continued improvement of ICT.
· In order to enhance ongoing subject planning it should be further developed over time to include more detailed short-term plans of work for all classes as outlined in the report.
· The Home Economics team should be more proactive in the context of future marketing of the subject so as to increase participation rates.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Home Economics at the conclusion of the evaluation at which 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 inspection report has been very constructive and helpful to B.O.M. and staff. The school will be acting on the recommendations and hopes to start making immediate progress.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
1. Management will encourage and support the development of cross curricular links as recommended
2. Refurbishment of the kitchen has been investigated with a view to inclusion in Summer Works Scheme 2008.
3. Provision of white screens will be investigated
4. The provision of resources to improve and facilitate a better Textile Studies Programme will be considered.