An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Roll number: 64970U
Date of inspection: 14 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
has been written following a subject inspection in
Home Economics is an optional subject in Presentation Secondary School, Waterford, with the exception of Transition Year where all students are required to study two modules related to Home Economics, namely food science and cookery. Home Economics is a very popular option subject amongst the students attending the school. This is very apparent upon examination of uptake levels where a very impressive fifty-five percent of junior cycle and forty percent of senior cycle students have opted to study Home Economics. While the school offers students the option of studying for the Leaving Certificate Applied, a reported lack of demand means that the Hotel, Catering and Tourism vocational specialism is not currently offered in the school. In the interests of seeking to provide for the needs of all students, this should be kept under review.
The open system of subject choice, which operates in both junior and senior cycle, and sees the formation of subject bands that are based on student preferences, is applauded. A very high satisfaction rating of ninety five to ninety-six percent is reported in relation to this system, , which means that almost all students get to study their preferred subjects. The fact that students choose the choice subjects prior to their entry to the school as first-year students, however, means that students are required to make a decision that can often be somewhat uninformed or, worse again, misinformed. As a result, management is encouraged to keep this system under review and, as part of this, to examine on a regular basis overall uptake levels and specific trends in uptake in each of the four choice subjects, namely, Art, Home Economics, Music and Science. Currently, as is clear from the figures in the opening paragraph, the practice is not having an adverse effect on overall uptake levels in Home Economics. It does, nevertheless, appear to be impacting on specific trends in uptake in Home Economics. The department in its subject review form, for example, raises some concerns about the profile and perception of the subject in the school and the tendency for the weaker students to choose Home Economics over other subjects because it is perceived by them as an ‘easy’ or ‘easier’ option. It is recommended therefore that management revisit the possibility of providing a taster programme in first year. At the same time, it is also suggested that the department reflects on the measures that could be put in place by them in order to address and correct the misconceptions that apparently exist about the subject in the school.
Overall, sufficient time is allocated to Home Economics, although the ‘icing on the cake’ would be four as opposed to three class periods in first year. Management is advised to address this as soon as is practicable. Management is also encouraged in its efforts to ensure that students’ contact with the subject is well spread over the weekly timetable. The organisation of classes on a mixed-ability basis is commended. Efforts to ensure that teachers retain assigned class groups through all years of the junior and senior cycle are noted and further encouraged. It is good to observe that class sizes are most conducive to the safe and effective delivery of practical lessons.
It is noted that management went to great lengths in the current school year to employ a suitably qualified teacher for the delivery of a small number of hours in Home Economics. The principal is encouraged in his efforts to seek to provide the same in the forthcoming school year. Should the difficulties experienced in relation to hiring a suitably qualified teacher manifest themselves again in the future, certain measures will have to be put in place so as to ensure that a non-specialist teacher is up-skilled in order to deliver the syllabus, in line with teacher guidelines and examination requirements. The established home economics department must continue to play a role in supporting and assisting any non-specialist teacher that may be hired. It is paramount that such a teacher attends all subject department meetings. Some consideration might also be given to facilitating the non-specialist teacher in work shadowing the existing specialist teachers.
Management is to be commended for providing formal time, ten to twelve times over the course of the school year, for teachers to plan collaboratively. Care should be taken to ensure that the time provided does not eat into the twenty-eight hours instruction time per week that each student is entitled to, as may be happening with the current system.
Currently the school houses two kitchens for Home Economics. Plans are in place to build a new school. The plans include provision for a kitchen and a textile room. This is very positive. In addition to the facilities planned for the new building, it is also planned to retain one of the existing kitchens. It is the intention that this room will be upgraded. Currently the subject appears to be well resourced, although a significant shortfall in the number of weighing scales available to students engaged in practical work was noted by the inspector. This needs to be addressed immediately. The department has expressed a desire to have room-based access to a TV and DVD/video player. Planning for the new facilities might be able to accommodate these. Alternatively, the housing of the shared resources in two locations in the school might ensure easier access to these resources for the members of the home economics department. Planning for the provision of room-based ICT is also underway, a move that is praised and encouraged. The provision by management or the accessing by teachers of the appropriate training may need to be considered. This would help to ensure that ICT can be used to support teaching and learning. The department expressed an interest in the use of an overhead projector during lesson delivery. Currently the amount of light entering both home economics rooms makes the use of such technology somewhat difficult or, on occasions, impossible. Perhaps this is an area that might be addressed in at least one of the rooms that are to be provided in the new school and, if possible and feasible, also in the kitchen that is to be retained and upgraded.
The department is in the process of developing a subject-specific health and safety statement. This is applauded. This is particularly important as a number of health and safety concerns have been identified in the home economics rooms that are currently in use. These include the lack of non-slip floor coverings in both rooms and an absence, in one of the rooms, of a mechanical ventilation system. While the room that is to be retained has been fitted with an override gas knockout, an electrical equivalent was not in place during the subject inspection. However, it is good to note that plans are in place to install an electric override system. To this end, consideration should be given to the installation of a slap switch. While bearing in mind that one of the kitchens is to be taken out of commission in the near future, in the interim, while the new school is being built and funds are accessed for the upgrading of the kitchen that is to be retained, cost-effective measures or guidelines for the use of the facilities must be put in place so as to safeguard the health and safety of the students and teachers who use the facilities on a daily basis.
The department has adopted a team approach to the co-ordination of the planning work in Home Economics. This can work well in a small department and therefore is perfectly acceptable. The department is advised, however, to keep this approach to co-ordination under review, as sometimes it is better when one person takes overall responsibility, particularly when the subject plan is being developed. If it is decided to put a single co-ordinator in place, best practice is where subject co-ordinators are appointed on a rotational basis.
In addition to the formal time provided by management for the purpose of subject department planning, the members of the department also meet informally once a fortnight, during non-timetabled class periods, in order to further this area of their work. This additional commitment is applauded. The minuting of the outcomes of these gatherings and the provision of an agenda for such meetings is established practice in the department. This is noted as best practice.
The department has completed a review of Home Economics. Through this review, the members have identified what is working well and what is in need of development. Developmental priorities have also been identified. These should be used to dictate and direct future planning in the subject. The department is encouraged to advance the work initiated on the development of a subject plan. As a means of progressing this work, it is recommended that the members of the home economics department investigate a fuller application of the templates provided by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and the Home Economics Support Service. These can be accessed on websites at www.sdpi.ie and www.homeeconomics.ie respectively.
While programmes of work have been drawn up for each year group, these have not yet been fully agreed by the members of the department and, from a developmental perspective, are very much at an infancy stage. In this light, it is suggested that the department organises team meetings where schemes of work would be discussed and agreed. Following on from this, the department is advised to give precedence to the development of the resources and methodologies section of each programme. In time also, the programmes could be further developed to include an integration of theory and practical work and the provision of details relating to homework and assessment. Best practice is where programmes of work are ‘working’ in nature. This is best achieved by providing space on the programmes for the provision of evaluative comment following the delivery of each topic or lesson. This, in turn, would inform the review process. It is suggested that perhaps the department should investigate whether the Home Economics Support Service might be able to provide a school visit that would assist it in acting upon the recommendations outlined above. Transition Year students study two modules that relate to Home Economics. One of these is the ‘Safe Food for Life’ programme. In relation to the other programme, it is suggested that the department might review the programme content and, following this, evaluate the need to revise or revamp it. This could be undertaken with a view to how chosen course content might help to change the sometimes negative, student perceptions that exist amongst the school’s student cohort, in relation to Home Economics. Finally, with regard to programme planning, planning for the textile area of the junior cycle syllabus needs to be reviewed. This is recommended in light of the requirement in the syllabus that students complete a simple item of clothing in addition to the household item which, incidentally, is already provided.
Planning for students with special educational needs appears to be well developed in the department. The home economics teachers, for example, contribute to the individual education plans for each student. This work includes the identification of very specific individual and class targets. The department also works closely with the learning support team in the school so that the students can get the additional help and assistance that is required for some home economics related work including, for example, the Junior Certificate project. Special needs assistants are provided if available and as required.
There was evidence of some cross-curricular planning as well as planning for the provision of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. This is further encouraged.
Lessons, in the main, were consistent with planned programmes of work. Where applicable, this good practice is further encouraged. The quality of the short-term planning for some of the lessons observed was good, with handouts, posters and books, designed to support lesson content and enhance teaching and learning, being prepared or collected. In these instances, there was also evidence of planning and thought in the way lessons were structured and delivered.
Lessons were purposeful. Best practice was where the lesson’s purpose was openly shared with students as the lesson commenced. This was done very well in a lesson on sauces and sauce-making, where the teacher clearly outlined to students the intended aims and objectives of the lesson. In this instance, students were provided with motivation and were challenged in relation to what they would know by the end of the lesson. Where applicable, this approach is also further encouraged. As lessons draw to a close, it is equally important that time is provided to summarise the lesson content and to check students’ understanding of new work presented.
Practical lessons were well organised and managed. It was very clear that teachers aimed to make students independent and autonomous learners. For example, the board was pre-prepared with the ingredients and method of the dishes being prepared, students were encouraged to light their own ovens, weigh their own ingredients, follow their own time plans and time the cooking of their own dishes. A very strong emphasis was placed on safe and hygienic practice, the development of food preparation skills and resource management. This was achieved through an appropriate use of on-spot demonstrations and the provision, as required, of one-to-one, individual instruction. Individual student participation and work was also carefully monitored by each of the teachers. Opportunities for teaching to enhance students’ performance, and ultimately their learning, were fully availed of as the teachers observed and guided individual students at work. In some instances, whole-class instruction, provided at intervals as students worked, also played a role here. It is important that teacher input on a whole-class level remains a significant feature of all practical lessons, regardless of students’ experience, level or ability. Students appeared confident in relation to the tasks at hand and demonstrated a competency that was consistent with their levels. In one lesson, students were encouraged to be original and creative in their approach to preparing and cooking food through the provision of a basic recipe that allowed great scope for students to choose individually how the end product would taste and look. In the same lesson, students’ imaginations and resourcefulness were also called upon for the serving-up of their finished dishes, which was carried out with great flair, enthusiasm and pride. Opportunities to introduce and teach the theory relevant to each dish being prepared need to be more fully availed of during practical lessons. The introduction, in second year, of a task-based approach to food studies practical work is applauded.
As discussed on the day of the inspection, it is apparent that a significant amount of time is being spent on the delivery of the practical aspects of both syllabuses but particularly so in junior cycle classes. From the discussions with the teachers, this may be happening to the detriment of the other, more theory-based aspects of both syllabuses. It is important that this be reviewed during the programme planning stage and that a healthy balance is struck between the provision for practical work and the delivery of theory lessons. As another approach, and as referenced in the previous paragraph, the department also needs to explore how certain aspects of the theory can be taught and delivered in conjunction with practical cookery or textile lessons. This, which reflects the approach outlined in both syllabuses, should help to ensure that all aspects of both syllabuses are adequately explored.
Strategies utilised over the course of lessons included a little brainstorming, formal teacher input, class discussion and the introduction of visuals to support some of the topics being explored. In some theory lessons, teacher input and activity predominated. In these instances, and not taking from the fact that students were periodically called upon to answer questions or contribute opinions, the only real requirement on students was to sit and listen. This approach works reasonably well with learners who, when it comes to learning styles, have an auditory learning preference. However, it has less appeal to students who have a visual or kinaesthetic learning preference or in other words, learn best by seeing or doing. It is recommended therefore, that the department sets about exploring the use of a greater range of strategies and methodologies. Such methodologies should seek to appeal to all learning styles while attempting to involve students more fully and more actively in lesson content.
The atmosphere in all classrooms visited on the day of the inspection was notably positive. This can be attributed to very favourable teacher-student relations. When provided with the opportunity, students were very much at ease contributing to class content. Their contributions were appropriately acknowledged and affirmed. The walls of each classroom were used to display student work, as well as posters and articles relevant to Home Economics.
The craftwork of junior cycle students that was displayed on the day of the inspection was of a high quality. In its approach to the delivery of this area of the syllabus, the department is encouraged to get students to complete the design brief folder in conjunction with the design, preparation, execution and evaluation stages.
Students’ written work is assessed throughout the year through class-based, topic or end-of chapter tests. Formal, in-house examinations are arranged for all class groups at Christmas and prior to the summer holidays. It is very good to see that first-year and second-year home economics students are issued with common assessment papers for the summer examinations. In time, this should be extended to all year groups. Furthermore, it is recommended that all test papers issued to students reflect the question style and layout of past state examination papers.
The fact that junior cycle students’ practical food studies work is assessed is commended. This is achieved using a number of approaches. Third-year students, for example, are provided with the opportunity to complete a pre-practical examination. This is highly praised. In first and second year, students’ practical work is assessed, in the main, through an informal observation of students during practical lessons. It is suggested that the department formalise its approach to the assessment of first-year and second-year practical work through the organisation of an end-of-year examination for all year groups and/or, as discussed on the day, themed assessment over the course of the school year. The themed approach might also be used with third year students as a lead up to their practical examination in the Spring. There is some assessment of students’ project and journal work. A more structured approach to this is also encouraged. Teachers are strongly advised to apply the relevant state-examination marking scheme when assessing student journal work. Furthermore, the department is encouraged to review the guidance provided to students in relation to the completion of the food studies journals in senior cycle. This should be done with reference to the examination guidelines issued by the State Examinations Commission and the website of the Home Economics Support service, which provides some sample marked journals. In line with best practice, all grades issued to students at key times during the school year should reflect their achievement in all examinable components of both syllabuses. While this is the case with some class groups, it should be the case with all. Ideally also, the weighting applied should reflect that used in the state examinations.
There is evidence of an assigning of homework in the copybooks of some class groups. There is some indication also of a formal monitoring of this homework. A number of copybooks contained very good examples of comment marking and this is acknowledged and applauded. Where applicable, the greater use of this type of written feedback to students on work completed at home should be explored. It is suggested too that all teachers date any monitoring undertaken by them. The periodic grading of student homework might also be considered. On a whole, the department’s approach both to the assigning and monitoring of homework on a regular basis could be enhanced. Teachers report a difficulty in getting students to do homework. The department is encouraged to investigate a series of positive strategies that might be employed to reverse the trend. Some examples were provided on the day of the inspection. As a first step, it is important that students are made aware of teacher expectations in relation to the completion of all homework assigned.
Teachers maintain systematic records of students’ assessment results. Parents or guardians are kept informed with regard to students’ progress and achievement in Home Economics through the issuing of school reports and through the annual parent-teacher meeting. This is applauded.
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.