An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Scoil Mhuire Convent of Mercy
Strokestown County Roscommon
Roll number: 65100S
Date of inspection: 13 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Mhuire, Convent of Mercy, Strokestown, County Roscommon. 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; a response was not received from the board.
Home Economics has a high profile at Scoil Mhuire, Strokestown and this can be attributed to the presence of a very dynamic and pro-active home economics department that is well supported by management of the school. Albeit traditionally a subject chosen predominately by the female cohort, uptake is generally in line with the national average. This uptake is supported by the teachers’ active promotion and marketing of the subject at open days for prospective students and at information evenings for parents; showcasing students’ work at school events; hosting of awareness campaigns and the use of local media to publicise subject events. Such initiatives are praiseworthy and should be continued.
All Transition Year (TY) students study Home Economics and it is optional in all other year groups. In September a short taster programme enables first-year students to sample each optional subject. First-year students then select two optional subjects from a choice of six available on the pre-set subject bands. Students entering senior cycle are provided with an open choice from the wide variety of optional subjects available. Subsequently option bands are developed based on students’ choices. Such a student-centred approach to subject choice is laudable and consideration should be given to using this model of subject selection in first year. It is also important that the current arrangements for the sampling of optional subjects in first year, i.e. the taster programme be monitored and reviewed over time in consultation with the partners involved.
Students and their parents are well supported in choosing subjects and levels within subjects through such supports as school management, information evenings, open days, and the guidance counsellor and there is evidence of very good communication between school and home in this regard. The home economics department is to be commended on its active role in providing advice for prospective students.
There is very good resource provision and whole school support for Home Economics and a high level of commitment from teachers and management to the organisation, planning and teaching of the subject is evident. Management schedules time for meetings of subject departments throughout the academic year. Class period provision is in line with syllabus recommendations. Classes are organised on a mixed-ability basis and the home economics department is very pro-active in encouraging all students to fully realise their potential. Students generally provide most of the materials required for practical work. However, as a further support for students, the school supplements provision where required.
The home economics teachers participate in Teacher Professional Networks and have availed of opportunities to enhance their professional development. This is lauded and is indicative of their interest in the subject. In addition, considerable experience and expertise has been gained by the teachers in the marking of various aspects of the subject in the State examinations. This has a positive impact on the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics at the school.
Currently there are two home economics teachers in the school and it is commendable that two specialist rooms are currently allocated for Home Economic, a kitchen and a separate textiles room which teachers share as necessary. Both facilities were recently extensively refurbished to a very high standard. Much credit is due to management and the teaching staff who contributed to the planning for this refurbishment. The kitchen and the textiles room are extremely well organised and well resourced with a range of equipment necessary for the teaching of the subject. Teachers have maintained equipment and resources for Home Economics to a very high standard. Management is very supportive of requests made for the ongoing replacement and updating of equipment and additional resources as necessary. Management and the teachers are enthusiastic and fully committed to the continued improvement of information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. As well as up-to-date specialist equipment, the home economics department has access to overhead projectors, laptop, data projector, printer, television, and video/DVD equipment, which is commendable. Teachers use ICT in their planning and students are regularly encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics during their computer classes and their own study time. The school’s management and the home economics team are commended for their continued commitment to the ongoing development of Home Economics at the school.
The school’s policy for health and safety has been drawn up in consultation with teachers and is reviewed on a regular basis. The home economics department has developed its own health and safety guidelines for both classrooms and there is evidence of very good health and safety practices in home economics classes. Appropriate safety equipment is available in the home economics rooms.
The home economics teachers work well together as a team and this is exemplified by the collegial, professional and collaborative approach taken to planning for the teaching and learning of the subject. A very good blend of experience and expertise exists between the two home economics teachers in the school and the role of subject co-ordination is currently undertaken by the full time home economics teacher. There are regular, formal, planning meetings and the good work done at these meetings is supported by frequent informal meetings. It is suggested that in line with best practice, minutes be recorded of the decisions taken at formal meetings.
A comprehensive subject plan has been developed for Home Economics, which includes details on the organisation, planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subject. This subject plan is grounded in the school’s mission statement, has clear aims, and sets out clear learning objectives for each year group. It also includes information on methodologies, teaching resources, in-career development, cross-curricular links, homework, assessment, analysis of results, record keeping, reporting mechanisms, health and safety, and catering for students with special educational needs. In addition outline curriculum content plans have been drawn up for each year group and these provide a broad outline of the topics to be covered during the year including the relevant practical and project work to be completed. In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that these plans be developed into short-term schemes of work. They should outline in an integrated manner a more detailed breakdown of the content to be covered, the corresponding learning outcomes to be achieved, the resources and methodologies employed to support the teaching of topics and the revision and assessment modes used by teachers. Consideration should also be given to planning for the further integration of ICT into teaching and learning. These plans should be seen as working documents, which are used to review subject matter covered and aid planning for the future. This work could be fully implemented on a phased basis using ICT to assist regular updating.
A comprehensive Textile Studies programme is implemented at junior cycle. This involves the development of skills in such areas as basic hand stitches, proceeding to using the sewing machine, and in time the completion of a household article and a simple item of clothing. It is praiseworthy that the good practice of developing the design process from an early stage in junior cycle in both food studies and the practical textiles work is adopted. Students demonstrated best practice in developing the design folder in tandem with the textile or craft item. This incremental development of students’ skills is commendable.
The home economics department has developed resource folders on all aspects of the home economics curriculum. Planning folders for each year group have also been developed and these folders contain detailed records of work completed with each year group. These records are a useful guide for teachers in planning for revision of course material and evaluating the effectiveness of particular teaching strategies and resource materials in supporting students’ learning. The home economics department has gathered and developed an impressive range of teaching aids and resource materials, many using ICT, which are readily shared. A resource library has also been developed that offers 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.
Teachers are commended for their efforts made in providing opportunities which aim to enhance the students’ experience and enjoyment of the subject and that extend learning beyond the classroom. This is achieved through the introduction of visiting speakers, demonstrators, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities such as visits to international cuisine centres and entry to a variety of local and national cookery competitions. Cross-curricular links are firmly established with a number of subjects such as Business, Art, Science, languages, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), and Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE). The home economics team plans to further develop these links through the school-planning process.
The home economics teachers are made aware of any students with special educational needs and liaise with the learning support department and the special needs assistants in the school on an ongoing basis to ensure that materials are adapted to suit the needs and abilities of students. Extra assistance is provided during practical lessons and with project work as necessary.
State Examination Commission marking schemes and chief examiners’ reports are well utilised as a resource to facilitate programme planning at all levels. It is commendable that the home economics team regularly analyses student achievement especially in State examinations. It is notable that the teaching team also considers specific contextual factors as part of this exercise.
The quality of advance planning, individual lesson preparation, and teaching and learning was exceptionally high in both the practical and theory lessons observed. Short-term planning for lessons, which included the prior preparation of the materials for class, was very good. This resulted in lessons that were clearly focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students. Subject matter was well structured and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning and appropriate integration of theory with practical skills. The teachers were cognisant of the varying abilities of their students and thus provided opportunities for the students to build on their prior knowledge and skills through well-planned learning activities.
Very good subject knowledge was demonstrated by teachers and instruction was clear, accurate and contextualised. This was frequently supported by the use of a range of relevant visual and tactile stimuli and resources to enhance teaching and consolidate learning such as PowerPoint presentations, graphic organisers, student handouts, worksheets, posters, leaflets, samples and the board. Much emphasis was placed on students’ understanding of content and processes and there were very good examples of linking the lesson content to students’ everyday experiences. This proved very effective in engaging students with lesson content and in facilitating a good understanding of the new concepts being covered. There was good emphasis on examination preparation and graphic organisers, mind maps and other simple visuals are used effectively to summarise material and highlight the links between various aspects of a topic.
Teaching methodologies observed included whole-class teaching, teacher demonstration, individualised learning, pair work, brainstorming and group discussion. Well planned and 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. In the context of the various mixed-ability classes observed, differentiation by questioning was evident in that all students were included and targeted, thus encouraging the active participation of students who are less able and to provide greater challenge for students who are more familiar with the subject matter. Differentiation could be further developed across all classes by means of group work, pair work, problem-solving and collaborative learning.
With regard to food studies practical classes there was evidence of very well established systems of practice and the home economics department’s thorough preparation of students for the food and culinary skills practical examination was apparent. As lessons commenced and at appropriate intervals throughout, clear instruction was provided in relation to the steps of the task, importance of hygiene and safety, resource management, nutritional value of food, and the relevant underlying principles of cookery. Good emphasis on explanations of key concepts and development of skills was observed. Best practice was observed when a work plan and associated time planning were utilised in practical lessons. The expert use of demonstration to small groups and to individual students in order to highlight salient points was evident. In all lessons observed the teacher moved constantly around the room assessing students’ progress, monitoring difficulties and demonstrating best practice. Evaluations of tasks completed are undertaken by students and this informs continuous assessment of students’ work. The approaches to teaching and learning as outlined above reflect many of the principles of best practice.
In all classes, classroom management was very good and teaching and learning took place in a secure, respectful and positive atmosphere. Students’ behaviour was exemplary in all lessons observed and they were well managed, guided and directed in all learning activities. Their work was monitored carefully by teachers in a very supportive, encouraging and caring manner. Student-teacher rapport was excellent; interactions were engaging, purposeful and mutually respectful and students’ efforts were encouraged and affirmed. Discipline was sensitively maintained and students were attentive, interested and participated well in the learning process.
The corridor walls at the entrance to the home economics rooms and the learning environment inside both rooms is enhanced through the display of a number of educational posters and evidence of students’ work. This is commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students and serves as a stimulus and source of motivation.
It is evident that the teaching team has a strong commitment to the practical components of the syllabuses. With regard to students’ coursework an appropriate level of teacher guidance and individual student input is evident. Observation of students’ project work, in the area of Design and Craftwork indicated a very high level of competence in terms of investigation, organisation and presentation. The very good variety of project work completed by the students merits particular mention for the standard and level of creativity and originality demonstrated. Processes such as appliqué, quilting, embroidery, patchwork, crochet, knitting, and rug making are regular features of the craftwork completed.
The teachers set very high expectations and the majority of students aspire to the higher level programme. Learner autonomy is encouraged and teachers carry out thorough monitoring and appraisal of students’ work regularly. Students’ engagement in their learning was good as they were challenged and motivated by the well planned activities. Observation of and interaction with students indicated that they had a very good understanding of subject knowledge and various skills in practical work appropriate to their class group and level. Students demonstrated great enthusiasm and enjoyment for Home Economics and they have a sense of pride and achievement in their work and they are supported by a team of very energetic, enthusiastic, and committed teachers.
Practices and procedures in relation to homework, revision and assessment in Home Economics are commendable. Regular assessment of students’ learning is undertaken through a range of assessment modes that aims to determine students’ progress and competence and to ensure that each student has ample experience in examination techniques. These include oral questioning, work books, written exercises, regular class tests, in-house examinations and some assessment of project and practical work. The sharing of best practice in relation to the various forms of assessment currently utilised by teachers, is recommended with a view to further developing peer assessment. Students are awarded an aggregated mark throughout the year based on written tests, food and culinary skills practical work, coursework and projects. The work of TY students is assessed through a combination of methods including portfolio assessment and project work. On the successful completion of the Safe Food for Life programme TY students receive certificates.
The home economics department has developed a homework and assessment policy, which will be further enhanced by the formulation of a whole-school policy on homework and assessment which is a stated intention of management. Homework is regularly assigned to reinforce and extend the learning that has taken place in the class and regular monitoring of students’ copybooks, work books, folders, journals and class tests is evident. Students’ written work was annotated with developmental comments on a regular basis. These provisions are in line with ‘assessment for learning’ (AfL) principles and are commended and encouraged as a means of empowering students to improve the quality of their work.
Teachers endeavour to develop common house examinations at Christmas and end-of-year for students, which is commendable. In addition students preparing to take the State examinations undertake pre-certificate examinations in the spring and students’ progress is reviewed and their examination levels are decided in consultation with the subject teachers and parents. Students and their parents are advised regularly on their progress in the subject and reports are sent home periodically. Furthermore, student progress is reported to parents at the annual parent-teacher meetings that are held for each year group.
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 recommendations are made:
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.
Published October 2008