An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Cabra, Dublin 7
Roll Number: 70150O
Date of inspection: 26 April 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 Coláiste Éanna, Cabra, Dublin 7. 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 home economics staff. 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 home economics department. 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.
Coláiste Éanna is a co-educational school under the auspices of the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee (CDVEC). The school, in a spirit of inclusiveness and care, aims to provide a curricular programme that meets the needs of its current student cohort. The college offers a range of second-level, adult and further education courses. The second-level student population represents a small percentage of the total student cohort. School management and staff, in collaboration with CDVEC, are currently assessing and reflecting on the future direction of the second-level education programme in Coláiste Éanna. The School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) has facilitated part of this review.
Home Economics has an important role in the junior and senior cycle programmes offered in the school. All junior-cycle students follow the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) where Home Economics is a core subject. Two curricular programmes are offered in senior cycle, the established Leaving Certificate programme and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). Students and parents are supported and advised in relation to programme choice through the school’s guidance programme and by individual subject teachers. A conscious effort is made to ensure that students’ choices are appropriate to their needs. A minority of senior-cycle students take the established Leaving Certificate programme. In fact there currently is no established Leaving Certificate class in fifth year as all the students opted for LCA. Home Economics is generally a core subject for Leaving Certificate, as providing a number of options pools would be unsustainable, given the small number of students taking the established Leaving Certificate programme. Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT) is offered as either a vocational specialism or an elective as part of the LCA programme. This good practice allows students to build on the knowledge and skills already developed in Junior Certificate Home Economics.
All home economics classes are of mixed ability. The total amount of teaching time allocated to Home Economics over the course of junior and senior cycle is in line with syllabus requirements. However, given the specific educational needs of the students in Coláiste Éanna, the current arrangement of this time merits attention. The whole-school timetable is divided into hour-long lessons. It was noted during the course of the evaluation that the one-hour period presents significant difficulties for home economics students and staff, and impacts negatively on the quality of subject provision. A one-hour lesson is too short for practical food studies lessons, given the coursework requirements of home economics syllabuses and is too long for a theory lesson, given the specific educational needs of the students. This timetabling arrangement also limits the frequency of class contact time, which should be borne in mind, given the contextual factors in relation to student absenteeism in the school. In addition, it was noted that students miss fifteen to twenty minutes of the first timetabled class of each day to attend the breakfast club. To support the very good work apparent in home economics lessons, it is recommended that the timetabling arrangements for Home Economics be reviewed. This should be done in the context of a complete review of the whole-school timetable. The breakfast club should operate before classes begin to prevent the erosion of tuition time. Attention is drawn to Department circular M29/95 which outlines the minimum requirements in respect of the provision of daily tuition time.
There is one dual-purpose specialist room for Home Economics. This room, which was completely re-furbished in 2006, is very well maintained and resourced with a range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. In summer 2007 new windows will be installed. This will alleviate the current potentially unsafe health and safety practices observed regarding the procedures for opening the windows. The home economics department is supported by a home economics assistant who provides valuable support in the maintenance of the specialist room and in the provision of materials for practical lessons. Resources are allocated on the basis of teacher requisition and management is very supportive of requests made for additional equipment and materials. Ingredients for food studies practicals and basic textile materials are supplied by the school. This is a laudable additional support for students.
The education requirements of students with special education needs are very well provided for through focused teaching strategies and close liaison with the learning support department. Class sizes are small and occasionally one group is split into two smaller class groups. Details relating to students’ specific educational needs are communicated to the home economics teacher by the learning support teacher. This information informs the subsequent choice of teaching and learning strategies deployed in lessons. The school provides the resources during the mock examinations that reflect the reasonable accommodation that candidates may expect in the certificate examinations. The learning support and home economics departments collaborate to assist students to complete coursework and improve their literacy skills in preparation for the written examinations in Home Economics. Such good practices are very beneficial in helping students prepare for their certificate examinations.
There is a whole-school health and safety policy which commendably is reviewed on an annual basis. A range of systematic procedures is evident in relation to fire safety and the reporting of accidents. There is an appropriate range of health and safety equipment in the specialist room. As part of the whole-school health and safety routines, an annual room check is carried out. This good practice ensures that due attention is given to the maintenance and servicing of the specialist equipment. Students of Home Economics are briefed on safety rules at the beginning of each year and an appropriate emphasis was placed on health and safety in the home economics lessons observed. To build on these good practices, it is recommended that the home economics department, in consultation with management, formalise a health and safety policy for Home Economics. This statement should outline the specific safety control measures for using any potential high risk specialist equipment in Home Economics. This policy should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. The safety rules for Home Economics should be clearly displayed in the specialist room.
As part of the school’s on-going engagement with school development planning, management is supportive of subject department planning. Formal planning time is allocated at the start of the year for three afternoon sessions. Consideration could be given to the allocation of further planning time towards the end of the school year. Some of the formal time could be used to schedule periodic cross-curricular subject department meetings. This could be particularly valuable in instances where individual subject departments are small. Such meetings would provide an opportunity where the collective expertise of the group can be shared on areas of common interest such as teaching methodologies, classroom management, equipment provision as well as health and safety procedures.
There is a sense of a very committed subject department where a reflective and informed approach is taken to subject department planning. To date the primary focus of department planning has been on the development of programmes of work which have been developed for all year groups and display many characteristics of best practice. Each programme plan contains a framework which outlines the main topics covered and displays a commendable balance between theoretical content as well as food studies and textiles practical coursework. This framework is further broken down into a detailed plan which contains monthly learning objectives and specific learning outcomes for each week. Information is also included on the teaching and learning strategies and homework activities assigned. It is laudable that time for revision and assessment is integrated into each plan. The willingness, commitment and professionalism of the home economics staff in producing such high quality planning documentation is acknowledged and highly commended. Commendably, each plan is a working document, as evidenced by the self-evaluative comments noted on the documents. To plan for the further development of the subject, consideration should be given to the completion of an annual SCOT analysis of Home Economics in the school. This self-evaluative tool will help to identify the subject’s strengths and opportunities as well as recognise any potential challenges and threats that impact on the subject’s on-going development in the school. The planning materials provided by Home Economics Support Service (HESS) may provide additional support in this area. These materials can be downloaded from the HESS website at www.homeeconomics.ie.
A commendable range of additional resources is available to support student learning in Home Economics. The home economics room is equipped with an overhead projector and a laptop computer, and has shared access to a television and video recorder. The home economics staff has collected a range of educational packs, class sets of resource books, and commercial posters. A very impressive range of worksheets has been developed and systematically filed for use in Home Economics. Of particular note is the fact that, in designing worksheets, a deliberate emphasis has been placed on the technical language of Home Economics through the use of crosswords, cloze tests and word searches. Diagrams and graphics also enhance the visual appeal of these resources thus enhancing their suitability for the varying learning styles evident in mixed-ability classes.
Planning for the effective use of information and communication technology (ICT) is evident in Home Economics. Home economics lessons are occasionally held in the computer room, which is available on request. There is also internet access in the home economics room to facilitate coursework research.
A variety of practical coursework is planned in the areas of Junior Certificate core textiles as well as design and craftwork optional work. To build on this good work, it is recommended that students be encouraged further to develop their creativity and originality in the analysis, interpretation and evaluation of the design brief when writing up their support folder. To assist students in the development of these higher-order thinking skills, it is recommended that opportunities be explored to integrate further the design brief process as a teaching and learning strategy in Home Economics from first year. Students, for example, could complete a simple folder in tandem with the core textiles work or occasionally a food studies lesson could be based on a simple design task. This would enable students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation. It would also provide further opportunities to integrate theory and practice. In addition the State Examinations Commission (SEC) documentation, for example the Junior Certificate coursework guidelines and related chief examiners’ reports, should inform future planning. These documents are available on the SEC website at www.examinations.ie.
A variety of lessons types, both theoretical and practical, was observed during the course of the evaluation. In all instances the quality of short-term planning was very good. Appropriate resource materials such as worksheets, overhead transparencies, food products and textile samples were prepared in advance and used effectively to support student learning. All lessons were very well structured and, in most instances, well paced.
Very good quality teaching was evident in all the lessons observed. All lessons had a clear focus and very good links with previous learning were established. The title of each lesson was displayed on the whiteboard. This strategy could be developed further by sharing key learning objectives and success criteria for each lesson with students. This would provide an additional focus and structure to lessons, and facilitate students’ self-assessment of their own progress. Teacher instruction was very clear and accurate. Key points were summarised effectively on the white board. Best practice was observed when students were given time to take down the key points of information into their notebooks. Questioning strategies were also used effectively to monitor students’ understanding and application of knowledge. Deliberate efforts were made during class discussions and in the design of worksheets to link the concepts being taught to the everyday experiences of the students. This proved very successful in stimulating and retaining student interest and in enabling students to apply the knowledge to various situations. A very good example of this strategy occurred where students had to record and analyse their main items of weekly expenditure. There was some good emphasis on the technical language associated with the topic being taught. Students’ attention was drawn to the meanings of the new words introduced during the lesson and spellings were highlighted on the board. This praiseworthy practice is encouraged further to help students develop the necessary linguistic skills in preparation for the written examinations. To support this practice, further use could be made of the key word worksheets and posters provided by the Junior Certificate School Programme Support Service. Students could file a list of the key words for each main topic in their copybooks. This strategy would complement the development of literacy skills across the curriculum.
Many of the teaching and learning strategies observed encouraged the purposeful and active engagement of students in the learning process. This very good practice reflects the teaching and learning strategies recommended in home economics syllabuses. In all the lessons observed very good use was made of active learning strategies such as group work and discussion. Of particular note was the effective use of exemplar materials to enable students to understand and assimilate difficult concepts. One particularly good example of this occurred in a textile lesson on fibres and fabric. After a general discussion on the properties of fabric, students worked in pairs and examined a selection of fabric samples to decide on a desirable and undesirable property of each sample. A worksheet containing a list of key properties was circulated for students’ use. This proved very effective in ensuring that students used the correct terminology during the subsequent discussions. It was evident from their responses in the plenary session that they had a very good understanding of the key concepts taught and could apply the information.
From the practical food studies lesson observed it was clear that very good routines have been established for practical work and that due care and attention is given to health and safety procedures. The balance between spot demonstration, whole-class instruction, individual monitoring and student activity was appropriate to the needs of the students, given their level of experience and previous learning. Students displayed a good standard of culinary skills. To develop further their practical skills in preparation for the food and culinary skills examinations, they should be encouraged to use the correct piece of equipment for each food preparation and cooking process as well as to carry out complete preparation of vegetables. However, the length of lesson as explained previously impacted negatively on the quality of students’ learning. Even though the students remained purposefully engaged with the task and the dish that was prepared was not time-consuming, they had only enough time to prepare and cook the dish in the class time given. There was insufficient time to allow students to develop skills in the serving or evaluation of dishes and the final wash-up and cleaning of units had to run into lunch-time. This situation would be exacerbated in lessons where the dishes being prepared require a longer cooking time. The short lesson is not conducive to the creation of an optimal learning environment. Coursework requirements in practical food studies focus on the completion of assignments rather than just on the practical skills of food preparation. Sufficient class time is needed to create opportunities that allow students to apply relevant theoretical knowledge to practical work and enable them to develop skills over time in the areas of analysis implementation and evaluation of tasks. Therefore it is recommended that this situation is reviewed in the context of a whole-school review of the timetable.
The excellent management of planned learning activities ensured that a supportive and co-operative learning environment permeated all the lessons observed. Discipline was sensitively maintained and there was a high level of mutual respect and care evident in all classroom interactions. The physical environment of the home economics room is enhanced with displays of educational posters, students’ project work and photographs recording the work completed as part of key assignments and tasks for LCA. It was obvious from interacting with the students that this good practice contributes to their sense of pride in and ownership of the environment created in the home economics room.
Students enjoy Home Economics. Interaction with and observation of student activity indicated that they had a good grasp of the key concepts being taught in each lesson observed. Observation of students’ recent optional study in design and craft work indicated a good standard of appropriate craft and textile skills. The level of originality and creativity in the design of some of the wall hangings is particularly commendable. This good practice should be encouraged further.
An examination of students’ copybooks indicated some good progression in their work. However, there was a significant variation in the maintenance of copybooks. Student handouts and worksheets are an integral part of the teaching and learning strategies in Home Economics and much of the work completed in the copybooks complements the information in students’ textbooks. Therefore it is recommended that a system for student notebooks be devised that would encourage students to store systematically all worksheets used in lessons. These notebooks should be monitored regularly and students should be encouraged to maintain the notebook for the duration of the programme cycle as it will prove a useful revision aid in preparation for the certificate examinations.
A very good range of assessment modes is used to assess students’ progress in Home Economics. This includes oral questioning, written assignments, class tests, term tests and on-going monitoring of practical coursework. Marks awarded for all class tests are recorded in the teacher’s diary. This good practice helps to build up a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over time which is shared with students and parents when providing advice on examination levels.
The home economics department operates a laudable system of summative assessment. Students are awarded an aggregated mark that is based on a written paper together with an assessment of the relevant coursework components. This praiseworthy practice provides an accurate indicator of students’ performance in the subject. Results are communicated to parents or guardians twice-yearly and at the parent-teacher meetings. During the course of the evaluation it was noted that the student journal is used effectively as an additional means of communication with parents or guardians.
Homework is assigned regularly to almost all class groups to reinforce or apply the learning that has taken place in the classroom. Creative and commendable strategies are used to encourage students to complete homework. It was noted positively that there is some good variety in the type of homework exercises assigned with some emphasis placed on past examination papers in instances where students are preparing for the certificate examinations. Students’ work is checked but the modus operandi for the monitoring of homework varies. In some cases homework is checked at the start of each lesson while in other cases work is taken up for monitoring. Observation of student copybooks indicated some good use of constructive feedback. This good practice should be extended and developed further as it illustrates one of the principles underpinning Assessment for Learning (AfL). Further information on AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie. The assignment and monitoring of productive homework exercises that includes the provision constructive feedback is essential to underpin the very good work being done in home economics lessons. Therefore it is recommended that the procedures for monitoring and annotating students’ written homework be reviewed. The homework assigned to all students should provide them with opportunities to complete written work independently and consideration should be given to the matter of balancing the volume of homework assigned with the provision of constructive feedback. This will help students to develop further the skills necessary for the written examinations. In instances where there is an issue regarding the non-completion of homework assigned, consideration could be given to developing further in-class opportunities for students to complete work which can then be taken up and monitored.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics plays an important role in all the curricular programmes offered in Coláiste Éanna.
· The recently re-furbished specialist room is very well maintained and management is very supportive of the continued provision of additional resources.
· The education requirements of students with special education needs are very well provided for through focused teaching strategies and close liaison with the learning support department.
· Curricular planning for Home Economics is very well thought through and the documentation presented displayed many characteristics of best practice.
· A commendable range of additional classroom resources has been collected to support student learning.
· Very good quality teaching was evident in all of the lessons observed. Many of the teaching and learning strategies observed encouraged the purposeful and active engagement of students in the learning process.
· The excellent management of planned learning activities ensured that a supportive and co-operative learning environment permeated all the lessons observed.
· The home economics department operates a laudable system of summative assessment.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The time-tabling arrangements for Home Economics should be reviewed in the context of a full review of the whole-school timetable.
· The home economics department, in association with management, should formalise a health and safety policy for Home Economics. Safety rules should be clearly displayed in the specialist room.
· Opportunities should be explored to integrate the design brief process as a teaching and learning strategy in Home Economics from first year.
· The procedures for monitoring and annotating students’ written homework should be reviewed to underpin the very good work being done in home economics lessons.
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.