An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Ballymahon Vocational School,
Roll number: 71690 F
Date of inspection: 12 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ballymahon Vocational School, Co. Longford. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined 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 the home economics 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 is a popular subject on the school’s curriculum, as evidenced by the uptake in junior and senior cycle. The gender balance in junior cycle classes is particularly commendable.
Ballymahon Vocational School is committed to providing a broad and balanced curriculum to meet the needs of its current student cohort, though this does present some challenges given the small size of the school. The mechanism for subject selection is student-centred and every effort is made to accommodate student choice. In junior cycle Home Economics is offered against Woodwork. In September a short taster programme enables first-year students to complete a three week programme in Woodwork and Home Economics to allow them make a more informed subject choice. This commendable practice can also prove beneficial in attempting to prevent subject choices being based on traditional gender perceptions. However, it is important to review periodically the length of time given over to the taster programme to ensure that students have enough time to get a true flavour of each subject so that the full benefits of this initiative are enjoyed by students. It would also be important that each subject department devises a programme of work for the duration of the taster that gives a true flavour of what the subject offers. Junior cycle uptake is very good and home economics classes from first year through to third year are of mixed ability. The student-centred approach to subject choice for Leaving Certificate is praiseworthy. Option pools are generated from student preferences and a conscious effort is made to accommodate all students in their subject selection.
There are two home economics teachers in the school, one full-time and one part-time. However, the current allocation of teaching hours to Home Economics is presenting challenges for management with regard to the provision of Home Economics in the range of senior cycle curricular programmes offered in Ballymahon Vocational School. At present, at Leaving Certificate level, fourth-year and fifth-year home economics students are in the same class group. This arrangement impacts negatively on the quality of provision of Leaving Certificate Home Economics in the school. It is also presenting significant challenges for the teaching staff in providing a high quality learning environment that simultaneously meets the needs of fourth-year and fifth-year students of Home Economics. The Leaving Certificate examination in Home Economics includes mandatory practical coursework in food studies. This coursework is based on a series of food studies assignments that is completed and recorded into an official coursework journal. Coursework assignments change for each cycle of Leaving Certificate students and are issued to schools by the State Examinations Commission at the beginning of Leaving Certificate year one. Students must submit the completed work to the State Examinations Commission in the November of Leaving Certificate year two. When fourth-year and fifth-year students are in one class group, there are significant challenges in enabling effective progress with both year groups who are at very different stages in the Leaving Certificate syllabus. Management recognises the difficulties and is actively trying to resolve the situation. As an interim measure it is hoped, pending additional teaching hours being allocated by the VEC, that the fourth-year and fifth-year students will be separated for one double period from January, 2007, onwards. While the contextual factors that exist in relation to subject provision are recognised, in the context of future planning, it is recommended that the whole-school provision for Leaving Certificate Home Economics be reviewed to ensure that fourth-year and fifth-year students are timetabled as two separate class groups for all class periods as soon as is feasible. At present, the uptake of Leaving Certificate Home Economics appears largely dependent on the proportion of girls in each year group. Strategies should be explored to promote Home Economics as an optional subject with appeal for all students, in order to redress the gender imbalance and ensure that a separate fourth-year class is sustainable. One possible suggestion is that the home economics co-ordinator could speak to all third-year students when they are selecting options for fourth year. Thematic notice boards that are adjacent to the home economics rooms are another excellent means of promoting the subject among the general student population.
At present Home Economics-related modules are not included in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. Management is advised to explore strategies that would facilitate the re-introduction of Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT) to the LCA programme as an elective or a vocational specialism. This would allow students who took Home Economics for their Junior Certificate to progress the knowledge and skills already developed.
Time-tabled provision for Home Economics is very good and is in accordance with the syllabus requirements. A deliberate effort is taken to ensure that class periods are spread evenly throughout the week. This arrangement ensures effective continuity and progress in teaching and learning. In addition, the Leaving Certificate class has a generous timetabled provision of six periods per week in an effort to ease the challenges already discussed.
There is a strong commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) and this is facilitated and supported by management. The home economics team is actively involved in the Association of Teachers of Home Economics and in the marking of the certificate examinations in junior and senior cycle. The teaching team has attended the recent evening cluster meeting hosted by the Home Economics Support Service (HESS). This level of commitment is commendable. It is worth noting that HESS has launched a revamped website. One new feature is a teachers’ forum that provides opportunities for teachers to communicate with each other, share ideas, ask questions and provide mutual support on an on-going basis. Teachers can log into the forum at www.homeeconomics.ie.
There is one dual-purpose specialist room for Home Economics which operates as a kitchen and a textiles room. This room was built in 1962 and is in significant need of major re-furbishment. An application has been submitted to the Department of Education and Science to have this room completely refurbished as part of a major capital building project. This project is at early architectural planning stage and considerable progress has been made in planning a modern home economics facility. In view of the condition of the home economics room, school management, in association with Co. Longford VEC, is urged to continue to progress this project as a matter of priority. The home economics team are commended for the efforts made to maintain the room to an acceptable standard.
While acknowledging the difficulties that pertain to the physical environment, due consideration is given to the active management of health and safety in the home economics room. In addition to the whole-school policy that is currently being reviewed, the home economics team has devised clear health and safety routines for Home Economics in relation to classroom organisation, cleaning and hygiene. A range of appropriate health and safety equipment was observed in the specialist room and some laminated safety and hygiene notices are clearly displayed. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that specific safety routines for textile practicals be developed. The amended safety policy and associated routines should be clearly displayed in the room.
The home economics department has access to a television and DVD player. There is an overhead projector in the room, but lack of blackout blinds on the windows makes it difficult to make effective use of this resource. Coursework requirements in Home Economics necessitate access to a range of updated resources. There is no annual budget for Home Economics though resources are allocated on the basis of teacher requisition. The home economics team, in consultation with management, should consider carrying out an annual audit of the home economics room to highlight maintenance issues and resourcing needs which could be addressed on an on-going basis, as resources permit.
The importance of differentiating the approaches to learning for students with special education needs is recognised by the home economics team. Special needs assistants attend class as appropriate and provide valuable assistance to the students in their care. It is particularly laudable that the school provides the resources during the mock examinations that reflect the reasonable accommodation that candidates may expect in the certificate examinations. The home economics and learning support teams collaborate to ensure that a focused approach is taken to supporting Home Economics students with special education needs. In addition, a member of the home economics team is involved in the delivery of a life skills programme that has been adapted to suit the needs of specific students. It was evident from discussions held, and from observations made during the course of the inspection, that the home economics team has a good knowledge of the specific learning needs of students in their care.
A committed approach is taken to subject department planning. Since the beginning of this school year there are two home economics teachers on the staff and remarkable progress has been made in the process of collaborative planning in this short space of time. Formal planning time is allocated by management twice-yearly as part of the calendar of staff meetings. In addition the teaching team meet informally on a regular basis as the need arises. The senior teacher acts as subject co-ordinator. This position is voluntary. As more home economics hours are allocated to the second teacher, consideration could be given to rotating the position of subject co-ordinator among the team of teachers on an annual basis in order to share the workload and allow each member of the team to assume a leadership role in the continued development of Home Economics in the school.
Very good use has been made of the planning documentation produced by HESS to develop a subject department folder. It is clear that a professional and systematic approach underpins many aspects of subject planning in Home Economics, as evidenced by the subject specific policies on special education needs, health and safety and assessment procedures. Some very beneficial cross-curricular links have also been established. It is important to note that subject planning by its nature will always be work in progress and, as such, will always demonstrate room for advancement and revision. Therefore, it is important to monitor regularly and review the implementation of subject-specific polices. As part of an annual review of Home Economics, the teaching team should analyse student outcomes as evidenced by results in the certificate examinations. However, it would be important to bear in mind any specific contextual factors as part of this exercise. The outcomes of this exercise should inform reflective debate on the teaching and learning of Home Economics and the general whole-school provision for the subject.
Programmes of work are available for each year group and are at an advanced stage of development. The long-term plan for the Junior Certificate syllabus is particularly praiseworthy. The content is sequenced in a manner that integrates theoretical and practical knowledge, clear timeframes for the delivery of each topic are included and some teaching strategies are considered. Of particular note is the manner in which worksheets for some lessons are systematically filed for ease of access. This bank of worksheets should be developed further over time. To build on this good work, at the next review stage the home economics team should re-examine the planning for the core textiles section of the Junior Certificate programme to ensure that the items made are in line with syllabus requirements. Furthermore, it is recommended that teaching strategies using the design brief process are integrated further into the teaching of textiles and food studies. This would support students in developing essential knowledge and skills over time in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation and provide additional opportunities to integrate theory and practice.
Some good progress has being made in the compilation of planning documentation for the Leaving Certificate programme. However, this plan would benefit from the inclusion of more specific timeframes for each topic and should include reference to learning outcomes for each module or topic in terms of students’ expected knowledge and understanding. As the timetabling arrangements for the Leaving Certificate group are being amended after Christmas, it is recommended, as a matter of urgency, that a revised programme of work be developed to provide information on the areas of the course that will be taught when the fourth-year and fifth-year students are apart and when they are together. The revised timetabled arrangements will necessitate a team-teaching approach; therefore on-going collaborative planning is essential to maximise the potential of this arrangement. In amending the Leaving Certificate plan, particular attention should be given to planning for appropriate differentiation in the delivery of lesson content. Information on suitable methodologies for the planned work and the further identification of appropriate resources and differentiated homework assignments should also be included.
A variety of lessons types was observed during the course of the evaluation. The quality of short-term planning for lessons was good. In some instances, the advance preparation of appropriate resources such as student worksheets and handouts complemented the delivery of lessons. Lessons were purposeful and generally well structured. However, bearing in mind the varying abilities of students in mixed-ability class settings, careful attention should be given to the pacing of lessons to ensure that an adequate amount of time is given to assimilate new concepts and consolidate learning.
All lessons had a clear focus. The commendable practice of sharing the aim of the lesson with students was noted in some lessons and its wider use is encouraged. This strategy could be developed further by sharing key learning objectives and success criteria for each lesson with students. This information could then be used to provide an additional focus and structure to lessons, and facilitate student self-evaluation and assessment. This is one of the key principles underpinning Assessment for Learning (AfL).
Teachers demonstrated excellent subject knowledge and, as recommended in all home economics syllabuses, some specific areas of the course that applied to the subject being taught were effectively integrated into lessons. There were some good examples of linking lesson content to the everyday experience of the students. This is commendable practice as it fosters deeper understanding of the topic being taught. Deliberate efforts were made to link new material with prior learning and this proved effective in engaging students with lesson content. The blackboard was used to good effect to clarify difficult concepts and summarise key points from discussions. Appropriate emphasis was placed on explaining the technical language or key terminology associated with the topics being taught. This is encouraged further to develop the necessary literacy skills in preparation for the written examinations.
Some good strategies were used to accommodate the various student learning styles. At times textbooks were used appropriately to consolidate learning. Of particular note was where students were required to underline or highlight key words or phrases particularly relevant to the topic being taught. In some lessons worksheets proved effective in engaging students in their own learning. To extend this good practice some further consideration might be given to the use of visual material such as colourful posters, overhead transparencies or video material to clarify concepts and consolidate learning. The use of “mind maps” as an alternative to full paragraphs of text should be considered as a visual tool to support learning and highlight the interrelationships between topics.
Students were encouraged to remain actively engaged in lessons through the use of a variety of questioning strategies. Questioning proved effective in assessing recall and understanding of concepts and processes. Student responses, in most instances, indicated a good level of knowledge of the key points under discussion. On occasion, questioning challenged the students to analyse and interpret information. This is good practice and its wider use is encouraged as such questioning techniques develop the higher order thinking skills of analysis and interpretation of information. Questioning proved most effective when questions were directed to individual students in order to discourage chorus answering and monitor effectively individual levels of student knowledge and understanding.
The personal contribution that the teachers made to teaching their classes was much in evidence throughout all lessons. However, in order to avoid an over-emphasis on teacher-led activity in lessons where there is a tendency for students to remain passive, it is recommended that active teaching methodologies be explored further and used, even if only for part of a lesson. Activities that suit a variety of learning styles should be investigated and developed. Activities such as group-work, pair-work, role-play and case studies encourage peer collaboration and tutoring which are ideal techniques to enable students to wrestle with the intellectual challenges that arise when new material is presented in the classroom. It is worth noting that the Second Level Support Service provides whole-school CPD on engaging students in their own learning and in teaching and learning approaches to support mixed-ability classes. Further information is available from the Second Level Support Service at www.slss.ie.
In practical work observed, a high priority was given to the active management of safety issues during student practical work. Students displayed a level of competency in following instructions and in the handling and organisation of equipment and materials that was commensurate with their level of experience. However, to assist the pacing of practical lessons, given the limited nature of the existing facilities, students should work in pairs for all practical lessons. Throughout the practical lesson, the teacher circulated among work units and it was obvious that this practice gave students the opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive manner. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that spot demonstrations are used to “stage” the preparation, cooking and serving of dishes in practical lessons. This strategy provides opportunities to re-emphasise and demonstrate key food preparation processes and apply theoretical knowledge to practical skills. It is commendable that the evaluation stage was planned as an integral component of the lesson. Where time allows, students could be encouraged to evaluate the completed task on their own or in pairs to develop the independent evaluation skills necessary for examinations. A wall chart of key terminology could be displayed to assist students in the tasting and evaluation stage of practical work.
The atmosphere in all lessons observed was supportive and conducive to learning, though management is urged to consider, resources permitting, the installation of blackout blinds on the windows where the sunlight is shining directly into the line of student vision. A good rapport and a high level of mutual respect and co-operation were evident between students and teachers. Good use was made of praise to affirm students’ efforts. The learning environment was enhanced by displays of educational posters. The fabric collages are particularly praiseworthy. This is good practice as it results in the creation of a stimulating text-rich environment that reinforces learning and engages student interest. Displays of student work also promote a sense of student ownership and responsibility for the creation of a stimulating learning environment. This practice could be developed further. Additional strategies might include displaying student project work on a rotation basis and the development of notice boards in the specialist room or in the area adjacent to the room exhibiting photographs, leaflets and newspaper articles of topical issues relevant to Home Economics.
Observation of coursework in the areas design and craftwork indicated a good level of competence in the appropriate craft and textiles skills. Best practice was observed where the support folders included a detailed analysis and evaluation of the task and where student creativity and originality were clearly evident in the production of the craft item.
Throughout the junior and senior cycle programme a range of assessment modes is used to monitor student progress in Home Economics. In line with the whole-school assessment policy, a range of assessment modes, both formative and summative, is used to monitor student progress in Home Economics. This includes oral questioning, homework assignments, class tests, end-of-term tests and the continuous assessment of practical coursework. All assessment outcomes are systematically recorded in teachers’ journals. This good practice builds a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over time and is a useful evidence base when providing advice to students and parents on examination levels for the certificate examinations. It is particularly commendable that home economics students are encouraged to reach their full potential and to take the certificate examinations at the level that is most suited to their ability.
In addition to the formal in-house examinations held at Christmas and summer, home economics students also sit mid-term tests. From reviewing a range of examination papers set by the home economics team it is commendable that the end-of-term examination papers are based on the format and style of the relevant State Examinations Commission paper. It is particularly praiseworthy that the marks awarded for each part of the question are listed on the papers. This has the advantage of training students in the interpretation of marking schemes and in other examination techniques such as the timing and depth of treatment required in answering examination questions.
It is commended that, in some instances, the home economics team includes an assessment of the relevant practical coursework components as part of its summative assessment procedures. It is recommended that this good practice be extended where necessary to include, where feasible, an assessment of the relevant coursework components. These assessment outcomes should form part of the aggregate summative mark provided to parents and students at key times during the academic year. The appropriate State Examinations Commission marking scheme should guide the development of the assessment criteria used. This information is available at on the State Examinations’ website at www.examinations.ie.
Student progress is communicated to parents or guardians through written reports and at parent-teacher meetings. It is school policy to maintain close contact with parents through the student diary, as well as by letter and telephone if the need arises. It was reported that this facilitates good communication with parents on an on-going basis.
Observation of student copybooks and notebooks indicated some good progression in their work. It would be beneficial if students were encouraged to incorporate the worksheets, handouts and evaluation sheets used in lessons into their notebooks in a systematic manner to ensure that all work related to each topic is carefully stored. The resulting notebook should prove a useful revision aid to students.
In line whole-school policy, homework is regularly assigned to monitor and reinforce learning in Home Economics. In the case of students preparing for the certificate examinations there was an appropriate emphasis on past examination papers. Some very good practice was evident with regard to the monitoring of homework. Useful teacher comments in some copybooks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. This good practice should be extended as it enhances learning by informing students about their own individual progress, highlights areas for improvement and ultimately challenges and assists students to reach their full potential. In the context of future departmental planning, the home economics team could also consider the subsequent responsibilities of students when they receive this monitored work. This revised policy and teacher expectations should be discussed with the students. Consideration should be given by the Home Economics team to expanding and developing the Assessment for Learning (AfL) practices already evident in the learning and teaching of Home Economics. Further information on AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Ballymahon Vocational School is committed to providing a broad and balanced curriculum that meets the needs of its current student cohort.
· Home Economics is a popular subject. The gender balance is particularly commendable in some classes.
· The mechanism for subject selection is very student-centred and every effort is made to accommodate student choice.
· A deliberate effort is taken to ensure that class periods in Home Economics are spread evenly throughout the week to facilitate effective continuity in teaching and learning.
· A strong commitment to continuous professional development is evident among the home economics team and this is supported by management.
· There is evidence of very good practice in relation to collaborative subject department planning in Home Economics.
· Programmes of work are available for each year group. Programme planning, especially for junior cycle, is at an advanced stage of development.
· A good level of mutual respect and co-operation was evident in all the lessons observed.
· Student progress is assessed on an on-going basis. There were some very good practices evident with regard to the checking and monitoring of homework.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The whole-school provision for Leaving Certificate Home Economics should be reviewed.
· The Leaving Certificate programme of work should be reviewed and developed further, as outlined in the report.
· A range of teaching strategies that accommodate the various styles of learner should be explored further and implemented by the home economics team. Particular attention should be given to the inclusion of active teaching methodologies to avoid an over-emphasis on teacher-led activities.
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.