An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Granard, Co. Longford
Roll number: 71710I
Date of inspection: 6 March 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil Phádraig. 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 relevant staff. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and 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.
Ardscoil Phádraig is a co-educational school under the auspices of Co. Longford Vocational Education Committee. The school is commended for its provision of a broad curriculum programme for Junior and Leaving Certificate students.
There is a long tradition of Home Economics in the school. The subject, which enjoys a strong profile, is an optional subject in the Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes. The work of the home economics staff in developing and promoting the subject in the school over many years is laudable. In light of the changing composition of the in-coming student cohort, and as part of the school’s on-going curriculum review process, consideration could be given to the introduction of Hotel, Catering and Tourism or Child and Community Care to the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme, either as an elective or a vocational specialism. This would allow students who opt for LCA to build on their knowledge and skills acquired in junior cycle.
Students have equality of access to all subjects in the school and a student-centred approach is evident in the arrangements for selecting optional subjects. First-year students participate in a taster programme. This is very good practice, as such an initiative is very beneficial in assisting students in making informed subject choices. However, the current arrangements for the taster programme merit review. Currently, students are timetabled for two class periods for all eight optional subjects for all of first year. This results in a timetabled provision for first-year Home Economics of only one double lesson per week. This can impede progress being made in the syllabus as best practice occurs when Junior Certificate home economics classes are allocated the equivalent of four class periods per week for Home Economics. Therefore, it is recommended that consideration be given to running a shorter taster programme for just part of first year. Commendable efforts are made to devise second year option bands to facilitate as many students as possible.
School events such as the annual open day and information evenings for parents of first-year and third-year students act as a support when selecting programmes and subjects. While the uptake of Home Economics has remained steady, evidence suggests that the subject is traditionally chosen mainly by girls. The contextual factors that exist in relation to subject choice in the school are recognised. However the uptake of Home Economics appears largely dependent on the proportion of girls in each year group. Therefore it is recommended that strategies be explored to promote Home Economics as an optional subject with appeal for all students, in order to redress the gender imbalance. It is commendable that Leaving Certificate option bands are generated from an initial survey of third-year students’ preferences and that every effort is made to accommodate students’ choices.
Home Economics benefits from a very good level of whole-school support. Very good practice is evident in the deployment of specialist staff and there has been a very good level of engagement with relevant continuous professional development (CPD) courses. This very good practice impacts positively on the quality of teaching and learning. Teaching time allocated to classes, with the exception of first year, is very good and is in line with syllabus requirements. There is a good spread of lessons across the teaching week. To allow greater flexibility in setting Home Economics against other subjects on option lines, consideration could be given to revising the arrangement of class time into double and single lessons. All year groups need one double lesson to facilitate practical lessons, however the remaining time could be arranged into single lessons which will maximise continuity in teaching and learning and provide further scope when placing Home Economics in option pools when drafting the timetable.
An inclusive ethos is evident in the school. There is good collaboration between the learning support and home economics department to support students who have additional learning needs. This good practice informs planning for home economics lessons. Class sizes are small and special needs assistants attend lessons as appropriate.
There is one dual-purpose specialist room for Home Economics that has a good range of resources to support the teaching and learning of the subject. Over time, and as resources permit, consideration should be given to the provision of a dedicated data projector for the room. As space is at a premium in the school, the home economics room is used occasionally for teaching other subjects. This arrangement can present challenges for the home economics department in terms of room maintenance and access to the room for lesson preparation and follow-up during non-class contact time. While recognising the contextual factors that exist in the school it is recommended that this practice is minimised. Senior management is very supportive of the department’s needs with regard to the provision of additional resources. It was noted that the school supplies ingredients to first-year students. This inclusive practice is highly commended as a means of maximising students’ participation in practical lessons during the taster programme.
The whole-school health and safety statement is due for review to reflect changes that have occurred in the school. High priority is given to health and safety in Home Economics with clear procedures in place for managing practical lessons. It is commendable that these procedures are informed by the whole-school health and safety statement. To build on this good practice and as the whole-school policy is being reviewed, consideration should be given to developing procedures which document servicing schedules for specialist equipment at subject department level.
Planning and preparation
Long-term planning is firmly established with an experienced approach evident in planning for the subject. Senior management is very supportive of on-going planning for Home Economics, as evidenced by the regular meetings held with the subject department. It is commendable that records of key points from each meeting are kept on file to facilitate effective continuity and assess progress. An examination of these records indicate that there is very good communication between the home economics department and senior management in planning for the subject.
Good use has been made of the subject planning template produced by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) to progress the development of a subject plan for Home Economics. During the evaluation programme plans were available for all home economics classes. The Junior Certificate plan demonstrates very good integration between the theoretical and practical components of the home economics syllabus. It is particularly commendable that the programme plan has sufficient flexibility to meet individual class needs and a good range of teaching strategies is integrated into the programme plan.
The Leaving Certificate programme plan would benefit from further review. The current plan provides information on the topics to be covered, homework activities and teaching strategies. However, there is scope to enhance the integrated approach underpinning the rationale for the teaching and learning of the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus. Therefore it is recommended that the sequence of lessons outlined in the current plan be reviewed to promote a student-centred approach to the food studies practical coursework. Completion of the food studies assignments should be spread more evenly throughout the programme plan. Particular attention should be paid to the sequence in which the assignments are completed and the integration of relevant theoretical knowledge with each coursework assignment. Lessons explaining the routines for recording assignments into the coursework journals should also be included from time to time, particularly as progress is made from one area of practice to another.
A commendable level of informal cross-curricular planning takes place between the home economics department and other subject departments in the school. This level of planning has proved beneficial in sequencing topics and reinforcing learning across different subject areas. As staff numbers are small in the school, consideration could be given to formalising multi-disciplinary subject meetings to provide a forum where subject areas can support and advise each other on areas of common interest such as teaching and learning methodologies, assessment strategies and resource provision as well as health and safety procedures. This is a particularly beneficial arrangement in the case of one-teacher subject departments.
Planning by its nature is always work in progress and therefore will always demonstrate room for advancement. The next step in progressing all programme plans should focus on the development of differentiated learning outcomes for each topic. This level of information should in turn inform the selection of teaching and learning methodologies as well as assessment strategies for individual lessons.
Very good quality advance planning was evident for all the lessons observed. The preparation and selection of a range of additional resource materials proved very successful in enhancing students’ understanding of lesson content and reinforcing learning.
Good quality teaching and learning was evident during the evaluation. To provide a clear focus and structure to lessons, as well as to direct learning, clear learning outcomes were shared with students at the outset. In one lesson a discussion ensued on the importance of the intended learning outcomes to the students’ own experiences. This strategy proved very effective in engaging students with the lesson content. It was noted positively that students’ attention was drawn to the agreed learning outcomes at the end of the lesson as a means of assessing learning. This is very good practice.
In all the lessons observed a commendable focus was placed on optimising students’ learning. There was a very good balance of student-led and teacher-led activity to accommodate different learning styles and this ensured that students remained purposefully engaged in the learning process. Teacher explanation of subject content was clear, with some very good attention to detail in the explanations given. In one lesson on childcare, excellent use was made of exemplar products and equipment to assist students’ learning and simplify key concepts. This practice is highly commended. Questioning strategies were well used to check individual levels of student understanding and provide additional clarification of lesson content. Some good use was made of the classroom board to summarise and illustrate information. To reinforce learning, it is recommended that students take down such information into their notebooks.
From the practical lesson observed it is evident that very good routines are established for food studies. Particularly impressive was the ability of the students to work independently and in collaboration with each other. They demonstrated a good standard of culinary skills, given their level of experience and expertise, while sound safety and hygiene routines were evident. There was some good use of spot demonstrations to demonstrate key processes. The potential of this teaching strategy should be considered further as a means of demonstrating key techniques and reinforcing the application of theoretical knowledge to practical skills. To build on the good practices already evident it is recommended that students should routinely complete written evaluations of their work in practical lessons. This strategy would facilitate the development of the higher-order skills of the analysis and evaluation of a task and enable students to reflect on the key factors required to ensure the successful completion of the task.
Observation of students’ notebooks and interaction during lessons indicated good levels of understanding of key concepts. It is commendable that student originality and creativity are being encouraged in the making of coursework items in the areas of textiles and design and craft. This is very good practice. To assist Leaving Certificate students further in the completion of the coursework journal it is recommended that routines be reviewed to ensure that students adhere to the relevant recording criteria. Further information on the coursework journals is available in the coursework guidelines and the chief examiner reports for Leaving Certificate Home Economics. This information is available from the State Examinations Commission at www.examinations.ie.
It is obvious that students enjoy Home Economics. A very good rapport and a climate of respect and care permeated all lessons. Students displayed a sense of security in seeking additional assistance in the course of lessons when needed. Classes were very orderly and well disciplined. Teacher movement around the room during lessons ensured that students had an additional opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive environment.
All home economics classes are mixed ability and students are challenged and encouraged to reach their full potential in the subject.
A commendable focus is placed of monitoring students’ progress in Home Economics. To this end a range of assessment modes is used to monitor student achievement and to provide feedback on a regular basis. Homework is assigned and monitored regularly. As a next stage in the development of a homework policy for Home Economics, it is recommended that the range of written homework assigned to each home economics group is reviewed to ensure that students are given regular opportunities to develop skills in the range of long-answer question styles typical of certificate examination papers. The homework assigned should be clearly linked to the planned differentiated learning outcomes for each lesson and promote the incremental development of lower-order and higher-order thinking skills. Procedures for annotation of work and the provision of constructive feedback to students should be included in the homework policy. To this end consideration should be given to incorporating further Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies when monitoring work. AfL materials on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment www.ncca.ie. provide useful information in this area.
Good summative assessment practice is evident in Home Economics. Grades awarded on written reports at key times of the year comprise an aggregate mark that includes an assessment of the relevant practical coursework components. This very good practice mirrors the arrangements for the certificate examinations and is a very good indicator of students’ progress in the subject. When setting the written papers for in-house examinations, it is also important to be mindful of the format and question styles typical of the relevant certificate examination paper.
Very good teacher records are kept of students’ attendance, attitude to work and progress in class tests. Feedback is provided to parents on a regular basis through school reports and the organisation of parent-teacher meetings.
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 principal and relevant staff at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2009