Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Roll number: 81014R
Date of inspection: 17 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
report has been written following a subject inspection in Crescent College
Home Economics is firmly established on the curriculum at Crescent College Comprehensive where it is a reasonably popular subject option choice in junior and senior cycle, albeit traditionally a subject chosen predominately by the female student cohort. It forms part of a first-year ‘taster’ programme of optional subjects that is provided for the first six weeks of term. Students undertake a short module in all the optional subjects including Home Economics. Once the ‘taster’ programme has been completed, students have an open choice from a pool of optional subjects for Junior Certificate. Home Economics is selected by a quarter of junior cycle students, which generally results in the formation of two class groups. This uptake is somewhat below the current average participation rate of students nationally for Junior Certificate Home Economics.
Class period provision in junior cycle is favourable. However, with regard to first year, in order to accommodate the ‘taster’ programme, large class sizes tend to persist in optional subjects such as Home Economics and this can limit the possibilities of conducting practical work, thus restricting the students’ learning experience. In order to allow students to make a more informed choice with regard to subjects available for junior cycle, it is recommended that this arrangement for the sampling of optional subjects in first year be monitored and be reviewed over time in consultation with the partners involved.
The Transition Year (TY) programme is optional in the school and the inclusion of a Home Economics module in the curriculum for all TY students is to be commended as it provides students who have not studied Home Economics for junior cycle with the opportunity to experience the subject and therefore help them in making a more informed choice with regard to subjects for the Leaving Certificate. This module is allocated one double-class period per week. The module is based on contemporary food and culinary practical skills and aims to provide students with a variety of skills in relation to the planning, preparation, cooking and serving of food. A well-developed module for Home Economics in TY designed each year on the basis of students’ aptitudes and interests could have the potential to increase interest and uptake in Home Economics for Leaving Certificate.
Home Economics is an optional subject for the remainder of the senior cycle where students can choose it from pre-set optional subject groupings. As part of ongoing curricular planning, management should review the current arrangements with regard to subject choice in senior cycle with a view to offering an initial unrestricted choice of optional subjects as in junior cycle, before tying down subjects into option bands. Class period provision at senior-cycle is in line with syllabus recommendations, including at least one double class to facilitate practical coursework. Uptake of Home Economics at senior cycle is in a state of flux, and is at present significantly lower than that observed at junior cycle. It is selected by a small number of students, however, it is positive to note that a number of boys take the subject at senior cycle. Some consideration should be given to exploring strategies that would increase participation rates at higher level in senior cycle. Such strategies might pay dividends in raising student expectations and achievement. It is recommended that the subject department, in collaboration with management, should investigate contextual factors influencing student uptake in Home Economics, particularly at senior cycle and that every effort is made to attract students of all abilities and both genders to take up Home Economics.
The learning environment of the home economics room is enhanced through the display of photographic evidence of students’ practical work and competitions and is to be commended, as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students and endeavours to serve as a stimulus and source of motivation for the present cohort of students. However, the home economics department should plan to be more proactive in the context of future marketing of the subject so as to increase participation rates, particularly with regard to senior cycle. This could be achieved by making greater use of classroom-subject notice boards to display class materials, students’ work and photographs of students participating in class activities. Additional strategies could include a plan devised by the home economics department to further improve the profile of the subject amongst the whole-school community. This could be achieved through, for example, providing a notice board or display cabinet in a prominent place in the school, which could be used by subjects such as Home Economics from time to time. Such space could be used to display newspaper articles and photographs relevant to teaching and learning in Home Economics. In addition, the use of local media to publicise subject news and events could be used as a means of promoting the subject and increasing the uptake of the subject.
There is very good whole-school support and resource provision for Home Economics. Management is very supportive of collaborative planning and allocates formal planning time throughout the year as part of the school development planning process. The keeping of minutes facilitates communication with management and ensures that decisions taken are implemented. The school currently has two full-time teachers of Home Economics. The teachers have participated in a variety of in-service training sessions, for example those provided by the Leaving Certificate Home Economics Support Service. Management supports teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) and frequently organises school-based in-service. In so far as possible teachers retain their assigned class groups through the junior cycle or senior cycle as appropriate. The school maintains its own records of students’ achievement in State examinations and management encourages subject departments to monitor and review these. All subject documentation is disseminated promptly to the home economics department. Students and their parents or guardians are well supported in choosing subjects and levels within subjects through such supports as school management, information evenings, the guidance counsellors and the school’s website and there is evidence of very good communication between school and home in this regard. Every effort is made to ensure that all students are placed in their subject option of choice. School structures, systems and strategies support the home economics teacher well when providing for students’ needs, including those with special educational needs (SEN).
The parents’ association is very supportive with regard to the provision of resources and computer facilities throughout the school. In addition, it is commendable that a classroom assistant funded by the parents’ finance fund is shared between the science and home economics departments. Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required. Requests for additional resources and items of equipment for the subject are made through the principal and these requests invariably receive favourable consideration.
It is commendable that there are two separate specialist rooms for Home Economics: a kitchen which functions as a food-studies laboratory and a designated textiles room. These rooms are very well organised and well resourced with a range of equipment necessary for the teaching of the subject and are generally shared by the teachers as necessary. Teachers have maintained equipment and resources for Home Economics to a very high standard. Looking towards the future, the home economics team should continue to review existing resources and plan for the acquisition and use of further equipment and teaching resources as necessary.
It was noted that on occasion class size could be above average in TY. Bearing in mind health and safety considerations and the requirements for practical work in Home Economics, it is recommended that every effort be made to maintain classes to a reasonable size. When the subject is over subscribed an additional class group should be formed in order to ensure safe work practices.
Teachers are fortunate to have shared television and video/DVD equipment and a computer in the textiles room. In addition the home economics teachers make good use of the overhead projector (OHP). The school has very well-equipped Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) facilities including a number of shared laptops. Access to the school’s computer rooms and library can be pre-arranged by the teachers, subject to availability. Students are also encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics during their computer classes and their own study time. Management is committed to supporting the continued training and up-skilling of teachers as appropriate to assist the integration of ICT into teaching and learning and this is commendable.
The school has engaged in risk assessment in consultation with teachers in the various subject departments and a review of the school’s existing health and safety statement is ongoing. There is evidence of very good health and safety practices in home economics classes, and significant reference is made to food hygiene and safety and the procedures for accidents and emergencies in the planning documents for Home Economics.
Management is supportive of subject department planning and the home economics department readily engages in the recommended practice of collaborative planning both on a formal and informal basis. A team approach to the co-ordination of the work of the home economics department has been adopted. Management provides dedicated formal meeting time at least once per term for subject departments as part of its ongoing commitment to progressing school development planning, and teachers meet informally on a regular basis throughout the week to monitor and review progress. Agenda are decided in advance of department meetings and records of subject department meetings are maintained.
Teachers are commended for their efforts made with regard to informal cross-curricular links and for their involvement with school campaigns, events like the school show, committees, policy development, the Gaisce Awards and cookery competitions. The provision of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities to enhance the students’ experience and enjoyment of Home Economics and extend learning beyond the classroom should continue to be explored as it makes learning more real and enjoyable for students. Teachers are members of the Association of Teachers of Home Economics (ATHE) and they regularly attend area meetings. The professional commitment and interest of the teachers involved is recognised.
The home economics department is making good progress with regard to the development of a subject plan for Home Economics. Schemes of work have been drawn up for each year group, which are syllabus based and provide a clear outline of the content including links between theory and the related practical work to be completed each term. Teachers maintain records of work completed and this aids review and future planning. The teachers are complimented on the work to date in this area. However, it is important to note that such planning documents are of an evolving nature, and as such, will always demonstrate room for advancement, revision and improvement. In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that this good work be further developed such that the schemes of work will be utilised as working documents, to review subject matter covered and aid planning for the future. This planning should incorporate additional and more specific information relating to delivery of the programmes. Suggested additions include: reference to expected learning outcomes; the specific sequence and timeframes for the completion of relevant practical, project and course work; choice and use of resources; integration of subject matter as recommended in the syllabuses; the specific timeframes and opportunities for revision, homework and assessment and where required details on examination preparation. This process could be implemented on a phased basis. The teachers review and record progress as appropriate to meet students’ needs. Teachers are also advised to consider the benefits to students of the incremental development of transferable skills in accordance with level and ability. The home economics teachers should continue to make good use of the home economics syllabuses, teacher guidelines and other relevant documentation to facilitate programme planning at all levels.
The Textile Studies programme at junior cycle includes development of skills in such areas as basic hand stitches and an introduction to using the sewing machine. As the textiles programme is currently underdeveloped, it is recommended that the home economics team begin the process of devising and implementing a plan of work for Textile Studies in order to fully comply with the syllabus requirements. Furthermore, it is recommended that teachers should introduce the design brief process as early as possible in the junior cycle in both food studies and the practical textiles work as appropriate. This approach enables students to develop crucial knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of analysis, investigation, problem solving, action planning and evaluation. This will also assist students to integrate relevant theory with practical skills.
With regard to programme planning for TY, the department is advised to refer to the Transition Year Programme’s Guidelines for Schools. It should be noted that where Junior or Leaving Certificate material is chosen for study during TY it should be done so on the clear understanding that it is to be explored in an original and stimulating way that is significantly different from the way in which it would have been treated in the Junior or Leaving Certificate. Some consideration should be given to planning for appropriate assessment of students’ learning in TY.
The home economics department has developed a good range of teaching aids and resource materials. As part of their collaborative approach, teachers share such resources and equipment. In addition to the existing school library, mini-library and resource areas have been developed in both classrooms, which are accessible to students in order to enhance their learning. They offer 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. The importance of this facility is even greater since the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus, which along with the Junior Certificate syllabus, now places a strong emphasis on developing students’ abilities in guided and independent research and learning. In the context of future planning, management should continue to support the home economics team in reviewing existing resources and planning for the acquisition and use of further teaching resources in the context of students’ needs.
Short-term planning for lessons, which included the prior preparation of the materials for class, was good. Lessons were clearly focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students. Learning outcomes for the lessons were clear and shared with students at the outset and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning and appropriate integration of theory with practical skills. The teachers showed an awareness of the students’ learning styles and adapted the teaching and learning to suit the students’ needs.
Teacher instruction was clear, accurate and contextualised and frequently supported by the use of a range of relevant visual and tactile stimuli and resources to enhance teaching and consolidate learning such as overhead transparencies, students’ handouts, worksheets, samples and the board. Materials were clearly planned and presented to ensure student learning and retention. Where textbooks were used to aid learning this was generally well planned for and other strategies, for example questioning and explaining were integrated effectively. Good efforts were made to relate chosen subject matter to the lives of the students and to allow for the integration of skills.
Teaching and learning were particularly effective where opportunities were provided for students to engage with lesson content in an active way. There were some good examples of the use of appropriate active-learning methodologies such as brainstorming, pair work, and sensory evaluation. Some good practice was observed where students were encouraged to think, consider, analyse and synthesise issues and answers during activity-based learning. This practice is commendable as it assists students in developing higher-order thinking skills and should be incorporated regularly into lessons. Therefore, it is recommended that consideration should be given to the benefits to students of incorporating more student-centred active-learning methodologies in theory lessons for example group discussion, debating, role-play, problem-solving and collaborative learning. Other teaching methodologies observed included oral questioning, teacher spot demonstration, pair work, explanation, and the use of worksheets. Good use was made of the board for the explanation of theory and concepts and for the provision of direction and guidance in practical classes.
While questioning and explaining strategies used in the classes observed were generally effective these should be further developed so as 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. Students should occasionally be encouraged to answer questions after consulting in pairs or groups, thus allowing them time to develop multi-faceted answers to higher-order questions and enabling students with learning difficulties to contribute their insights to the formulation of those answers. Differentiation by questioning is also recommended so that all students are included and targeted, thus encouraging the active participation of students who are less able and providing challenge for students who are more familiar with the subject matter.
It is evident that the teaching team has a strong commitment to the practical components of the syllabuses. The existence of established systems of practice and the department’s thorough preparation of students for the food and culinary skills practical examination, were evident during food studies practical classes. Formal demonstrations to small groups and to individual students and impromptu demonstrations to highlight salient points were utilised effectively. Students worked collaboratively and participated actively in tasks. Best practice was observed when a recipe sheet or work plan and associated time planning were incorporated into the lesson. Teachers should continue to make good use of the board as a back up to students’ work plans. Good attention to hygiene and safe work practices was evident. During practical classes students should allow adequate time in their work plans for completing the evaluation of the completed task to include product, process and the overall task as this informs continuous assessment of student work. Good emphasis on the understanding of key concepts and development of appropriate practical skills was observed.
Responsibility for learning was devolved to the learners themselves. Students were keen to participate in class activities and demonstrated good understanding of subject knowledge and good teamwork skills in practical work undertaken appropriate to their class group and level. With regard to students’ coursework an impressive array of design and craftwork projects are created throughout junior cycle to a very high standard. Processes such as crochet, knitting, weaving, appliqué, patchwork, quilting, embroidery, tapestry and beadwork are regular features of the craftwork completed. Overall, the level of teacher guidance and the evidence of students’ skills, creativity and originality in the area of project work merit particular mention. It is praiseworthy that good use is made of ICT for both research and presentation of coursework.
Teacher-student interactions were engaging, purposeful and mutually respectful and reflect well the student-centred ethos permeating the school. Students were well managed, guided and directed in all learning activities and their work was monitored carefully by teachers in a supportive, encouraging and caring manner. This contributed to a positive classroom atmosphere that was conducive to effective learning. The students were well behaved and were affirmed and encouraged in all their contributions and efforts. Discipline was sensitively maintained and students were attentive, interested and participated well in the learning process. The seating arrangements for students were conducive to full participation and effective classroom management.
A whole-school policy on homework and assessment is currently being finalised across subject departments and clear procedures are in place for regular assessment of students’ learning and record keeping. Assessment of students’ learning is undertaken through a range of assessment modes, which aim to determine students’ progress and competence and to ensure that each student has ample experience in examination techniques. These include oral questioning, work sheets, written exercises, class tests, in-house examinations and some assessment of project and practical work. Some further consideration is required with regard to regular assessment of the work of TY students.
The home economics department operates a system of continuous assessment and, in so far as possible, the grades awarded for home economics examinations during the year are an aggregated mark for written tests, food and culinary skills practical work and projects completed during that term. The individual teachers record the results of these, a practice which is commendable as it assists teachers in building a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. Students’ progress is reviewed and their examination levels are decided in consultation with the subject teacher and parents. Communication with parents is maintained through school reports twice a year and annual parent-teacher meetings as appropriate. The student journal is an additional valuable means of communicating with parents as the need arises. A new facility now exists which permits parents of first-year students to log onto the school website and view continuous assessment results of their child. This facility will be available to all year groups over time.
Homework is regularly assigned to reinforce or extend the learning that has taken place in the class and good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring of the students’ copybooks. In relation to formative assessment some useful teacher comments, provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. This good work is illustrative of the principles that underpin assessment for learning and should be further developed across all year groups. In the context of ongoing planning the home economics department should consider the merit of engaging in an analysis of students’ achievement in State examinations. In doing so teachers can celebrate students’ achievements and it could also benefit subject departments by informing future planning of teaching strategies and learning activities.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good whole-school support and resource provision for Home Economics.
· Management is very supportive of collaborative planning and allocates formal planning time throughout the year as part of the school development planning process.
· School structures, systems and strategies support the home economics teacher well in providing for students’ needs including those with special educational needs (SEN).
· The parents’ association is very supportive with regard to the provision of resources and computer facilities throughout the school. In addition, a classroom assistant funded by the parents’ finance fund is shared between the science and home economics departments.
· There are two separate specialist rooms for Home Economics: a kitchen and a designated textiles room.
· Management is committed to supporting the continuing training and up-skilling of teachers as appropriate to assist the integration of ICT into teaching and learning and this is commendable.
· The home economics department is making good progress with regard to the development of a subject plan for Home Economics and schemes of work have been drawn up for each year group.
· Lessons were clearly focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students. Teacher instruction was clear, accurate and contextualised.
· Students were keen to participate in class activities and demonstrated good understanding of subject knowledge and good teamwork skills in practical work undertaken appropriate to their class group and level.
· With regard to student coursework an impressive array of design and craftwork projects are undertaken throughout junior cycle to a very high standard.
· Teacher-student interactions were engaging, purposeful and mutually respectful and reflect well the student-centred ethos permeating the school.
· A whole-school policy on homework and assessment is currently being finalised across subject departments and clear procedures are in place for regular assessment of student learning and record keeping.
· Homework is regularly assigned to reinforce or extend the learning that has taken place in the class and good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring of the students’ copybooks.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the existing arrangements for the sampling of optional subjects in first year be monitored and reviewed over time in consultation with the partners involved.
· The current arrangements with regard to subject choice in senior cycle should be re-examined with a view to offering an initial unrestricted choice of optional subjects as in junior cycle, before tying down subjects into option bands.
· The contextual factors influencing students’ uptake in Home Economics, particularly at senior cycle should be investigated and every effort should be made to attract students of all abilities and both genders to take up Home Economics.
· It is recommended that every effort is made to maintain classes to a reasonable size and when the subject is over subscribed an additional class group should be formed in order to ensure safe work practices.
· The recommendations with regard to enhancing curricular planning in Home Economics as detailed in the report should be implemented over time.
· As the textiles programme is currently underdeveloped it is recommended that the home economics team begin the process of devising and implementing a plan of work for Textile Studies in order to fully comply with the syllabus requirements.
· It is recommended that consideration should be given to the benefits to students of incorporating more student-centred and differentiated active-learning methodologies in theory lessons.
· The various recommendations contained in the report with regard to teaching and learning are provided as a means of building on existing good practice, which was evident.
· The home economics team should be more proactive in the context of future marketing of the subject so as to increase participation rates.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The school recognises the Inspection Process as a collaborative one, where the expertise of the Inspector can be fused with the experience and talent of the class-room teacher to the benefit of all.
The report on the quality of learning and teaching of Home Economics in Crescent College Comprehensive S.J. is the result of a recent Subject Inspection process. As such, it is a snapshot of the Home Economics Department in operation. While acknowledging the limitations imposed by such a snapshot, the resulting report is detailed and comprehensive and a valuable external evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching in Crescent College Comprehensive S.J.
The report itself contains many affirmations and a number of areas of growth. Such a positive affirmation is undoubtedly welcome, and is, both individually and collectively, a genuine endorsement of work done by both the teaching staff and the management of the school.
The Board welcomes the report and is deeply appreciative of the guidance provided by the inspector and is appreciative of her courtesy, professionalism and support during the inspection.