An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Saint Caiminís Community School
Roll number: 91447I
Date of inspection: 12 May 2008
Report on †the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Caiminís Community School, Tullyvarragh, Shannon, Co. Clare. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Home Economics is a well established and popular optional subject at St. Caiminís Community School. At the time of this evaluation over a third of junior and senior cycle students had selected Home Economics, thus illustrating its popularity as a subject choice. Gender balance is evident in uptake figures, particularly at junior cycle. Classes are organised on a mixed-ability basis and every effort is made to attract students of all abilities to study Home Economics. The teachers are pro-active in encouraging all students to fully realise their potential.
The provision of a short taster programme in first year that allows students to sample all optional subjects in order to make an informed choice is praiseworthy. The school is commended for the student-centred approach to subject choice in both junior and senior cycle, where subject option groupings are created based on student initial open choice. Students are well supported in arrangements for subject choices and levels within subjects at junior and senior cycle through effective use of guidance resources, linked to teacher advice, communication with parents, and information evenings at key stages. The inclusion of a home economics module in the curriculum for all Transition Year (TY) students, albeit for half of the school year, is to be commended. This 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. Hotel, Catering and Tourism is a popular vocational specialism offered to LCA students. Teachers are to be commended for their creativity and dedication with regard to providing challenging programmes in both TY and LCA.
Home Economics benefits from a very good level of resource provision and whole school support.† Time is allocated regularly for the purpose of subject planning throughout the academic year. Every effort is made to maintain classes to a reasonable size to ensure safe work practices. Class period provision is in line with syllabus recommendations. Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required. Managementís support of the teachersí continuing professional development (CPD) is laudable. There is active engagement with the Teacher Professional Network as well as a variety of school-based in-service training. Engagement by the home economics department in the marking of various aspects of the subject in the State examinations is to be commended as it provides opportunities to increase the breadth and depth of professional expertise within the team and so enhances studentsí learning experiences.
Currently there are two home economics teachers in the school. The school is fortunate to have two separate specialist rooms of a very high standard 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. In the context of annual stocktaking an audit on equipment is undertaken and management is supportive of requests made for the ongoing replacement and updating of equipment and resources as necessary.
The school has engaged in risk assessment in consultation with teachers in the various subject departments as part of the review of the schoolís health and safety statement. The home economics department has developed its own safety policy and there is evidence of good health and safety practices in home economics classes.
Management has established a structured approach to the facilitation of subject department planning as part of the overall school planning process. The home economics teachers keep minutes of their formal meetings and issues arising are communicated subsequently to the school planning co-coordinator and senior management on a regular basis. This practice helps to ensure that any issues that arise are highlighted and developed.
The home economics teachers at St. Caiminís work well as a team, demonstrate a high-level of co-operation and readily engage in the process of collaborative planning both on a formal and informal basis, and this is commended. Good progress has been made in developing a subject plan, which includes details on the procedures for the organisation of the subject in the school, as well as issues of a direct pedagogical nature such as planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subject. In addition outline content plans of work have been drawn up for each year group. These plans are syllabus based and provide a clear outline of the content including the relevant practical and project work to be completed each term. The home economics department is committed to regular monitoring and review of subject planning to meet studentsí needs. In this regard these long-term outline plans of work are currently being developed into more detailed short-term plans on a phased basis and the work to date in this area is laudable. These plans outline topics to be taught within shorter timeframes and indicate the corresponding resource materials, teaching methodologies, and assessment modes to be employed.
In the context of ongoing subject planning consideration should be given to the inclusion of the specific sequence and timeframes for the completion of relevant practical/project/course work as well as the learning outcomes to be attained. These plans should also incorporate a review section for comments on the achievement of the learning outcomes. These comments should assist teachers in informing practice and should further enhance existing practices for the review of the course at the end of each year. State Examination Commission marking schemes, chief examinersí reports, syllabuses and teacher guidelines should continue to be utilised as a resource to inform planning at all levels.
There is evidence of good practice in planning for common content, revision and assessment in Home Economics. Well-structured revision plans with accompanying sets of revision questions are a key feature of subject planning. It is notable that these revision plans are dovetailed around studentsí learning of new material. The home economics department has developed a set of useful guidelines to assist students in undertaking the senior-cycle food studies practical coursework. These guidelines should support students in being more self-directed learners. A comprehensive Textile Studies programme is implemented at junior cycle. This involves the development of skills in such areas as basic hand stitches and then proceeding to using the sewing machine and in time the completion of a household article and a simple item of clothing. Teachers adopt the good practice of developing the design brief process from an early stage in junior cycle, in both food studies and practical textiles work and students demonstrated best practice in progressing the design folder in tandem with the textile or craft item. This incremental development of studentsí skills is commendable.
A good outline programme plan has been developed for TY Home Economics. To further build on this good work the home economics department is advised to refer to the Transition Year Programmes: 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.
With regard to cross-curricular planning there is ongoing engagement with teachers of Art, Science, Business and other subjects as appropriate. Co-curricular activity is well supported through participation in competitions, visits to catering establishments and the use of guest speakers on selected topics that support and enhance learning. The teachers have expressed their intention to continue to explore and further develop such opportunities to extend learning beyond the classroom.†
The home economics department is well supplied with information and communication technologies (ICT) resources and has designated television and video/DVD equipment. There are a number of computers available for studentsí use in both home economics rooms and access to a computer room can be pre-arranged by the teacher, subject to availability. Students are encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics. A good variety of teaching resources relevant to Home Economics has been developed and gathered. These include, for example, reference books, relevant publications, posters, DVDs, videos and commercially prepared resource packs. Further investment in the development and expansion of resources to support teaching and learning in Home Economics is encouraged.
There was evidence of good teaching and learning in both the practical and theory lessons observed. Lessons were very well planned as was evident in the advance preparation of supplementary resource materials, the white board, the integration of ICT and the use of visual and tactile stimuli, handouts and worksheets. Lessons were 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 were cognisant of the varying abilities of their students and thus provided opportunities for the students to build on their prior knowledge and skills through well-planned learning activities. †
Good subject knowledge was demonstrated by teachers and instruction was clear, accurate and contextualised. Teacher instruction was frequently supported by the use of such resources as PowerPoint presentations, video clips, student handouts, samples, workbooks and textbooks. These were introduced into the lessons at appropriate times and were effective in enhancing teaching and consolidating learning. Very good use is made of ICT in subject planning and class preparation to produce resources. The usage of ICT as a teaching tool to illustrate concepts and processes and to support students in their work in the classroom is commended. There are plans for the continued improvement of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. In this context management should continue to encourage and support teachersí efforts to integrate ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. Effective questioning and explaining strategies were used in the classes observed to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding and to support students in the development of higher order thinking skills. Teachers also demonstrated good practice in utilising studentsí experiences and prior learning to introduce and explain new concepts.
Student interest was stimulated and maintained by the use of a variety of teaching strategies. There were some good examples of the use of appropriate active learning methodologies such as brainstorming, pair work and group discussion. Best practice was observed in lessons where a range of strategies that gave students time to assimilate or apply information was built into the lesson. It was evident that the home economics team liaises with learning support teachers, resource teachers, and the special needs assistants in the school on an ongoing basis and materials are adapted to suit the needs and abilities of students. There was some evidence of the use of differentiation during student-centred activities for example by teacher intervention and questioning. In the context of mixed-ability classes, active and differentiated teaching methods should be further developed during class activities, practical work and through the setting of differentiated worksheets and homework. This would have the effect of further challenging students in order to encourage them to take greater responsibility for their own learning.
It is evident that the teaching team has a strong commitment to the practical components of the syllabuses and some very good practice was evident in the teaching and learning of practical textiles and food studies. The existence of established systems of practice and a good emphasis on explaining of key concepts and the linking of theory to practical work were observed. The development of studentsí practical skills was facilitated by a staged approach where clear teacher instruction and the explanation and demonstration of key processes and new skills occurred at appropriate stages in the lesson. The expert use of demonstration during both food studies and textiles practical lessons is to be commended as it ensured all students were on task and allowed the teacher to model best practice. The correct use of textiles equipment and attention to hygiene and safety were also positive features of the lessons observed. Students were encouraged to undertake evaluations of tasks completed and some good examples of evaluation were evident in the senior cycle practical coursework journals. However, there is scope for teachers to assist students in further developing this skill. Evaluations should be a critical evaluation of the completed task, to include product, process and the overall task. In addition, as part of planning and preparation for food studies classes students should be encouraged to undertake costings of the relevant ingredients.
The interactions between students and teachers reflected a high level of mutual regard and respect. Student-teacher rapport was very good and studentsí contributions and questions were affirmed and answered by teachers. The classroom atmosphere in all lessons was conducive to creating a positive and secure learning environment. Students were well managed, guided and supported and participated in all class activities with interest and diligence. The learning environment of the home economics room is enhanced through the display of a number of educational charts and evidence of studentsí work and is to be commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students.
Studentsí learning was evaluated through examination of their copybooks, folders, workbooks, project work, tests and their ability to display their knowledge and skills. It is commendable that a textiles folder is currently being developed with second-year students with a view to continuing this practice for the three years of the junior cycle. The organisation and implementation of studentsí practical coursework was of a high standard. Students were challenged and encouraged to build on their skills, and creativity and originality were fostered and encouraged. The teachers devolve much of the responsibility for learning to the students themselves. Students demonstrated an appropriate level of practical skills and competencies. Overall, student learning was varied in accordance with studentsí class group and level and reflects the mixed ability composition of classes.
The home economics department has arrived at agreed expectations with regard to homework and assessment practices to include details on the type and the frequency with which homework is to be given and the practices around correction, monitoring and student feedback. This good work is in line with the whole-school policy for homework. Assigned regularly to reinforce or extend the learning that has taken place in the class, homework is either marked by the teacher or reviewed as a class activity. Good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring and appraisal of studentsí copybooks, folders and practical work. Formative feedback is used effectively to provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and to assist students to reflect on their learning.†
Student progress and competence in Home Economics is monitored and assessed effectively by a range of assessment modes including self- and peer-assessment. Students are awarded an aggregated mark throughout the year based on written tests, food and culinary skills practical work, coursework and projects. Assessment in LCA is based on the completion of key assignments and required tasks. In addition to the existing good practice of assessing TY studentsí practical food studies journals, consideration should be given to exploring other modes of assessment appropriate to studentsí learning in TY. †
The school maintains its own records of student achievement especially in State examinations and subject departments should continue to review these carefully. In doing so teachers can celebrate student achievements while at the same time be mindful of individual studentsí abilities and achievements. Students and their parents are advised regularly on their progress in the subject. Effective communication with parents is maintained through phone calls, letters, special meetings and through the year head system. Furthermore, student progress is reported to parents at the parent-teacher meetings that are held for each year group, with two meetings per annum for the State examination classes.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
∑ The various recommendations contained in the report with regard to planning and preparation are provided as a means of building on existing good practice, which was evident.
∑ In the context of mixed-ability classes, active and differentiated teaching methods should be further developed during class activities and practical work.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Home Economics at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2008