An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Home Economics

REPORT

 

Dominican College,

Griffith Avenue, Dublin 9

Roll number: 60690R

 

Date of inspection: 19 March 2009

    

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics

  

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Dominican College, Dublin 9. 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 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Home Economics is an integral component of all curriculum programmes in Dominican College. The subject enjoys a strong profile as evidenced by the very good participation rates, particularly in the junior cycle. The commendable contribution that the home economics department makes to the extra-curricular programme enhances its profile in the school.

 

Home Economics is an optional subject for the Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes. Students are well supported in making subject choices. Option bands are generated from an initial survey of studentsí preferences. It is laudable that Home Economics is available on more than one option line in an effort to facilitate as many students as possible. Laudable efforts are made by the home economics team to promote the subject throughout the school community. Of particular note is the proactive approach adopted to increase uptake at Leaving Certificate level. Particularly impressive is the arrangement whereby fifth year home economics students speak to in-coming Leaving Certificate students regarding their experiences in Leaving Certificate Home Economics. Very good progress has been made in improving uptake.  The team is encouraged to continue its efforts in this regard.

 

Home Economics is a core subject on the vibrant Transition Year (TY) programme offered in Dominican College. To enhance the educational experience of TY, the school co-operates with two local all-boys secondary schools in order to broaden the range of learning opportunities. The home economics department contribute positively to this link by providing a cookery module for the male students from both schools.

 

Very good practices are evident in the deployment of staff to Home Economics. The team comprises four committed subject specialists who support the on-going development of the subject in a very professional and enthusiastic manner. It was noted positively that all teachers now have opportunities to teach on all curriculum programmes. This very good practice builds capacity among the team, promotes collaboration and the sharing of good practice, and allows teachers to progress classes throughout the junior and senior cycle. There is a very strong commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) evident among all team members. Management is very supportive in facilitating teachersí to attend relevant CPD and in releasing staff to act as examiners for the official practical examinations.  This very good practice impacts positively on the quality of teaching and learning of Home Economics in the school.

 

Home Economics benefits from a good level of provision. Teaching time allocated to classes is in line with syllabus requirements. However, in the context of future timetabling, it is recommended that double classes for practical lessons are not split by break. All junior cycle classes are allocated two double periods. To maximise continuity in teaching and learning it is recommended that such classes are not timetabled over two consecutive days, as this results in a gap of almost one week between lessons.

 

Excellent facilities are available for Home Economics. This includes three specialist rooms, a resource area equipped with internet accessible computers and a secure storage area for project work. Systematic procedures are evident to support the maintenance and continual upgrading of the departmentís facilities.  The work of the home economics team in maintaining and organising such high quality facilities is very commendable. Two kitchens were recently re-furbished to a high standard. The stock lists compiled for each room and included in the subject plan will prove very useful in facilitating an annual stock take. The budget system operated by school management proves very effective in supporting the on-going resourcing of Home Economics. A very good range of dedicated ICT and audio-visual equipment supports lesson delivery.

 

It was noted during the course of the evaluation that access to practical rooms is at a premium in the school. This is due to the increasing popularity of the subject and current timetabling arrangements, as well as programme design, particularly in the area of TY. The rota system currently operated by the team is very good. However, consideration may need to be given to reviewing the design of the current TY and cookery modules which are very heavily dependent on practical food studies lessons.

 

High priority is given to health and safety in Home Economics. The teaching team is consulted when the whole-school policy is being reviewed. Very good practice is evident regarding the provision of safety notices and equipment in the specialist rooms. It is commendable that students are requested to sign safety rules, which in the main are concerned with practical food studies lessons. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that these rules be extended to incorporate safety procedures in textiles lessons. 

 

Planning and preparation

 

Subject department planning is well established in Home Economics and many collegial practices underpin the work of the department. In addition to the formal meeting time allocated by management, the team meets on a regular basis outside of class time. This commendable level of commitment has ensured that a collaborative and informed approach underpins subject department planning in Home Economics. Minutes are recorded to facilitate continuity between meetings. This work is led effectively by a subject co-ordinator. In view of the voluntary nature of this position it is recommended that consideration be given to rotating the role of subject co-ordinator among the team. This revised arrangement would allow each teacher assume a leadership role in the continued development of the subject.

 

Very good reflective practice is evident in the organisation of subject planning for Home Economics. It is commendable that the home economics team regularly analyses student outcomes as evidenced by the results achieved in the certificate examinations. It is evident from the minutes of meetings that all programme plans are reviewed regularly. The effectiveness of these reviews is assisted by the fact that individual teachers engage in very good levels of critical appraisal and reflection as they implement each programme plan.

 

Excellent progress has been made in the development of the common programmes of work which have evolved over many years. The fact that all programmes are in electronic format makes it very easy for the team to make subsequent amendments. Each plan presents detailed information on the topics to be covered, possible teaching methodologies, useful resources and assessment strategies. It is evident from the programme plans that active learning strategies underpin planned classroom practice and that a very good range of resources support learning. Commendably teachers adapt the collaborative plans to suit class needs and access to the specialist rooms. Subject planning has reached a stage where the emphasis is now on evaluating the effectiveness of the teaching and learning strategies adopted and the sharing of best practice. This is exceptionally good practice.

 

Very good planning is evident for Junior Certificate Home Economics. The programme plan demonstrates some very good integration of the key stages of the design brief process. Extensive work has been completed in agreeing learning outcomes for each topic. This has proved very beneficial in standardising practice and ensuring that studentsí learning remains pivotal throughout the process of planning for home economics lessons.  At the next review stage, it is recommended that the range of practical coursework completed in first and second year be extended to promote a more balanced and incremental approach to the development of procedural and manipulative skills in the area of food and culinary skills. The listed dishes should be integrated into the sequence of lessons in the programme plan to maximise the integration of theory and practice.  It would also prove useful to document a set of learning outcomes for the progression of practical coursework from first year through to third year. The outcomes should outline the key theoretical, manipulative and procedural skills to be progressed in each year.

 

The Leaving Certificate programme plan, which is currently being further advanced demonstrates very good practice in the implementation of the food studies coursework assignments. It was noted positively that the sequence in which the assignments are being completed in fifth year promotes an incremental approach to the coverage of course content. A very good range of resources and assessment opportunities is also integrated. As a next stage in the development of this plan it is recommended that learning outcomes be devised for each topic, as evident in the Junior Certificate plan. To progress this work the teaching team should note the key learning outcomes planned and achieved for each topic as they implement the fifth-year and sixth-year plans. This level of individual reflection could then be analysed and used to develop a learning outcomes column in the collaborative programme plan.

 

The TY plan for Home Economics merits review. A set of five modules has been devised for Home Economics.  While each of the modules has particular merit, four of the five are rooted in the area of food studies with some overlap apparent. Due to the popularity of TY there are usually five classes in each year. Each TY class, in consultation with their teacher, selects the number of modules to be completed. This results in differing learning experiences for each TY group. It is recommended that the home economics team gives consideration to devising a TY plan based on a set of overarching aims and learning outcomes which highlights the key skills to be developed. There should be a good balance between the theoretical and practical skills to be achieved. A programme structure consisting of a core and electives could be developed. The common core would be covered with all students while the electives would retain some degree of flexibility among class groups. However, the elective areas should be underpinned by the set of agreed overarching key skills. Assessment criteria that link to the agreed learning outcomes for the programme should also be documented. 

 

A very good range of additional resources has been compiled over time in the home economics department. An extensive dedicated reference library for Home Economics is available to support students undertaking independent research. Shared teacher resource folders are stored in resource area to facilitate ease of access to class resources. It was noted positively that individual teachers, in using the reflection columns of the programme plans also note any resource gaps that become apparent as they implement each plan.

 

The home economics team has prioritised the integration of ICT into the teaching and learning and organisation of Home Economics. Some very effective use of ICT was evident in the preparation of lesson resources. Electronic stock lists and a resource catalogue have also been compiled. The recent development of shared electronic resource folders is a very commendable initiative and is indicative of the current collaborative practice underpinning the work of the team.

 

Teaching and learning

 

Very high quality teaching and learning was evident during the course of the evaluation. The quality of advance planning and preparation for all of the lessons observed was very good. Lesson content was consistent with the long-term plans, and resource materials which were prepared in advance, were used effectively to support student learning.

 

The very good practice of sharing the learning outcomes for the lessons was noted and proved effective in supporting lesson structure and assessing learning. This strategy was further developed in a practical textiles lesson where students were engaged in independent work. At the start of the practical activity, students had to write personal goals in terms of what work they would complete in the lesson. They completed a reflection at the end of the lesson. This proved very effective in supporting the meaningful engagement of all students throughout the lesson and facilitated differentiated classroom practice. Students should be encouraged to include this work as part of the written material compiled for the project. 

 

In each lesson observed, the home economics teacher displayed excellent subject knowledge and a commendable emphasis was placed on attention to detail in the explanations given. A commendable concern was shown for studentsí understanding of course content. At times when students sought clarification in lessons, higher-order questioning techniques were used to very good effect to encourage students to establish links with previous learning as well as analyse and apply the information taught in the lesson. This is very good practice.

 

There was some excellent integration of ICT in lessons. One particularly effective use of ICT occurred in a lesson where a downloaded video clip from a recent advertising campaign served as an ice-breaker to engage students in a deeper discussion of the topic and successfully challenged their ideas. Very good use was made of power point presentations to support learning and clarify content. In some instances students were given a copy of the slide presentation. This good practice is encouraged to enable students to make their own notes and reinforce learning.

 

Commendable strategies are in place to enhance literacy. Very good attention was paid to ensuring that students understood key terminology associated with the topic being taught. Colourful key word posters displayed in each specialist room remind students of the meaning of common words that feature in exam papers, while word banks promote good quality evaluations of coursework tasks. To support this good practice, students could be encouraged to highlight key pieces of information from student handouts during lessons.

 

In keeping with the home economics departmentís stated aim, the variety of teaching strategies observed in lessons supported active learning. In one lesson group work was used to very good effect to initiate a project assigned to students. The teacher-led plenary session facilitated students in clarifying the focus of their project and to identify gaps. Worksheets were also used to good effect to enable students to analyse and apply information from the lessons. In one instance mind-maps were used to good effective to summarise lesson content. To reinforce learning, students could be encouraged to devise their own mind maps as a note-taking strategy.

 

In the practical lessons observed, students displayed a commendable ability to work independently and in pairs, and demonstrated a very good level of procedural and manipulative skills given their level of experience. There was some very good use of spot demonstration and whole-class discussion to enable students to model best practice in developing practical skills in the areas of textiles and food studies. The potential of spot demonstration should be maximised as a means of refining studentsí manipulative skills, reinforcing learning and applying relevant theoretical knowledge. To enhance practice it is recommended that the information that students record from practical food studies evaluations be reviewed. Consideration should be given to developing evaluation templates that facilitate an incremental approach to developing critical appraisal skills.

 

The classroom atmosphere in all of the lessons observed was conducive to learning. High expectations are set for students and inclusive classroom practice is evident. In one lesson it was noted that students were consulted in setting deadlines for in-house coursework. This is a laudable means of encouraging all students to take responsibility and ownership of the task.

 

Interaction with students during the course of the evaluation indicated very good levels of understanding of key concepts and facts, and very good progression was evident in notebooks. High levels of creativity and originality are fostered through the completion of core textiles and design and craft work optional studies using the design brief process. High levels of student competence were evident in the range of practical textile and craft products displayed on completed items.  

 

Assessment

 

In keeping with the ethos of the Dominican College the home economics team places a commendable focus on developing the full potential of each student. All home economics classes are mixed ability. Students are encouraged to aim for the highest possible level in the certificate examinations. There is a commendable level of consultation with parents when students are making decisions regarding the final selection of levels for the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations. Participation rates at higher level are laudable, with very good overall levels of attainment attained.

 

Some assessment practices have been agreed among the team. For instance, in junior cycle assessment criteria have been agreed for the monitoring of core textiles work. Some very good practice is also evident in arrangements for the end-of-year examinations where students receive an aggregate mark based on a written assessment together with an assessment of the relevant practical coursework component. Good practice is also evident in the setting of written examination papers.  

 

There is an interesting range of assignments used to assess studentsí progress across the range of TY home economics modules. Where necessary, assessment criteria should be devised. These criteria should be linked to the intended learning outcomes for each module and be used as the basis for the credits assigned and feedback provided to students and parents.

 

While there is no agreed homework policy for Home Economics, individual teacher practice regarding the assigning and monitoring of homework is very good. Some very good monitoring of work is evident, particularly in the case of long-answer style questions where student effort is affirmed and constructive feedback received. One particularly noteworthy strategy to facilitate formative assessment is the template designed to provide feedback to students as they compete their design and craftwork projects. 

 

As evidence of the progressive ethos underpinning the home economics department it was noted that since the beginning of this year some students have the facility to e-mail completed homework assignments to the department. This is a particularly useful facility for the TY students from the local co-operating boysí schools who only visit Dominican College once a week. The home economics team are commended for this initiative as it facilitates a quick turnaround of monitored work and assists continuity in teaching and learning.  

 

To enhance the very good assessment practices already evident, it is recommended that an agreed assessment policy is devised for Home Economics. This policy should outline an agreed summative assessment format from first year through to sixth year. In agreeing the range of formative assessments used, care should be taken to ensure that the range of homework assigned to all classes includes opportunities for students to receive feedback and develop skills in completing long-answer and short-answer style questions, as well as in-house coursework assignments and project work. The formulation of this policy will also provide opportunities for the team to share ideas and evaluate current practice.

 

Class teachers maintain detailed records of studentsí progress and some excellent preparatory practice for parent-teacher meetings was evident.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

         The subject enjoys a strong profile, as evidenced by the very good participation rates, particularly in junior cycle.

         Commendable efforts are made by the home economics team to promote the subject throughout the school community.

         Very good practices are evident in the deployment of staff to Home Economics and excellent specialist facilities are available.

         Subject department planning is well established and many collegial practices underpin the work of the home economics team.

         Very good reflective practice is evident in the organisation of subject planning for Home Economics.

         Advance planning and preparation for all of the lessons observed was very good.

         The very good practice of sharing the learning outcomes for the lessons was noted and proved effective in supporting lesson structure and assessing learning.

         Teachers displayed excellent subject knowledge and a commendable emphasis was placed on attention to detail in the explanations given during each lesson.

         There was some excellent integration of ICT and commendable strategies to enhance literacy were apparent.

         High expectations are set for students and inclusive classroom practice is evident.

         Some very good formative and summative assessment practice is evident.

         Some students have the facility to e-mail completed homework assignments to the home economics department.

         Class teachers maintain detailed records of studentsí progress.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

         Consideration should be given to rotating the role of subject co-ordinator among the team.

         Planning for TY Home Economics should be reviewed.

         Consideration should be given to developing evaluation templates that facilitate an incremental approach to the development of studentsí critical appraisal skills.

         An agreed assessment policy should be devised for Home Economics.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Home Economics and with the senior management team at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published, November 2009