An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Our Ladyís Bower Secondary School
Retreat Rd, Athlone, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63210P
Date of inspection: 2 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Ladyís Bower Secondary School. 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 and home economics teachers.† The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Home Economics is an integral component of all the curriculum programmes offered in Our Ladyís Bower Secondary School. It is a very popular subject as evidenced by the very good participation rates in Junior and Leaving Certificate Home Economics.
The school adopts a student-centred approach to subject choice. Option bands for the Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes are generated based on an initial survey of studentsí preferences. Guidance and advice in relation to subject and programme choices are provided at parent information evenings, open nights and an induction day for first-year students. It is commendable that Home Economics is always available on more than one junior and senior cycle option band in order to facilitate as many students as possible.
The Transition Year programme is optional in the school. It is laudable that a short home economics module is offered as part of this programme. This well-planned module facilitates students in acquiring knowledge and practical skills in the area of healthy eating.
The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme was introduced into the senior cycle curriculum two years ago. This is a very worthwhile initiative. †Hotel Catering and Tourism is a vibrant vocational specialism in the LCA programme. This allows students to build on the knowledge and skills acquired in Junior Certificate Home Economics.
Home Economics benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support. Teaching time allocated to classes is in line with curricular requirements. The arrangement of class time into double and single periods throughout the teaching week is particularly conducive to effective continuity in teaching and learning.
The teaching team comprises five home economics teachers. There is a very high level of commitment and enthusiasm among the team for the continued development of the subject in the school. Good practice is evident in the deployment of staff. A conscious effort is made, where feasible, to ensure continuity when allocating teachers to classes. This is praiseworthy practice as it can facilitate effective progress.† There is a very good level of engagement with continuous professional development (CPD) courses.† This practice impacts positively on the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics.
There are three specialist rooms for Home Economics, two kitchens and a textiles room. These rooms were not re-furbished as part of the major building project recently completed in the school. A proactive approach to the general maintenance and phased upgrading of these rooms is evident. Senior management recently requested that the home economics team carry out a needs analysis of the maintenance and resourcing issues in each specialist room. To date some good progress has been made. The textiles room has been re-furbished and the home economics team has prioritised the upgrading of the textiles equipment this year. This is a worthwhile initiative as textiles studies is a compulsory part of the Junior Certificate Home Economics syllabus. One kitchen is in significant need of an upgrade. The unavailability of this kitchen for practical food studies lessons is placing significant limiting influences on the quality of access to practical lessons.† The home economics team is commended for their flexible approach to dealing with this situation.† The home economics team, in collaboration with senior management, is planning for the upgrading of this kitchen. This project should be pursued as a matter of priority when resources permit. The maintenance issues in the second kitchen that are included in the snag list should be addressed as soon as possible.
There is a very good range of additional resources available to support studentsí learning in Home Economics. An annual budget is allocated for Home Economics and management is supportive of requests made for updating and replacing equipment. Excellent information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are available in the home economics department. Two of the three specialist rooms are equipped with a data projector and a computer with internet access. In addition there are a number of computers located adjacent to the specialist rooms that are specifically dedicated to the home economics department.
The whole-school health and safety policy is currently being reviewed. It is commendable that all staff had an opportunity to meet in plenary session with the consultant commissioned to draft the policy.† It is recommended that the revised health and safety statement includes an identification of hazards, an assessment of the level of risk and associated control measures for each home economics room. Health and safety is given high priority in home economics lessons. Safety notices are displayed in the specialist rooms. To enhance these good practices, it is recommended that signs illustrating specific safety routines for using specialist equipment such as the sewing machines and irons be displayed at appropriate locations in the textiles room.
There is a collaborative approach evident in the organisation and planning for Home Economics. A high level of co-operation exists among the team and many collegial practices underpin the work of the team. Subject department planning is facilitated with the provision of formal planning time three times per year. The home economics team holds additional meetings on a regular basis throughout the school year. It was noted positively that an agenda and a record of the main decisions taken at each meeting are kept on file. This good practice facilitates continuity between meetings. At present there is no subject co-ordinator and the work is shared among the team. It is recommended that a subject co-ordinator be appointed. A description of the role of the subject co-ordinator should be included in the subject planning documents after discussion among the team. The role normally involves calling and chairing meetings, keeping records of decisions taken, liaising with the home economics teaching team and senior management on matters relating to the subject, and disseminating relevant information from the Department of Education and Science, the State Examinations Commission, the Home Economics Support Service (HESS) and other relevant bodies. It is advocated that the role of co-ordinator be rotated among the team to share the workload and allow each member of the team assume a leadership role for the continued development of Home Economics in the school.
Good progress has been made in the development of a subject department plan. The plan is ICT-generated. This commendable practice makes it easier to update and amend information.† As part of the agenda for subject planning, the team carries out a regular analysis of what is working well in the department and the areas that need further attention. This commendable level of self-review and evaluation informs long-term planning for Home Economics.
Common programmes of work, which include all aspects of individual programme requirements, are included in the department plan. Each plan is at a different stage of development. The Junior Certificate plan outlines a list of topics and sub-topics that are covered in each term. The dishes that are completed are listed separately. The plan demonstrates a developmental approach to the acquisition and development of studentsí knowledge and skills with some good integration between topics. Stages of the design brief are introduced into practical food studies on a phased basis from second year. However, it is recommended that a simple evaluation be included in the common programme from first year.
It is commendable that the TY plan includes clear learning outcomes that are underpinned by the ethos of the programme. The Leaving Certificate plan is based on the general framework provided by the HESS while the LCA plan is particularly well developed. In the case of the LCA information for each lesson is presented in terms of studentsí expected learning outcomes with key resources and teaching strategies listed. This very good practice could be used as the template for all common programme plans.† As part of the teamís on-going process of planning and review it is recommended that all programmes of work are developed further. Each plan should outline studentsí knowledge and understanding in terms of expected learning outcomes. The lesson content of all plans should be time bound and sequenced in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in home economics syllabuses. Information on suitable teaching and learning strategies and resources should also be included. This work should be completed on a phased basis and monitored regularly, perhaps one junior and one senior cycle plan per year. Individual teachers will still have the flexibility to adjust the schemes to suit individual class groups.
In reviewing the Junior Certificate plan it is recommended that students complete a simple design brief folder in tandem with the items made. This would provide further opportunities to build up skills in the analysis, implementation and evaluation of a task. This would be very good additional preparation for the certificate examinations. In reviewing the Leaving Certificate plan particular attention should focus on the sequence in which the coursework assignments are covered to maximise opportunities for integrating relevant theory and promoting an incremental approach to the acquisition of knowledge and skills. This will enhance the student-centred approach to the completion of coursework assignment that is already evident.
The home economics department makes a valuable contribution to the extra-curricular and co-curricular programme in the school. The department plays an active role in school activities such as annual graduation nights and open evenings. In addition, studentsí learning is extended beyond the classroom through a range of planned activities such as the use of guest speakers and field trips. Some very valuable links are being developed with local industries and a local third level college to enhance the quality of learning in Home Economics.
Planning for the effective use of ICT is well underway in Home Economics. The teaching team have wholly embraced ICT as a valuable means of enhancing studentsí learning in Home Economics. The generous manner in which members of the teaching team have shared their expertise in this area in order to build capacity is particularly noteworthy.
A good range of additional resources such as worksheets, resource packs and reference books is available for use among the team. It is recommended that a catalogue of these resources be compiled and included in the subject department plan. There is a strong culture of sharing resources among the teaching team. As many additional resources are now being designed using ICT, it is recommended that consideration be given to storing this material in electronic folders on the server. This would facilitate ease of access among the teaching team.
Very good levels of individual teacher planning were observed during the course of the evaluation. In some instances individual teachers had further developed the common programme of work to outline the material to be covered each week with some key learning outcomes highlighted. There was some very good practice where the additional resources used for particular classes were filed systematically in individual teachersí planning folders.† It is commendable that all teachers keep a record of the work completed to date with all classes. The outcomes of this level of individual teacher planning should inform the further development of the common programmes of work.
There was very good quality teaching and learning evident in the range of lessons observed during the course of the evaluation. There was thorough preparation for all lessons. This included the advance preparation and selection of a range of additional resources that effectively enhanced studentsí learning.
Lessons were well structured and generally well paced. The aim or topic of each lesson was shared with students from the outset. In some cases this strategy was developed further by sharing key learning objectives with students. This strategy worked best in instances where the outcomes were framed in terms of what the students themselves would be doing and why. This very good practice is encouraged. To enhance this strategy further it is recommended that the learning outcomes are revisited again at the end of the lesson. This would consolidate studentsí learning, by facilitating further opportunities for self-evaluation and provide a further opportunity for teachers to assess individual levels of studentsí learning. †
All members of the teaching team display a high level of competence in their subject area. In all instances teacher instruction was clear and accurate with a commendable focus on attention to detail in the explanations given and in the quality of answers accepted from students. It was noted positively that teachers often referred to the latest research findings or recent news events when explaining the new information. This is very good practice as Home Economics, by it nature, requires access to updated information.† It also results in very good quality learning and challenges a deep level of student engagement with the topic. Some very good strategies were used to assist studentsí understanding as the lessons progressed.†† Explanations of new subject matter were effectively linked to studentsí own experiences or prior learning. Some very good use was made of the classroom board to summarise key points of information. Of particular note was the use of a mind map and anagrams as an effective means of consolidating studentsí learning. In some instances the board was used to good effect to draw attention to the correct spelling of key terms associated with the topic being taught. This very good practice is encouraged as a means of assisting studentsí literacy development and becoming competent in the use of the technical language used in Home Economics.
Very good use was made of ICT to enhance studentsí learning in the classroom. Very good use was made of the data projectors and internet-linked computers. Well prepared Powerpoint presentations summarised information in a colourful and easy to understand format. One particularly good use of ICT was noted in a senior cycle lesson where the teacher logged onto some relevant websites to illustrate key points on information on the topic being discussed. This very good practice assists students as they undertake the necessary research to complete various coursework assignments. Note taking is a key strategy used in Home Economics lessons. This ensures that students have a very useful revision aid in preparation for examinations. As an alternative to full paragraphs of text, it is recommended that students be encouraged to use mind maps as a note-taking strategy when they are summarising topics.
A good range of strategies was used in theory lessons to facilitate the active engagement of students in the learning process. †A good balance of open and closed questions was used in all lessons to assess levels of re-call and understanding of knowledge. It is particularly laudable that higher-order questions were used to enable students to make links with other topics or analyse and apply the information being discussed. This is very good practice. Group work or pair work was a key strategy used in some of the lessons observed. This strategy is particularly useful in encouraging students to share ideas and apply the key concepts of the lesson.† Best practice in the management of group work was evident in instances where the activity was time bound, group members were assigned key roles to complete the task and where there was a reporting back phase followed by effective processing of the feedback to ensure that learning had occurred.
Very good routines were evident in practical food studies lessons. The emphasis placed on re-cycling practices is particularly noteworthy. In the practical lessons observed, students displayed a commendable ability to work individually or in pairs. In one instance the lesson was based on the completion of a task rather than solely on the making of a dish. This highly-commendable strategy is encouraged as it complements the rationale underpinning home economics syllabuses. There was very good use of spot demonstrations in the lessons observed. This teaching strategy proved very effective in allowing students to model best practice in key food preparation processes. It also provided opportunities to integrate relevant theory in a manner that supported high quality learning. †It is commendable that students were required to complete an evaluation as part of the lessons. Consideration could be given to developing the evaluation further by getting students to assess some key factors that were important in carrying out the task. This strategy may assist students in evaluating the complete task.
Classroom management was very good in all instances. Students remained purposefully engaged with the task in hand. A high level of mutual respect was evident in all the lessons observed. Students were encouraged to seek additional clarification or advice on the topics taught. Observation of and interaction with students indicated that they had a very good level of knowledge and understanding of the topics under discussion. Students also displayed a very good standard of practical skills given their level of experience and ability.
Students are making very good progress in the examinable coursework components. The childcare projects that demonstrated a clear link with child development, utilised a variety of research methods and had well-developed conclusions relevant to the stated aims, were illustrative of very good practice. It is worth noting that the chief examinersí reports and associated marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission are very useful for further guidance and advice on the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate coursework components. These documents are available at www.examinations.ie.
The learning environment of each specialist room is enhanced with colourful displays of relevant posters, student work and photographs or plaques of studentsí achievement. The home economics team plan to create additional themed notice boards in the computer area adjacent to the specialist rooms. This is a positive and worthwhile initiative.
A range of assessment modes, both formative and summative, is used to assess studentsí competence and progress in Home Economics. Formative assessment is carried out on an on-going basis through oral questioning, student observation, continuous monitoring of coursework components, regular written homework assignments and class tests.† Project work is a key feature of junior and senior cycle Home Economics. This is a commendable strategy to encourage both independent and co-operative learning, as well as to foster a sense of personal responsibility and student teamwork. It is laudable that the projects are designed to facilitate the development of studentsí skills in the areas of analysis and research of information and in project presentation skills. To enhance the use of project work as a valuable learning tool, it is recommended that assessment criteria are devised for the assessment of all project work. These criteria should be linked to the intended learning outcomes of each project. This information should be then shared with the students and used as the basis of the feedback given to students on their completed project work.
Observation of studentsí notebooks indicated good progress in their work.† Homework is assigned regularly and very good practice is evident in the monitoring of work. In the case of those preparing for the certificate examination, very good advice was provided to individual students on best practice in the layout of examination-style questions. Observation of studentsí notebooks indicated some very good practice in the range of homework activities assigned to ensure that the higher-order skills of analysis, synthesis and application of information, as well as re-call and understanding of information were examined. As part of the teamís on-going engagement with subject planning it is recommended that the range of homework that is assigned to all year groups be reviewed to ensure that the incremental development of lower-order and higher-order thinking skills is encouraged across all year groups. In planning for LCA it is recommended that a system for central storage of the studentís key assignments be devised.
A commendable system of summative assessment operates in the home economics department. Written papers are based on the format of the relevant state examination and it is planned to introduce common assessments this year where practicable. This is very good practice. Grades awarded to students at key times of the year comprise an aggregate mark which reflects studentsí achievement in the relevant practical coursework components. As this mirrors the arrangements in place for the certificate examinations, it is a good indicator of studentsí performance in the subject.
All home economics classes are mixed ability. Students are challenged to reach their full potential and to take the certificate examination at the highest level possible. Participation rates at higher level are very good. Very good records of studentsí progress and attendance are retained by the class teacher. This information provides a useful evidence base when advising students on the appropriate levels for the certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ The school adopts a student-centred approach to subject choice.
∑ Home Economics benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support.
∑ There is a very high level of commitment and enthusiasm for the continued development of the subject in the school.
∑ Excellent information and communication technology (ICT) facilities are available in the home economics department.
∑ There is a collaborative approach evident in the organisation and planning for Home Economics.
∑ The home economics department makes a valuable contribution to the extra-curricular and co-curricular activities programme in the school.
∑ There was very good quality teaching and learning evident during the course of the evaluation.
∑ Very good use was made of ICT to enhance studentís learning in the classroom.
∑ A good range of strategies was used in theory lessons to facilitate the active engagement of students in the learning process.
∑ Very good routines have been established for practical food studies lessons.
∑ A commendable system of assessment operates in the home economics department.
∑ Students are challenged to reach their full potential and to take the certificate examination at the highest level possible.† ††
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ The revised whole-school health and safety policy should include an identification of hazards, an assessment of the level of risk and associated control measures for each home economics room.
∑ The appointment of a subject co-ordinator, which could be rotated among the team, should be considered.
∑ The programmes of work should be developed over time, as outlined in the report.
∑ Assessment criteria should be devised for the assessment of all project work.
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.
Published January 2009