An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Ardscoil na Tríonóide
Athy, Co. Kildare,
Roll number: 68077S
Date of inspection: 24 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil na Tríonóide. 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 students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
Home Economics is an optional subject in the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate programmes in Ardscoil na Tríonóide. Commendably, it is a core subject for students taking Transition Year (TY). Hotel, Catering and Tourism is a vibrant vocational specialism in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme.
A student-centred approach is evident in the arrangements for subject choice. A taster programme operates for part of first year. This is very good practice, as such an initiative is very beneficial in assisting students in making informed subject choices. However, the current arrangements for the taster programme impact negatively on the timetabled provision for first-year Home Economics. Furthermore, the organisation of option bands for the taster programme has resulted in students who did not choose Home Economics at the end of the taster being assigned to the subject for the remainder of first year. In order to refine the benefits of a taster programme, it is recommended these arrangements be reviewed. The revised programme should facilitate the formation of discrete class groups for Home Economics at an earlier stage in first year and allow for increased timetabled provision for the subject. It is commendable that Leaving Certificate option bands are generated from an initial survey of third-year and TY students’ preferences and that every effort is made to accommodate students’ choices.
While the uptake of Home Economics is satisfactory, it was reported that the subject has experienced some recent decline in uptake, particularly in junior cycle. This has been recognised as a challenge by the home economics team. In the context of the newly amalgamated school where there is a very broad range of subject choice, it is recommended that strategies be explored to strengthen the profile of Home Economics among all students in the school.
There is good whole-school provision for Home Economics. Teaching time allocated to classes, with the exception of first year, is very good and is in line with syllabus requirements. There is a very good spread of lessons across the teaching week, while the arrangement of class time into double and single lessons facilitates very good continuity in teaching and learning. However, first-year classes are only allocated one double lesson per week. Best practice in timetabling Junior Certificate Home Economics is where classes are allocated the equivalent of four class periods per week from first year through to third year. This needs to be addressed in the context of a revised taster programme.
Deployment practices in assigning staff to Home Economics would benefit from further review. The home economics team comprises three members of staff, two of whom hold a recognised teaching qualification in Home Economics. This has resulted in a situation where some classes are shared between staff in order to cover particular areas of the syllabus. The commitment and enthusiasm of all staff involved in the delivery of Home Economics is acknowledged. However, the teaching of Home Economics requires the integrated application of all the related core disciplines as well as the integrated delivery and application of relevant practical coursework components. Such an approach is very difficult in instances where classes are shared. The specific contextual factors relating to staff deployment are recognised but, going forward, it is recommended that management maximise the deployment of teachers in line with their subject specialism. Only those who hold a recognised teaching qualification in Home Economics should be deployed to teach home economics classes. In the context of future timetabling, it is recommended that more than one home economics teacher be deployed to teach first-year classes. This would enable teachers to retain class groups through the complete cycle of the Junior Certificate programme and provide opportunities to plan collaboratively for the taster programme.
School management is very supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD). There has been a good level of engagement with relevant CPD and very good practice was evident regarding the engagement of some home economics staff with a local teachers’ professional network. This laudable practice provides a regular forum for professional dialogue which supports high quality classroom practice.
Excellent specialist facilities are available for Home Economics. Each room is well organised, with the development of a subject-specific resource library in each kitchen being particularly noteworthy. Management and the home economics team are commended for their commitment to the planning and design of such high quality facilities for the subject. Very good use is made of the shared information and communication technology (ICT) resources of the school. LCA classes have regular access to one of the computer rooms and the demonstration room is block-booked to deliver the Safe Food module in TY. Each kitchen is equipped with a computer with internet access. To maximise the potential of this resource, consideration should be given, if resources permit, to the provision of a dedicated data projector for the department.
Health and safety is given good priority in Home Economics. Safety notices are displayed and procedures are in place for reporting accidents. In the context of reviewing health and safety procedures for Home Economics, further consideration could be given to the storage of school bags during practical lessons to avoid potential tripping hazards. To support on-going maintenance of specialist equipment and plan for routine repairs and renewals, systematic procedures should be established to report maintenance issues and plan servicing schedules for equipment.
It is evident that there had been a long tradition of formal subject planning for Home Economics prior to the amalgamation and the very good practices already established have transferred to the newly amalgamated school. Subject department structures are in place. Senior management allocates formal planning time at least twice per year. In addition, the home economics team meets on a regular basis during their non class-contact time. These very good practices facilitate on-going collaborative planning. It is laudable that minutes are kept of each meeting, to facilitate continuity and keep records of progress. It is intended to rotate the position of subject co-ordinator. This commendable practice will distribute the workload among team members and allow each teacher to assume a leadership role in the continued development of the subject in the school.
Excellent progress in subject planning is evident, especially when one considers that the current subject department was established very recently. Minutes of subject meetings illustrate the commitment of the team to setting up the new department and establishing systematic procedures for collaborative planning. It is particularly laudable that a culture of self-evaluation is emerging within the home economics department. The team recently carried out a SCOT analysis to take stock of the strengths and challenges facing the new department. In addition, a self-reflection column has been included in the collaborative programmes of work to inform the further development of the initial draft programmes. To build on these good practices, it is recommended that the home economics team carry out an annual analysis of student outcomes, as evidenced by the results of the certificate examinations. Participation rates at higher and ordinary level, together with students’ attainment levels, should be compared against national norms. The outcomes of this analysis should inform the cycle of planning for Home Economics. Where particular concerns are identified, strategies should be devised, in consultation with senior management, to redress these issues.
Very good progress has been made in the development of collaborative programmes of work for Junior and Leaving Certificate Home Economics. The electronic planning template devised by the team should prove a very useful tool in the further development of each plan. As an initial draft programme for each year group is now in place, these should be used as working documents. Each home economics teacher should make careful note of the learning outcomes for each lesson, and time allocation for each topic, as well as teaching, learning and assessment strategies that proved particularly effective. This information should be routinely discussed at planning meetings in order to share best practice and, over time, to develop programme plans that provide information on differentiated learning outcomes, agreed teaching and learning strategies, assessment opportunities and useful resources.
Home economics syllabuses are designed to be taught in a manner that integrates related core areas and promotes an incremental approach to the development of knowledge and skills. Therefore, when reviewing the junior cycle programme, particular attention should focus on adjusting the sequence of lessons to enhance the incremental and integrated approach already evident. Very good planning for the design and craftwork option is apparent.
As the taster programme will be reviewed, it is recommended, as a matter of priority, that the home economics team re-draft a programme of work for the duration of the taster. The content should be based on the first-year home economics programme and promote the active teaching methodologies and rationale underpinning Junior Certificate Home Economics. As no class texts are used during the taster, an accompanying resource booklet needs to be developed to support students’ learning.
Very good planning for LCA Hotel, Catering and Tourism is evident. A very good range of teaching, learning and assessment strategies underpin the programme in the school. In order to adopt a more student-centred approach to Leaving Certificate Home Economics, it is recommended that the collaborative plan be re-drafted to adjust the time allocation and sequencing of topics to maximise students’ learning. To promote a student-centred approach to the food studies practical coursework, the assignments should be spread more evenly throughout the programme plan. Particular attention should be paid to the integration of theoretical knowledge with the relevant coursework assignment. Lessons explaining the routines for recording assignments into the coursework journals should also be included from time to time, particularly as progress is made from one area of practice to another. Student routines for recording work into the official journal issued by the State Examinations Commission should also be reviewed as part of this process.
A good range of resources is being collated by the teaching team. Some excellent individual teacher practice was noted where additional resources, such as worksheets, newspaper articles and other relevant information, is systematically stored in files to enable students and the teacher to access the information in an efficient manner. It was noted positively that resource libraries are set up in each kitchen. This very good practice assists students in researching information for coursework assignments. Over time, a catalogue of available resources should be compiled to facilitate ease of access to shared resources and to identify gaps.
The home economics department makes a laudable contribution to the extracurricular and co-curricular programme in the school. Such activities should be used as a means of promoting the subject throughout the school community.
A variety of lessons, both theoretical and practical, was observed during the course of the evaluation. In all instances, classroom management was very good. A very good rapport and a climate of mutual respect were evident in all lessons.
There was evidence of some very good quality advance planning for the lessons observed. In a number of instances, the advance preparation of additional resource materials, such as worksheets, exemplar food products, posters and overhead transparencies, proved very effective in actively assisting students’ learning throughout the lesson. Some particularly good use was made of ICT to produce worksheets and colourful overhead transparencies. High-quality visual images stimulated students’ interest and assisted understanding. On occasion there was scope to improve the effectiveness of the use of the textbook in lessons. Textbooks are a useful classroom resource but care should be taken to avoid their overuse in lessons. Furthermore students need direction on how to use the information from textbooks to optimise learning. Therefore it is recommended that the home economics team gives some consideration to strategies that promote the effective use of class texts in lessons.
Lessons were generally well structured and paced. Best practice was evident in instances where the lesson content was pitched at a level that was appropriate to students’ needs and in keeping with the requirements and rationale underpinning syllabus and programme requirements. In a number of lessons, to establish a clear focus, learning outcomes were shared with students. This very good practice scaffolded lesson structure as the outcomes were referred to throughout the lesson. The fact that the learning outcomes were revisited at the end of the lesson consolidated learning. The practice of sharing differentiated learning outcomes in all lessons is recommended. This is in keeping with the principles underpinning Assessment for Learning (AfL). Additional information on AfL is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie.
There was some very good use of active teaching methodologies observed during the evaluation. Brainstorming was used to good effect to stimulate student interest and assess prior knowledge of a topic being introduced. In explanations of new subject content, commendable efforts were made to link with the students own experiences to assist understanding. However, care should be taken to avoid the overuse of questioning during explanations of new content in order to ensure that the information presented is clear and succinct. There was some very good use of worksheet activities to reinforce key concepts from lessons. In some lessons, the activities that students were required to complete were cleverly designed to support the development of the higher-order thinking skills of analysis and interpretation of information. This is very good practice. Some good use was made of overhead transparencies to summarise information. Best practice was evident when the information was presented under headings consistent with learning outcomes.
Some good strategies that assessed students’ learning were observed. In some lessons, questioning was used to good effect to assess students’ recall and understanding of information. Best practice was evident where there was an appropriate balance between global and directed questions and where students were afforded time to provide solutions to the queries posed. On occasion, excellent use was made of student worksheets to assess individual levels of student understanding of previous learning and its relationship with the new material being taught. In one case, the monitoring of this work highlighted the need to re-teach aspects of a topic that students found difficult. This student-centred practice is highly commended and emphasises the importance of formative assessment as an integral component of all lessons. The frequently observed practice of the teacher moving around the room, as students completed practical or worksheet activities, also provided opportunities to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive manner. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that strategies that assess learning be an integral component of all lessons. The learning objectives of each lesson should underpin the strategies chosen.
It is commendable that the practical lesson observed was based on a task rather than solely focusing on the making of a dish. However, care should be taken in the selection of dishes suitable for the task in order to support the development of appropriate practical and procedural skills. Students displayed some good levels of practical skills and were competent in working on their own and in collaboration with each other. Throughout the lesson, a lot of individual attention and supportive advice was given to students to assist their learning. To enhance this practice, this should be balanced with further whole-class teaching and spot demonstration. This would reinforce whole-class learning by illustrating best practice in the preparation, cooking and serving of dishes and would refine students’ procedural and culinary skills, as well as providing questioning opportunities to assess learning.
Good progress was evident in student copybooks. In lessons where class texts are used, it is recommended that students be encouraged to use mind maps as a note-taking strategy to summarise key points of information. This would prove a useful revision tool.
Observation of students’ design and craftwork option illustrated very good levels of creativity and originality, with some very high levels of textiles and craft skills displayed. Key assignments completed by LCA students were of a very high standard, with some very effective use of ICT evident. It is worth noting that chief examiners reports and marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission are very useful in providing further advice on each assessment component. This material can be accessed at www.examinations.ie.
The learning environment of the specialist rooms was greatly enhanced by the display of a range of student work together with a variety of colourful posters, some of which were prepared by the teaching staff. This contributed to a lively print-rich learning environment. The thematic notice board for Home Economics, adjacent to two of the home economics rooms, provides topical information to the general student body on issues related to Home Economics. This good practice is commended.
Formal summative examinations are held for non-exam classes each summer. Fifth-year students have additional in-house examinations at Christmas. Additional summative examinations are held in class for home economics students. The home economics team has developed a commendable system of summative assessment. Grades awarded to students at key times of the year comprise an aggregate mark which reflects students’ achievement in the relevant practical coursework components. As this mirrors the arrangements in place for the certificate examinations, it is a good indicator of students’ performance in the subject. A commendable design brief template is in place for the in-house culinary skills examination. The relevant Junior Certificate marking scheme should inform the feedback that students receive on their performance in the practical examination.
It is commendable that the home economics team draft common written examinations where appropriate. From reviewing samples of in-house examination papers during the evaluation, it is evident that there is scope to adjust the pitch of the questions set in order to refine the assessment of student learning, particularly in instances where students are aiming for higher level. Therefore, it is recommended that the home economics team reviews the format of the examination papers and aligns them with the format of the relevant certificate examination. The questions set should be pitched at a level commensurate with the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations in order to assess learning and develop students’ competence in answering the range of question styles posed on written papers.
The TY module in Home Economics includes a commendable range of assessment, some of which is certified by an external awarding body. To enhance this good practice, it is recommended that assessment criteria for TY in-house project work be devised. These criteria should be linked to the learning outcomes for the module and shared with students from the outset. Such criteria should then provide the basis for assigning credits and for the provision of constructive feedback to students.
Some good formative assessment practice is evident. In keeping with the subject department policy, a good range of homework is assigned and monitored on a regular basis. Examination of student copybooks indicated very good teacher practice in the provision of constructive feedback to students. It was noted positively that students are routinely required to complete corrections on test papers or worksheets, based on feedback received from teachers. This very good practice enables students to reflect further on their learning. At the next review of the homework policy for Home Economics, homework procedures for LCA should be incorporated and further consideration should be given to strategies for monitoring short-answer questions, key assignments and the third-year resource booklets.
Teachers are very committed to their work in Home Economics. Very good records of student attendance and progress are kept. This good practice builds a comprehensive student profile which is a good evidence base when providing advice to students and parents on appropriate levels for the certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics is an integral component of all curricular programmes in the school.
· A student-centred approach is evident in the arrangements for subject choice.
· Excellent specialist facilities are available for Home Economics. Management and the home economics team are commended for their commitment to the planning
and design of such high quality facilities for the subject.
· Excellent progress in subject planning is evident and a culture of self-evaluation is emerging.
· A good range of resources is being collated by the teaching team. The establishment of a resource library in each kitchen is very good practice.
· The home economics department makes a laudable contribution to the extracurricular and co-curricular programme in the school.
· A very good rapport and a climate of mutual respect were evident in all lessons.
· There was very good use of active teaching methodologies observed during the evaluation.
· Observation of students’ design and craftwork option illustrates very good levels of creativity and originality with some very high levels of textiles and craft skills
· The home economics team has developed a commendable system of summative assessment.
· A good range of homework is assigned and monitored on a regular basis.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The first-year taster programme should be revised.
· Deployment practices to Home Economics should be reviewed.
· The home economics team should carry out an annual analysis of student outcomes, as evidenced by the results of the certificate examinations.
· The draft collaborative plans should be used as working documents to inform discussions of best practice at subject planning meetings. Each collaborative plan should
be developed over time.
· Strategies that assess students’ learning should be carefully planned as an integral component of all lessons.
· The format of in-house examination papers should be reviewed and aligned with the format and pitch of the relevant certificate examination.
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 2010