An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Deansrath Community College
Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Roll number: 70040H
Date of inspection: 17 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Deansrath Community College. 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 a popular subject, as evidenced by the very good participation rates at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels. The subject benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support.
The subject contributes positively to all of the curriculum programmes in the school. Home Economics is an optional subject for Junior Certificate students and a core subject for those who take the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). A short taster programme operates for non-JCSP students to facilitate an informed subject choice. The demand for Home Economics among non-JCSP students is high. This year, in an effort to accommodate as many students as possible, Home Economics is offered on two option bands. This is a very positive initiative. Leaving Certificate option pools are generated from an initial survey of students’ preferences and good efforts are made to accommodate all students. It is laudable that the home economics co-ordinator has the opportunity to speak to all third-year students to outline the benefits of taking the subject in senior cycle. Students participating in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme take Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT) as a vocational specialism.
Teaching time allocated to classes is in line with syllabus recommendations. At the request of the home economics team, the organisation of this time in first year has been re-arranged into one double and two single lessons. This new arrangement should facilitate a better spread of lessons across the teaching week and maximise continuity in teaching and learning. Management is commended for facilitating this practice. In general there is a good spread of lessons throughout the teaching week. However, in instances where students only have two double lessons they should not be timetabled on two consecutive days as this results in a gap on almost one week between lessons.
Very good practice is evident in the deployment of home economics staff. A conscious effort is made, where feasible, to ensure continuity when allocating teachers to classes. Teachers can gain experience in teaching the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and LCA programmes. This praiseworthy practice builds capacity among team members. Management is supportive of continuous professional development (CPD). There is a good level of engagement with CPD and priorities have been identified and planned for the current academic year. The home economics team systematically file in-service materials in a CPD file. This good practice facilitates the sharing of materials and ensures that the information is readily accessible when the need arises.
All home economics classes are mixed ability. The home economics team has outlined a vision for Home Economics 2008-2013. Increasing levels of student attainment is one of the priorities identified. To date some good progress has been made particularly in junior cycle. However, there is further scope to enhance the participation rates at higher level and overall levels of attainment. It is recommended therefore, that strategies be further explored by the home economics team, in consultation with management, that in the medium term, would judiciously increase student aspirations and result in higher levels of student attainment. Strategies should focus on whole-school issues, as well as on subject planning. The effectiveness of the school attendance and punctuality strategies, as well as students’ choice of curriculum programme and subjects, need careful monitoring. Student decisions in relation to levels taken in the certificate examinations should be delayed until as late as possible in the examination year.
There are three home economics specialist rooms, two kitchens and one textiles room. Each room is well resourced with an appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. It is commendable that one kitchen is equipped with a wheelchair accessible unit. Room maintenance is generally very good. During the course of the evaluation it was noted in one kitchen that a small number of cookers and presses require maintenance attention. It is recommended that these issues be addressed as soon as it is feasible. There is a very good range of additional resources to support learning. Management is very supportive of any requests made for additional materials. It is particularly laudable that the school subsidises a large part of the cost of student materials and ingredients for practical lessons in Home Economics. This highly- commended practice supports high quality participation and learning in Home Economics.
There is considerable interest among the home economics team in developing the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance classroom practices. At present there are three computers in the textile room. The room will be wired for internet access in the near future. Given the benefits of ICT as a research tool, together with the increased availability of useful software packages and educational websites, it is recommended that the home economics team develop a plan that demonstrates strategies for utilising ICT in Home Economics. This plan will be useful in establishing resource needs that can be met over time, as funding becomes available. Possible strategies could include obtaining access to one of the school’s computer suites for the occasional home economics lesson. This would be very beneficial when students are carrying out research as part of Leaving Certificate food studies tasks or LCA key assignments. Consideration could also be given to the purchase of a data projector for at least one of the specialist rooms.
The health and safety statement for Home Economics is well developed and includes a hazard analysis and risk assessment of each specialist room. The template is use allows the statement to be reviewed and updated on an annual basis. Safety rules and procedures are clearly displayed. The visual notices in the kitchens are particularly noteworthy. To build on this work, it is recommended that signs illustrating specific safety routines for using specialist equipment such as the sewing machines and irons should also be displayed at appropriate locations in the textiles room.
The home economics department is well established in the school. The team demonstrates a high level of enthusiasm and commitment for the continued development of the subject. The position of co-ordinator rotates among the team. This good practice shares the workload and distributes leadership among team members. Management facilitates collaborative planning on a regular basis throughout the school year. It is commendable that records are kept of each formal meeting to facilitate continuity between meetings.
There is a well-developed subject department plan for Home Economics. From reviewing this plan it is evident that a proactive and practical approach is being taken to the further development of the subject. In the last academic year the home economics team carried out a SWOT analysis to establish the key strengths and challenges facing Home Economics in the school. The outcomes of this beneficial exercise led to the development of a vision for Home Economics 2008-2013. This vision identifies eleven key priorities to enhance the whole-school provision and the teaching and learning of Home Economics. This level of reflection and evaluation is highly commended. To date some good progress has been made in relation to some of the areas identified. Clear action plans should now be devised for each of the remaining priorities. This will assist the team in assessing progress in the remaining targets set. It is commendable that the home economics team regularly analyses student outcomes as evidenced by results in the certificate examinations. Important specific contextual factors are noted as part of this exercise and discussed with management. This very good practice enhances reflective debate on the teaching and learning of Home Economics and the general whole-school provision for the subject.
Common programmes of work have been developed for each curriculum programme. Each programme of work provides a list of topics for each week and some information on assessment activities. The programmes of work are in electronic format which makes further amending easy. To complement the team’s focus on raising student attainment levels it is recommended that all collaborative programmes of work be reviewed. Each programme of work should outline students’ knowledge and understanding in terms of expected learning outcomes. Particular attention should focus on ensuring that the lesson content of all plans is sequenced in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in all home economics syllabuses. Information on suitable teaching and learning strategies for each unit of work, assessment activities and resources should also be included. In reviewing each plan, careful attention needs to be given to the time allocation for each specified topic.
In revising the Junior Certificate plan, the balance of theoretical and practical lessons in food studies should be reviewed to enhance the incremental development of students’ practical skills in a wider range of food preparation and cooking processes. Further opportunities to integrate the stages of the design brief process in the areas of food and textiles studies also need to be incorporated into the plan. Some good work is evident in planning for the core textiles component of the syllabus. However, the timing and sequencing of this work merits attention. It is commendable that students are afforded an opportunity to make complete items to develop their practical textile skills. However, consideration should be given to the completion of a simple design brief in tandem with the item made. This would enable students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of task investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation. These are key skills underpinning some of the assessment objectives of the certificate examinations in Home Economics.
While there some variation in the implementation of the Leaving Certificate plan, the agreed programme of work would benefit from a major review to adjust the time allocation and sequencing of topics to maximise students’ learning. The revised plan should ensure that all of the core content is covered before students undertake the elective area of study. 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. To progress this work, the home economics team should use the current plan as a working document and record the actual time taken to complete topics and coursework, as well as any resources or teaching strategies that worked well. This information would be very valuable in amending the plan. The materials produced by the Home Economics Support Service (www.homeeconomics.ie) and the Teacher Guidelines produced by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) provide further information on programme planning for the Leaving Certificate syllabus.
Some good planning for students with additional needs is evident in Home Economics. There is a good level of collaboration with the learning support department to provide assistance to students as they complete various coursework components in Home Economics. There are systematic procedures in place to meet the needs of students who are learners of English as an additional language (EAL). The home economics team are required to supply key words and themes relating to home economics topics to the EAL co-ordinator to assist students accessing the language of the curriculum. These good practices are commended. The home economics team has prioritised CPD in differentiated learning for this year. Home economics classes are mixed ability and students’ needs are quite diverse in each class. When reviewing the implementation of the programmes of work it is recommended that differentiation in content as well as teaching and assessment strategies be considered. This good practice will assist in meeting the needs of students who are at both ends of the ability spectrum.
There is a very good range of additional resources available to support teaching and learning in Home Economics. Shared resource folders have been developed by the department. As the school recently got additional resources, DVDs and videos it is recommended that a catalogue of these resources be compiled and included in the subject department plan. This practice could assist in identifying future resource needs.
A range of lessons, both theoretical and practical was observed during the course of the evaluation. The quality of short-term planning for all lessons observed was good with some very good integration of relevant topics apparent. This good practice is in keeping with the rationale underpinning teaching and learning in Home Economics. Lessons were well structured and purposeful. The content chosen was in line with syllabus requirements, though at times there was some scope to incorporate differentiated teaching strategies in order to adjust the pace and pitch of lessons to effectively address the needs of all of the students. In order to plan further for differentiation, it is recommended that learning outcomes are devised for each lesson. To accommodate the range of student abilities that is evident in the school, these outcomes should be clearly differentiated in terms of the knowledge and understanding that students must, should and could acquire. This level of information will assist in the selection and development of teaching strategies and learning resources used in lessons.
The good practice of calling the roll was noted in all instances. A warm caring atmosphere permeated all lessons. A high level of mutual respect was evident and students were eager to learn and participate in lessons. In lessons where special needs assistants were present they provided assistance to students in a manner that ensured that very good quality learning was achieved.
All lessons had a clear focus. It is commendable that the aim of each lesson was shared with students. It is recommended that this strategy be developed further by sharing clear learning outcomes for the topic with students. The outcomes should be framed in terms of what the students will be doing and why. This will further scaffold the lesson structure. Students may also suggest some other information that should be known about the topic which can be incorporated into the learning outcomes. This will further engage students in the lesson content and create a sense of shared ownership of the lesson material. The learning outcomes should be revisited again at the end of the lesson to consolidate students’ learning and provide further opportunities for teachers to assess individual levels of students’ learning. These practices are reflective of some of the principles underpinning Assessment for Learning (AfL). Further information on AfL is available at www.ncca.ie.
Good quality teaching and learning was evident in lessons. Teacher instruction was clear and accurate and a commendable concern was shown to ensuring that students understood the key concepts of each lesson. Student learning was optimised by making links with previous lessons or their own experiences. There was good attention paid to the development of students’ literacy skills through emphasising key words and checking that students understood the meanings and spelling of the key terminology used. This very good practice is encouraged. Questioning strategies were used very effectively to stimulate students’ interest, enhance understanding and assess learning. Where necessary the information was summarised on the board with good use being made of information bubbles as opposed to full paragraphs of text. This is good practice. Some additional resource material such as worksheets and handouts proved useful in encouraging students to reinforce and reflect on their learning, as well as fostering peer collaboration in lessons. To build on these good practices and in order to avoid an over-emphasis on teacher-led activity lessons, where there is a tendency for students to remain passive, it is recommended that differentiated active teaching methodologies be explored further and used, even if only for part of a lesson.
Very good planning for practical food studies lessons was evident during the course of the evaluation. In planning for LCA it is particularly laudable that the lesson observed was based on a task that demonstrated very good progression from Junior Certificate work. In planning for JSCP a very definite focus was placed on the development of students’ procedural skills which was in keeping with the stage of the programme that the students were at. Very good routines were evident for practical lessons, with appropriate levels of learner autonomy being fostered. In the lessons observed, students displayed a commendable ability to work individually and in pairs. Students displayed a very good level of practical skills given their level of experience. There was some very good use made of spot demonstrations to allow students to model best practice in key food preparation processes. This strategy is encouraged to reinforce learning and provide opportunities to integrate relevant theory and support high quality learning. An evaluation phase was an integral part of both lessons. This practice is encouraged further to assist in the development of the analysis and evaluation of a task. It is recommended that students keep all evaluations undertaken in their notebook. As students progress through the programme, 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.
Observation of and interaction with students during the course of the evaluation indicated that that they had a good level of understanding of the key concepts of the lesson. Some very good progress was evident in students’ notebooks. In some instances students are required to stick class handouts into their notebook. This good practice is encouraged across all class groups. Students should be encouraged to retain the same notebook throughout the three years or two years of their programme so that key points of information covered in theoretical and practical lessons and related handouts and worksheets can be accessed for ease of reference. Students make some good progress in the completion of the design and craftwork option. Further strategies that would enable students to develop creativity and originality in their analysis and interpretation of the design brief could be considered. It is worth noting that the chief examiners’ reports and associated marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission are very useful for further guidance and advice on the coursework components at junior and senior cycle. These documents are available at www.examinations.ie.
The learning environment of each specialist room is greatly enhanced by the displays of students’ work and a range of appropriate educational posters and themed notice boards. The deliberate emphasis placed on displaying key words is particularly noteworthy. Such laudable practices help to stimulate and engage student interest.
It is obvious that students enjoy Home Economics. They displayed a sense of security in seeking additional assistance when needed. Classes were very orderly and well disciplined. Seating was appropriately arranged for ease of movement move round the room. Teacher movement around the room during lessons ensured that students had an additional opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive environment. It was reported that some students’ poor attendance and punctuality impacts on levels of learning and attainment. This is a whole-school issue and some success has been achieved to date in encouraging regular attendance, particularly in junior cycle. Management and staff are urged to continue exploring strategies to address this situation.
An agreed homework and assessment policy has been developed for Home Economics. This complements the commendable whole-school initiative which aims to develop positive homework practice among students. Observation of student notebooks indicated that homework is assigned regularly with some very good practice evident in the provision of constructive feedback to students. In many instances students’ attention was drawn to work that was well done or where improvements could be made. This very good practice enhances learning by affirming work well done and informing students of their own individual progress. In some instances students are required to complete corrections of short-answer questions based on the feedback provided. This very good practice is encouraged with all students as a means of augmenting students’ learning and promoting improvement. As a next stage in the development of the homework policy it is recommended that the range of written homework assigned to each home economics group is reviewed to ensure that students are given regular opportunities to develop skills in the range of long-answer question styles typical of certificate examination papers in Home Economics. The homework assigned should be clearly linked to the planned differentiated learning outcomes for each lesson and promote the incremental development of lower-order and higher-order thinking skills. Agreed procedures for annotating and providing of constructive feedback to students should be included in the homework policy.
In planning for JCSP and LCA it was noted that the learning targets and completion of key assignments are an integral component of the documentation. This is good practice. A commendable system of summative assessment operates in Home Economics. 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. Written papers are generally based on the format of the relevant state examination but particular attention should focus on the incremental assessment of students’ knowledge, understanding and skills over the course of the curriculum programme. Questions from higher-level and ordinary-level past papers should inform the drafting of the written examinations. The marks awarded for each part of the question could also be displayed to develop students’ skills in the interpretation of marking schemes and develop examination techniques.
Reports are issued to parents twice yearly. Student progress is also reported at parent-teacher meetings. Teachers keep good records of students’ progress. It is commendable that letters are sent by school management highlighting the importance of regular school attendance to ensure the satisfactory completion of coursework. The home economics team could consider informing parents about the specific coursework requirements for Leaving Certificate Home Economics and reiterating the importance of regular attendance at lessons.
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 key recommendations are made:
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, November 2009