An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Athlone Community College,
Retreat Road, Athlone, County Westmeath
Roll number: 71410T
Date of inspection: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Athlone 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 the home economics team. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Home Economics is a well-established optional subject that plays an integral role in all the curriculum programmes offered in the school.
First-year students select their optional subjects at pre-entry stage and it is commendable that the option bands are generated from an initial survey of students’ preferences. Parents and students are supported and advised during this process. Information on curriculum choice is distributed to all applicants and a pre-enrolment meeting is held for parents. An induction day provides students with opportunities to sample some of the optional subjects. School management allows students to change subjects during the first month if places are available. These student-centred practices facilitate informed decisions in relation to subject choice. Uptake of junior-cycle Home Economics is very good, though evidence would suggest that it is more popular among the female student cohort. Strategies should be explored to promote Home Economics as an optional subject with appeal for all students. Possible strategies could include updating the information leaflet on Home Economics that is circulated to parents. In the context of future whole-school curriculum planning, consideration could be given to running a short taster programme to provide an opportunity for first-year students to sample each optional subject and facilitate a more informed subject choice. The length of time given over to a taster programme should be considered carefully to ensure that students would derive full benefit from the initiative while at the same time not impacting negatively on their progress through Junior Certificate syllabuses.
It is commendable that all students participating in the Transition Year programme (TY) study a module of Home Economics. This arrangement supports students in making informed senior-cycle subject choices. Uptake of Leaving Certificate Home Economics is good. The home economics team are commended for their achievements in reversing the downward trend in uptake experienced during the initial years of the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus. Hotel Catering and Tourism (HCT) is a vibrant vocational specialism in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA).
There is very good timetabled provision for Home Economics. Teaching time allocated to classes is in line with syllabus recommendations. In general there is a very good spread of class contact time throughout the week. This very good practice facilitates effective continuity in teaching and learning. However, in instances where classes meet their teachers for two lessons each week, they should not be timetabled over two consecutive days. There are four home economics teachers in the school. It is commendable that teachers retain their classes through all the years of the junior or senior cycle. At present only one home economics teacher is deployed to teach HCT in LCA and considerable expertise has been developed. In order to share best practice and develop the collective expertise of the whole teaching team, it is recommended that other home economics teachers be deployed on a rotational basis to teach this vocational specialism.
There is a commendable commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) evident among the home economics team. Members of the home economics team are currently attending a CPD course in the use of ICT. In addition members of the teaching team have a range of experience in marking the certificate examinations. This very good practice is encouraged as the experience gained to date has impacted very positively on the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics.
The process of school development planning is well established. It is laudable that management provides formal planning time on a regular basis for the purposes of subject department planning. A systematic and professional approach is being adopted to the continued development of this process. It is particularly noteworthy that school development planning co-ordinators liaise with subject departments. This good practice ensures that a cohesive approach is taken to school planning. Work at subject department level can also feed into the continued development and review of whole-school policies.
There are two specialist rooms for Home Economics which are well maintained and resourced with an appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. Additional resources are allocated by teacher requisition. Specialist room provision is limited, given the number of students opting for Home Economics and the range of curricular programmes to which Home Economics contributes. This places limits on the quality of access to practical lessons. The Home Economics team is commended for the flexible and creative approach taken in dealing with this situation. There is considerable interest among the teaching team in developing the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. There is a dedicated computer and printer available to the home economics team but there is limited student access to the ICT room, as it is heavily booked. ICT is a useful tool to allow students and teachers engage in the independent and guided research necessary to fulfil coursework requirements in Home Economics. Therefore, it is recommended that a strategic plan, outlining concrete strategies for utilising and embedding ICT into the teaching and learning of Home Economics, be developed by the teaching team in consultation with management. This plan will be useful in establishing resource needs in this area that can be met over time, as resources permit. As both specialist rooms are wired for Internet access, the provision of a dedicated data projector and laptop should be considered as part of this plan.
High priority is given to health and safety in Home Economics. Clear procedures have been established for the reporting of accidents and the maintenance of each specialist room. The provision of high quality health and safety notices in the kitchen is particularly noteworthy. To build on this good practice it is recommended that appropriate health and safety signs, that highlight health and safety routines for practical textiles lessons, be displayed clearly in the textiles room.
A very professional and systematic approach to subject planning is evident from the planning documentation made available during the course of the evaluation. Many collegial practices underpin the work of the home economics team and a high level of collaboration exists between a team of very committed teachers. The position of subject co-ordinator, which is voluntary, rotates among the team. This good practice shares the workload and allows each member of the team assume a leadership role in the continued development of the subject in the school. An agenda is prepared and minutes are taken at each meeting to facilitate effective continuity between meetings. Very good progress has been made in the development of a subject plan for Home Economics. The home economics team has developed a mission statement for Home Economics that is clearly aligned to the values and ethos espoused in the school’s mission statement. From reviewing the documentation it is clear that a strong culture of self-evaluation exists within the department. The School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template is being used as an effective self-evaluative instrument and this has ensured that an informed and pro-active approach is taken to the continued development of Home Economics. This is exceptionally good practice.
It is laudable that the home economics team have begun to develop common schemes of work on a phased basis. At present the schemes consist of lists of the topics and practical work that will be completed in each year. All teachers have developed their own additional planning documentation. It is commendable that the scheme of work for TY includes relevant assessment criteria. To build on this work it is recommended that the common schemes of work be developed further to include students’ expected learning outcomes in terms of expected knowledge and understanding. The lesson content of all plans should be sequenced in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in both home economics syllabuses and promotes the incremental progression of knowledge and skills. In planning for junior cycle, opportunities for integrating the stages of design brief process in both food studies and textiles should be standardised and documented in the planning folder. Planning for the Leaving Certificate coursework assignments should be reviewed to ensure that, as recommended in the syllabus, the coursework assignments are completed on a phased basis and integrated with relevant theory. As each plan is implemented, useful resources should be noted.
It is commendable that plans are collaboratively reviewed on a regular basis. However, to maximise the impact of subject planning on the quality of teaching and learning, it is recommended that as part of the review process the effectiveness of the teaching and learning strategies used in the implementation of each scheme be collectively reviewed. This should be a regular item on the agenda of planning meetings in order to share best practices and develop the collective expertise of the team.
A good range of resources have been developed to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. The recent provision of additional storage presses has facilitated the effective sharing of resources among the team.
The home economics department makes a commendable contribution to the extra-curricular and co-curricular programme in Athlone Community College. The department plays an active role in school activities. In addition, students’ learning is extended beyond the classroom through a range of planned activities. Such practices are highly commended as they broaden students’ knowledge, experience and ultimate enjoyment of the subject.
The quality of short-term planning for the range of lessons observed was generally very good. In a number of instances individual lesson plans were presented. Best practice was observed where individual lesson plans outlined the learning outcomes that the students were expected to achieve by the end of the lesson as well as the teaching methodologies and modes of assessment to be deployed. In some instances deliberate efforts were made to match the teaching strategies deployed to student needs and where care was taken to differentiate learning opportunities to suit the requirements of individual students. This excellent practice could inform the further development of the common schemes of work. Some commendable use of ICT was evident in the preparation of additional resource materials to support learning.
There was evidence of very good quality teaching and learning in the range of theoretical and practical lessons observed during the course of the evaluation. All the lessons had a clear focus though on occasion there was some scope to adjust the pace and pitch of the lesson content to make it more appropriate to students’ needs. It is commendable that the aim of each lesson was shared with the students. To enhance this good practice it is recommended that clear and concise learning outcomes are shared with students from the outset of each lesson. This increases the level of student motivation and leads to a sense of accomplishment on the achievement of the learning targets. When planning the sequence of key learning outcomes, it is important to be mindful of students’ needs and relevant syllabus requirements.
In each lesson observed the home economics teacher displayed very good subject knowledge and a commendable emphasis was placed on attention to detail in the explanations given during each lesson. A wide variety of teaching strategies was observed in the range of lessons observed. There was a commendable concern for students’ understanding of lesson content with some very good use of the classroom board and the overhead projector to summarise key points of information. Of particular note was the very good emphasis placed on encouraging students to use the correct terminology or technical language as they answered questions or discussed topics. This highly praiseworthy practice helps students develop the necessary linguistic skills in preparation for the written examinations. Student interest was stimulated and maintained by the effective use of a variety of resources. It was noted positively that many of the worksheets used were particularly well designed to maximise students’ learning. In one instance students completed a crossword exercise which effectively reinforced the key terminology for the topic. In other instances worksheet graphics reinforced or clarified key concepts. These examples represent very good practice because they were designed to appeal to the different learning styles that were present in the classes and ensured very good learning outcomes for all of the students. Deliberate efforts were made to enhance students’ understanding of new material being taught by linking the lesson content with previous learning. In some lessons there was very good integration of all related areas of the syllabus. This very good practice reflects the rationale underpinning home economics syllabuses. An excellent example of this was observed in a lesson on cheese. In this lesson the food science of protein, the previous learning on milk, the new topic of cheese and preparation for a cookery lesson using cheese were all covered in one seamless double class period.
Many good examples of active learning were observed during the course of the evaluation. This is highly praiseworthy as activities like group work, pair work or individual tasks, as well as discussion or case studies can encourage student collaboration and co-operation and enable them to reinforce and apply the learning that took place in the lesson. Optimal student engagement and learning occurred in lessons where the students had adequate prior background information to compete the task assigned. Questioning strategies were used effectively to stimulate student interest, reinforce learning and check understanding. On occasion students were challenged, by questioning, to analyse and apply information. This very good practice encourages the development of the higher-order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of home economics syllabuses.
In the practical lesson observed there was a commendable balance between whole-class teaching, spot demonstrations and student activity. Explanations were very clear with a very good emphasis placed on attention to detail in the instructions given during the spot demonstrations. This very good practice encourages students to develop a high standard of culinary skills, which is excellent preparation for the practical examinations. Students demonstrated a commendable ability to work independently and in collaboration with each other and had a very good standard of culinary skills, given their level of experience and expertise. It is laudable that particular attention was given to frequently integrating theoretical material throughout the practical elements of the lesson to ensure that students related the task at hand to previous learning. As recommended in home economics syllabuses the evaluation phase of the task was an integral component of the lesson. The word bank provided on the worksheet proved a useful tool in assisting students in the evaluation of their task.
The values espoused in the mission statement for Home Economics were lived out through many of the classroom interactions observed during the course of the evaluation. There was a good rapport evident and students’ efforts were affirmed and encouraged. In all lessons it was obvious that the practice of the teacher moving around the room gave students the opportunity to seek individual help and clarification in a supportive manner. Very good health and safety routines were evident in the practical lesson observed.
The learning environment of the home economics rooms was greatly enhanced by the displays of students’ project work, photographs of student achievements and a range of appropriate educational posters. Such practices are highly praiseworthy as they help to stimulate and engage student interest. Displays of student work also promote a sense of student ownership and responsibility for the creation of a stimulating learning environment.
Students enjoy Home Economics. Interaction with and observation of student activity indicated that they had a good grasp of the key concepts being taught in each lesson observed. Observation of students’ recent optional study in the area of design and craft indicated a very good standard of appropriate craft and textile skills. The level of originality and creativity in the design of some of the craft items is particularly commendable. Some of the child care projects observed displayed a very high standard of analysis and application of the information obtained. Best practice was observed where the title and aims chosen had a very clear link to child development and where the variety of research methods resulted in a project that demonstrated a high level of original input with well developed conclusions. 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.
Observations made on the Leaving Certificate coursework indicated that students had successfully completed a number of assignments. To enhance students’ progress it is recommended that routines for the recording of assignments into the official journal issued by the State Examinations Commission be reviewed to ensure that students record their completed task into the official journal on completion of each assignment.
Students’ progress and achievement in Home Economics are monitored on a regular basis. Formative assessment is carried out through oral questioning, student observation, homework assignments and the assessment of practical and project work, while written class tests are administered at regular intervals. All assessment outcomes and records of attendance are systematically recorded in teachers’ journals. This good practice helps to build a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over time and provides a useful evidence base when providing advice on examination levels to students and parents.
Students are formally assessed twice a year at Christmas and summer. Third-year and sixth-year students also sit mock examinations. It is laudable that the home economics team is working towards drafting common examination papers for the formal in-house examinations. This worthwhile venture should be pursued where appropriate. The range of assessment modes used for the formal examinations is not standardised across the department. In some cases the grade awarded in the formal assessments consists mainly of the mark achieved in the written examination, while in other instances an aggregate mark is provided that includes an assessment of relevant practical coursework components. As part of the home economics department continued engagement with curriculum planning, it is recommended that an agreed assessment policy be developed for Home Economics. The range of assessment modes used should be extended where feasible so that the final mark awarded in formal in-house examinations includes an assessment of the relevant practical coursework components thus presenting a truer estimation of a students’ level of achievement. The relevant marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission should inform the assessment criteria used. This information is available in the chief examiners’ reports which can be downloaded from the examinations website at www.examinations.ie.
Observation of students’ copybooks and notebooks indicated some very good progression in their work. It is evident that homework is assigned regularly. It is laudable that the home economics team has developed a subject-specific homework policy for Home Economics. The noting of teacher and student roles and responsibilities in relation to homework is particularly good practice. At the next review stage the home economics team should review the policy to ensure that the range of homework assigned to all of the year groups provides adequate opportunities for students to develop skill in the completion of short-answer and long-answer style questions as well as the key stages of the design brief process.
There was some very good practice evident with regard to the monitoring of students’ coursework. Useful teacher comments in some copybooks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. The advice provided to Leaving Certificate students was particularly noteworthy. This is commended as it helps students develop skills of self correction and improvement. This good practice, which is one of the key principles underpinning Assessment for Learning (AfL) should be developed further and extended. Further information on Assessment for Learning is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website at www.ncca.ie.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics is a well-established subject that plays an integral role in all of the curriculum programmes offered in the school.
· There is a very good level of provision and whole-school support for the subject.
· The specialist rooms are well maintained and resourced with an appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
· A high level of co-operation exists among the home economics team.
· Very good progress has been made in the development of a subject plan for Home Economics. The strong culture of self-evaluation evident in the department is particularly commendable.
· Home economics students’ learning is extended beyond the classroom through participation in a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.
· There was evidence of very good quality teaching and learning in the lessons observed during the course of the evaluation.
· The values espoused in the mission statement for Home Economics were lived out through many of the classroom interactions observed during the course of the evaluation.
· The learning environment of the home economics rooms was greatly enhanced by the displays of students’ project work, photographs of student achievements and a range of appropriate educational posters.
· Students’ progress in Home Economics is monitored on a regular basis. They are encouraged to reach their full potential and aim for high academic standards in the subject.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· To build and develop the collective expertise of the home economics team, additional teachers should be deployed on a rotational basis to teach the Hotel, Catering and Tourism specialism in LCA.
· Appropriate health and safety signs should be displayed clearly in the textiles room.
· Common schemes of work should be developed further. The effectiveness of the teaching and learning strategies used in the implementation of each scheme should be reviewed.
· An agreed assessment policy for Home Economics should be developed.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the home economics department and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published September 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Home Economics Department is very pleased with this report which reflects the professional high standard of teaching of Home Economics in Athlone Community College. The report reflects on all areas in a very precise and helpful manner highlighting good practices and suggesting recommendations which are very welcome. We will endeavour to implement these recommendations as fully as possible.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Summer Test for 5th Years – May 2008 is set out with this recommendation in mind.