An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Oaklands Community College
Edenderry, Co. Offaly
Roll number: 72540O
Date of inspection: 22 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Oaklandís Community College, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 one day 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 senior management team. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation.† Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and deputy principal.
Home Economics enjoys a very good profile in Oaklandís Community College. Student uptake of the subject in junior and senior cycle is very good with a particularly good gender balance evident in all of the classes.
First-year students select their optional subjects at pre-entry stage. A good level of support is provided to assist students in making their subject selection as they transfer from the feeder primary schools. The fact that Home Economics is always on at least two option lines provides good flexibility in student choice. As part of the schoolís on-going review of curriculum organisation, consideration could be given to the provision of a short sampling programme for the beginning of first year to facilitate a more informed subject choice. However, if a sampling programme was introduced, subject teams would need to devise a plan for the programme that complements the normal their first year programme. This would optimise studentsí learning. It is commendable that Leaving Certificate options are generated based on an initial survey of studentsí preferences and that every effort is made to accommodate students in their subject selection.
The fact that there is only one full-time home economics teacher on the staff presents challenges for management in terms of home economics' provision. The subject specialistís timetable is fully utilised. However, due to the popularity of Home Economics the subject specialist cannot take all of the home economics classes. Therefore one first-year home economics class is supervised for one class period by a non-subject specialist. This is not optimal practice. Furthermore Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT) can no longer be offered as an elective or vocational specialism as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), thus impacting on the breadth of the programme provided. Management recognises that additional specialist hours are needed and is proactively addressing the issue. The future recruitment of a teacher qualified to teach Home Economics and Irish has been prioritised. This should be progressed as soon as is feasible. In this context, consideration should then be given to the re-introduction of HCT to broaden the LCA programme offered and provide opportunities for home economics students to choose LCA to refine and build on the knowledge and skills already acquired.
There has been a considerable turnover of home economics staff in recent times. This is due to the fact that a number of substitute teachers have replaced the full-time teacher who is currently on leave. Good procedures are in place to support smooth transitions and facilitate continuity in teaching and learning. A very strong commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) is evident at whole-school level. Management is commended for supporting this very good practice.
In line with syllabus guidelines, all junior cycle home economics classes, with the exception of the one first-year class, have the equivalent of four classes per week. Leaving Certificate home economics classes have the equivalent of five class periods. A review of the current timetabling for Home Economics indicates that there is scope to refine the number and distribution of lessons across the teaching week. It is recommended that, in instances where classes have two double periods, they should not be timetabled on two consecutive days in order to improve continuity in teaching and learning. Furthermore all first-year home economics classes should have the equivalent of four class periods per week taught by a subject specialist. It is acknowledged that home economics is timetabled as part of an option band, which limits flexibility in terms of allocating single and double lessons to the subject. However, in light of the requirements of revised syllabuses, the arrangement of lessons into double and single periods for all subjects could be reviewed as part of an overall curriculum review. An alternative arrangement for Home Economics of one double and two single lessons in junior cycle and one double and three singles for Leaving Certificate classes could be considered. This would provide greater flexibility for timetabling and improve the spread of lessons.
All home economics classes are mixed ability, with a significant range of student needs evident in lessons. It is commendable that at the start of each year the learning support team notifies mainstream teachers of students who have additional learning needs. However, at the time of the evaluation it was evident that there was scope to further develop an awareness of the specific additional learning needs of individual students in home economics classes, as well as provide for those students who were following the Junior Certificate School Programme (JSCP). To optimise inclusive practice and support studentsí learning, it is recommended that communication between the home economics department and the learning support and English as an additional language (EAL) teams be strengthened. The class teacher should be aware of key points of information regarding agreed targets in each studentís individual education plan or language support programme. This good practice will facilitate lesson planning that supports differentiation, support a whole-school approach to literacy and allow for collaborative reviews of individual studentís learning. At the time of the evaluation there was no co-ordinator for JSCP. This should be addressed to support effective delivery of the programme and facilitate on-going communication with the core team of JSCP teachers.
The home economics department is well resourced. Systematic procedures are in place to facilitate the updating of specialist equipment. Both specialist rooms are well maintained and equipped with a range of additional resources to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. Good access to information and communication technology (ICT) is also evident. A commendable focus is placed on health and safety at whole-school and subject-department level and clear procedures are in place for reporting any incidents. It is particularly commendable that the health and safety rules for the kitchen have been translated into Polish to support the needs of some newcomer students. Management is also considering translating these rules into a number of other languages. This is very commendable practice. To build on these very good practices additional safety notices should also be displayed in the textiles room at each work station for sewing machines. A servicing schedule for key pieces of equipment such as the sewing machines and cookers should also be included in the subject plan.
The home economics department is well established and many good practices facilitate effective planning. Formal planning meetings are scheduled as part of the calendar of staff meetings to assist on-going review. It is commendable that senior management sets part of the agenda for these planning meetings to support a cohesive whole-school approach to planning. Of particular note is that a recent agenda requested subject teams to share effective practice in teaching and learning. This is a very commendable means of encouraging reflective practice and sharing expertise among staff. Interdepartmental meetings have been a feature of subject planning. In the context of one-teacher departments the potential of multidisciplinary meetings should be optimised as a forum to discuss issues of common concern, mentor new staff and share best practice.
Good progress has been made in the development of programmes of work to facilitate the implementation of the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate syllabuses. Each programme of work includes a list of topics for each month of the academic year and incorporates all areas of syllabus content. The dishes chosen for the Junior Certificate practical food studies coursework facilitates a very good incremental progression of skills from first year through to third year. This is very good practice. The programme plans reviewed during the evaluation demonstrate scope for further advancement to support the integrated approach to programme implementation, as recommended in the Junior and Leaving Certificate syllabuses. For instance, to promote a student-centred approach to the Leaving Certificate food studies practical coursework, the assignments should be spread more evenly throughout the programme plan and particular attention should be paid to the integration of theoretical knowledge with the relevant coursework assignment. Therefore, it is recommended that all programme plans should be reviewed on a phased basis and developed into a sequence of lessons that reflects a more integrated approach to syllabus implementation, including the appropriate integration of practical and project work with relevant theory. Differentiated learning outcomes in terms of studentsí expected knowledge, skills and understanding should also be incorporated into each programme plan.
In each junior cycle home economics class there are JSCP students. To support the effective implementation of this programme, it is recommended that the home economics learning statements that are adapted to each group of JCSP students, together with the cross-curricular statements that Home Economics contribute, be integrated into the junior cycle programme plan.
Practical coursework in the area of textiles is planned as an integral part of the junior cycle programme in the school. Students are provided with many opportunities to develop a range of skills in this area by completing samples of stitches and making some products. To build on this work, it is recommended that planning for the core textiles component of the Junior Certificate syllabus be reviewed, to provide for the integration of the design brief process. Rather than solely focusing on the making of a product, students could be given a simple task where they are expected to work through key stages of the design brief process. This revision would support students in developing the higher-order skills of analysis, interpretation and evaluation of a task.
A very good range of resources is available to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. A range of wall charts, leaflets, worksheets and Power Point presentations have been collated by the class teacher. This is commendable practice.
Good short-term planning was evident for all of the lessons observed. All lesson content was in keeping with syllabus requirements. There were many examples of additional resources being well chosen to support learning. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that short-term planning for all lessons include provision for opportunities to integrate related topics within and between core areas of the syllabus. This good practice would support the rationale underpinning the teaching and learning of home economics syllabuses.
Good quality teaching and learning was evident in the range of lessons observed. Lessons were generally well structured. However, at times there was scope to adjust the pace and pitch of lesson content to support the complete range of student abilities evident in classes. In some instances learning outcomes were shared with students from the outset of the lessons. This strategy proved very effective in focusing studentsí attention, scaffolding lesson structure and assessing studentsí learning. This good practice should be extended to all lessons. The devised learning outcomes should be appropriately differentiated to optimise learning. The expected learning outcomes should also facilitate the development of higher-order as well as lower-order skills among students and should promote an integrated approach to teaching related concepts.
Classroom management was good in of the all lessons observed. The very positive rapport evident between students and the class teacher contributed to a very caring and supportive classroom environment. This is highly commended practice.
The class teacher displayed a commendable level of subject knowledge. Explanations were clear and accurate, with some good use being made of the classroom board and the overhead projector to summarise key points of information. However to support studentsí learning and optimise inclusion, it is recommended that further attention be given to highlighting and explaining the key terminology associated with the topic being taught. Incorporating a range of key word strategies to support classroom practice would prove useful.
ICT was well used to support explanations of subject content and to reinforce learning. Some very good use was made of downloaded images to introduce new concepts and link the lesson content to the everyday experiences of the students. This very good practice greatly enhances understanding. Good use of questioning was evident to assess studentsí recall and understanding of concepts as each lesson progressed. On occasion, questioning strategies prompted higher-order thinking by challenging students to analyse, interpret and apply information. This very good practice is encouraged further to develop the higher-order skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of the home economics syllabuses. To enhance practice and support learning, it is recommended that questioning strategies also be employed at the start of lessons to provide continuity with prior learning or to assess studentsí prior knowledge and experience of the new topic being introduced.
Commendable efforts were made to ensure that there was a good balance between student-led and teacher-led activity in lessons. This good practice, which supports learner autonomy and facilitates co-operative learning among students, is in keeping with the rationale underpinning syllabus guidelines. However, at times there was scope to refine the sequence of these activities to optimise learning. Therefore in instances where student-led activities are based on a detailed investigation of topics, to maximise the learning potential of such activities, it is recommended that students acquire a basic knowledge of the key concepts, along with a sufficient understanding of the technical language underpinning the topic, prior to undertaking the activity.
Students in general demonstrated good levels of understanding of the key concepts of each lesson. In the practical lesson observed a satisfactory level of practical skill was evident. To optimise learning, careful teacher monitoring is necessary, particularly where students are completing practical tasks for the first time, to provide assistance, monitor progress and assess individual levels of learning. Good progress was evident in the sample of studentsí notebooks observed during the evaluation.
Very good summative assessment procedures are evident in the subject plan for Home Economics. It is commendable that the range of summative assessment modes used reflects the assessment objectives of the relevant syllabus. From reviewing subject planning documentation, very good practice is evident in setting in-house examination papers. The format and style of the relevant certificate examination informs the paper layout and the range of question styles used. It is particularly praiseworthy that assessment of studentsí progress includes an examination in the relevant practical coursework components of the syllabus. The aggregate mark thus provided on the studentsí report is a more accurate indicator of studentsí progress than solely basing the grade on a written paper.
Students are challenged to reach their full potential in Home Economics and very good levels of attainment are evident. It is commendable that student outcomes in the state examinations are routinely analysed against national norms. Uptake of higher level in the certificate examinations is generally very good. However, the home economics department is encouraged to monitor these uptakes, especially at junior cycle, very carefully to inform on-going subject planning.
In line with agreed department procedures homework is regularly assigned to students to reinforce classroom learning. However observation of studentsí current copybooks indicates that there is scope to review the range of homework activities assigned and the procedures for monitoring completed work. To optimise the learning potential of homework, it is recommended that the range of activities assigned to students in each year group be reviewed. Students should complete a range of homework activities that includes long-answer and short-answer questions as well as research activities to reinforce and apply learning. While homework is useful in assessing recall and understanding of knowledge and skills, activities should regularly be assigned that also support the development of studentsí higher-order thinking skills such as the analysis and interpretation of information as well as the critical appraisal and synthesis of information. The revised range of activities should be documented as part of programme planning.
Teacher monitoring of completed homework was evident in the copybooks reviewed during the evaluation. Some work completed by students was dated and affirming teacher comments were noted. However, there is a need to re-consider how best to balance the amount of homework assigned with the provision of feedback to students in order to optimise learning. To enhance current practices it recommended that further principles of Assessment for Learning be incorporated into subject department procedures. The correction of written work should include the provision of student feedback to affirm good work and highlight areas where improvements could be made. These routines should be included in the department plan and their implementation routinely reviewed.
Systematic procedures are in place to records studentsí attendance and the work completed in each lesson. This is good practice.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2010