An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Scoil Phobail Bhéara
Castletownbere, Beara, County Cork
Roll number: 91387Q
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 Scoil Phobail Bhéara. 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 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.
The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Subject department members, together with management, have worked hard to ensure that Home Economics is positively profiled in Scoil Phobail Bhéara. As a result, the subject has a very strong image in the school. Home Economics features in all of the school’s curricular programmes. It is offered as an optional subject, with the exception of Transition Year (TY), where all students undertake a module in the subject. Home Economics is a very popular choice in junior cycle, demonstrating uptake levels that exceed national norms. This very favourable finding becomes even more significant when one considers that the school caters for both male and female students, and that the number of male students slightly outnumbers the number of female students. It is good to observe that a relatively large number of boys have opted to study Home Economics in the current first-year group. Male students are also reasonably well represented in the remaining junior cycle year groups. In the last two years in particular, uptake of Home Economics amongst senior cycle students has declined significantly. The absence of male students in senior cycle classes was also noted. The members of the home economics department, together with management, are encouraged to seek to identify the reasons for this decline as well as the identified pattern. In turn, this may help all concerned in the identification of strategies designed to reverse or reduce these emerging trends. Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT) is offered every other year as one of the vocational specialisms provided as part of the school’s Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme.
The junior cycle curriculum in Scoil Phobail Bhéara provides six optional subjects. Prior to entry, a taster-day is organised for the sixth-class pupils from each of the school’s eight feeder schools. This, together with information sessions for parents, seeks to support both parents and students in choosing the four option subjects to be studied in first year as part of the school’s taster programme. Both measures are commended, as they allow for the making of more informed decisions at the end of first year, relative to the two optional subjects that students will eventually study to Certificate level. In addition, it is very commendable that students’ preferences are always used to determine subject blocks, be that prior to entry in first year, before moving on to second year or at the point of transition to senior cycle.
The timetabling of Home Economics is very favourable and the deployment of staff for the teaching of the subject is also very satisfactory. Home Economics is generously accommodated in TY, with the provision of a double period together with two single periods. Home economics students are encouraged to aim for high academic standards, as evidenced by the numbers of students opting to sit higher-level papers in both of the Certificate examinations.
On some levels, Home Economics was found to be very well resourced. The school houses two, dedicated subject rooms. This includes a home economics kitchen and a textiles room. In addition, the upgrading of equipment in the kitchen, both small and large, is undertaken on a phased and ongoing basis. The members of the department, together with management, are to be applauded for seeking to resource the home economics kitchen with the very best quality equipment that budgets can buy. The result of all this is a very well-stocked room. This carefully planned and phased approach to improving the kitchen facilities is commended. The provision for information and communication technology (ICT) within the subject department is also very satisfactory. Despite these positive findings, department members, together with the principal, expressed some concern about the overall condition of the home economics kitchen. This concern was found to be warranted. It is understood that the board has already sought funding to upgrade the room in question. The board is strongly encouraged to maintain this stance and to explore every possible avenue with a view to accessing the assistance and means required to update the kitchen facilities, and in doing so to address any possible concerns regarding hazards.
Management is extremely supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD), both in terms of facilitating teachers to attend relevant in-service or workshops, or through what was seen to be a very progressive whole-staff CPD programme. School-based and school-organised ICT training has been provided in the past and additional ICT training is currently being planned. This is very highly commended.
As is consistent with best practice, a subject co-ordinator has been appointed. Currently, this position is held by a senior department member. It is suggested that the rotation of this position be considered. While the co-ordinator has overall responsibility for the planning work of the department, it was very clear that a strong team approach has been adopted in relation to this and all aspects of the department’s work. High levels of co-operation and collegiality were evident amongst department members, and this supports both the feasibility and effectiveness of a team approach to planning. A review of department planning documentation demonstrates teachers’ commitment to this aspect of their work. Management is very supportive of the concept and practice of collaborative, subject planning, facilitating up to five, formal, planning sessions over the course of each school year. In addition, department members meet for one class period every week for the purpose of collaborative planning and preparation, as evidenced by a file of minutes which documents all of the meetings held in the last three years. This additional commitment is applauded. Both arrangements have had a very positive impact on progress relative to planning in the home economics department. The home economics teachers demonstrate an impressive degree of proactivity in their approach to the task of departmental planning. For example, in the recent past, the teachers requested a termly meeting with the principal and this has since become an established practice. The advantage of such a meeting, as summarised by department members, is that the sharing of aims and objectives helps to ensure that progress is made.
The cumulative effect of all of the above is that the department has developed a very comprehensive subject plan. It details current approaches to a range of areas, while also indicating the progress made in terms of overall subject planning. In addition, the plan outlines the future intentions of department members relative to subject profile, subject planning, teaching and learning, assessment, subject facilities and resourcing.
Much work has been completed by the department in relation to the development of common programmes of work for each year group. It is important to highlight in particular the first-year and second-year programmes, and to commend the teachers for the level of detail these provide. Ideally, as a first step in the programme-planning process, but in this instance as the next step, teachers are encouraged to prepare a one-page or two-page programme outline for each of these year groups. This summary document would allow for a more efficient review of the amount of work planned for each year group and would assist teachers in determining how realistic or challenging each programme plan may be. In time, the preparation of this document, together with the further development of more detailed programmes of work, such as those that are already in place for first-year and second-year class groups, should be extended to all other year groups.
Sourcing and providing co-curricular and extracurricular activities that are intended to support students’ learning in home economics, is another aspect of the planning work of the members of the home economics department. Numerous examples of activities undertaken have been detailed in the subject plan. The recently established TY ‘Nutrition Team’ is one co-curricular activity that is deserving of special mention. Along with volunteering to work in the school canteen, these TY students also seek to promote awareness amongst their peers relative to nutrition and healthy eating. The additional teacher commitment that this and other activities require is deserving of recognition and credit. Cross-curricular planning, in particular between the home economics and science department, is also being explored. This foresight, together with the associated actions, is also praised. The home economics department cited that both departments’ involvement in the development of a nutrition policy was very helpful in terms of forging cross-curricular links between the two subjects. The home economics teachers’ involvement at whole-school policy development level is also noted and applauded.
The home economics department is to be praised for the preparation of a highly organised home economics kitchen. This included a very valuable use of signage and labelling. The storage systems in place are deserving of particular recognition, providing a very ordered and systematic working environment. It should be mentioned that the latter is also true of the adjoining textiles room. Furthermore, systems have also been established in the department which facilitate a very open sharing of resources. Resources are carefully stored, filed and catalogued according to junior and senior cycle, as well as according to areas and topics. To continue on the theme of sharing, the discussion and exchange of ideas and approaches in terms of teaching and learning is also firmly rooted in the department’s planning practices. This is very laudable as it is, in essence, the underlying philosophy of subject department planning.
Excellent teaching was observed in all lessons and there was clear evidence of student learning. One of the most significant features of lessons was the emphasis that was placed by the teachers on learning as well as teaching. It was very clear that the question of how students’ learning might be organised, supported and evaluated was what guided teachers’ approach in the classroom. This consciousness is highly praised. It has resulted in the adoption by teachers of a very systematic and focused approach to lesson design and delivery.
Short-term planning for each of the lessons observed was of a very high quality. All lessons were well structured, with each being planned, organised and delivered in a manner that supported students’ learning and the development of skills. Lessons were appropriately paced, taking cognisance of students’ levels and abilities. A large number of carefully chosen, top-quality resources were utilised over the course of lesson delivery, a number of which were designed and produced by the teachers themselves. This included, for example, flashcards, food samples, handouts, newspaper articles, photographs, posters, PowerPoint presentations, recipe sheets and worksheets. Lessons commenced with a review and examination of work previously covered, often structured in such a way to provide a lead-in to work planned for the lesson at hand. This is to be credited. The lesson intention was made very clear to students. While informing students of the plan for the lesson, this part of each lesson was managed in such a way that sought to challenge students to participate, to listen and to learn. Students responded very favourably to this approach, as evidenced in their attentiveness and their willingness to get involved.
The instruction provided to students was very well informed and teachers presented information in a very stimulating manner. Teachers’ infectious enthusiasm for their subject shone through in all lessons. Every effort was made to make information as relevant as possible. To this end, students’ prior knowledge of the subject was referenced on a regular basis. This referencing often provided for a very subtle and non-threatening way of evaluating students’ knowledge and understanding of work previously covered. In one senior cycle lesson, for example, an illustration of the digestive system, which would previously have been studied by students in junior cycle, was introduced. Students were requested to label, from memory, the various parts of the system. This helped to build students’ confidence levels before proceeding on to more difficult senior cycle theory relating to the hydrolysis, digestion, absorption and utilisation of lipids. Teachers also sought to contextualise learning for students. This was achieved in the main by referencing students’ life experiences. For example, in another part of the lesson already referenced, the image and concept of a slice of buttered toast, eaten by most students earlier that morning, was introduced in order to assist the teacher’s explanation of the effect of the digestive system on lipids. Both of the outlined approaches proved invaluable in terms of helping students relate to, understand and learn the new information being presented and explored. Teachers also sought to make knowledge accessible for students. To this end, they were very adept at ‘chunking’ knowledge for students and thereby organising information into manageable units. As a result, and with a view to making certain aspects of a topic more learner friendly, strategies such as annotated flow diagrams, key words, mnemonics and summary tables were utilised in all lessons. Many of the approaches adopted facilitated students in the making of their own notes, versus the more traditional approach of note-taking. The incorporation of this approach, together with the other strategies mentioned, is very highly praised.
It was very positive to see that in all lessons the range of strategies planned and provided for were extremely student-centred. It was clear that students’ direct involvement in classroom activities and discussions is a central aspect of the department’s approach to teaching and learning. This is applauded. Some of the strategies utilised included brainstorming, note-making, on-spot demonstrations, pair work, pop quizzes and whole-class teaching. In a senior cycle lesson that focused on fish, the use of ‘think-pair-share’, a co-operative learning strategy, was utilised to initiate a discussion on the benefits of omega-3 fish oils. A relevant newspaper article was introduced and students, having been allocated time to review the article on their own, were then invited to share what they had learnt with a peer. Students, who were obviously familiar with this strategy, responded very favourably to the assigned task, fully recognising the valuable contribution it made to their own personal learning of the topic being explored. The incorporation of such co-operative learning approaches is very highly commended. Teachers also sought to cater for each of the three main learning styles, that is, auditory, visual and kinaesthetic. In this regard, teachers’ efforts and work are acknowledged and very highly praised. The use of very high-quality and highly relevant visual resources, in particular in both of the senior cycle theory lessons visited, proved very valuable in terms of supporting students’ understanding and learning. As a result, it is an approach that is deserving of much recognition and praise. It was good also to note that clear instructions were issued for all student activities and that students’ participation was closely monitored, with support being provided as required.
The planning and preparation for practical food studies lessons, together with the organisation and management of such lessons, was exemplary in nature. By and large, this can be attributed to the fact that the teachers have established very good and very proper procedures and practices relative to preparing to cook, cooking, serving and cleaning up. This, very commendably, includes a strong emphasis on hygiene, safety and resource management, including waste management. In addition, and more significantly, they have clearly communicated these procedures and practices to the students and, as appropriate, emphasise and highlight them on an ongoing basis over the course of lessons. Information centres, which have been strategically placed around the home economics kitchen, ensure that all students have access to the same data and supports. These centres act as a reference point, summarising in bullet points the key steps that need to be followed by students in relation to preparing themselves, preparing their units and wash-up/clean-up. A key-word approach is also evident in these information centres. For example, in relation to cleaning up, the following key words are provided: ‘Scrape, Stack, Wipe, Wash, Drain, Dry and Inspect’. This approach is applauded. Despite the fact that, due to the earliness of the inspection some class groups had little exposure to and experience of this aspect of home economics, the vast majority of students demonstrated a remarkable degree of confidence and competence in relation to the preparation, cooking and serving of food. A lot of credit is due to the teachers for this extremely positive finding.
The use of ICT was obvious in all lessons. The more unusual use of such technology in each of the practical food studies lessons observed was particularly noteworthy and therefore particularly creditable. PowerPoint files, together with the necessary hardware, were utilised by the teachers to guide and direct students in relation to everything from preparation to evaluation. The use of this technology was noted as tremendously effective on two counts. First and foremost, and rather than writing directions on a board, it allowed the teacher to be down in the heart of the classroom in order to monitor, advise and support students, as they set about completing the various aspects of the task assigned to them. Secondly, it proved very valuable in terms of promoting students’ autonomy and independence in the home economics kitchen and, in particular, in relation to the task being undertaken. Teachers’ work in this regard is also worthy of commendation. As is consistent with best practice, each of the practical food studies lessons observed provided for the introduction and revision of theory that related to the task at hand. This is very highly praised. Lessons also provided an opportunity for students to undertake an evaluation of their work and the finished dish, another very laudable practice.
Teachers have high expectations of their students. Students are challenged in all lessons to look, to listen, to participate, to contribute, and, as a result, to understand and to learn. At the outset of a number of lessons, for example, students were informed that by the end of the lesson they would be expected to be able to report back at least three new things they had learnt during the lesson. Teachers’ expectations of their students were also evident in students’ files and folders, which were systematic both in arrangement and presentation. How this has been achieved became obvious in one senior cycle lesson, where students were instructed to file handouts received under the section in their folders entitled ‘Food Commodities’. Teachers’ efforts to foster such good information management practices in students are commended. Classroom atmosphere was notably positive. Relations between teachers and students were very favourable. Teachers acknowledged students’ efforts, providing encouragement and appropriate levels of prompting as required, and affirmation as appropriate. While teachers praised students in all lessons, this tendency was particularly noteworthy in practical food studies lessons. The impact of this approach was very obvious in terms of students’ application to and interest in the tasks assigned to them. In one senior cycle lesson, where the class size was quite small, students and teachers sat together in a circle. This provided a sense of security and involvement for students, which is unparalleled with a normal classroom layout. The teachers’ willingness to engage with students in this way is laudable.
The members of the home economics department demonstrate a heightened consciousness towards the assessment of students’ progress and achievement which, it became clear, is an outlook that is encouraged at whole-school level. This is highly commended. The findings of the school’s recently established assessment working group will be invaluable to the department in terms of formulating and formalising their own subject-specific assessment policy. In-class assessment of students’ learning was very obvious over the course of each lesson. This manifested itself in teachers’ examination of students’ understanding and learning with regard to work previously covered, as well as work being explored over the course of lessons. Students’ folders housed a series of assessment papers including end-of-year and in-class examinations. The majority of these assessment papers reflect the style and layout of the past Certificate examination papers. This is praised, as well as being further encouraged, particularly in the design of additional in-class assessment papers. There was clear evidence of a very thorough correction and grading of these student examinations. In addition, completed assessment papers also bore some fine examples of the constructive feedback that is provided to students in the form of teacher comment. This approach to the monitoring and correction of students’ work is highly praised for the added value it can have in terms of students improving their performance in future examinations.
Parents are kept informed of students’ performance in Home Economics though the issuing of twice-yearly school reports and through the organisation of an annual parent-teacher meeting. It is very positive to note that the marks that are awarded to junior cycle students at key times during the school year, take account of students’ progress and achievement in practical food studies. Currently, students’ attainment in this area is based mainly on observation. Teachers are considering formalising their approach to the assessment of this aspect of students’ work. This is fully encouraged. It could be managed in a number of ways, although more often than not an end-of-term or end-of-year practical examination is provided. The option of providing thematic assessments that might be held during an ordinary practical food studies lesson was another option that was discussed with teachers. It was suggested that the Junior Certificate practical food studies examination, together with the relevant marking scheme, might form the basis for such thematic assessments. Some consideration should also be given to the inclusion of a percentage of students’ achievement in other facets of both syllabuses when issuing results home, such as students’ project and journal work.
The home economics department’s approach to homework, together with their expectations of students in relation to homework, has been encapsulated in a subject-specific homework policy. The preparation of this policy is commended. Teachers seek to foster a strong homework ethic in their students. Homework was corrected and assigned in each of the lessons observed. It is clear from students’ copybooks and folders that a variety of homework exercises are assigned on a regular basis. This is complemented by the fact that students’ completion of assigned exercises is closely monitored. In some lessons, the completion of an in-class, monitoring and signing of students’ efforts preceded a review of the homework and the eventual collection of students’ work for more detailed teacher monitoring and correction. As was seen in corrected assessment papers, feedback is often also provided to students in the form of constructive comments. These provide students with much affirmation, encouragement and guidance. The department’s overall approach to the assignment and monitoring of homework is highly praised.
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, June 2009