An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Coláiste na Toirbhirte
Bandon, County Cork
Roll number: 62061T
Date of inspection: 29 and 30 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste na Toirbhirte. 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, subject teacher and support teacher.
Home Economics is offered as an optional subject in Coláiste na Toirbhirte with the exception of first year, where all students study a fifteen-week module of the subject. The overall thinking behind such an approach, which is designed to give students a ‘taste’ of the subject prior to making their final subject choices for the Junior Certificate, is to be praised. An analysis of uptake levels in junior cycle illustrates a significant increase in the last few years. By and large this can be attributed to the fact that students are no longer required to choose between Home Economics and Science. This decision is to be credited. The school now operates a very open system of subject choice, whereby students’ preferences determine the option blocks that are formed. This approach ensures an equality of access to all subjects for all students and is recognised as best practice. Uptake of Home Economics in senior cycle, while significantly lower than that witnessed in junior cycle, is also improving. The low uptake at this level is somewhat consistent with national trends since the introduction, in 2002, of the revised Social & Scientific Home Economics syllabus. That said, nationally the uptake figures are somewhat stronger than what they are currently in Coláiste na Toirbhirte but in time, no doubt, the revised approach to subject choice in junior cycle will also impact on uptake levels in senior cycle. In the interim, however, it is recommended that some consideration be given to how the subject is being marketed, both on a whole-school level and by the home economics department. This examination should seek to address any misconceptions that might exist in relation to, for example, course content, workload and related career prospects. It should also inspire actions that will seek to increase senior cycle uptake levels in the subject.
It is unfortunate that currently Home Economics cannot be offered as part of the school’s Transition Year (TY) Programme. Similarly, Hotel, Catering & Tourism (HCT) is not offered as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. Both have been provided for in the recent past. It would appear that this is largely due to the increase in popularity of the subject in junior cycle and the resulting need to timetable the qualified staff at this level as opposed to TY or HCT. This is, therefore, an identified staffing issue. As a result, it is recommended that management examine the need to recruit another home economics teacher, whilst exploring the possibilities relative to recruitment. With this in mind it should be considered that all qualified home economics teachers possess a second subject, namely Biology, Economics, Gaeilge or Religion. In addition, these teachers, with some additional training, may also be interested in delivering facets of the school’s Social, Personal & Health Education (SPHE) programme. Therefore other staffing requirements, short, medium or long-term, might also be addressed by such recruitment.
In order to accommodate the safe delivery of the food studies practical element of the first-year home economics module, management has facilitated the splitting of each class group. This has required the deployment of an additional teacher to teach one half of the class group, while the other half engages in practical food studies work. The teacher deployed has a background in Science and so focuses on topics relative to this background, for example, the body systems and nutrition. While both teachers are to be commended for structuring the module in such a way that draws on their individual experiences and knowledge, some issues remain. The approach means that students are getting a somewhat limited taste of the subject because no work can be completed in relation to certain aspects of the syllabus, for example, textiles. This is very unfortunate, particularly as second-year home economics students undertake the design and craftwork optional area of study. It also results in a taster programme that is somewhat disjointed. To explain, the approach limits the scope for teaching theory and practical work in the integrated manner that is recommended in the syllabus, thereby emphasising a demarcation between practical and theory work that should not exist. In addition to these two points, one other significant practice leads to the conclusion that the provision for first-year home economics is, on the whole, unsatisfactory. While the teacher deployed to assist the home economics department in the delivery of the first-year module is timetabled for the concerned class groups, if a Science or Maths teacher is absent the teacher in question has, on occasion, been redeployed by management to teach Science or Maths. In such instances, the first-year home economics class were sent to the library for study. This is unacceptable. The recruitment of another teacher, as outlined in the previous paragraph, would also seek to address this undesirable practice.
Over and above the deployment of staff for the teaching of first-year Home Economics, the timetabling of Home Economics is very favourable. The time allocated for each class group is largely consistent with syllabus recommendations. Double periods are provided for practical work and students’ contact with the subject is generally well spread over the weekly timetable.
Two rooms, a dress design room and a home economics kitchen, have been provided by management. An unrestricted access to both rooms allows for a great degree of flexibility when designing programmes of work. Management is to be commended for facilitating this degree of access. In addition, the rooms are well resourced in terms of equipment and materials. Additional resources are currently being accessed by requisition. Management operates a system whereby subject departments are encouraged to submit an annual budget to the board for approval. The home economics department is encouraged to avail of this option as this will provide a guideline for expenditure which will facilitate planning for the maintenance and upgrading of the subject’s facilities on a short to long-term basis.
Management’s support for the practice of collaborative subject department planning is very apparent. A meeting time scheduled for every Tuesday evening facilitates this practice on a rotating basis. As a one-teacher department, the home economics department in Coláiste na Toirbhirte is compromised in its capacity to benefit from this collaborative practice. As a result, it is suggested that some provision be made for an interlinking of the home economics department with other relevant subject areas, in order to discuss approaches to teaching and learning, to include methodologies and resources, as well as to homework and assessment, relative of course to topics or areas that might be in common or demonstrate some overlap. Finally, the home economics department is encouraged to maintain records of work planned for or undertaken during these formal planning sessions.
Currently, the co-ordination of the planning work of the Home Economics department, as is the case with a number of other subject areas in the school, is included as part of a post-holder’s job description. Following a recent review of the school’s schedule of posts this is due to change, with subject co-ordination being removed from the brief of all concerned post-holders. In the interests of equality and fairness across all subject departments, and because of the professional development that the rotation of the role of subject co-ordinator fosters and promotes, this move is commended and therefore fully encouraged.
A Home Economics plan is being prepared by the Home Economics department. Much work has been completed in this regard. As part of the work being undertaken the department is encouraged to complete a SCOT analysis. This would help in the identification of the subject’s strengths, any apparent challenges to the subject, the opportunities for development and any possible threats. The outcomes of such an exercise will provide a clear picture of needs relative to, for example, staff recruitment and deployment, continuing professional development and training, resourcing and so on. The results of the analysis should then be used to inform future planning in the subject, both inter-departmentally and on a whole-school level.
Programmes of work have been devised for each year group. Outline programmes provide an overview of the work planned on an annual basis, for each year group. In addition to these outline programmes, the department is also in the process of developing more detailed programmes of work. This move is highly commended. These seek to provide detail relative to content, class-work, homework and assessment. The following suggestions, which are indicative of best practice, should be considered by the department when reviewing and further developing these detailed programmes of work. First and foremost, every effort should be made to ensure that all programmes of work use as their basis the subject syllabus, as opposed to the textbook. This is particularly important in light of, for example, the planned introduction of a rebalanced Junior Certificate Home Economics syllabus. Secondly, it is suggested that the section entitled class-work be sub-divided into resources and methodologies. Thirdly, the further development of the homework and assessment section of the programmes of work is strongly advised. This feeds into the recommendations made in the assessment section of this report. Finally, some consideration should be given to the provision of a formal space on all programmes of work which would facilitate the documentation of students’ reactions to lessons or topics delivered, as well as teachers’ evaluation of methodologies, resources and so on. This approach would greatly assist teachers in the recommended annual review of programmes of work.
More specifically, in relation to existing programmes of work, the following suggestions are also provided. Firstly, it is suggested that the second-year programme be revisited with a view to seeking to provide a greater balance, over the course of the school year, in terms of students’ exposure to the practical food studies section of the junior cycle syllabus. Secondly, in relation to the fifth-year programme of work, some consideration might be given to planning for the delivery of each food studies assignment in conjunction with the relevant and inter-related theory.
Cross-curricular planning or planning for a degree of collaborative teaching is identified as an area for development. Much work has been completed by the home economics department in terms of identifying possible links between subject matter covered in Home Economics and a myriad of other subjects offered as part of the school’s curriculum. A wide range of subjects are included in a document prepared by the Home Economics department. It includes subjects such as Art, Business, French, Geography, Maths, Social, Personal & Health Education (SPHE) and Science. The practice suggested in the previous section, whereby the home economics department might link up with other relevant subject areas during the time provided by management for collaborative subject department meeting, could be of assistance in this regard as it would provide a forum for discussing the teaching of topics that are common to Home Economics and other subjects. Planning for the organisation and provision of some co-curricular activity is another area that should be developed. To begin, it is suggested that the department considers the introduction of one or two small-scale projects that are relatively easily organised. To invite a guest speaker to speak with the students, for example, might be a possible starting point.
The dress design room has been supplied with a personal computer and a printer. Currently this technology is being put to great use in terms of the planning and preparation work of the department. Periodically, it is also used for research relative to topics being explored in class. It was noted, however, that it is not always possible to access chosen websites. This should be explored further with the members of the school’s information communication technologies (ICT) department or ICT co-ordinator. Furthermore, planning for a greater incorporation of ICT into lesson delivery might also be explored in time.
There was evidence of short-term planning for all lessons visited. In the majority of lessons the quality of this planning was noted as very good. In such lessons it was clear that much time and thought had gone into lesson preparation. To begin, a number of resources had been prepared or collected for use in the delivery of lesson content. Resources utilised included pre-prepared acetates, posters, handouts, worksheets and question sheets. Teacher files indicate that the preparation of the latter three resources is a significant feature of the work of the home economics department. There was little evidence however of student filing of such valuable resources. This is identified therefore as an area for development. Suggested approaches to this were provided to the home economics department on the day of the inspection. All lessons commenced with a sharing of the lesson’s aim and purpose with the students. Best practice was where the intended and very specific learning outcomes were also outlined to students. As an approach therefore it is recommended for more widespread use in the teaching of Home Economics in the school. The inclusion of such an approach demonstrated that much thought was given to what students would learn during each lesson. Later, in the third paragraph, it will be seen that similar time and effort went into thinking about how students could be supported and facilitated in relation to this planned learning.
Lessons were structured so as to facilitate an examination of students’ understanding and learning of work previously covered, an introduction, an exploration of new subject matter and a lesson summary. This very structured approach to lesson delivery is commended. An examination of work previously covered is noted as good practice, as it provides students with motivation to review and study work covered in class and it provides teachers with an indication of students’ overall understanding and learning in a topic or area, identifying therefore where extra or additional teaching or learning might be required. To this end, it is suggested that some consideration be given to an expansion of the number and types of questions asked during this part of the lesson, with the former also providing for a wider distribution of questions. It was noted in one lesson that students were referring to their open books before answering these review or revision questions. As this defeats the purpose of the exercise, every effort should be made to ensure that students’ textbooks or copybooks remain closed during this activity. In the same lesson it became apparent that students were inclined to chorus answer the questions posed. This makes it very difficult to ascertain individual student understanding and learning. As a result it is a practice that needs to be discouraged. The home economics department might also explore alternative approaches to reviewing student learning. Other approaches that might be introduced for example, could include the issuing of a worksheet activity completed individually or in groups, discussion around a past state examination question, a pop quiz or the use of a case study. In all cases, lesson introductions sought to capture the attention of the students. In a second-year budgeting lesson, for example, a brief discussion around Eddie Hobb’s ‘Show Me The Money’ television programme was used to set the scene and increase the relevance of what students were about to study, as well as their interest in the topic. Students responded very favourably to this approach, which was also very appropriately used over the course of lessons. All lessons observed provided time for a lesson summary. In all instances however, this involved the teacher telling the students, as opposed to asking them, what it was that they had explored during the lesson. While undoubtedly this approach draws together, into a neat tidy package, that which was explored, it does not provide sufficient space for students to ask questions and neither does it allow for the determination of student understanding or learning. As a result, it is recommended that an exploration and introduction of student-centred approaches to lesson summary and conclusion be considered.
As alluded to in the first paragraph, it was clear that, in general, much time and effort went into making learning more accessible to students. For example, in a fifth-year food science lesson involving an exploration of eggs, students were provided with a sentence and worksheet designed to summarise the culinary uses of eggs. The worksheet provided offered a sketch of a broken egg shell together with eight blank spaces onto which students were required to plot eight culinary uses. Students were requested to write the following supporting sentence onto the sheet; ‘Eggs can get broken easily at any time’, and to underline the first letter in each word, as shown. These underlined letters prompted students in the task of identifying eight culinary uses namely emulsifying, coating, glazing, binding, enriching, aerating, an alternative to protein foods and thickening. This very clever approach to structuring and organising student learning was welcomed and appreciated by the students. As an overall approach to teaching, and as a means of supporting student learning, it is very highly praised. The time and effort that was involved in the development of this strategy is also worthy of recognition.
Teachers demonstrated a very good knowledge of the subject matter they were exploring with students. The instruction provided took account of students’ levels and, in combination with the methodologies adopted, sought to provide for the range of students’ abilities. In the majority of lessons the methodologies employed were student-centred, calling on the active participation of each student in the class. Brainstorming, worksheet activity and task-based exercises were some of the strategies employed. Two recommendations were offered in relation to the continued use of such strategies. The first relates to the supervision of individual students’ work, the second to the use of pair or group work. In relation to the former, it is recommended that when and where students are required to complete an activity or exercise that teachers move throughout the room in order to monitor and support student participation and learning. With regard to the latter, and as a mean of promoting co-operative learning in the classroom, the greater use of pair and group work in the completion of assigned tasks is recommended. In a first-year lesson observed, a considerable amount of time was dedicated to transcribing notes from the whiteboard into students’ copybooks. While the value of such notes in terms of summarising the main points of the lesson for students is recognised, perhaps other approaches to the development or provision of summary notes might be employed. Note-making versus note-taking strategies might, for example, be considered. Cleverly designed worksheets, planned around a lesson or series of lessons and providing a variety of exercises and activities is a very student-centred alternative to traditional note-taking. Other possibilities would be the introduction of graphic organisers or the production of mind maps.
Efforts were made in the majority of lessons to highlight and emphasise concepts or topics that might have a cross-curricular relevance. In a first-year lesson on the teeth, for example, a parallel was drawn between acid erosion of the teeth and the effects of acid rain on buildings, as studied in Geography. As an approach to teaching, and as a means of fostering general student comprehension and learning, this is highly commended. Opportunities for the continued and expanded use of such an approach should be fully availed of.
In all lessons students were attentive and well-behaved. Interactions between teachers and students were warm and relaxed. Students appeared very comfortable both in the asking or answering of questions and in the contribution of comment or opinion. Their input was encouraged, welcomed and appropriately affirmed. Both the dress design and home economics kitchen can be described as highly organised and stimulating environments. The walls are rich with materials that support syllabus content whilst providing students with much food for thought. The department’s efforts in this regard are acknowledged and praised.
The assessment of students’ progress and achievement in Home Economics has been identified as a key area for development in the home economics department in Coláiste na Toirbhirte. This recommendation is made because, while the department’s intentions in relation to assessment are clear, there was very little evidence of established systems and procedures in relation to assessment procedures such as homework and the general, in-class assessment of student progression and attainment in relation to the theoretical aspects of both syllabuses.
Despite the fact that homework is issued on a regular basis, from an analysis of a cross-section of students’ copybooks it would appear that the majority of home economics students do not recognise the value of homework and therefore demonstrate a lack of commitment to the completion of assigned homework exercises. Some time and energy needs to be devoted to examining why students are acting in such a manner. Some questions that need to be answered in relation to this finding include: Is this tendency stemming from a lack of clarity amongst home economics students in relation to what is expected of them regarding the completion of homework exercises? If so, what systems need to be established that will seek to address this? Is the completion of all assigned homework exercises monitored and recorded? If not, how might this be facilitated? When, where and how are exercises corrected and do the systems that are in place demonstrate the significance and value of doing homework? Does the correction of students’ work provide feedback to them in terms of their progress and achievement and does it provide guidance to them in relation to the completion of future exercises? Is this feedback formally recorded by the teacher? Are such records used to inform feedback provided to parents at parent-teacher meetings? Is there sufficient variation in relation to the types of exercises assigned to students as homework? Do the assigned exercises foster the knowledge and skills that may be required in aspects of the home economics state examinations and is this highlighted to students? Would a portfolio approach to homework assist in changing the established mindset and practices of the general home economics student cohort? These questions should be posed objectively and the decisions arising from the answers should be formalised into a home economics homework policy, the content of which should be highlighted to students through the establishment of clear practices and procedures which support teacher expectation in relation to homework and students’ approaches to it.
Students’ understanding and learning relative to topics explored is determined through the issuing of topic or end-of-chapter tests. A sample of the types of test papers normally issued was available for review on the day of the inspection. As, there was no evidence of such tests in the students’ copybooks or files, which were reviewed as part of the subject inspection, it is suggested that the establishment of a student filing system, as referenced previously in the teaching and learning section of this report, could also be used to support students’ filing of each test undertaken. This would prove an invaluable resource for students at revision and examination time. The establishment of a system that would help students to personally track their attainment and progress in relation to these tests is also suggested. A simple bar-chart approach to recording the outcomes of each test would provide a very clear visual representation. This would offer motivation to students both in terms of filing their work and in terms of sustaining or enhancing their commitment to their own personal study. With regard to the actual test papers issued, every effort should be made to ensure that the design and layout of the papers, the types of questions asked and the marking scheme provided are consistent with those seen in past state examination papers. This is recommended for extension to all assessment papers, be they topic test papers or the examination papers issued to students during the in-house examinations at Christmas and in the summer. The assessment of Junior Certificate students’ project work and food studies practical work is well established. This is commended. Building on this approach, the home economics department is encouraged to consider a periodic grading of fifth-year students’ journal work. The department could, for example, grade two of the five required assignments. This would help to further highlight and emphasise best practice in relation to the completion of this work and would seek to support the constructive comments already being provided by the teacher on students’ journal work. The issuing of one, aggregate mark in the reports issued to students’ homes both at Christmas and again in the summer, that would represent student achievement in all examinable components of each syllabus, is also recommended for consideration. This would provide a much more accurate indicator of students’ actual achievement in terms of home economics and would reflect the system operating in the examination of home economics in both the Junior and Leaving Certificate state examinations.
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, January 2009