An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Home Economics

REPORT

 

Coachford College

Coachford, County Cork

Roll number: 70960D

 

Date of inspection: 17 and 18 September 2008

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coachford 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Home Economics is offered as an optional subject in Coachford College. The one exception to this is in Transition Year (TY), where all students undertake an eleven-week module in the subject. This is praised for the additional exposure to Home Economics that it facilitates, prior to students choosing the subjects they wish to study for the Leaving Certificate. Home Economics is a popular subject choice for junior cycle students, particularly amongst the female student cohort. It is good to note too that uptake of the subject is encouraged amongst the male student cohort and that, as a result, a number of boys have also chosen to study Home Economics at both junior and senior cycle. At senior cycle, overall uptake levels and patterns do not reflect those evident in junior cycle. What is particularly noteworthy is the fifty-percent decline in the numbers of students studying Leaving Certificate Home Economics in the College since 2005. This could be due to a number of factors and is therefore deserving of some investigation, both on the part of management and the members of the home economics department.  

 

Incoming first-year students choose the subjects they wish to study prior to entry. This follows from a decision taken approximately ten years ago, to no longer provide a taster programme in first year. While this decision is respected, the nature of this area requires that school policy relative to this practice be reviewed on a regular and ongoing basis. As a result it is strongly recommended that this decision be reviewed and furthermore, that the review process seek to involve all partners including teaching staff, parents and students.

 

In the case of incoming first-year students, student surveys inform the formation of subject blocks. This approach is praised both for the equality of access and open access to optional subjects that it seeks to facilitate. Prior to entry to second year, students are required to choose again. In this instance, and in an attempt to provide students with a guided choice, subject blocks are only partially generated around student choice. That said, while initially students are issued with set subject blocks, a review of the blocks currently in use in second and third year illustrate that student preference clearly influences the final design of the subject blocks. For example, while Home Economics is only offered in one band in second year, in response to student demand it is offered in two bands in third year. This flexibility is commended. A similar approach operates in relation to subject choice prior to studentsí entry to senior cycle, although student preference as an influence on the final design of the subject blocks is not as clear, particularly in relation to Home Economics. One of the concerns identified is the placing of Home Economics in the same band as Art and Music, with none of the three subjects appearing in the remaining two bands. It is suggested that this could be a factor in the identified decline in uptake levels in Home Economics at senior cycle.  As a result, it is strongly recommended that, prior to the issuing of the blocks to students, some consideration be given to the placement of Home Economics in one of the other subject bands. Alternatively, some consideration could be given to introducing a system whereby student preference and choice determines the final design of subject blocks. It is clear from a review of participation levels and patterns in the State Examinations, that home economics students in Coachford College are encouraged to aim for high academic standards.

 

In general and overall, the timetabling of Home Economics in Coachford College is noted as favourable. Sufficient time is allocated to all curricular programmes and studentsí contact with the subject is nicely spread over the weekly timetable. Some issues do exist however in relation to timetabling to accommodate access to the home economics kitchen. Firstly, a percentage of double periods are timetabled over morning break or lunchtime and secondly, there are instances where double periods are concurrently timetabled thereby restricting or limiting access to the kitchen for certain class groups. For a number of reasons already discussed on the day of the inspection, both approaches are not considered to be best practice. As a result, and while recognising the difficulties attached to timetabling, management is further encouraged in its efforts to seek to avoid both scenarios when timetabling in the future.

 

In line with best practice, managementís deployment of staff facilitates the rotation of teachers across all cycles, junior and senior, and provides for a continuity of teachers from year to year in any one programme. Managementís support for collaborative, subject-department planning is demonstrated by its provision of formal time over the course of the school year for subject-department meetings. This is commended. It is clear also that management is supportive of the continuing professional development of the members of the home economics department, facilitating their attendance at a number of subject-related and non-subject-related in-service courses and encouraging teachersí participation in further study. It was noted over the course of the subject inspection that whole-staff, school-based in-service or workshops designed to support teachers in their teaching roles have not been taking place in recent times. As a result, management is encouraged to look at designing and implementing an annual, whole-school CPD programme. It would be important that teacher input informs any decisions taken with regard to the subject matter and content of any planned workshops or sessions. 

 

Home Economics is well resourced in the school with requests for additional resources being greeted favourably, as budgets permit. The school houses a home economics kitchen, as well as a dress-design room which doubles as a general classroom. Adequate storage has been provided for subject-specific equipment and studentsí work.  The subject facilities are well organised and well maintained. A cleaning programme, which has been agreed by the home economics department with the members of the schoolís ancillary staff, ensures that the kitchen is maintained to a high standard. A stock record helps to ensure that equipment is replaced and updated as required. The schoolís health and safety policy includes a section that is specific to Home Economics. It is informed by an annual audit of the facilities, which is carried out by the members of the home economics department. The policy details the areas requiring attention in the room, although it does not clearly indicate whether or not these areas have been considered and rectified. The document should be reviewed with a view to addressing this shortfall. The approach adopted in the health and safety policy, which identifies the hazard, assesses the degree of risk and stipulates the action required, is commended. It is recommended that the same approach be used to devise a safety statement that applies to the rooms when they are operational. The outcome should inform the home economics classroom rules. Managementís attention was drawn to the fact that the floor in the kitchen is not of a non-slip nature and management was advised that it should be upgraded as a matter of priority.

 

Planning and preparation

 

A subject convenor, who is appointed on a rotational basis, oversees and co-ordinates the planning work of the home economics department, which to date has been concentrated on the development of a subject plan. The practice of rotating the role of co-ordinator is consistent with best practice. The agendas and minutes associated with the meetings of the home economics department are filed in the subject plan and, with some gaps, date back to 2006. The departmentís work in this regard is praised, although the members are encouraged to ensure the maintenance of records for all meetings held. The departmentís vision for home economics has been encapsulated in a section of the plan entitled Ďlong-term planningí. This demonstrates clear areas for development. As a means of progressing work in this regard, the home economics department is encouraged to look at the identification of action plans and timeframes for each area identified. It is also suggested that the department undertakes a SCOT analysis relative to Home Economics in Coachford College. This would help to ground the vision for the subject in a document that would outline the subjectís strengths, any presenting challenges, opportunities for development and any possible threats to the subject. This approach to long-term planning provides for a recognition of what is positive while at the same time identifying the areas requiring development.

 

While some work has been completed in relation to the development of agreed programmes of work for each year group, much work remains to be done. As a result, it is recommended that the department prioritise this area of their planning work. Some of the key features of a good quality programme of work would be that it is agreed between all members of the subject department; that it is based on the syllabus as opposed to a text book; at a minimum, that it identifies work to be completed on a term-by term basis; that it is coherent, ensuring a developmental approach to acquiring knowledge and skills; that it reflects the integrated approach recommended in the syllabus, including the integration of practical coursework and project work with the relevant theory; and that it is generated using the appropriate information communication technologies (ICT). Furthermore, the design-brief approach is planned as a key feature of all practical coursework and project work from an early stage in junior cycle. A suggested approach is the development initially of an outline plan, which would possess all of the qualities identified previously. In time, this should inform the development of more detailed schemes of work. Such schemes might include provision for the topics to be covered, together with details of the resources, methodologies and teaching strategies to support teaching and learning in each topic. Furthermore, these schemes might also provide details relative to suitable homework activities and assessment modes. The inclusion of an area for teachersí comments following topic completion is also well worth considering and would make a very valuable contribution to the recommended annual review of schemes of work, whilst also ensuring that the schemes are of a working nature. More often than not this information is presented in tabular format although it can take any format. The grounding of topics to be covered in desired learning outcomes is also an area that should be explored going forward. In terms of planning for the delivery of the Junior Certificate Home Economics syllabus, the revised draft syllabus is a good reference point in this regard. It is available to download from the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie.

 

Planning for students with special educational needs is supported by a close, one-to-one liaison with the special educational needs co-ordinator. The circulation of data relevant to these students, by the co-ordinator to subject teachers, helps to ensure that teachers can support students in the classroom. The members of the home economics department are to be commended for taking this data and summarising the measures that can be adopted by them during lesson delivery in order to support participation and learning by students with identified special educational needs.

 

The subject plan also cites a number of examples where the members of the home economics department seek to engage in cross-curricular planning with members of other subject departments. One of the best examples of such planning takes place in Transition Year, where the biology department teaches microbiology in and around the same time that the home economics department is delivering the Safe Food Programme. This level of planning is commended and the exploration of other similar opportunities is fully encouraged, as this inter-departmental approach is very beneficial to studentsí learning. It would appear that some scope exists for increasing the number and type of co-curricular activities planned and provided for by the home economics department, be that in relation to the organisation of guest speakers or topic-related excursions.   

 

Planning for lessons is informed by the maintenance of records that detail work completed to date. Individual planning for lessons observed was noted as good. A selection of suitable resources had been prepared and collected for use in lesson delivery. Teachers are encouraged to explore opportunities for the use of ICT resources as a means of supporting teaching and learning.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

A good quality of teaching and learning was observed in home economics lessons. In all lessons, the lesson intention was shared with students. Best practice was where this was grounded in the desired learning outcomes. This is an approach that is promoted for use in all lessons. Lessons delivered on the day were not always consistent with that set down in the planned programmes of work. This is essential to good planning which leads to good teaching, therefore underlining the need for the department to prioritise the review, further development and implementation of an agreed outline programme of work, as referenced also in the previous section.  

 

A striking feature of all lessons observed was the appropriate amount of time that teachers dedicated to the examination of work previously covered. This normally took place as lessons commenced, although opportunities for this were also appropriately availed of throughout lessons. Studentsí responses to these questions demonstrated that learning was clearly taking place. The strategy also highlighted studentsí acceptance of teachersí expectations of them with regard to work assigned for study.

 

The instruction provided to students was very solid. Teachers were very adept at presenting information in such a way that it built on studentsí prior knowledge of the subject. This promoted studentsí engagement with the topics being explored. Teachers also sought to draw on studentsí life experiences when presenting lesson content, which, for the students, increased the relevance and meaning of what was being explored. In all lessons a tremendous effort was made to integrate, in a very natural way, the topic being explored with other relevant areas of the home economics syllabus. This integrated approach to teaching, which is recommended in both syllabuses, is highly praised. The use of the textbook to support and reinforce teacher instruction was another commendable feature of the teaching observed.

 

Efforts were made in the majority of lessons to provide for strategies and approaches that would appeal to the three main learning styles, be that visual, auditory or kinaesthetic, although on the whole, lesson structure was more favourable to students who possess an auditory learning preference. That said, a variety of visual stimuli was introduced in order to support studentsí understanding and learning in the topic being explored. Teachers are encouraged to seek to build on this very good practice, as Home Economics is a subject that really lends itself to such an approach. Furthermore, for the students who are more pre-disposed to learning by doing, teachers also sought to include activities that required the Ďhands-oní participation of students. A group-based evaluation of gluten-free bread is one such example. It is recommended that, when planning and delivering lessons, teachers seek to ensure a greater balance in the inclusion of activities, approaches and strategies that cater for the three, main, previously identified learning styles.

 

Note-taking featured in a number of the lessons observed. It is suggested that when this strategy is being utilised teachers should insist that while they are explaining the notes provided, for example on an overhead transparency, that students listen and observe rather than seek to write as the teacher is explaining. Informing the students that time will be provided following the explanation for note-taking should also assist in this regard. This recommended approach will help to ensure a more enhanced student understanding and learning. While note-taking as a strategy has some recognisable merits, it is now viewed as a relatively passive approach to study and learning. As a result, teachers are encouraged to explore the use of strategies that foster note-making skills in students, which is considered to be a more active approach to study. Techniques to explore include; sequential or linear note-making, pattern note-making or mind mapping, spider maps or spider grams, compare and contrast matrixes, highlighting annotating and underlining, and summarising. The use of cleverly designed worksheets in class can provide a good basis for the development of this approach with students.

 

Effective use was made of questioning as a strategy. It was used to involve students in lesson content, to elicit levels of student understanding, to challenge students, to get students to apply information to different scenarios and situations and, as mentioned previously, to examine studentsí learning of work previously covered. In the main, questions were posed globally and, after allowing students an appropriate amount of time to assimilate a response, were then directed to named students. As a result, questions were well distributed amongst class members. Teachers supported students in the answering of questions by gently encouraging their contributions and, as required, assisted them through the provision of prompts that would help students to give a correct response.

 

Classroom atmosphere was very positive. Students were attentive and their very relaxed and easy contribution of questions or opinions demonstrated a level of curiosity and interest that was to be admired. Studentsí contributions were encouraged by their teachers and also readily affirmed. 

 

 

Assessment

 

Student assessment has been prioritised by the home economics department. Teachersí formal assessment of students is also consistent with that set down in the schoolís assessment calendar. This includes provision for house examinations at Christmas and prior to the summer holidays, monthly in-class assessments for third and sixth-year students, as well as mock examinations in February and mid-term assessments in October and February for TY students. A range of assessment modes is utilised in the determination of studentsí progress and achievement. This includes the assessment of Junior Certificate studentsí practical and project work. The suggestions offered in relation to the future assessment of Leaving Certificate studentsí journal work might be considered. 

 

It is commendable that the members of the department have developed a subject-specific homework policy which summarises their approach to homework with all class groups. It is clear that the written policy guides classroom practice and that teachers have set clear expectations for students in this regard. This is commended. Homework is regularly assigned, both written and study, and completion of this is closely monitored, be that in the collection and correction of studentsí exercises or the in-class examination of studentsí learning. The use of comment marking was obvious in studentsí copybooks. This approach is commended. It is suggested that a periodic grading of exercises be introduced as another means of determining studentsí progress and achievement in Home Economics.   

 

Comprehensive records of studentsí attendance and participation levels, as well as achievement in class-tests and examinations, are maintained by teachers. This informs the feedback provided to parents in the school reports, at the annual parent-teacher meetings and via a most impressive e-portal system that allows parents to access, via the internet, information relating to their sonís or daughterís participation, progress and achievement. Information available includes up-to-the-minute attendance data, outcomes of in-class assessments, examination results and individual student timetables. The adoption of this system which facilitates Ďreal time reportingí is commended.     

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • Home Economics is a popular subject choice for junior cycle students, particularly amongst the female student cohort.
  • Uptake of the subject is encouraged amongst the male student cohort with a number of boys opting to study Home Economics, both at junior and senior cycle levels.
  • Student choice and preference has some influence on the determination of subject blocks both in junior and senior cycles, although this is more obvious at junior cycle.
  • In general and overall, the timetabling of Home Economics in Coachford College is noted as favourable.
  • The deployment of staff for the teaching of Home Economics is consistent with best practice.
  • Management is supportive of and facilitates collaborative, subject-department planning.
  • Home Economics in Coachford College is well resourced.
  • A home economics plan which encapsulates, amongst other things, the departmentís vision for home economics in the College, is being developed.
  • The members of the home economics department are conscious of, and attentive to, providing for students with special educational needs in the delivery of lesson content.
  • The department demonstrates an openness to cross-curricular planning.
  • A good quality of teaching and learning was observed in home economics lessons.
  • Student assessment has been prioritised by the home economics department.
  • Reporting to parents is very well developed in Coachford College.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

  • The fifty-percent decline in the numbers of students studying Leaving Certificate Home Economics in the College since 2005 is deserving of some investigation.
  • It is strongly recommended that the decision taken ten years previously not to operate a taster programme in first year be reviewed on a more regular and ongoing basis.
  • Management is advised to review the structure of the subject blocks offered to students prior to entry to senior cycle.
  • Management should look at designing and implementing an annual, whole-school CPD programme.
  • It is recommended that the guidelines provided in the report in relation to the schoolís health and safety statement and safety in the home economics room be considered.
  • It is recommended that the department prioritises the review and further development of the programmes of work for each year group. 
  • It is recommended that, when planning and delivering lessons, teachers seek to ensure a greater balance in the inclusion of activities, approaches and strategies that are designed to cater for different learning styles.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Home Economics and 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, December 2008