An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Coláiste an Chraoibhín
Fermoy, County Cork
Roll number: 70990M
Date of inspection: 28 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste an Chraoibhín. 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 with the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher.
Home Economics is well established on the curriculum in the Coláiste. Overall, it is quite a popular subject in junior cycle, particularly when one considers the high ratio of boys to girls attending the school. It is also encouraging to observe that, periodically, a substantial percentage of junior-cycle students opting to study the subject are male. In senior-cycle subject uptake isn’t quite as healthy. This is due in part to the comprehensive range of senior-cycle programme options available in the school and to the very extensive range of subjects offered on the school curriculum. Nevertheless it is important that, when and where feasible, efforts are made to ensure that each year the subject can attract senior-cycle students of all abilities and genders.
Management is to be commended for its decision to provide a six-week taster programme in Home Economics for all first-year students. This approach enables students to get an accurate impression of the subject and empowers them to make informed subject choices. The fact that all students in Transition Year are required to study a half-year module in Home Economics is also to be praised, for the additional and renewed exposure to the subject that this provision guarantees. The Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT) vocational specialism, which is administered by the home economics department, is also offered to any students opting to study the Leaving Certificate Applied programme in senior cycle.
There is a good level of provision for Home Economics in the school. It is supported by management with regard to the development of the subject facilities and is well resourced. The home economics department is allocated an annual budget for the purchase of additional resources as needs demand. Access to information and communication technologies (ICT) for the purpose of teaching and learning is limited. As a result it is recommended that management seeks to investigate ways of improving in-class access to same. The ideal scenario, if future budgets permit, would be to provide room-based technology. The room is already networked to broadband and so the technology to utilise this facility would be most beneficial to both teaching and learning in Home Economics. It would also support students in their efforts to engage in independent research and study, which are requirements of both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate syllabuses.
In general, timetabled provision for Home Economics is very good. Sufficient time is allocated to the delivery of both syllabuses and classes are nicely spread over the weekly timetable. The design of the timetable, which sees the school day divided into six, fifty-five minute class periods, does however pose some difficulties for the delivery of the practical food studies element of both the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate syllabus. The allocation of one class period for such work does make it difficult to complete certain tasks during class time. It also limits opportunities for integrating theory and practical work and for students to engage in an on-the-spot evaluation of task outcomes. Despite the department’s efforts to counteract the time constraints outlined, the combined effect of this can be that, occasionally, students are unable to access the full learning opportunities that practical work is designed to foster. It is recommended that when the current timetable structure is being reviewed by management and staff, consideration ought to be given to the impact that the current arrangement is having on the delivery of the syllabuses identified.
Management is to be commended for supporting subject planning by providing time throughout the school year to allow teachers to engage in formal departmental planning. As a means of tracking progress made during this planning time and providing a focus or direction for future work, it is recommended that the department formally records the outcomes of same. Opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) which have been endorsed by management have been availed of by the Home Economics department. It is also positive to note that the department availed of one of the school visits provided by the Support Service to assist teachers with the implementation of the revised Leaving Certificate home economics syllabus.
The inclusion of a section in the school’s health and safety policy specific to the home economics room is noted as good practice. The practice of involving the home economics department in the completion of an annual hazard audit sheet is also commended. As a means of enhancing existing measures with regard to health and safety and Home Economics, it is recommended that the section of the policy specific to Home Economics be reviewed. This review should ensure that the policy includes: a comprehensive list of all possible hazards, the degree of risk associated with each hazard and the measures that need to be followed by all concerned in order to reduce the likelihood of each identified hazard occurring. In the interest of health and safety, and for the reasons outlined on the day of the inspection, it is not ideal to hold textile classes in the kitchen. However the school’s current space shortage means that, for the moment, it is an unavoidable reality. It is important therefore, that the department remains vigilant when using the kitchen for textile work, that students are continuously made aware of the possible dangers of current practice, and that systems and procedures are established to reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring. Finally, it is recommended that the suitability of the floor covering in the home economics room be re-investigated.
The department’s professionalism and commitment is reflected in the planning and preparation that was apparent. There was evidence of planning for the overall development of Home Economics and for the delivery of the various curricula, as well as for the resourcing of the subject. A subject-specific planning document, based on the template provided by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), has been compiled for the current school year. This positive practice is to be commended. To facilitate the regular review and updating of this important document it is recommended that, rather than handwriting the document on an annual basis, it be generated electronically using the appropriate ICT. Notwithstanding the scope for originality and individual input in the compilation of a planning document, the home economics department might also consider incorporating certain facets of the planning templates provided by the Home Economics Support Service. Furthermore, as part of planning for the long-term development of the subject, it is recommended that a SWOT analysis be carried out. Such an exercise would assist the department in identifying the subject’s strengths and in recognising any weaknesses that might exist. It would also facilitate the department in establishing opportunities for the subject’s further development, as well as highlighting possible threats to the subject. The results of same, which should be housed in the planning document, would provide a focus for future planning in the subject. It should also inform management with regard to the role it plays in providing for and supporting Home Economics as a subject on the school’s extensive curriculum.
Programmes of work have been devised for each year group. This is noted as good practice. The programmes are time-bound and detail the topics to be covered in each year group. They also provide a means of recording and evaluating work completed, two features that are deserving of recognition and praise. In time, the programmes could be further developed. Suggested enhancements include provision for: suitable methodologies and resources, integration of topics, links between theory and practical work, homework exercises and assessment modes.
Materials examined included some good examples of well-organised teacher files. These were catalogued according to year groups and syllabuses. The files housed a range of resources including; pre-prepared acetates, worksheets, handouts, recipe sheets, topic tests, end-of-year examinations and product samples. The maintenance of these files, along with the periodic upgrading of same, is considered good practice.
The development of a room-based resource library, which houses a selection of carefully chosen, subject-relevant publications, is also commended. Simultaneously, despite space restrictions, the school library provides an impressive subject-specific section for students studying Home Economics. Students are very much advantaged by such provision when engaging in the independent research and study that the various syllabuses now require. Ongoing investment in the maintenance and expansion of both of these collections is fully encouraged.
The department also engages in planning for the provision of extra and co-curricular activities. Such activities, which have included field trips and entry to competitions, have a significant role to play in extending student learning beyond the classroom and therefore are further encouraged. Event planning with other subject departments such as Business Studies, Materials Technology (Wood), Science and Physical Education has allowed for the establishment of cross-curricular links between Home Economics and the subjects outlined. Such an approach is to be credited.
Lessons presented were consistent with planned programmes of work and also demonstrated continuity with work previously covered. Good quality, short-term planning for lessons delivered over the course of the inspection was apparent. Lessons were well organised and demonstrated clear aims. The strategy of sharing with students the purpose of the lesson needs to be exercised fully with all class groups. This is recommended, as such an approach has a significant role to play in engaging, motivating and challenging students. Overall, the pace of lesson delivery reflected student level and ability and in the main, lessons were structured to ensure optimal student learning. However, in lessons where students appear somewhat challenged by new information being presented, an on-the-spot rearranging of lesson structure and pace is recommended.
Teacher instruction, which was both clear and accurate, was accompanied on occasions by a most impressive non-reliance on the textbook. This, which was indicative of teaching from the head and from the heart, demonstrated a high level of teacher expertise and competency. Such an approach is further encouraged. As a means of supporting and ensuring student understanding and learning of new information being presented, efforts were made throughout lessons to contextualise information. Carefully chosen resources were used during lesson delivery to enhance teaching and consolidate learning.
The teaching observed incorporated a number of different methodologies. These included: whole-class instruction, note-taking, on-spot demonstrations, one-to-one instruction, pair work in practical classes, investigative exercises and sampling. In theory lessons, it is recommended that the department explores the greater use of strategies that would support general student learning and understanding but in particular that of students who find the more traditional methods of teaching less stimulating. Some suggested methodologies would include active learning, co-operative learning and discovery learning. These might include, for example, strategies such as brainstorming, pair-work, group-work, reflective exercises, critiquing, case studies, discussions and student presentations.
Overall, questioning was used very effectively to engage students and to check understanding and learning. Questions were well distributed to named students and students who found answering difficult were assisted in their answering through the use of subtle hinting and gentle encouragement. Some consideration might also be given to the inclusion of some global questioning. Great use was made of higher-order questioning, designed to challenge students to think about the information being presented and to illustrate how acquired knowledge can be applied to different situations and circumstances. On occasions there was a slight tendency to over-question students when it was apparent that they were struggling to comprehend new information being presented. The approaches to resolving such difficulties are very much group-dependent and situation-specific, but it is important that the department acknowledges, evaluates and acts upon such an outcome as it might arise.
There was evidence of established systems for student practical work. It was obvious that these systems have been effectively communicated to and comprehended by all students. Students themselves were organised, methodical and knowledgeable in their approach to practical work. They also demonstrated a level of competency which is quite exceptional when both students’ level of experience and the time of year are taken into account. Throughout lessons, students were highly receptive to teacher input on best practice relating to safety, hygiene and resource management. Students also exhibited a good knowledge of the key processes underlying the dishes they were preparing, as well as a good range and standard of practical skills. Despite the disadvantages posed by having to conduct a practical food studies lesson over a reduced timescale, significant efforts were made to integrate the theory relevant to the dish being prepared. The department is deserving of a lot of praise for this approach, as it significantly enhances the learning potential offered by practical lessons. It is also good to note that student autonomy is encouraged throughout lessons. On a minor but significant point, it is recommended that a supplementary activity be planned and prepared for students who complete an assigned practical task before their peers do. It is commendable that students are required to evaluate the outcomes of each practical task for homework, an exercise which assists students in the development of critical thinking and evaluative skills. Ideally this exercise should be completed in class but the time constraint outlined previously often restricts the feasibility of same. The department is to be commended for adopting strategies that help to ensure that students are getting the best educational experience possible during practical classes.
Classroom atmosphere was very positive and therefore most conducive to student learning. Student activity was well managed and, as required, discipline was sensitively maintained. While a firm and purposeful approach was adopted to the delivery of lesson content, relations were affable and good-natured. Student effort was encouraged and affirmed, and students responded with an eagerness to participate in lesson content. Student engagement was apparent by the enthusiasm they demonstrated for assigned tasks and the interest they showed in subject matter being explored. They also appeared to enjoy each of the lessons. The bright, airy classroom was attractive and well-organised. Posters and other subject relevant materials were displayed and presented in a way that contributed to the development of a stimulating classroom environment.
The selection of design and craftwork projects examined during the visit demonstrated a good level of competence in the organisation and presentation of materials and in the implementation of the students’ chosen craft. It is recommended that students are further encouraged to draw on their own creativity and initiative when drawing up designs for their craft projects.
The school is to be commended for the establishment of a whole-school policy with regard to homework which includes provision for a series of teachers who act as homework monitors. It is good to note that, in line with this policy, there is evidence of an established practice of regularly assigning homework in each of the home economics class groups visited. A more regular monitoring of such student work is recommended, along with the careful consideration of the type, amount and intended learning outcomes of all work assigned for homework. It is further recommended that some of the monitoring might provide the students with constructive feedback on their efforts in the form of teacher comment. This practice would reflect an approach espoused by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) which is commonly referred to as assessment for learning, otherwise alluded to as ‘AfL’. Information on this approach can be accessed on the website of the NCCA at www.ncca.ie.
Students of Home Economics are regularly assessed and the outcomes of such assessments are systematically recorded. Such outcomes are used to inform feedback provided to parents or guardians in school reports, which are issued twice annually, and through the annual parent-teacher meetings. In general parent-teacher meetings take place once per annum for each year group, but parents of Leaving Certificate students are invited to attend no less than three parent-teacher meetings over the course of the year. This is illustrative of a level of teacher commitment that merits much recognition and praise.
It is commendable that both the Christmas and end-of-year assessment papers provided to students of Home Economics reflect the layout, style and composition of past State examination papers. It is recommended that when designing and preparing the topic tests issued to students throughout term time, consideration should also be given to this desirable concept and practice. In conjunction with this, the marking schemes used in the correction of these topic tests should also reflect that which is used in the various types of questions that tend to appear on the State examination papers. This has the added bonus of building student awareness with regard to interpreting marking schemes while developing students’ ability with regard to answering exam-style questions. In line with curricular requirements and best practice, it is also recommended that all components of students’ coursework be assessed. Following on from the previous recommendation, the practice of providing students with an aggregate mark at key times during the school year is strongly advocated. This is based on the fact that a combined mark, reflecting students’ achievement in written, practical and coursework assessments, is a more realistic indication of a student’s actual achievement in Home Economics.
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 teacher 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.