An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Lanesboro Community College
Lanesboro, County Longford
Roll number: 71720L
Date of inspection: 6 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Lanesboro Community 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and relevant staff. 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.
Lanesboro Community College is a small co-educational school under the auspices of Co. Longford Vocational Education Committee (VEC). Home Economics enjoys a high profile in the school. Student participation rates, especially for the Junior Certificate examination are very good.
A student-centred focus underpins the arrangements for subject choice. First-year students participate in a short taster programme and option bands are then generated based on a survey of studentsí preferences. This good practice facilitates students in making an informed subject choice and ensures that the junior-cycle programme offered meets the needs of each student cohort. Senior-cycle option bands are also based on studentsí preferences and every effort is made to accommodate students in their selection. Deliberate efforts are made to involve parents in the process of subject selection by means of parent information evenings. This is good practice. While Home Economics is a popular subject, uptake of Leaving Certificate Home Economics is much higher among the female student cohort. Consideration should be given by the home economics department to devising strategies that would further enhance uptake of Leaving Certificate Home Economics among all senior cycle students in the school.
Home Economics benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support. Teaching time allocated to classes is very good. The spread of lessons across the teaching week is particularly conducive to facilitating effective continuity in teaching and learning.
As part of the schoolís on-going engagement with school development planning, management allocates formal planning time once per term. It is commendable that, as part of subject planning, the teachers of Home Economics, Science, Business and Enterprise Education meet in plenary session. These interdepartmental subject meetings facilitate professional dialogue on areas of common interest. It was noted that records are kept of each subject meeting. This good practice facilitates continuity between meetings.
There is a strong commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) evident in the school. The regular engagement of home economics staff with in-service that is organised through either the VEC, school or the local education centre has impacted positively on teaching and learning in Home Economics. This commitment and enthusiasm are commended.
There is one dual-purpose specialist room for Home Economics. This room is resourced with a very good range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. The room was refurbished in 2000 and is organised and maintained to a high standard. It was reported by the home economics department that management is very supportive of the departmentís needs with regard to the upgrading, maintenance and replacement of specialist equipment. This is commendable practice. Physical space is at a premium in the school. This has necessitated the use of the home economics room for other subjects. However, this arrangement presents challenges for the home economics department in terms of room maintenance and access to the room for lesson preparation and follow-up during non-class contact time. While recognising the contextual factors that exist in the school it is recommended that this practice is minimised.
Health and safety is given high priority in home economics lessons. Health and safety notices for food studies practicals are visible throughout the specialist room. Clear procedures have been established for the reporting of accidents and there is an annual audit of the room to address maintenance issues. To build on these good practices, appropriate signs to highlight specific safety routines for practical lessons in textiles should also be displayed at appropriate locations in the room. Furthermore, as the specialist room is used for lessons other than Home Economics, management, in consultation with the home economics department, should establish clear health and safety routines that will be followed by any class group using the room.
There is very good access to information and communications technology (ICT) for home economics students. The home economics department has a dedicated computer and colour printer. During the course of the evaluation very good integration of ICT was noted, both as a teaching and learning tool and as a student-research resource. This is very good practice.
As evidence of the student-centred ethos in the school, students are supplied with some of the ingredients for food studies lessons by the school. This inclusive practice is highly commended as it maximises studentsí participation in practical lessons.
A committed, professional and informed manner is evident in the approach being taken to subject planning in Home Economics. Very good progress is evident in the development of a subject department plan for Home Economics. The aims and objectives developed by the home economics department for the subject, together with many of the procedures and practices encouraged in home economics lessons reinforce many of the values outlined in the schoolís mission statement. Of particular note is the emphasis placed in Home Economics on the holistic development of the students in a manner that fosters independent learning. This is very good practice. It was noted that success criteria have been devised to evaluate the effectiveness of the home economics plan drafted for Lanesboro Community College. This excellent practice promotes a culture of on-going self-evaluation and review.
Programmes of work are available for all year groups. Each programme outlines a list of topics that will be covered on a term-by-term basis. A separate list of dishes that will be cooked is also provided. It is highly commended that each plan is reviewed on a regular basis. Of particular note is the fact that students participate in this feedback process. To build on the good work already evident, it is recommended that on a phased basis, all plans should be developed further. In each programme of work, studentsí expected knowledge and understanding should be presented in terms of key learning outcomes and the lessons should be sequenced in a manner that integrates theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Particular attention should focus on further integrating topics from within and across core areas of each syllabus. Useful resources and homework activities should also be included. The very good teacher records kept of the work completed by each class will inform the resources and homework activities selected for inclusion in the planning documents.
Very good planning for the practical coursework components of each syllabus is evident. Of particular note are the strategies used to foster a spirit of learner autonomy among home economics students. These strategies aim to encourage students to take some responsibility for their own learning and develop their self-reliance and become confident learners. This is excellent practice, especially when the certificate examinations in Home Economics place a deliberate focus on studentsí originality in the completion of coursework.
A collaborative and integrated strategy is being adopted to optimise student learning in Home Economics. There is regular contact between the home economics and the learning-support departments to support students who have a particular learning need. In addition, the regular contact between the home economics teacher and the teacher who provides English language support to newcomers assists those students in accessing the technical language of Home Economics. It is intended to resource the home economics room with dictionaries in a number of languages to support the inclusion of all students in completing coursework research. This is a laudable initiative. Cross-curricular links have also been established with a number of subject departments. This good practice is encouraged as a means of supporting and reinforcing student learning.
Very good quality teaching and learning was evident in all of the lessons observed. The very good level of advance planning and preparation evident for each of the lessons observed ensured that high quality student learning outcomes were achieved. Lessons were very well structured with a commendable emphasis placed on the integration and application of relevant theoretical knowledge to practical skills. This good practice is in keeping with the rationale underpinning home economics syllabuses. Each lesson was appropriately pitched to suit studentsí needs and individual syllabus requirements.
A commendable focus was placed on assessment for learning throughout each lesson. The laudable practice of sharing the aim of the lesson with the students was noted. This strategy proved very effective in setting the scene for each lesson and assisting in the development of a logical lesson structure. Of particular note was one instance where this strategy was developed further. The teacher, after listing some of the learning outcomes, invited students to suggest what other information should be known about the topic. This proved highly effective in engaging students with the lesson content and creating a sense of shared ownership of the lesson material. At the conclusion of the lesson the outcomes proved valuable in assisting students to explain one new piece of information that they had learned in the lesson. It was obvious that this strategy consolidated learning effectively and provided additional opportunities for the teacher to affirm student contributions and provide additional clarification on new points of information.
In each lesson observed the home economics teacher displayed excellent subject knowledge and a commendable focus was placed on attention to detail in the explanations given. Explanations were very clear and accurate. To assist studentsí understanding of lesson content, a deliberate emphasis was placed on linking new subject matter with previous learning. In addition, exemplar food products and teacher handouts were effectively used to illustrate and explain key points of information. These are commendable practices. Good use was made of the classroom board to summarise key points of information for students. From observing studentsí copybooks it was evident that regular use was made of spider grams and other visual tools to support students in summarising key points of information. This is good practice.†
Questioning was used effectively to assess studentsí understanding of lesson content. Students were challenged to provide detailed answers to the questions posed, with a laudable focus placed on encouraging students to apply and evaluate information to justify the answers given. Studentsí responses to questions indicated a very good level of knowledge of the subject matter being taught. In one of the lessons observed students were revising material in preparation for the upcoming certificate examination. Particularly impressive was a strategy employed where students had to prepare a topic in advance and make a short presentation to the class. Other students were then invited to ask questions on the information given. This strategy proved very effective in actively engaging students to revise material in a manner that was enjoyable and productive.
Very good practice was evident in the teaching and learning of the Leaving Certificate coursework assignments. In a practical food studies lesson observed, students focused on the completion of an assignment rather than solely on the preparation, cooking and serving of a dish. This is very good practice. The standard of advance preparation and planning undertaken by students in researching information, together with prior completion of related theory ensured that students had the necessary knowledge and skills to remain focused on completing the task during the practical lesson. During all of the practical lessons observed there was an appropriate balance between whole-class teaching and student activity. Explanations were very clear with a very good emphasis placed on attention to detail in the instructions given, thus supporting students in developing a high standard of culinary skills. Students demonstrated a commendable ability to work independently and in collaboration with each other. It is particularly noteworthy that Leaving Certificate students drafted the implementation phase of the assignment when the dish was completed and preparatory work for the evaluation stage was initiated. This good practice of including the evaluation stage of an assignment should be incorporated into all practical lessons where time permits.
Classroom management was very good in all instances. Teacher expectations for students were high. Studentsí responses and contributions to each lesson were constantly affirmed. To support positive behaviour and productive teacher-student interactions in Home Economics, it was noted positively that students complete a class contract at the beginning of each year. There was a high level of mutual respect evident in all of the classroom interactions observed. Students displayed a sense of security in seeking additional clarification and advice which was provided in a very supportive manner. The classroom environment was enhanced by displays of educational posters and student project work. Such practices are highly praiseworthy as they help to stimulate student interest and promote a sense of shared ownership and responsibility for the creation of a stimulating learning environment.
Observation of studentís recent and current practical coursework in the areas of core textiles and design and craft optional work indicated a very good level of competence in a wide range of manipulative skills. It is laudable that students complete a simple design brief in tandem with the items made. This practice facilitates the development of higher-order skills such as the analysis, interpretation and evaluation of a task.
A range of assessment modes, both formative and summative, is used to monitor studentsí progress in Home Economics. On-going formative assessment is by means of in-class questioning, project work, short class tests, practical coursework, homework assignments and study. In the case of students preparing to sit the certificate examinations there was a commendable focus on the use of past examination papers. To enhance the good practices already evident in assigning homework, it is recommended that further opportunities should be created to enable students to complete the long-answer style questions typical of the range of styles evident on the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examination papers over the course of the junior-cycle and senior-cycle programme.
Formal summative assessments are held at Christmas and in the summer. Students preparing for the certificate examinations sit mock examinations in the second term. From reviewing a range of written papers designed for the home economics examinations, it was noted that there was a heavy emphasis on the use of short-answer style questions. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed so that the format of the written examination papers mirrors the layout of the certificate examinations in Home Economics. This would have the advantage of promoting studentsí skills in key examination techniques from first year. It is commendable that an assessment of studentís practical coursework in textiles or craft, and project work is included in the end-of-term tests. To enhance this practice it is recommended that, where relevant, the modes of summative assessment be extended to include an assessment of the practical coursework in food studies. This would mean that grades issued to students at key times during the school year would provide an aggregate mark that reflects achievement in all of the practical and written elements of the syllabus. This would be a more accurate indicator of the studentís progress and achievement in the subject. The relevant marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission should inform the assessment criteria used.
Results are communicated to parents twice yearly and at parent-teacher meetings. It is laudable that the home economics teacher informs parents of the practical coursework requirements for the certificate examinations.
Individual and group projects are a common assessment strategy used by the home economics department. This good practice fosters learner autonomy and teamwork skills among students. It also enables students to develop key skills such as the analysis, assimilation and presentation of information, as well as the evaluation and interpretation of information. To enhance this assessment technique, it is recommended that assessment criteria be developed for each project assigned. This information should be shared with the students from the outset of the task and then be used as the basis of written feedback given to students when the work is completed.
Observation of studentsí notebooks indicated very good progress in their work. Best practice was evident in the completion of the official Leaving Certificate coursework journals where students recorded the assignments on a phased basis. This good practice should be encouraged with all students. Student work is monitored regularly and some very good practice is evident in the provision of constructive feedback. Sound advice was apparent in relation to the completion of coursework assignments. Some useful teacher comments in copybooks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. These good practices are encouraged to enhance studentsí learning by informing them about their own progress and assist them in reaching their full potential. This practice is illustrative of some of the principles that underpin Assessment for Learning (AfL). Further information on AfL is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie.
All home economics classes are mixed ability. Students are challenged to reach their full potential and to take the certificate examination at the highest level possible. This is very good practice. Very good records of studentís progress and attendance are retained by the class teacher. This information provides a useful evidence base when advising students on the appropriate levels for the certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Home Economics enjoys a high profile in the school. Student participation rates, especially for the Junior Certificate examination, are very good
∑ A student-centred focus underpins the arrangements for subject choice. Deliberate efforts are made to involve parents in the process of subject selection by means of parent information evenings.
∑ Home Economics benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support.
∑ The strong commitment to CPD evident in the school impacts positively on the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics.
∑ A committed, professional and informed manner is evident in the approach being taken to subject planning. The success criteria devised to evaluate the effectiveness of the home economics plan promotes a culture of on-going self-evaluation within the home economics department.
∑ Very good planning for the practical coursework components of each home economics syllabus is evident. Of particular note are the strategies used to foster a spirit of learner autonomy among students.
∑ Very good quality teaching and learning was evident in all of the lessons observed.
∑ Teacher expectations for students were high. Studentsí responses and contributions to each lesson were constantly affirmed and supported.
∑ Observation of studentís recent and current practical coursework in the areas of core textiles and design and craft optional work indicated a very good level of competence in a wide range of manipulative skills.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ Further opportunities should be created to enable students to complete the long-answer style questions typical of the range of question styles evident on the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examination papers over the course of the junior cycle and senior cycle programme.
∑ Assessment criteria should be developed for each project task assigned. This information should be shared with the students from the outset of the task and be used as the basis of written feedback given to students when the work is completed.
∑ The range of summative assessment modes should be extended to include, where necessary, an assessment of studentsí practical coursework in the area of food studies.
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.
Published October 2008