An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Roll number: 61860V
Date of inspection: 28 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Dominican College, Wicklow, conducted as part of a Whole School Evaluation. 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 students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the subject teachers.
Home Economics has a very high profile in Dominican College, Wicklow and there is evidence of an enthusiastic approach and a high level of commitment to the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject in the school. Although it is an optional subject in junior and in senior cycle, uptake is remarkably high at all levels. The subject is also well provided for in the Transition Year programme (TY). In addition to the Safe Food for Life course, students complete compulsory modules in basic and advanced cookery and in design and craft.
The subject benefits from a very good level of provision and whole school support and teaching time allocated to classes at all levels is adequate and in line with syllabus recommendations. Timetabled periods are generally well dispersed throughout the week thus ensuring that students gain maximum benefit from the class contact time.
There are three highly experienced and very committed teachers of Home Economics in the school and it is evident that they form a strong and cohesive team. It is praiseworthy that they have a shared long-term vision for the development of the subject. The senior teacher takes responsibility for co-ordination of the subject department on a voluntary basis. In order to facilitate the development of skills and ensure that all members have the opportunity to gain experience in the operation of a subject department, it is recommended that co-ordination of the subject be carried out on a rotating basis. Management facilitates formal subject department meetings during the year and the teachers meet informally on an ongoing basis.
The continuing professional development (CPD) of the teachers is supported and encouraged by management. It is good to note that teachers have availed of the subject specific CPD provided by the Home Economics Support Service, some of which is attended in teachers’ own time. It is also commendable that they are involved with the Association of Teachers of Home Economics.
There are two specialist classrooms for the subject, comprising a kitchen and a needlework room. The classrooms are well maintained and organised and enormous efforts have been made to create a stimulating and inviting learning environment. Due to the high numbers taking the subject, there is a lot of organisation involved in ensuring that all classes have access to the specialist rooms. There is an annual budget for Home Economics, which is managed by the subject department. This budget has been supplemented in recent years by the proceeds from fund-raising events organised by the parents’ association. The monies have been used to purchase resources and equipment, including computerised and digital sewing machines as well as a range of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment, to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics in the school. A data projector and a PC, with internet access, are in situ in one of the specialist classrooms; students and teachers also have access to the computer room.
A further example of the dynamism and initiative that exists in the department was the decision, with the support of management, to convert a small section of the dormitories, in an attic area of the convent, into a textile art and craft room, to create a space for students to develop their design and creative skills. This room resembles a busy design studio with lots of materials and fabrics as well as samples of a wide variety of students’ work at varying stages in the design process. A selection of books, pictures, photographs and design pieces add to the ambience of the room that can only be described as breathtaking.
In addition to the school’s health and safety statement, there is a health and safety policy for Home Economics. It is noteworthy that, at the beginning of each school year, all home economics students complete a module on hygiene and safety in relation to practical classes. They are then given an examination to check learning and understanding, before signing an agreement indicating that they understand, accept and agree to adhere to appropriate practices in relation to safety and hygiene. The agreement must also be read and signed by parents and guardians.
There is evidence of very effective, systematic and collaborative planning for Home Economics and long-term subject planning is at a very advanced stage. It is praiseworthy that the subject department meetings are minuted and this process informs ongoing planning; the diagnostic window has also been used to review progress in the subject. A comprehensive subject department plan has been developed that includes details on the organisation, planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subject in the school. Included in the subject plan are agreed programmes of work for each year group. The programmes provide a concise summary of the work to be covered on a termly basis; they indicate the chapter numbers, topics, page references and the practical and project work for each year group. Each programme is followed by detailed schemes of work, clearly presented in tabular form. The schemes outline the content, methodologies, resources, activities, links and assessment modes for each year group. There are some good examples of sequencing the topics and the practical work in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in the syllabuses; this is commended. In some cases, the content is presented in terms of learning outcomes. In order to enhance the excellent progress that has been made in planning, it is recommended that learning outcomes be outlined for all topics, to indicate what students should attain in terms of knowledge, understanding and skills as appropriate. This guarantees that the focus is on learning as well as teaching. It is important that the learning outcomes are based on the syllabus as opposed to the textbooks. The schemes of work would be further enhanced by the inclusion of more specific timeframes for the delivery of topics. It is commendable that ICT is used very effectively in the development of the schemes of work.
Teachers also presented excellent individual planning documents that were clear and coherent. It is evident that the very thorough approach to planning results in good progress in both theory and practical work. The commitment to planning and the support provided in Home Economics to students with special educational needs is commended.
The attention to planning and the organisation of a broad range of cross-curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities that support the work in the classroom is one of the many strengths of Home Economics in the school. Participation and success in the Young Chef competition in junior and senior cycle, the Wicklow 400 fashion competition, Futuristic Fashion competition, the after-school Design Club, visits to Collins Barracks, Ciarán Sweeney’s design studio and the Off-the-Rails fashion event are amongst some of the activities. This dedication to enriching students’ knowledge and experience and ultimate enjoyment of the subject is praiseworthy.
The development of resources to support teaching and learning is given high priority and it is laudable that the collaborative approach of the Home Economics teachers extends to the sharing of resources. In addition to the wide range of commercial resources, such as videos/DVD, charts, leaflets and educational packs, the teachers themselves are constantly developing support materials including handouts, worksheets, overhead transparencies and PowerPoint presentations. It is noted that attention is paid to differentiation in the development of the resources. A library of reference books is available at the back of the kitchen and relevant and up-to-date newspaper and magazine articles and research reports are also available for students.
In all of the lessons observed the level of advance planning and preparation was exemplary, resulting in excellent outcomes in terms of teaching and learning. In a number of cases, written lesson plans of a very high quality were presented and they included the objectives, very specific learning outcomes, resources and student activities. Lessons had a clear focus, were well structured and the good practice of sharing the learning outcomes with the students was noted. There was a very good example of outlining the learning outcomes on the blackboard thus providing a structure and a focus for students during the lesson. Returning to the learning outcomes at the end of the lesson provided an opportunity to summarise learning and check understanding, and for students to reflect on and consolidate their learning; this very good practice is encouraged.
There was evidence of very high quality teaching and learning throughout the lessons. Teacher instruction was very clear, accurate and contextualised and teachers demonstrated a commendable concern for students’ understanding of content. Students responded positively to the well-chosen range of teaching strategies and methodologies that were used effectively and were appropriate to the subject matter and the level and ability of the students. Active learning was central to all of the lessons resulting in a good balance between teacher input and student activity. As well as teacher instruction and demonstration, effective use was made of brainstorming, pair-work, PowerPoint presentations, the internet, project work, research reports and statistics, articles from magazines and a variety of food samples. The blackboard was used effectively to emphasise key points for students and textbooks were appropriately used to reinforce learning. However, teaching and learning moved far beyond the scope of the textbook. Learning was visual, active, experimental and by discovery, and this ensured that all students were focussed and actively engaged. The introduction of a new food studies practical coursework assignment in a senior cycle lesson provided evidence of best practice in terms of setting the assignment in the context of the relevant theory and of supporting students in the investigation, analysis and research aspects of the assignment. Students used a wide range of resources and research articles, analysed the information and presented it to their peers. There was very strong evidence of attention to differentiated learning in the lesson; this is commended. Observation of students’ coursework journals indicates that they are making good progress in the completion of the assignments. In working through the assignments, students should keep a careful watch on the assessment criteria, particularly with regard to the requirements in relation to the key factors, under the implementation.
Teachers are commended for the effective integration of ICT into teaching and learning. In a first year class, a stimulating on-line activity in the area of nutrition captured students’ attention and was used successfully to check understanding and students’ application of knowledge. A PowerPoint presentation incorporating photographs of food labels was an effective means of allowing all students to view and analyse the information at the same time, as opposed to passing the packages around the classroom.
The practical lesson observed provided half of the students in the class with the opportunity to work independently in preparation for the impending food and culinary skills examination. The remainder of the students were gainfully employed either in finalising the design and craftwork projects for examination or in the completion of examination questions. Despite this arrangement, the class was very well managed, with appropriate attention given to students as necessary. In preparation for the examination, the teacher assessed the students as they worked, using the marking criteria for the Junior Certificate examination. Commendably, at the completion of the task, students received feedback on their performance. It is laudable that students were encouraged to display originality and creativity in the selection, preparation and presentation of dishes for the examination. Observation of students at work provided evidence that they are competent and have attained a very high standard in practical food and culinary skills. Indeed a number of students demonstrated excellent skills in a range of challenging dishes. It is good to note that the design brief process is an integral part of all practical work, including textiles and design and craftwork, from first year through to third year. The range and standard of skills in design and craftwork and textiles, though all levels of junior cycle is commended.
As is appropriate, given the time of year, some attention was given to revision and examination preparation. Students were thoroughly guided through the answering of a question from the mock examination paper. The students were challenged and coached to use the information correctly and helped to develop examination techniques in line with the marking criteria of the written examination. It is notable that all of the teachers of Home Economics have varying levels of experience in the marking of the state examinations and it is evident that the students are benefiting from the teachers’ experience in these areas.
An examination of students’ copybooks, tests, practical work, project work and practical coursework journals provided evidence of very good progress in their work. Interaction with students indicated that they had a good knowledge of the lesson content and they understood the key principles underlying the processes in the practical work. They were challenged to reach their full potential and were encouraged to work independently and collaboratively and their ability to do this was impressive. The focus on the development of creativity, initiative and confidence in students, through a wide range of activities, is applauded.
The display of a range of educational posters and students’ project work in the classrooms provides a print-rich and stimulating learning environment. Classroom management was excellent and the atmosphere in the classes observed was positive, co-operative and very conducive to learning. Teaching and learning took place in a pleasant atmosphere that was characterised by a good rapport between students and their teachers and appropriate levels of encouragement and affirmation. Observation of classroom activities and interaction with students indicates a positive approach, a sense of enjoyment and an enthusiasm for Home Economics on the part of students; evidence during the evaluation would strongly indicate that this is passed on from the teachers who clearly display a passion for their subject.
It is evident that careful attention is given to the planning of assessment in combination with planning for teaching and learning. Teachers are commended for the use of a variety of assessment modes, including the assessment of practical and project work in junior cycle, which reflect the assessment objectives of the syllabus. Consideration should now be given to the assessment of the coursework journal in fifth year. Commendably, common examination papers are used for the formal in-house examinations. There was good evidence of the systematic recording of the results of both formal and informal assessments. This is useful in profiling students’ progress in the subject. Results are communicated to parents on a regular basis.
Questioning was used effectively and students’ responses indicated a very good level of previous knowledge. There were many fine examples of the use of higher order questions that challenged students to think, analyse and apply their knowledge. This was also evident in students’ written work. In addition to extending students’ understanding, such good practice helps them develop the higher order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of the home economics syllabuses.
There is evidence of very good practice with regard to the regular setting, checking and thorough monitoring of homework. Observation of students’ work in copies and folders indicated progression in their work. It is clear that homework is carefully planned to expand on and enhance the work carried out in class. There were very good examples of meticulous marking, using similar marking criteria to that used in the state examinations; this was sometimes accompanied by helpful teacher comments. Such good practice, which is in keeping with Assessment for Learning, is to be encouraged as it enhances learning, by informing students about their own individual progress, in terms of challenging them to improve, and by affirming work well done. In order to enhance the very good work already in progress with regard to assessment, it is recommended that teachers explore and further develop assessment for learning practices. Further information is available on the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie).
The subject department undertakes an annual analysis of student outcomes in the state examinations. Excellent learning outcomes are achieved by students in Home Economics at all levels in the school. It is also encouraging to note that the majority of the students take higher level in the state examinations; this practice is commended. Student achievement and success in Home Economics is rewarded and celebrated at the school’s prize-giving ceremony as well as through the exhibition of students’ work throughout the school and photographic displays of events and successes. These practices are to be commended as they give students a sense of pride and achievement in their work and help raise the profile of the subject in the school.
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.