An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Balbriggan Community College
Pineridge, County Dublin
Roll number: 70010V
Date of inspection: 26 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Balbriggan Community College 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 three 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 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 is a popular and well established subject in Balbriggan Community College, where it is offered on all of the curricular programmes. Uptake is very healthy in both junior and senior cycle and it noteworthy that the number of boys who choose the subject is increasing steadily. The school is commended for the student-centred approach to subject selection in both junior and senior cycle, where subject option pools, which vary from year to year, are created based on student choice. Home Economics is a core subject for students in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), while Hotel, Catering and Tourism is taken as one of the vocational specialisms by all students who chose the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA).
There is very good whole school support for the subject. Management facilitates the collaborative planning process and formal time is made available for subject department planning several times during the school year. Teachers also meet in their own time. Three very experienced home economics teachers staff the department and while co-ordination of the subject is part of an assistant principal’s post, there is a very collaborative approach, with a strong sense of a subject department.
Teaching time allocated to classes is appropriate and it is commendable that teachers retain class groups through all years of the cycle. In junior and senior cycle, all classes are mixed ability. Participation rates at higher level, particularly in senior cycle, are low and the school is aware of this issue. It is recommended that the issue be monitored on an ongoing basis and that consideration be given to how participation rates at higher level might be improved, thus raising students’ expectations.
The kitchen and textiles room are located away from the main school building in a section of the former school that dates back to the early 1950s. The facilities are inadequate and antiquated and there are serious health and safety issues, as well as some difficult operational issues. The kitchen is at the end of a corridor and does not have an emergency exit; therefore, evacuation from the kitchen in the case of an emergency is a serious concern.
There are only three sinks in the kitchen, all of which are located on one side of the room and one of these has poor access. In addition, on the day of the evaluation there was no hot water in the kitchen and the school reports that this is an ongoing problem. These inadequacies result in the very unsafe practice of students having to carry basins and saucepans of hot water around the classroom for washing up. Two of the cookers in the kitchen are stand-alone which means that there is no counter space on either side of the cookers on which to place equipment or utensils when cooking; this is very unsatisfactory. There is one extractor fan which is of no use due to its position well above the classroom door and hence away from the main sources of steam and odours.
It is acknowledged that new units were installed on one side of the kitchen several years ago; however, the remaining units are very poor and storage overall is inadequate. Due to space restrictions, a combination washer-drier is in place. However, this cannot meet the demands of the high turnover of tea towels required for the numbers of classes. During the evaluation it was noted that a large number of tea towels were drying on radiators in the textiles room, an unsafe practice from a hygiene point of view, and also in terms of safety given that pins and needles are in use in the room.
The textiles room resembles a general classroom with a number of presses for the storage of students’ practical and project work. The majority of the electric sockets are along one side of the room. However, due to the fact that this room is used for other subjects, the sewing machines, of necessity, are sitting on the floor at the back of the room. This means that students or teachers must lift them up onto the single desks for use, an unsafe practice in terms of manual handling.
Negotiations have taken place between the VEC and the Department of Education and Science to improve the home economics department and the school is hopeful that progress will be made as part of a larger building project. However, for the present cohort of students the serious health and safety issues remain. It is strongly recommended that the health and safety issues regarding the home economics facilities be addressed as a matter of urgency. Given the extensive requirements of the food studies practical coursework, which is a substantial examination component for the Junior Certificate, the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied, the facilities are also in need of modernisation.
The home economics department is highly commended on the excellent progress it has been made and planning is now at a very advanced stage. A comprehensive subject policy documents the organisational aspects of the subject. It is noted that the SCOT analysis was used as part of the review and evaluation. In relation to curriculum planning, very thorough schemes of work have been developed for all year groups and programmes. Commendably the schemes are based on the syllabuses and outline the content to be covered on a week-by-week basis. They specify the topic, the content in terms of knowledge and understanding, and appropriately incorporate the practical coursework with the relevant theory. Suggested methodologies, resources and homework are outlined for each topic; syllabus and textbook references are also included. Teachers are commended for the wide range of resources and teaching materials that they have developed using ICT.
Planning for students with special educational needs is given high priority. The schemes of work for the JCSP commendably illustrate the integration of theory and practical work and there is a very appropriate focus on the areas of experience and the learning targets. The recently introduced and inclusive practice of including students with special educational needs in a mainstream class for Home Economics is commended. It is noted that the provision of an extra class period of Home Economics gives these students an opportunity to build on their knowledge and skills from class work.
The good practice of planning for and training students in the procedures of the design brief process, in both food and culinary skills and design and craftwork, from an early stage in junior cycle is commended. There was a very good example of cross-curricular planning and its implementation during the evaluation. A model of a food pyramid constructed in the Materials Technology (Wood) class was well used in Home Economics and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in lessons on the theme of nutrition and healthy eating.
There was evidence of good advance planning and preparation for all of the classes visited. Lessons generally had clear objectives and were well sequenced and appropriately paced for the level and ability of the students. Best practice was evident when the learning outcomes were shared with the students and there was a nice example in one of the lessons of summarising the learning by reference to the learning outcomes at the end of the lessons. It is recommended that, where this is not already the case, that teachers should consider sharing the objectives of the lesson with students; this would provide a focus and structure for students.
Teachers worked hard to ensure that students understood the concepts and processes being taught and there was good emphasis on the development of language and key terms. It is good to note that teachers have taken ownership with regard to the exploration and use of active learning methodologies. Much emphasis was placed on student participation and this was successful in the majority of cases. In addition to the use of the overhead projector, the blackboard, the textbook and educational posters, other strategies involved the use of handouts, questionnaires, case studies, individual and pair work, group tasks such as problem solving, and group discussion. In a senior class visited, students had engaged in interview and survey methods as part of their homework and the results were processed as part of the lesson. There were some nice examples of having students apply their learning to everyday experiences. A very good example of this involved the application of the components of management, inputs, throughputs and outputs, to the stages involved in the completion of one of the food studies practical coursework assignments.
The management of students’ learning activities was most successful when the activities chosen had a clear purpose, were suited to the topic and to the ability of the class and where the time allocation was appropriate. In such cases students engaged actively with the topic of the lesson and classroom management was effective. It is important when planning lessons that, as well as considering what methodologies to use, that attention be given to how the methodologies can be used effectively in order to engage all students in their learning. Consideration should be given to how group work is organised and managed and to questions such as “what and how will the students learn from their involvement in this activity?”
When questioned, students generally demonstrated good previous knowledge and understanding of key processes. However, in some cases there is scope to challenge students further in order to raise their expectations of themselves and to foster independent learning.
The practical food and culinary skills lesson observed illustrated good practice in terms of the development of students’ skills, differentiation, the integration of theory and practice, including the consumer aspects of the lesson, and the encouragement of independent learning. Students were industrious and demonstrated good skills and there was good attention to health and safety. At the end of the lesson, a pre-arranged visit from a first year class to sample the food provided opportunities for the students, on a one-to-one basis, to convey some key nutritional messages to the visitors. This very valuable exercise also focused on the development of social skills.
Students at work on the design and craftwork projects for Junior Certificate demonstrated a good range of skills and a level of competence that was generally appropriate to their level and ability. Opportunities could be used in mixed ability classes to promote differentiation and to challenge students in terms of further developing their practical skills thus ensuring that the amount of craft skills in the project work is relative to the mark allocation for the examination. There were some examples of excellent stitching in the craftwork and there was evidence of some creativity and originality in relation to the choice of design and processes.
Teaching and learning took place in a secure and supportive atmosphere and students responded well to the use of encouragement and appropriate affirmation of their efforts. There was a good focus on the development of self-confidence in students. In the classes visited, it was also evident that all students, including newcomer students, were well integrated into their class groups.
It is commendable that a range of assessment modes is used to assess student progress and common assessments are used for the in-house examinations. Results are communicated to parents and students on a regular basis each year. Analysis of student outcomes in Home Economics is discussed at the subject department meetings; this is commended. There was some evidence of good practice with regard to the regular setting and monitoring of homework. The custom of having students record their homework in the student journal was noted. Examination of work in students’ copybooks indicates that most of the questions assigned for homework are generally of the lower-order variety. The marking of homework is supported by helpful comments for the students. This commendable practice should be sustained and further developed so that students can benefit from feedback on their progress and use it to enhance their own learning. Further information on this practice of assessment for learning is available on the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie).
Oral questioning was used during the lessons to check learning and previous knowledge. While the majority of questions involved the recall of information, there was some evidence of questioning where students were required to analyse, apply and evaluate the information from the lesson. In one lesson there was very good use of “wait-time” for students to reflect and think before answering. Questions were then directed at individual students while ensuring that the questions were well spread out amongst class members. This is much more preferable to chorus answering which limits learning.
It is recommended that students at all levels be challenged to a greater extent and provided with opportunities, in both oral and written work, to develop the higher order thinking skills that are an inherent part of the assessment objectives of the home economics syllabuses. The use of past examination questions from an early stage will also support the development of such skills as well as helping students interpret and become familiar with examination style questions.
Observation of students’ practical coursework journals and project work indicated that students were making good progress in these examination components. The Chief Examiner’s Reports and the associated marking schemes for past examinations issued by the State Examinations Commission should prove a useful source of information for students and teachers in the preparation of coursework, and for the written examinations. These can be downloaded at www.examinations.ie
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.