An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Killarney Community College
New Road, Killarney, County Kerry
Roll number: 70450D
Date of inspection: 30 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Killarney 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 two 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 deputy principal and subject teachers.
Home Economics is firmly embedded in the curriculum offered in Killarney Community College. Generally it is offered as an optional subject, although for the second-year class of the current school year, 2006/2007, it is a compulsory subject. The Hotel, Catering and Tourism vocational specialism is a mandatory component of the school’s Leaving Certificate Applied programme.
Overall uptake levels in the subject are quite impressive. At junior cycle the percentage of students opting to study Home Economics is slightly above national averages, while at senior cycle, when compared to the trend nationally, a substantially higher percentage of students in the school choose to study Home Economics. This finding is even more significant when one considers that the school is co-educational and that the number of male students in attendance accounts for just over fifty percent of the total student cohort. Management and the home economics department are deserving of much credit for this identified trend. The percentage of male and female students opting to study the subject in junior cycle is also reasonably balanced, with quite a comparable number of girls and boys opting to study Home Economics. This is not the case in senior cycle, where the number of girls studying Home Economics outweighs the number of boys. This is a developing trend. It is recommended therefore, that consideration be given to an exploration of strategies designed to further encourage senior cycle, male students to study Home Economics to Leaving Certificate level.
Upon entry to the school in first year, students choose the choice subjects they wish to study for the year. Prior to entry to second year, students choose again, this time to decide on the subjects that they wish to study for the Junior Certificate examination. There is scope at this stage, for students who have not studied the subject in first year, to opt to study Home Economics in second and third year. While this does not occur on a large scale, nevertheless, it is accepted practice in the school. The fact that these students will have missed out on a number of learning opportunities, including many of the basics in relation to all of the key areas of the course, is a possible cause for concern. Management, in conjunction with the home economics department, should reflect on the merits and shortcomings of such an approach and the results should direct future school policy in relation to subject choice.
Decisions regarding the level at which students take a state-examination paper are deferred until the results of the mocks are known. At this point, taking into account students’ achievement in the mocks together with their performance and progress in class-based assessments, teachers provide advice and guidance. Where necessary, parents will also be asked to become directly involved in the decision regarding appropriate levels. An analysis of results tends to suggest that there is some scope for further encouraging a small percentage of Junior Certificate students to choose the higher-level option in the state examination.
On the whole, the timetabling of Home Economics is very favourable. The allocation of four class periods in first and third year is commended. In line with syllabus recommendations the possibility of providing four class periods in second year, as opposed to the current allocation of three, needs to be explored. Home Economics lessons are distributed evenly over the weekly timetable for each year group, thereby ensuring regularity in students’ contact with the subject. Double periods are provided to accommodate students’ engagement in the practical component of both the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate syllabuses and the timetable ensures that on these occasions access to the kitchen for each year group is uninterrupted. Class sizes are also more conducive to the safe delivery of the practical elements of the subject and to students’ learning in such lessons. When timetabling in the future, some consideration should be given to the feasibility of providing a triple period for the Hotel, Catering and Tourism vocational specialism.
Management’s support for Home Economics is also obvious in the resourcing of the subject. Requests for additional materials and equipment are rarely, if ever, refused. The school houses two subject-specific rooms, a kitchen and a textile room. A recent leak caused some flood damage to both rooms. The damage caused to the textile room has since been rectified, with a refurbishment that provided for a new floor covering and a fresh coat of paint. The kitchen still bears some of the hallmarks of the flood damage, both on the walls and the floor. The room itself has been in use for over twenty years, accommodating students in evening classes in addition to students studying Home Economics for the state examinations. While the room is not in a serious state of disrepair or neglect, the age of the room, in combination with the impact of the flood damage, highlights the need for planning for the refurbishment of the facility. Some of the electric cookers are also due for replacement. On a more serious note provision must also be made for the installation of a gas-isolation switch, similar to the electric ‘slap switch’ already installed. A switch of this nature, which shuts off gas the moment pressure is applied, is quicker and easier to use in emergency situations. Furthermore, it is recommended that a health and safety policy specific to Home Economics be devised.
Over and above the time provided at the beginning and at the end of the school year, management does not allocate formal time for the purpose of collaborative planning within subject departments. It is recommended that management strengthens its support for this area of teachers’ work, by seeking to provide additional formal meeting time over the course of the school year.
There is evidence to suggest that the home economics department work well as a team. A spirit of collegiality and a co-operative and collaborative approach is apparent in much of the work that has been undertaken by the home economics teachers.
Work has begun in the department with regard to the preparation of a home economics plan. Teachers have given generously of their free time to initiate work in this area. The provision of some formal planning time over the course of the school year, as recommended in the previous section, would greatly support teachers in their task of progressing the plan.
At present this work, along with other business relating to the logistics of providing for the teaching of Home Economics, is co-ordinated by the most senior teacher in the department. In the interests of professional development, it is recommended that the position of subject co-ordinator be rotated amongst all members of the department. The recently adopted practice of providing agendas for home economics department meetings, as well as the developing custom of minuting proceedings, are applauded and therefore further encouraged.
It is good to note that programmes of work have been prepared. The approach taken to the drafting of these documents varies significantly across year groups. It is recommended that the department prioritises discussions relating to the preparation of a template to assist in the drafting of programmes of work. Some thought might also be given to the inclusion of areas not already provided for in current programme plans such as the integration of practical work, the identification of links between topics, assessment methods and, when and where applicable, scheduled revision. Furthermore, a consensus approach should be adopted to the planning of work to be covered with each year group, regardless of whether or not individual teachers are currently involved in the teaching of the groups. These plans can then be personalised by teachers as circumstances dictate. Programmes of work included some written observations made by teachers in relation to work covered. This practice has a significant contribution to make to review and evaluation and is therefore deserving of much praise. The revised template, as recommended above, might also provide space for a more formal and structured approach to this. Finally, with regard to programme planning, it is recommended that in planning for the textile area of the Junior Certificate syllabus that provision is made for the completion of a simple item of clothing and a household item.
The very open sharing amongst the home economics teachers, of information relating specifically to the delivery of curricula, as well as to lesson design and organisation, is very positive. These exchanges are rooted in a desire to improve the quality of students’ experiences in the classroom and reflect the teachers’ commitment to their students and to their own continuing professional development. It is recommended, as alluded to previously, that this approach be extended to the development of agreed programmes of work for all year groups.
There is evidence of very effective planning for the fostering of cross-curricular links between Home Economics and a number of other subjects offered on the curriculum in Killarney Community College. The home economics department outlined how the school’s involvement in programmes such as the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) and the Outdoor Resources Brought into Teaching (ORBIT) programme have greatly encouraged teachers to establish and develop cross-curricular links. The benefit of this to students cannot be over-emphasised and therefore it is an approach that is credited. Links with ICT deserve a particular mention. A number of associations with outside agencies, businesses and organisations have also been established by the home economics department. These alliances, which take many forms, have a significant role to play in extending students’ learning beyond the four walls of the classrooms and are highly praised.
Planning for a more formal integration of information communication technology (ICT) into the actual delivery of the home economics curriculum is also underway. One member of the home economics department, along with a number of colleagues from other subject departments, will be involved in a pilot scheme which is being organised and co-ordinated by the deputy principal. This scheme will see each of the teachers involved being provided with a laptop and data projector, along with the necessary training to assist them in the use of this technology in the classroom. This very progressive initiative is commended and therefore fully advocated.
Lessons presented were consistent with planned programmes of work. There was evidence of good quality short-term planning for each of the lessons observed. Advance preparation of the blackboard, the organisation of materials for student activities and the provision of students’ worksheets and handouts, designed to support and develop points made during lessons, are some examples of the advance planning that was apparent. Students were well versed in knowledge that was taught as a precursor to lessons presented. Teachers were also very knowledgeable and demonstrated an expertise in each of the topics being explored. Both of these findings are also testament to teachers’ level of preparedness. Files examined over the course of the inspection, housing a collection of handouts, students’ worksheets, revision notes and assessment papers, are also indicative of the importance that the department places on planning for lesson delivery.
Each of the lessons observed demonstrated a clear aim. In some instances, a more detailed sharing of lesson aims is recommended. This would provide students with clarity of purpose for each lesson, as well as a mechanism for them to measure their own learning. Most lessons began with a quick recap on work previously covered. This often involved an examination of students’ learning. This approach is applauded and therefore further encouraged. Overall, lessons were well structured and appropriately paced. In one instance, in an attempt to progress through the syllabus, the intended lesson content was rather ambitious and its delivery therefore, somewhat rushed. As a means of addressing this, it is recommended that when planning lessons efforts are made to seek a balance between the quantity and quality of information being presented. The inclusion of a lesson summary would be beneficial in this regard. This would help teachers to determine students’ learning in any given lesson, thereby highlighting the amount of information that can practically and realistically be taught and understood in a thirty-five to forty-minute period. In all lessons, there was a strong emphasis on and a very thorough explanation of key concepts. In some instances the blackboard was used to further highlight the significance of this important information. This approach is strongly advocated.
Lessons observed demonstrated continuity with previous lessons and, in line with the inter-disciplinary nature of each syllabus, significant efforts were also made to highlight the links between work being explored and other relevant areas of the course. A range of methodologies was utilised in the delivery of most lessons, many of which required the active participation of students. This incorporation of student-based strategies is applauded. Students worked alone, in pairs and sometimes in groups to complete the tasks set for them. The close and constant monitoring of students as they completed assignments is noted as good practice. Each task was purposeful and was carefully designed with a view to supporting the learning objectives of the planned lesson. This approach to curriculum delivery is encouraged in all lessons. When planning for the inclusion of such activities it is important that sufficient time be allowed for students to report back on their efforts, as this has a significant contribution to make to students’ learning. In general, the textbook was used in an appropriate fashion to support and develop teacher input, class discussion and student activity. This under-reliance on the textbook is further encouraged.
Junior Certificate practical work, it is good to note, was grounded in the design brief approach. This is excellent practice as it develops students’ analytical, research and evaluative skills in conjunction with their culinary competence. It also has the added advantage of familiarising students with the approach required for the food and culinary skills examination, which accounts for a substantial percentage of the marks awarded to students in the Junior Certificate home economics examination. The teacher instruction provided during the practical lesson observed is highly commended, as it was designed to assist students in becoming independent and autonomous learners. Instruction placed a strong emphasis on best practice regarding the preparation and cooking of food and was often guided by what is required of students in the food and culinary skills examination. The lesson demonstrated a healthy balance between whole-class instruction, on-spot demonstrations and individual, one-to-one instruction. This helped to vary lesson content whilst keeping students on task. On a minor point, there was some scope during the practical lesson for integrating theory not previously known to students. It is recommended that such learning opportunities should be availed of more fully in future lessons. Students with identified special educational needs are assisted by a support teacher during practical lessons.
In addition to examining students’ learning, questioning was also used to great effect in all lessons to engage students and to check students’ understanding of new topics. Questions were usually well distributed to named students. In instances where students found it difficult to answer a question or where an incorrect answer was provided, some prompting and a little gentle persuasion by the teachers was very effective in assisting students to respond accurately. On occasions the level of students’ knowledge regarding previous work covered was most impressive, with some students demonstrating a capacity to recall information taught months previously. Interaction with students during lessons also demonstrated their understanding of new work presented, together with an ability to apply this information to different scenarios or situations. As part of a keyword approach to developing subject-specific vocabulary, there was evidence to suggest that teachers used the JCSP keyword posters. This is a very positive practice as it supports students in the learning of words and concepts necessary to access the home economics curriculum. This approach is applauded and therefore further encouraged
The rapport that has been established between teachers and students is very positive. Relations were notably respectful and loyal, with a strong sense that students really appreciated the lengths that teachers went to in order to make learning accessible and enjoyable. As a result students were well-behaved and very attentive, applying themselves fully to designated tasks. Students’ contribution to lesson content was encouraged, welcomed and affirmed. The resulting atmosphere was one that was most conducive to learning.
Classrooms housed a series of notice-boards, which were used to great effect to support student activity and learning in topics recently explored. Students’ work also featured on the classroom walls. Both of these were referred to in some lessons as a reference point for students. The functionality of such displays, which can only be maintained through regular updating, is fully encouraged. One of the classrooms housed a notice-board which was entitled ‘Taking Responsibility for Your Own Learning’. This impressive display provided worksheets for students in various class groups. Students are encouraged to take a worksheet which can be completed in their own time and then returned to the teacher for monitoring and correction. This initiative is very creditable as it is designed to encourage self-directed learning and inspire curiosity in students with regard to Home Economics.
Students’ progress and achievement is assessed in a number of ways. Oral questioning in class, that relates to work previously covered, helps teachers to determine if students have completed assigned learning. Topic tests are administered at appropriate intervals to the various class groups. There is also some examination of students’ project, journal and practical work. This is further encouraged as ultimately the mark awarded to students in the state examinations acknowledges students’ achievement in all course work areas, as well as in a written paper. As a result consideration should be given to the inclusion of a percentage of the marks achieved by students in such work in the overall marks that are awarded at key times during the school year. Students’ accomplishments are recorded in a systematic fashion. This helps to inform feedback provided to parents or guardians at the parent-teacher meetings, which take place once per year for each year group. School reports are also issued to parents following the formal in-house examinations that are held at Christmas and May.
Students were assigned homework in each of the lessons observed on the day of the inspection. There is also evidence to suggest that there is a pattern of regularly assigning homework in home economics lessons. The monitoring of this work, which is quite regular, bore some very good examples of teacher annotation. This approach, which reflects an approach referred to as assessment for learning or AfL, is fully encouraged. Additional information on this approach can be located on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie. Junior cycle students’ copybooks also illustrated some use of JCSP achievement stickers which acknowledged work well done. A difficulty in getting students to return homework for monitoring and correction is a cause for concern amongst members of the home economics department. Consideration should be given therefore to the design and adoption of strategies that might encourage students to complete work and return it to teachers for evaluation and assessment.
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 deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.