An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Maynooth Post-Primary School
Maynooth, Co. Kildare
Roll number: 70700A
Date of inspection: September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Maynooth Post-Primary School, Co. Kildare. 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 principal and home economics teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Maynooth Post-Primary School offers a comprehensive programme of education with a wide range of subjects in both junior and senior cycle. Home Economics is an optional subject in junior and senior cycle, with the exception of Transition Year (TY) where all students study the subject.
Incoming first-year students choose their subjects prior to entering the school. To assist students and parents in making subject choices, an information evening is held for parents and an information leaflet on optional subjects is enclosed with the subject selection form. Uptake of Home Economics in junior cycle is very good, albeit traditionally among the female student cohort. In junior cycle Home Economics is offered in a subject grouping with Woodwork, Metalwork, Business Studies and Music. While there is a short taster programme in Woodwork and Metalwork, no such arrangement exists for the other subjects in this group. As there is a distinct gender bias in favour of girls studying Home Economics, it is recommended that strategies be explored to encourage the male student cohort to study the subject. Consideration could be given to the introduction of a short taster programme as already exists with Woodwork and Metalwork in First year. This would allow students make a more informed subject choice. Alternatively the option blocks could be reviewed as Home Economics is offered against Woodwork and Metalwork which are perceived as traditional male subjects.
It is laudable that Home Economics is a core module in TY. The length of time allocated to the Home Economics module has substantially increased this year and management is commended for their efforts in this regard. In senior cycle option groups are generated from student surveys and every effort is made to facilitate each student in securing his/her subject choices. In senior cycle Home Economics is offered against Biology, Engineering, Construction Studies, Accounting and Geography. Uptake of Home Economics is very good considering the large number of options available. The strong uptake generally results in the formation of two class groups. They are organised as mixed ability class groups in fifth year and as higher and ordinary level groups in sixth year.
There is good whole-school provision for Home Economics. The teaching team is facilitated to attend relevant continuous professional development and official curriculum documentation is disseminated to the teaching team. Teaching time allocated to classes at junior and senior cycle is adequate. However, consideration could be given to reviewing the number of double periods allocated, particularly in senior cycle where each class group has two doubles and one single period. An alternative arrangement of one double and three single periods would facilitate a more even distribution of class contact time throughout the week and maximise continuity in teaching and learning. In addition, where junior classes are allocated two double periods, they should not be distributed over two consecutive days as this results in a gap of almost one week between home economics lessons.
Management encourages and is very supportive of collaborative subject planning. The co-ordination of the subject forms part of a post of responsibility in the school and formal planning time is allocated on a very regular basis to facilitate subject department meetings. The home economics team arranges additional meetings as the need arises. This level of commitment to collaborative planning is very praiseworthy. It is laudable that senior management is provided with a copy of the subject plan as well as copies of minutes from department meetings.
There are two specialist rooms for Home Economics. However, the fact that there is only one kitchen is limiting the quality of access to practical lessons and restricting growth in uptake. The kitchen was re-furbished in 2000 and is well furnished with an appropriate range of equipment to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. At present the textiles room is doubling up as a classroom for other subject areas because of limited general classroom accommodation. This has resulted in home economics classes having limited access to the textiles room. During the course of the evaluation there was some uncertainty surrounding the supply of electricity to the sockets in the textiles room. This has impacted negatively on the effective delivery of the core textiles coursework as well as limiting students’ choice in the optional study chosen for the Junior Certificate Examination. While acknowledging the contextual difficulties that exist, it is recommended that the home economics team be supported to plan and implement a programme of work for textile studies as soon as is practicable, as practical textiles is a compulsory section of the Junior Certificate syllabus in Home Economics. Furthermore, as the textiles room is a specialist room, management, in consultation with the home economics team, should establish health and safety procedures that will be followed by any class group using the textiles room. These routines should be clearly displayed in the room and be communicated to all staff using the room.
The school has adopted a health and safety policy that was drawn up and circulated by Co. Kildare Vocational Education Committee. It is praiseworthy that this policy is regularly reviewed by staff. Safety rules are displayed in the kitchen and due attention was given to health and safety procedures in the practical lessons observed during the course of the evaluation. As a means of further developing health and safety policy in Home Economics, the home economics team should include details on the precautions to be followed when using key appliances and establish mechanisms to review the implementation of the health and safety procedures in Home Economics. A copy of the amended policy should be included in the subject department plan and a list of the relevant key points should be displayed in both specialist rooms. Consideration could be given by management to circulating hazard analysis sheets to subject departments on an annual basis as a means of reviewing health and safety procedures and of highlighting maintenance priorities.
The home economics team is committed to continuous professional development (CPD) All teachers have attended in-service training for the revised Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus. This is good practice as the experience gained can impact very positively on the quality of learning and teaching of Home Economics in the school. Further information on the current round of network meetings for the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus is available from the Home Economics Support Service which is based in Co. Wexford Education Centre.
There is considerable interest in the potential of information and communications technologies (ICT) to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. ICT is currently used for coursework research and the production of worksheets. The school’s computer room is very heavily timetabled which leaves little access for students of Home Economics. However, both home economics rooms have networked data points. While it is commendable that the home economics department has its own computer, consideration could be given, where resources permit, to upgrading the existing equipment. ICT is a useful tool to engage students in independent and guided research for project work. Therefore, its potential should be further explored by the teaching team to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
Good provision is made in Home Economics for students with special education needs. The home economics team collaborate with the learning support department. If necessary, extra assistance is provided during practical lessons. It is laudable that the school provides resources during the in-house and mock examinations which replicate the reasonable accommodation that candidates may expect in the certificate examinations. This good practice is very beneficial in helping students prepare for their certificate examinations.
The home economics team is committed to the process of collaborative subject department planning. In addition to the formal time provided as part of the school calendar, the team meets at least once a month to progress department work. It is commendable that an agenda and minutes are provided for all department meetings. Formal planning time is used to progress issues such as the organisation of practical and project work, planning room allocation and in-house assessments. From reviewing the minutes of department planning meetings that were made available on the day of the inspection, it was evident that tasks are shared among the teaching team and that there is very good follow-up with regard to monitoring the completion of student coursework in Home Economics. It is commendable that the members of the home economics team regularly analyse student outcomes as evidenced by results in the certificate examinations. Of particular note is the fact that that teaching team also considers specific contextual factors as part of this exercise. This useful exercise should inform reflective debate on the teaching and learning of Home Economics and the general whole-school provision for the subject.
There are agreed formal programmes of work for each year group that are regularly monitored and reviewed. It is commendable that the home economics teachers implement effectively a common fifth year programme of work to facilitate the arrangement of higher and ordinary level classes in sixth year. All programmes of work briefly outline the main areas of content, both theoretical and practical that will be covered in each term. Time is included for revision and assessment in each plan and there are some good examples of the integration of theoretical and practical areas of the syllabuses. It is recommended that the collaborative approach to subject planning already underway be continued and developed further. All programmes of work need further development and some adjustment to meet current syllabus requirements and guidelines. It is recommended that, on a phased basis, junior and senior cycle programmes of work be developed to outline a sequence of lessons that integrates theoretical knowledge with practical skills and reflects the integrated approach recommended in Junior and Leaving Certificate syllabuses. Appropriate teaching strategies, homework activities and suitable resources should also be considered and included. When planning the core textiles section of the junior cycle syllabus, consideration should be given to the completion of a simple scrapbook or folder in tandem with the textile item. This would enable students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of investigation, problem solving, planning and evaluation. It would also provide opportunities to integrate theory and practice.
As part of the review process, the home economics team should evaluate the teaching strategies used in each programme of work. Considering the breadth of the junior cycle home economics syllabus and the necessity to develop appropriate food and culinary skills, together with the fact that there is limited access to the kitchen, it is recommended that the appropriateness of formal demonstrations as a teaching strategy in Home Economics, as evident in the first year programme of work, be reviewed and carefully considered by the teaching team. Further advice on planning a programme of work in Home Economics is available in the NCCA Guidelines for Teachers for the revised Leaving Certificate Home Economics syllabus. The Home Economics Support Service also provides advice on programme planning.
Following on from discussions with the home economics team over the course of the evaluation it is recommended that the current transition year module for Home Economics be reviewed and further developed. Information and advice on writing a transition year module is available in the leaflet Writing the Transition Year Programme which is available from the Second Level Support Service at www.slss.ie.
The teaching team has collected a range of resources to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. In addition, they have access to a television and video recorder. Consideration could be given, where resources permit, to the provision of an overhead projector for the home economics department. As home economics syllabuses necessitate access to a range of updated information and resources such as posters, reference books videos and DVDs, management should consider providing an annual budget to assist the home economics team in expanding the range of resources available. To complement this initiative, the home economics team should review the current stock of resources in both specialist rooms and identify any resource needs that have arisen. It is suggested that a resource library, which is readily accessible to teachers and students alike, be set up in the home economics department. This library can be developed and expanded as resources permit.
There was evidence of good short-term planning for the lessons observed during the course of the evaluation. Lesson content was generally well thought out in terms of expected learning outcomes. Advance preparation of appropriate resources such as student handouts and materials for practicals complemented the delivery of lessons. Lessons were generally well structured and paced at a level that was appropriate to the students. In some cases, the lesson objectives were shared with the students. This good practice should be extended to all lessons, as it can help to motivate students as well as give a sense of purpose and direction to class work.
Teachers demonstrated excellent subject knowledge and explanations were very clear, accurate and contextualised. Deliberate efforts were made to link the lesson content to students’ own experiences. This proved very effective in engaging students with lesson content and in facilitating a good understanding of the new concepts being covered. The blackboard and student handouts were used to good effect to emphasise key terminology and summarise lesson content. In some lessons, there was effective integration of specific areas of the course that related to the subject being studied. This is good practice and should be further advanced to reflect the integrated approach recommended in home economics syllabuses.
Questioning was used to good effect to elicit students’ prior experiences and knowledge of the topic being taught and to check knowledge and understanding of lesson content. Student responses indicated a good level of understanding of the key concepts under discussion. On occasion, questioning strategies challenged students to think more deeply about the topic under discussion. This is good practice and its wider use is encouraged in order to promote higher order thinking skills. Questioning strategies were most effective when the questions were directed at individual students. This is a useful method of monitoring individual student learning, whereas global questioning strategies tend to encourage either chorus answering or answering by only the most confident students.
In the practical lesson observed students worked well independently and in pairs. Due attention was paid to safety and hygiene throughout the lesson. Students generally displayed a good standard of culinary skills, were competent in following instructions and, in the handling and organisation of equipment. Good use was made of on-the-spot demonstrations to “stage” the preparation, cooking and serving of dishes and integrate relevant theoretical knowledge. The group evaluation proved effective in encouraging students to reflect on the work carried out in the lesson. It is suggested that this evaluation stage be developed to allow students to evaluate their own work in order to encourage the development of higher order thinking skills such as reflection, analysis and critical evaluation. A wall chart could be displayed to assist students in the tasting and evaluation stage of practical work.
In order to build on the good practice already evident, it is recommended that in lessons where there could be a tendency for students to remain passive, active teaching methodologies be explored further and used in order to avoid an over-emphasis on teacher input and promote active learning. Activities such as group-work, pair-work, and the use of worksheets or case studies, should be considered as a means of reinforcing lesson content and of engaging students actively in their learning. On occasion these activities should aim to challenge students to research, analyse, interpret and apply information in order to develop the higher order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of Home Economics syllabuses.
Classroom management was very good. The good practice of taking a roll call at the beginning of class was noted. Good routines were evident in the practical lesson observed though consideration should be given to labelling kitchen presses to facilitate smoother work routines. A very good rapport and a high level of mutual respect were evident between teacher and students in all the lessons observed. Students displayed a sense of security in seeking clarification or assistance during lessons. Teacher movement around the room during lessons provided opportunities for students to seek individual help in a supportive structure. Very good use was made of praise to affirm students’ efforts.
Some posters were on display in both specialist rooms. However, the physical environment of both specialist rooms could be enhanced further by displays of themed educational posters, photographs of student project work and the development of a notice board exhibiting leaflets and newspaper articles on topical issues relevant to Home Economics.
Students have a positive attitude towards Home Economics. Interaction with students indicated that they had a good level of knowledge and understanding of the key concepts of the lessons observed. Observation of students’ recent project work in the areas of Craft and Design and Textiles indicated a very good level of competence in the organisation and presentation of materials and in the appropriate craft and textiles skills. Observation of students’ project work in the area of Childcare indicated a good level of competence in the organisation and presentation of materials. Projects that demonstrated a clear link to child development, utilised a variety of research methods, and incorporated a detailed analysis of research findings with well-developed conclusions were illustrative of best practice. It is worth noting that the Chief Examiners’ Reports and associated marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission are very useful for further guidance and advice on the coursework components at junior and senior cycle. These documents are available at www.examinations.ie.
The assessment policy for Home Economics includes some effective practices with regard to the monitoring of student work. A variety of assessment modes is used to monitor student progress and achievement in Home Economics. These include oral questioning, written assignments, homework activities and class tests, as well as an assessment of practical and project work. It is laudable that written papers are based on the format and style of the certificate examinations and that common assessment papers are drafted where necessary. In addition, the teaching team operates a commendable system of summative assessment where students are awarded an aggregated mark for a written examination and relevant coursework components. This is very good practice as it mirrors the arrangements in place for the certificate examinations and is a good indicator of students’ performance in the subject.
All assessment outcomes and attendance are systematically recorded in the teachers’ journal. This good practice helps to build a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over time. These profiles are used by the teachers to provide advice on examination levels to students and parents. It is particularly commendable that home economics students are encouraged to aim for high academic standards in the certificate examinations.
First-year, second-year and fifth-year students sit formal, in-house examinations at Christmas and in summer. Third-year and sixth-year students are assessed at Halloween and by mock examinations in the second term. Results are communicated to parents or guardians twice yearly and at the parent-teacher meetings. During the course of the evaluation some good use was made of the student journal as an additional means of communicating with parents and guardians. It was noted positively that procedures are also in place to inform parents or guardians on the coursework requirements in Home Economics.
The school has a homework policy and home economics teachers implement this policy on an individual basis with their class groups. Very good practice was evident with regard to the assigning and monitoring of homework. Observation of student copybooks indicated good progression in their work. Useful teacher comments in copybooks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. It was noted positively that, where applicable, students begin the school year by correcting errors made on their summer examination. This is good practice as it encourages students to reflect on their work and highlights areas for improvement. Consideration should be given by the home economics team to expanding and developing these Assessment for Learning (AfL) practices in the learning and teaching of Home Economics. This could be done in conjunction with the development of an agreed homework policy for the subject. Further information on AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics is a very popular subject among the female student cohort as evidenced by the very high participation rates of female students in the junior and senior cycles.
· There is good whole-school provision for Home Economics. The increase in time allocated to the transition year module is highly commended.
· Subject department planning is underway and the home economics team meet regularly on a formal and informal basis.
· The home economics team carry out a detailed and considered analysis of student outcomes in the certificate examinations to inform department practices.
· There is a range of resources available to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
· Programmes of work are available for each year group. The collaborative approach taken to subject planning is commended.
· In the lessons observed there was a very good rapport between students and teachers and a high level of mutual respect and co-operation was evident.
· Students demonstrated a good knowledge and understanding of the key concepts relating to the topics being studied.
· The assessment procedures used to monitor student progress and achievement in Home Economics are highly commended.
· There is good communication between the home economics department and parents with regard to coursework requirements in Home Economics.
· Home Economics students are encouraged to aim for high academic standards in the certificate examinations.
· Very good practices were evident with regard to the monitoring of homework.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Consideration should be given to the design and implementation of strategies that would encourage the male student cohort to study Home Economics.
· The home economics team should be supported in planning and implementing a programme of work for the core textile studies in order to comply with the Junior Certificate syllabus requirements.
· The home economics module for TY should be reviewed.
· The collaborative schemes of work should be progressed over time, as outlined in the report. Particular attention should be given to evaluating chosen teaching strategies.
· In order to avoid an over-emphasis on teacher input, the use of active teaching methodologies should be further explored.
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.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Home Economics team discussed the findings and are happy to accept the recommendations. However, as principal I wish to state that Home Economics cannot be treated as a stand alone subject for single period teaching.