An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Coláiste Phobal Ros Cré
Roll Number: 76069P
Date of inspection: 25 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré 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 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 subject teachers.
Home Economics has a high profile at Coláiste Phobail Ros Cré where it is a very popular subject option at junior and senior cycle for both boys and girls. Currently over half of junior cycle and a third of senior cycle students study Home Economics, thus illustrating its popularity. The gender balance in uptake is good when one considers that the school is co-educational, with slightly more boys than girls in attendance. Much credit is due to both school management and the home economics department for encouraging and motivating students in this way.
First-year students have the opportunity of experiencing the full range of option subjects on the school’s curriculum, in the form of an extended year-long taster programme and option subject choices for junior cycle are made on transfer to second year. While this arrangement facilitates students in making a more informed choice with regard to subjects available for junior cycle, as a consequence Home Economics is allocated just one double class period per week during first year. While students are making reasonable progress, this time allocation makes it very difficult for students to benefit to an acceptable extent from the study of the syllabus. It is therefore recommended that the existing arrangements for the sampling of optional subjects in first year be monitored and reviewed over time in consultation with the partners involved.
The school is commended for the student-centred approach to subject choice in both junior and senior cycle, where subject option lines are created based on student initial open choice. The Transition Year (TY) programme is optional in the school and all TY students study Home Economics and are allocated one double period per week. With regard to Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), it is commendable that when teacher availability permits the school offers students a choice between the vocational specialisms of Hotel, Catering and Tourism or Community Care. A small number of LCA year two students currently study Childcare/Community Care however; it has been replaced by the Business vocational specialism for the LCA year one students. Teachers are to be commended for their creativity and dedication in providing challenging programmes in both TY and LCA for the students involved.
Students are well supported in arrangements for subject choices and levels within Home Economics at junior and senior cycle through effective use of guidance resources, linked to teacher advice, communication with parents, and information evenings at key stages. Classes are organised on a mixed-ability basis and it is good that every effort is made to attract students of all abilities to study the subject. The home economics teachers are made aware of any students with special educational needs and liaise with the learning-support department in the school on an ongoing basis ensuring that materials are adapted to suit the needs and abilities of students in line with best practice. The teachers are pro-active in encouraging all students to fully realise their potential.
Home Economics benefits from a very good level of resource provision and whole school support. Every effort is made to maintain classes to a reasonable size to ensure safe work practices. Class period provision is in line with syllabus recommendations, with the exception of the reduction in first year outlined above. Management’s support of the teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) is laudable. Teachers conduct an annual audit on equipment and have maintained equipment and resources for Home Economics to a high standard. It is acknowledged that management is supportive of requests made for the ongoing replacement, servicing and updating of specialist equipment.
Currently there are two home economics teachers in the school and there are two specialist rooms i.e. kitchens which have a dual purpose functioning as combined food studies laboratories and textiles work areas. One of the kitchens is modern and in very good condition while the other kitchen is outdated and in need of modernisation. It is recommended that refurbishment of the older kitchen be investigated as a matter of priority for the school in line with best practice guidelines. The home economics department lost its specialist room for textiles a number of years ago due to lack of adequate space at the school. In light of the school’s current space shortage, it would be important therefore, in the interim, that teachers remain vigilant when using the kitchens for textile work, that students are continually kept aware of the possible dangers of current practice, and that safety systems and procedures are established to reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring. In the context of any future building developments at the school it is recommended that the provision of a newly refurbished specialist room for textiles should be seriously considered. Provision for information and communication technologies (ICT), adequate storage space for specialist equipment, teaching resources and student coursework/project work should be incorporated into any future plans for the home economics rooms.
Management has established a structured approach to the facilitation of subject department planning as part of the overall school planning process. Agenda are decided in advance of department meetings and records of subject department meetings are recently being maintained. A very good blend of experience and expertise exists between the two home economics teachers in the school and the role of subject co-ordination is currently undertaken by the more senior teacher. Both teachers readily engage in the recommended practice of collaborative planning both on a formal and informal basis. It is praiseworthy that the home economics department has engaged in formal review of their existing structures and procedures. The next step for the department will be to develop a common vision for developmental priorities in the form of a forward looking plan and in time action plans, including timeframes which will focus on achieving the department’s key developmental priorities, in the context of available resources.
The home economics department has made good progress in developing a subject plan, which includes details on the procedures for the organisation of the subject in the school, as well as issues of a direct pedagogical nature such as planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subject. In addition outline content plans of work have been drawn up for each year group. These plans are syllabus based, time bound and provide a clear outline of the content including the relevant practical and project work to be completed each term. There is evidence of good practice in planning for common content, revision and assessment in Home Economics. A comprehensive Textile Studies programme is implemented at junior cycle. This involves the development of skills in such areas as basic hand stitches and then proceeding to using the sewing machine and in time the completion of a household article and a simple item of clothing. This incremental development of students’ skills is commendable. Individual teachers adapt the main subject department plan to facilitate their own individual planning. Teachers maintain weekly working plans and records of work completed and this aids review and future planning. The department is complimented on planning which is creative, thoughtful and reflective. A good outline plan has been developed for TY and students undertake practical cookery assignments and upon the successful completion of the Safe Food for Life programme students receive certificates. Greater consideration should be given to more detailed programme planning for TY Home Economics and in doing so alternative home economics modules should be devised each year on the basis of students’ aptitudes and interests.
In the context of ongoing subject planning some consideration should be given to reviewing the first year taster programme in Home Economics so that it reflects all aspects of the syllabus. Planning should also fully reflect the integrated approach recommended in the syllabuses, including integration of practical/project/course work with the relevant theory. This work could be fully implemented on a phased basis using ICT to assist regular updating. It may be helpful to tabulate these plans of work as this would facilitate teachers in the future preparation, regular review and update of subject planning.
To further build on the good work currently taking place, it is recommended that teachers introduce the design brief process as early as possible in the junior cycle in both food studies and practical textiles work as appropriate. In addition, students should be introduced to the skills required for project work for example research, investigations, surveys, case studies on an incremental basis from first year onwards in accordance with students’ level and ability. This approach will enable students to develop essential knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of analysis, investigation, problem solving, action planning and evaluation. State Examination Commission marking schemes and chief examiners’ reports could be further utilised as a resource to inform the planning and development of future plans of work at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels.
The existing informal cross-curricular links with subjects such as Science, Business, Art, Languages, and Religious Education are notable. A range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities is planned and developed for students and aims to enhance the students’ experience and enjoyment of the subject and extend learning beyond the classroom. This is currently achieved through provision of guest speakers, cookery demonstrations, participation in competitions and the hosting of awareness campaigns. Such initiatives are praiseworthy and should be continued.
The home economics department makes very good use of the overhead projector and has access to television and video/DVD equipment when required. While teachers already use ICT in class preparation and to produce resources for class, usage of ICT as a teaching tool in classrooms remains an area for development. Access to the school’s four computer rooms can be pre-arranged by the teachers, subject to availability. Students are also encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics. Considering the willingness of the home economics teachers to integrate ICT into lessons it is recommended that management encourage and support this initiative in the context of continued improvement of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. A positive start would be the provision of laptops and data projectors for the home economics rooms. While the provision of teaching resources to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics is adequate, in the context of future planning the home economics team are encouraged to review existing resources and plan for the acquisition and use of further teaching resources such as reference books and CDs.
Short-term planning for lessons, which included the prior preparation of the materials for class, was very good. Lessons were clearly focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students. Learning outcomes for the lessons were clear and shared with students at the outset and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning and appropriate integration of theory with practical skills. The teachers showed an awareness of the students’ learning styles and adapted the teaching and learning to suit the students’ needs.
Effective questioning and explanation strategies were used in the classes observed to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding, to support students in the development of higher-order thinking skills, and to link new information with prior learning. Very good use was made of the board for the explanation of theory and concepts and for the provision of direction and guidance in practical classes. Teacher instruction was clear, accurate and frequently supported by the use of such resources as the overhead projector, student handouts, samples, workbooks and textbooks. These were introduced into the lessons at appropriate times and were effective in enhancing teaching and consolidating learning. However, taking into consideration the variety of learning styles and of student abilities in the school, it is recommended that more audio-visual stimuli and ICT be utilised in the teaching of Home Economics as appropriate. The value of the provision of summary notes should be reconsidered and on occasion avoided unless they are supplementary to the students’ textbook. Regarding the use of textbooks best practice was observed when they were used creatively as an aid to learning and other strategies for example questioning and explaining were integrated effectively.
Whole-class instruction tended to dominate theory lessons yet there was evidence of some use of active learning in lessons. However, it is likely that in the context of mixed-ability classes, students would benefit from greater exposure to active learning methods and other differentiated strategies that would engage them in their own learning and appeal to all learning styles. It is therefore recommended that more student-centred active learning methodologies be incorporated into theory lessons for example brainstorming, individualised learning, pair work, group discussion, debating, role-play, problem-solving and collaborative learning. This could be achieved through the use of differentiated worksheets or assignments where the task could be extended or reduced according to the students’ abilities. While there was some evidence of differentiation by teacher intervention during student-centred activities this could be further developed during class activities and through the setting of homework. This would have the effect of further challenging students in order to encourage them to take greater responsibility for their own learning. Active learning encourages independent and collaborative learning, key foci of both the junior and senior-cycle home economics syllabuses.
It is evident that the teaching team has a strong commitment to the practical components of the syllabuses. Food studies practical classes highlighted the existence of established systems of practice and good emphasis on explaining of key concepts and the linking of theory to practical work was observed. The expert use of demonstrations during both food and textiles practical lessons is to be highly commended as it ensured all students were on task and allowed the teacher to model best practice. There was a commendable concern for students’ understanding of content and for the acquisition of appropriate manipulative skills in practical classes. Students’ performance and progress could be greatly enhanced if students were to use a timed written work plan during practical classes. Teachers could encourage students to systematically go through the recipe at the outset of the lesson to identify method and utensils required and to discuss and agree approximate times for each stage in the preparation, cooking and serving of the dish. Teachers should continue to make good use of the board as a back up to students’ work plans. Students were encouraged to undertake evaluations of tasks completed and this informs continuous assessment of student work.
Student-teacher rapport was very good and students’ efforts were encouraged and affirmed. This reflects well the student-centred ethos permeating the school. Students were well managed, guided and supported in all learning activities. This contributed to a positive classroom atmosphere that was conducive to effective learning. The learning environment of the home economics room is enhanced through the display of a number of educational charts and photographic evidence of students’ work and is to be commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students.
Students were attentive and eager to participate in learning activities and demonstrated great interest and enthusiasm for the subject. Observation of students’ project work, in the area of Childcare indicated a good level of skill in terms of investigations, organisation and presentation. Overall, the level of teacher guidance and the evidence of students’ skills, creativity and originality in the area of project work are to be commended. The teachers devolve much of the responsibility for learning to the students themselves and carry out monitoring and appraisal of student work regularly. Students demonstrated an appropriate level of practical skills and competencies, and displayed a very good level of knowledge of the key concepts relating to work being explored appropriate to their class group and level.
The home economics department has developed a homework and assessment policy in line with the whole-school policy for homework, which is commendable. It is good that homework is assigned regularly to reinforce or extend the learning that has taken place in the class and is subsequently either marked by the teacher or reviewed as a class activity. Good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring of the student copybooks and folders. In relation to formative assessment some useful teacher comments, provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. This good work is illustrative of the principles that underpin assessment for learning and should be further developed across all year groups.
Considerable experience and expertise has been gained by personnel in the marking of practical and project work for the State examinations, and this informs the work of the home economics teachers well. Student progress and competence in Home Economics is monitored and assessed effectively by a range of assessment modes. Students are awarded an aggregated mark throughout the year based on written tests, food and culinary skills’ practical work, coursework and projects. Assessment in LCA is based on the completion of key assignments and required tasks. Further consideration should be given to regular assessment of students’ learning in TY; in that assessment should be viewed as an integral part of teaching and learning involving both teachers and students.
The school maintains its own records of student achievement especially in State examinations and subject departments should continue to review these carefully. In doing so teachers can celebrate student achievements overall while at the same time being mindful of individual students’ abilities and achievements.
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 recommendations are made:
· The existing arrangements for the sampling of optional subjects in first year i.e. the taster programme should be monitored and reviewed over time in consultation with the partners involved.
· Refurbishment of the older kitchen should be investigated as a matter of priority for the school in line with best practice guidelines. In addition, the provision of a newly refurbished specialist room for textiles should be seriously considered in the context of any future building developments at the school.
· Management should continue to encourage and support teachers’ efforts to integrate ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
· In the context of mixed-ability classes, consideration should be given to incorporating more student-centred active learning methodologies.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Home Economics at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published September 2008