An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Roll number: 91508C
Date of inspection: 21 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject
Subject provision and whole-school support
Home Economics is compulsory for all students following the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). It is offered as an optional subject on all of the other programmes.
At the beginning of first year, students sample the optional subjects over a four-week period in order to help them make informed choices. They then choose from subject groups that vary a little from year to year. As an example, the current second-year students could have chosen Home Economics from a group that also included Business Studies, French, German, Art, Technical Graphics and Materials Technology (Wood). Uptake of Home Economics for the Junior Certificate is below the national average. The fact that students can choose Home Economics from a group with such a wide range of subjects possibly impacts on uptake of the subject at this level. However, it was also reported during the evaluation that it was not possible in the current school year to accommodate all of the first-year students for whom Home Economics was their preferred option.
In senior cycle, uptake of Home Economics for the Leaving Certificate is well below the national average. In the current school year, the subject is on the curriculum for students in year one of the Leaving Certificate (Established) programme but it is not timetabled for students in year two of this programme. Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT) is currently offered as part of the curriculum to students in the second year of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). As LCA is not taken by any students who are currently in the first year of the school’s senior cycle, the overall numbers taking HCT are low. It is acknowledged that students’ choice of subjects and programmes determines what is offered on the timetable from year to year. However, in order to ensure more consistency for students, from year to year, with regard to access to programmes and subjects it is recommended that curriculum provision for Home Economics in senior cycle should be reviewed as part of the school’s development planning process.
It is positive to note that the gender balance in all home economics classes is very good and in almost all cases, it reflects the overall ratio of male to female students in the school. Timetabling of the subject at all levels is satisfactory and timetabled periods for all class groups are well spread throughout the week, thus ensuring that students gain maximum benefit from the class contact time
For the last few years, the home economics department is staffed by a specialist teacher in a part-time, substitute capacity. It is good to note that some opportunities have been availed of to engage in professional development activities related to Home Economics and HCT. The further extension of this good practice, particularly with regard to the current Leaving Certificate syllabus and the related coursework, is encouraged.
There are two specialist home economics classrooms comprising a kitchen and a sewing room. School management and the home economics department are to be commended for the commitment involved in the recent updating and replacement of some essential equipment in the department. However, in the practical lessons observed it was noted that some items, such as saucepans and baking tins, needed to be replaced, from a health and safety perspective. The inspector also noted a shortage of some items of small equipment that would be considered essential for practical food studies lessons. The food studies practical coursework components form a substantial percentage of the final mark in Home Economics in the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate, and in HCT as part of the LCA. Considering the health and safety issues noted and the requirements of the food studies practical coursework, it is recommended that the home economics department in consultation with school management should prioritise and plan for the replacement of the necessary equipment as soon as possible. On a more long-term basis, the development and use of a maintenance schedule, one that includes an annual audit of equipment and appliances, would facilitate the regular upgrade, replacement and maintenance of equipment as necessary.
The practice of storing students’ schoolbags on the floor behind the second door at the back of the kitchen during practical lessons should be discontinued and this door should always remain unlocked during lessons. Strict adherence to these procedures is necessary to ensure a second exit route from the kitchen in case of emergency.
It was also noted during the evaluation that a group of students were using the kitchen for activities at break time. Since such practices are not advisable from a health and safety perspective, every effort should be made to ensure that effective measures are put in place so that there is no risk to health and safety.
At the time of the evaluation there was no whiteboard, blackboard or any similar resource available in the kitchen for use during lessons. Management indicated that this issue would be remedied immediately. Students do have access to information and communications technology (ICT) in the computer room which is adjacent to the home economics classrooms.
Planning and preparation
The subject planning observed during this evaluation began at the start of the 2007/08 school year and to date good progress has been made. A subject department folder has been developed using templates from the School Development Planning Initiative and the Home Economics Support Service. The folder includes details on the organisation and delivery of Home Economics in the school. Copies of the syllabuses and an analysis of students’ performance in the most recent certificate examinations are also included. There is some evidence of a reflective approach to the planning process and to the further development of the subject in the school.
The subject department folder also contains skeleton schemes of work for each year group. The schemes are set out in tabular form and include lists of topics from each section of the syllabuses as well as the practical work to be covered over a set number of class periods. In order to progress the planning for teaching and learning, it is recommended that the schemes of work be further developed to ensure that the focus is on the learning outcomes for students in terms of knowledge, understanding and skills. As part of the planning process, consideration should be given to the order in which topics are taught over the junior cycle and the senior cycle to ensure a coherent and incremental approach to the development of students’ knowledge and skills. All areas of each syllabus should be included in the schemes of work. As an example, care should be taken to include all of the core textile skills section of the Junior Certificate syllabus and in particular the section dealing with garment construction.
The schemes should also reflect the integrated approach recommended for the teaching and learning of the subject. It is recommended that the design brief process should be planned as a key feature of all of the practical coursework from an early stage in junior cycle. This would ensure that students are very au-fait with the process, in preparation for the food and culinary skills examination for Junior Certificate.
As the schemes develop, they could be further enhanced by the inclusion of methodologies and more specific timeframes as well as details of how students’ progress will be assessed. The development of the schemes of work should be carried out on an incremental basis beginning perhaps with first year and fourth year. The recording of work completed each day could contribute to this process. This would also ensure that the schemes are used as working documents. Discussion with the teacher indicated an enthusiasm to integrate ICT into teaching and learning. This is encouraged, as resources become available. The integration of ICT into teaching and learning should be considered as part of the subject planning process.
A notable feature of the subject planning is the Health and Safety Manual devised by the teacher. This is a useful document and all students studying Home Economics are given a copy of the manual at the beginning of the year. It provides clear instructions for students on their responsibilities with regard to the maintenance of high standards of health and safety during practical lessons.
Teaching and learning
There was evidence of good short-term planning for the lessons observed. All lessons had a clear aim. At the beginning of one particular lesson, the teacher shared the expected learning outcomes with the students. The outcomes were also written clearly on the whiteboard and reference was made to them at key points in the lesson. This is very good practice as it provides a solid structure for the lesson and it offers students a framework against which they can check their progress. This practice should be extended to practical coursework lessons.
Continuity with previous lessons was maintained by linking the lesson content with students’ prior knowledge. There were some good examples of connecting learning to everyday life and to the requirements of the examinations. In general, the pace and the content of the lessons were appropriate to the class groups observed.
In order to engage students in the learning process a range of methods and resources was used. In particular, a theory lesson in HCT provided examples of the effective sequencing and use of active methods, through worksheets, brainstorming, discussion, group work and role-play. This lesson provided a good balance between teacher input, independent learning and peer learning. Students were well supported and encouraged and the handling of the role-play in particular was impressive. In addition to its use as a tool for learning, the role-play provided opportunities for students to develop self-confidence in a structured and safe environment.
In the practical lessons observed students collected the necessary equipment and weighed out the ingredients as lessons began, using a copy of the recipe. In most cases, they were competent in weighing and measuring. However, there is scope for the further training and challenging of students in relation to a more efficient approach to the setting up and preparation of ingredients at the beginning of lessons. Consideration might be given to the use of timeframes for each stage of the lesson. This would ensure that more time would then be available during the lesson to focus on the development of skills.
Students demonstrated a variety of food and culinary skills. As the teacher moved around the classroom students were encouraged and helped group by group where necessary. Some students have attained a very good standard in food and culinary skills appropriate to their level in junior cycle or senior cycle. In other cases, students were not as confident and in some instances this occurred where students were new to the subject. With regard to the junior cycle class observed, the teacher had demonstrated the dish the previous week. While acknowledging the merits of demonstration, a week is a long time for students to remember and be expected to master a variety of new skills. It is therefore recommended that in each practical lesson, new skills and processes should be demonstrated and explained to the whole class at key stages during the lesson. This would also allow for the explanation and integration of the theoretical principles with the relevant practical processes. This approach could also help and challenge individual students to achieve greater proficiency.
In a senior cycle lesson, students were making yeast bread as part of one of the food studies practical coursework assignments for the Leaving Certificate. It was good to note that the majority of the students had completed the research and the planning and preparation in advance of the implementation of the practical work. However, this important work was written up on a loose photocopy of the journal pages. Students should be encouraged to complete the written aspects of the assignments in the coursework journal as soon as possible and preferably as each aspect of the assignment is completed. Attention to the recommendations in the previous two paragraphs would also assist students in the completion of the written work. Students should be encouraged to make notes during the practical lesson to assist them in writing up the implementation and the evaluation sections of the assignments. The marking schemes for the Leaving Certificate coursework assignments which are available on the website of the State Examinations Commission (www.examinations.ie) should prove a useful resource for students and teachers.
Classroom management was good. In a small number of instances where a minority of students displayed challenging behaviour, the gentle, calm and firm approach of the teacher was very effective in creating a good learning environment and in helping students re-engage with the content of the lesson. Relations between the students and the teacher were positive. Students were affirmed for their efforts. There is potential to capitalise on the good working relations and the affirmation, by further raising the expectations for the students in terms of their learning. The display of students’ project work as well as educational posters related to aspects of Home Economics could contribute to the creation of a print-rich learning environment in the classrooms.
Questioning was one of the main strategies used in lessons to check on understanding and on students’ progress in the lessons. There were some good examples of the use of open, higher-order questions that challenged students to think as well as recall knowledge. The greater use of higher-order questions in both oral and written work is recommended. This practice could help students develop their skills of analysis, application of knowledge and evaluation of information. These skills underpin some of the assessment objectives of the syllabuses.
Very few homework copies were available on the day of the evaluation. Students are given worksheets at the end of a topic to check on their progress. There was some good evidence of the careful marking of worksheets and tests, where students were provided with comments on their progress. This is encouraged and commended.
The more frequent assignment of questions from past certificate examination papers is recommended. In addition to gaining competence in the application of knowledge, students would become more familiar with the style and layout, and gain confidence in the interpretation and answering of examination questions. Consideration should also be given to the assessment of practical work, for example at Christmas and the end-of-year house examinations. Awarding students a mark based on all of the examinable components of the syllabus is a more accurate indicator of their achievement in the subject. It would also ensure that a wider range of skills is assessed.
Summary of main findings and recommendations
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Timetabling of Home Economics at all levels is satisfactory and timetabled periods for all class groups are well spread throughout the week.
· The gender balance in all home economics classes is very good.
· To date, good progress has been made in subject planning and there is evidence of a reflective approach to this process. A notable feature of the subject planning is the Health and Safety Manual
devised by the teacher.
· In one lesson, there was a very good example of sharing the expected learning outcomes with the students and of returning to the outcomes at key points in the lesson.
· The effective sequencing and use of active methods in a Hotel, Catering and Tourism (HCT) class was particularly good. The handling of a role-play was impressive both as a learning
tool and in providing opportunities for students to develop self-confidence.
· Some students have attained a very good standard in food and culinary skills appropriate to their level in junior cycle or senior cycle.
· The gentle, calm and firm approach of the teacher was very effective in creating a good learning environment.
· There were some good examples of the use of open questions that challenged students to think as well as recall knowledge.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Considering the health and safety issues noted in this report and the requirements of the food studies practical coursework, the home economics department in consultation with school
management should prioritise and plan for the replacement of the necessary equipment as soon as possible.
· The practice of storing students’ schoolbags on the floor behind the second door at the back of the kitchen during practical lessons should be discontinued and this door should always
remain unlocked during lessons.
· The schemes of work should be further developed to ensure that the focus is on the learning outcomes for students in terms of knowledge, understanding and skills. The design brief process
should be planned as a key feature of all of the practical coursework from an early stage in junior cycle.
· In each practical lesson, new skills and processes should be demonstrated and explained to the whole class at key stages during the lesson.
· The more frequent assignment of questions from past certificate examination papers is recommended. Consideration should also be given to the assessment of students’ practical work
and project work, for example at Christmas and the end-of-year house examinations.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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.
Published November 2009