An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Cross and Passion College,
Kilcullen, County Kildare
Roll number: 61690W
Date of inspection: 24 and 25 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in the Cross and Passion College, Kilcullen, 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.
Home Economics is a well-established optional subject that plays an integral role in all curricular programmes in the school. Commendable arrangements are in place to assist students to make informed subject choices. First-year students complete a short taster programme from September to Christmas to assist subject selection for the Junior Certificate. Students taking the Transition Year programme (TY) study two home economics related modules which also support subject selection for the Leaving Certificate. Subject option pools for junior and senior cycle are generated based on student preferences. This practice ensures that the mechanism for subject selection remains student centred and meets the needs of the current cohort of students. Uptake of Home Economics is good at junior and senior cycle, although the uptake has been traditionally much higher among the female student cohort. Strategies should be explored to promote Home Economics as an optional subject among the male student cohort. Hotel, Catering and Tourism is a vibrant subject specialism in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). This allows students who progress into LCA to build on the knowledge and skills already developed in Home Economics.
All home economics classes are mixed ability. It was noted positively that all students are challenged to reach their full potential in Home Economics. They are encouraged to aim for high academic standards and, where possible, to take Home Economics at higher level in the certificate examinations.
There is very good whole-school support for Home Economics. There is a strong culture of subject department planning evident among the home economics team. This process is facilitated effectively by management through the provision of formal planning time on a very regular basis throughout the academic year. Minutes of subject planning meetings indicate that there is a good flow of information between the home economics team and senior management. This helps to ensure that a cohesive approach is taken to the continued development and support of Home Economics in the school. The strong commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) evident among the home economics team is particularly commended. This is effectively facilitated and supported by management. Members of the home economics team have participated in the cluster meetings hosted by the Home Economics Support Service (HESS). In addition, some of the home economics teachers have a range of experience in the marking of the certificate examinations. Management and the home economics teachers are commended for their efforts in this regard. It is obvious that the experience gained contributes positively to the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics.
There is good whole-school provision for Home Economics. Teaching time allocated to home economics classes is in line with syllabus recommendations. Management makes a conscious effort to ensure that there is a very good spread of class contact time throughout the week. This very good practice facilitates effective continuity in teaching and learning. Currently three members of staff are deployed to teach Home Economics in the school, two of whom hold a recognised teaching qualification in Home Economics. While the commitment and professionalism of all staff involved in the delivery of Home Economics is acknowledged and commended, it is recommended that management should maximise the deployment of teachers in line with their subject specialism and ensure that only those who hold a recognised teaching qualification in Home Economics are deployed to teach home economics classes. Where possible, teachers retain their classes through the complete cycle of the Junior or Leaving Certificate programme. This is good practice.
The three specialist rooms for Home Economics are generally well maintained. Systematic procedures are in place to inform management of maintenance priorities through the maintenance book system. This good practice should ensure that minor repairs are carried out promptly. Management is committed to the continued upgrading of the specialist facilities, as evidenced by the recent re-furbishment of one of the kitchens. Resources permitting, consideration should be given to the installation of blackout blinds in this room to support the effective use of the overhead projector and data projector. A good range of additional resources supports the teaching and learning of Home Economics. The provision of an annual budget facilitates the upgrading of resources and equipment. However, the home economics team, in association with management, should review the current practice with regard to the purchase of small items of equipment. Physical space is at a premium in the school. This has necessitated the use of the home economics rooms for other subjects. This arrangement presents significant challenges for the home economics teachers in terms of room maintenance and having access to the specialist rooms to prepare materials and equipment for lessons during their non-class time. While recognising the contextual factors that exist in the school it is advocated that this practice be minimised.
There is considerable interest in developing the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. There is some access to the ICT room, though it is heavily booked. In recent times the home economics department has purchased a data projector. As a means of embedding the use of ICT into teaching and learning the board of management subsidises the cost of teacher laptops. Members of the home economics team intend to purchase equipment under this scheme. ICT is a useful tool to allow students and teachers engage in the independent and guided research necessary to fulfil coursework requirements in Home Economics. Therefore, it is recommended that a strategic plan outlining concrete strategies for utilising and embedding ICT into the teaching and learning of Home Economics be developed by the teaching team in consultation with management. This plan will be useful in establishing resource needs in this area that can be met over time, as resources permit.
Good priority is placed on health and safety by the home economics team. In addition to the whole-school health and safety policy, the home economics team has developed a list of safety rules, primarily for use in practical food studies lessons. It is particularly commendable that the health and safety rules for Home Economics have been translated into Polish to accommodate some students whose first language is not English. It was noted positively that specific hazards and safety control measures have been clearly identified and displayed in both kitchens. Clear procedures are also in place for reporting accidents and it is laudable that the specialist rooms are checked on an annual basis to highlight maintenance issues. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that the health and safety policy be extended to include the specific health and safety routines to be followed for practical lessons in textiles and design and craft work. Key points of safety information should be displayed clearly at each workstation in the textiles room. As the specialist rooms are used for lessons other than Home Economics, management in consultation with the home economics team, should establish clear health and safety routines that will be followed by any class group using the rooms.
A collegial and committed approach is taken to subject department planning in Home Economics.
The position of subject co-ordinator rotates among the team of teachers. This good practice ensures that the workload is shared and that each member of the team has the opportunity to assume a leadership role in the continued development of the subject. Some good use has been made of the templates produced by HESS and the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) in advancing a subject department plan. Department meetings are minuted to ensure that there is good continuity between meetings and good use is made of the diagnostic window to review progress and identify priorities for the continued development of the subject in the school. It was noted positively that the home economics team regularly analyse student outcomes as evidenced by the results achieved in the certificate examinations. This useful exercise informs reflective debate on the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
Collaborative programmes of work are in place for each year group, some of which are at a more advanced stage than others. Commendably, these programmes are reviewed regularly. All programmes of work outline a sequence of agreed topics on a term-by-term basis and demonstrate a commendable focus on relevant syllabus requirements. The teaching and learning strategies planned for the delivery of syllabus material reflect the rationale and objectives of the revised home economics syllabuses. This is very good practice. Individual teachers tailor the programme plans to meet the needs of individual classes and some very good practice was evident in individual planning documentation presented during the evaluation. In some instances module folders have been developed where the syllabus material is presented in a detailed sequence of lessons and key resources are filed systematically to support each lesson. This is very good practice. Planning by its nature is a process that will always demonstrate room for advancement. Therefore, it is recommended that the collaborative programmes of work be developed further over time. On each collaborative plan the specific time allocated to each topic should be clarified and the lesson content sequenced in a manner that reflects the integrated approach recommended in both home economics syllabuses. The HESS documentation already used by the team will support this work. Expected knowledge and understanding for each module of work should be presented in terms of learning outcomes with particular attention given to the incremental progression of practical skills over the duration of each syllabus. In this context, planning for the practical coursework component of the Junior Certificate core textiles syllabus should be reviewed to ensure full compliance with syllabus requirements. Information on suitable teaching and learning strategies together with the identification of appropriate resources and homework assignments for each area can be included as each plan is implemented. Much of this work is already evident in some of the module folders. The grids being compiled by some teachers to reflect on planning should inform the development of this work. This work should be progressed on a phased basis only, taking, for example, one junior and one senior year group per annum.
Two interesting home economics related modules are planned for TY. As one module is now a core subject for the full academic year, it is recommended that planning for this module be reviewed to include the development of criteria for its assessment. These criteria should be shared with students and used as the basis for subsequent monitoring of coursework.
Very good planning is evident to maximise the inclusion of all students in Home Economics. There is good collaboration between the home economics and education care teams. Each home economics teacher is familiar with any relevant content of a student’s individual learning plan so teaching strategies can be adapted to suit individual learner needs if appropriate. This is good practice.
Very good short-term planning was evident for all the lessons observed. Written lesson plans carefully outlined the key learning outcomes and the range of teaching strategies to be deployed in each lesson. In some instances the planned learning outcomes were clearly differentiated to accommodate the range of student abilities that are evident in mixed-ability settings. This highly commendable practice could be developed further as part of future subject planning.
In most instances, lesson content was paced and pitched at a level that suited students’ needs with very good emphasis placed on syllabus requirements in terms of depth of treatment for expected knowledge of understanding of the topic. Best practice was observed where the lesson structure included regular opportunities to summarise key points of information and where individual levels of student learning was assessed. It is commendable that the aim of each lesson was shared with students. This strategy could be developed further by sharing clear learning outcomes for the topic with students, in order to provide an additional focus and structure to lessons. This strategy would allow students to consolidate their learning and facilitate self-evaluation of their progress. This is reflective of some of the principles underpinning Assessment for Learning (AfL). Information on further strategies to integrate AfL into the teaching and learning of Home Economics is available from HESS at www.homeeconomics.ie or on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.
Teachers’ explanations were clear, accurate and contextualised and there was some very good integration of related topics. This good practice is recommended in the junior and senior cycle home economics syllabuses. Appropriate resource materials, which were prepared in advance, were used effectively to support learning. Teachers are commended for their efforts in this regard. In a number of lessons the worksheets used were particularly well designed in assisting students to reinforce, apply or check their understanding of the material covered. To assist learning, commendable effort was taken to link the material being taught to the everyday experiences of students. There was some very good emphasis placed on the development and reinforcement of the key terminology associated with the topic being taught. This very good practice helps students develop the necessary linguistic skills in preparation for the written examinations.
In all lessons a commendable range of teaching strategies was deployed to accommodate the range of learning styles evident in mixed-ability settings. This variation of strategies ensured that students remained purposefully engaged at all times. Some very good use was made of the overhead projector, board, collage posters and exemplar products to illustrate the key concepts being taught. Commendably many of the teaching strategies deployed facilitated the active engagement of students in their own learning and encouraged the development of the higher-order thinking skills. Group work was one strategy observed in a number of lessons. While this is a commendable strategy to promote student collaboration and active learning, it is essential that all group work is time bound and includes a “reporting back” phase to process the information gathered and ensure that learning occurred.
There was some evidence of the effective use of ICT in the planning and delivery of home economics lessons. During one lesson observed, students used the laptop computer very effectively to research information relevant to the topic being studied. The further integration of ICT to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics is recommended.
Good routines were evident in the practical food studies lesson observed. The development of skills was facilitated by a commendable balance between whole-class instruction, spot demonstration and individual student instruction. A deliberate emphasis was placed on integrating theoretical knowledge with procedural and practical skills. This very good practice reflects the rationale underpinning home economics syllabuses. Students demonstrated a good standard of culinary skills considering their level of experience and expertise, while sound safety and hygiene routines were evident. It is commendable that the “evaluation stage” of the task was planned as an integral component of the lesson to guide students in developing key skills in the critical appraisal of tasks.
A caring, affirming and supportive learning atmosphere permeated lessons. In all the lessons observed there was a very good rapport between students and teachers. A range of questioning strategies was used effectively to facilitate on-going student-teacher interaction and very good used was made of praise to affirm students’ efforts. The learning environment of both kitchens was greatly enhanced by the displays of students’ project work and a variety of appropriate educational posters. A reference area houses additional books to facilitate student research in completing coursework assignments. The exam notice board is a particularly good idea. These practices are commended as they engage student interest and create a stimulating learning environment.
Students have a very positive attitude toward Home Economics. Observation of students’ recent project work in the areas of Leaving Certificate textile work indicated a very good level of competence in the organisation and presentation of materials and in the appropriate textile and research skills. Core textile work from first-year students indicated a very good level of skill, considering their level of experience. It is particularly commendable that the design brief process is introduced from first year. Students’ recent and current project work in the area of design and craftwork indicated some very good levels in the complexity of craft skills displayed and some competent use of ICT was evident in students’ support folders. The chief examiners’ reports, associated marking schemes and practical coursework guidelines issued by the State Examinations Commission are useful for further guidance on the coursework components. These documents are available at www.examinations.ie.
Observation of student notebooks indicated good progression in their work. However, some variation was apparent. Some very good practice was evident in assisting students to keep notebooks that summarised key points of information from lessons. Other classes were required to file any handouts given in class in a systematic manner. This good practice should be extended, as in a lot of cases the student notebooks observed only recorded work for the current academic year.
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student progress in Home Economics. Formative assessment is carried out using a variety of assessment modes such as oral questioning, homework activities and class tests as well as the on-going monitoring of students’ practical coursework. The home economics team operates a commendable system of summative assessment which includes an assessment of the relevant practical coursework components. This is very good practice as it mirrors the arrangements for the certificate examinations and is a good indicator of students’ progress in the subject. Commendably, the format and style of the written examination papers drafted by the home economics team reflect the format of the relevant certificate examination.
Homework is regularly assigned to class groups and good use is made of past examination papers in formulating homework activities. Some very good practice was evident with regard to the individual monitoring of student homework where useful teacher comments in copybooks provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. This very good practice should be extended where necessary, as it enhances learning by informing students about their own individual progress and ultimately challenges and assists students to reach their full potential. This is illustrative of the principles that underpin assessment for learning (AfL).
The home economics team, as part of their on-going engagement with subject planning, has prioritised the development of an agreed homework and assessment policy for Home Economics, to ensure consistency of good practice across all curricular programmes. To date some good progress has been made, as evidenced by the agreed procedures for Leaving Certificate students. To augment this practice it is recommended that the home economics team should progress the development of this policy. Particular attention should be given to ensuring that all students get regular opportunities to develop skills in long-answer style questions on a phased basis over the duration of the Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate and LCA programmes. In examining how homework such as workbook exercises, key assignments and long-answer style questions are monitored, discussions should focus on how best to balance the amount of homework assigned with the provision of constructive feedback to all students.
Records of student attendance, class tests and homework activities assigned are stored systematically in the teachers’ diaries. This is good practice. Results are communicated to parents twice yearly by means of reports and at the parent-teacher meetings. Students preparing to take the certificate examinations receive an additional report after the mock examinations. The students’ journal is used as an additional communication tool. It is commendable that the home economics team sends out a letter to parents regarding the procedures and requirements for the completion of practical coursework.
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.