An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh
Cahir, County Tipperary
Roll number: 76063D
Date of inspection: 13 February 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 Coláiste Dún Iascaigh. 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 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 is an optional subject on the curriculum offered in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh, with the exception of Transition Year (TY) where all students are required to study the subject. Incoming first-year students’ access to the subject is greatly facilitated by offering students an unrestricted choice when choosing the subjects they wish to study for the Junior Certificate. This eventually determines the subject bands. The same approach is adopted when students are choosing subjects in senior cycle. The current demand for Home Economics amongst the student cohort is supported by management, by offering the subject in two of the subject bands. This is the case both in junior and senior cycle. This system of subject choice, which is very student-centred, is applauded.
Home Economics is a very popular subject at junior cycle, demonstrating uptake levels that are higher than the national average. Overall uptake levels in Home Economics at senior cycle are on a par with national averages, although admittedly the national figure is recognised as one that demonstrates some room for improvement. While it is a subject that is more commonly chosen by the female students in the school, it is important to acknowledge the developing trend with regard to uptake in the subject amongst junior cycle, male students. Over the last three years, for example, the home economics department is witnessing a steady increase in the number of boys opting to study the subject. Unlike the situation in junior cycle, currently there are no boys in fifth or sixth year who have opted to study Home Economics. As a result, it is recommended that the home economics department consider the adoption of a series of strategies designed firstly, to further encourage uptake levels amongst the boys attending the school and secondly, to increase the total number of students opting to study Home Economics to Leaving Certificate level.
Overall, timetabling of Home Economics is favourable. Adequate time that is reasonably consistent with syllabus requirements is allocated to the subject at both Junior and Leaving Certificate level. Students’ contact with the subject is also evenly spread over the weekly timetable. In the main, class sizes are also conducive to the delivery of the practical components of both syllabuses. One exception to this is the TY class, a finding that will be discussed in more detail later in this section. Thirty-five minute lessons, which are a significant feature of the school timetable, do however pose some difficulty for the efficient and effective delivery of practical lessons. Two of these classes provide a total of one hour and ten minutes for the delivery of lesson content, which is ten minutes shorter than the ideal allocation. As a result, teachers find it difficult to ensure that students can avail of all of the potential learning opportunities that practical lessons provide. A review of this timetabling approach is recommended.
Provision for Home Economics in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh is very good. The school houses a home economics department that consists of two kitchens and one design room. All of these rooms are bright and spacious, well laid out and appropriately equipped. Requests for additional resources are also, budget permitting, greeted favourably. It is good to see that the department has been supplied with room-based information communication technology (ICT). This technology is housed in the design room and consists of a computer, which is networked to broadband, and a printer. The home economics department, like all subject departments in the school, also has access to a suite of laptops which are transportable by trolley and which possess a wireless link to a printer in the staffroom. This initiative is most progressive and is worthy of a lot of recognition and praise. Planning for an enhanced access to room-based provision is encouraged, particularly as the home economics department demonstrates a keen interest in the incorporation of ICT into the delivery of lesson content. A department-based laptop and data projector would make planning and providing for the use of ICT in this manner more feasible. In time, and budget permitting, consideration ought to be given to the supply of these resources.
The fact that Home Economics is a mandatory component of the TY Programme is very positive. This is particularly so in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh, where students are required to choose their subjects prior to entry to the school in first year, as it gives students an opportunity to sample Home Economics before making senior cycle subject choices. The fact that there are twenty-three students in the class, and that they demonstrate a dramatic range of experience, ability and interest poses significant challenges. The large class size, coupled with the wide range of students, makes it very difficult to provide for the learning needs of all concerned. It also makes it very difficult to foster a positive perception of the subject amongst the students. These comments may appear negative considering the points made earlier with regard to overall and gender uptake levels at senior cycle. The fact that the module is a home economics/biology module is also far from ideal. It is strongly recommended that, in the future, two separate modules, one in Home Economics and one in Biology, be provided. Provision should also be made for the splitting of the TY home economics class between an appropriate number of home economics teachers. This would not only address the issues identified earlier with regard to meeting students’ needs and providing positive experiences, but it would also help in the fostering of a departmental approach to the teaching of TY Home Economics, an approach which is strongly recommended.
Management’s support for collaborative subject departmental planning, thorough the provision of formal time for departmental meetings, is applauded. Management is also to be commended for the preparation of a whole-school health and safety policy. It is timely that the subject department, in conjunction with management, consider the preparation of a subject-specific health and safety policy.
The home economics department is in the process of compiling a subject plan. While the templates provided by the School Development Planning Initiative and the Home Economics Support Service are a useful guide as to how a department might approach such planning, it is also important that plans are personalised to reflect issues relevant to each individual department. The completion of a SWOT analysis on a regular basis will help to provide a focus for such an approach. In addition, as a means of further advancing the plan, it is recommended that it be expanded to include, for example, sections on ICT, co-curricular and extracurricular planning, cross-curricular planning and teachers’ continuing professional development. In time, consideration might also be given to the development of subject-specific homework and assessment policies.
A team approach has been adopted to the co-ordination of subject planning, an approach that works well in the department in question. The levels of cohesion and collaboration that exist between the members of the subject department make this team approach very viable. The team members are very much of the same mindset and therefore work extremely well together. The level of organisation that was apparent is most impressive, a characteristic that is supported by a high degree of co-operation amongst all the members of the department. In addition to the formal meeting time provided by management for the purpose of subject planning, the department also meets informally on a regular basis, often on a daily basis. This commitment is applauded.
An impressive collection of resources has been gathered and prepared by the members of the home economics department. These are used with various class groups in the delivery of a wide range of topics. Many of these were chosen or designed with a view to organising students and focusing them on the task at hand, while supporting students’ learning and fostering their achievement. These high-quality acetates, worksheets, handouts and posters are carefully catalogued and filed and are openly shared amongst the teachers. The department is to be credited for their work in this regard.
Programmes of work have been agreed and devised for all year groups. These programmes are based on the textbook rather than the syllabus. It is recommended that in the review process this practice be reversed. Individual teacher’s folders illustrate the further development of these plans. It is recommended that teachers use these individual documents to further progress the agreed plans. Suggested additions to the existing programmes include: lists of possible methodologies and resources; the integration of topics; the linking of practical work and the relevant theory; assessment procedures; homework exercises and, when and where applicable, revision. This task is both labour and time intensive and so it is recommended that it be carried out on a phased basis taking, for example, one junior and one senior year group per annum. Such an approach would foster discussions that are focused on teaching and learning while promoting the sharing of best practice. The department is to be commended for the adoption of a task-based approach to the food studies practical work in third year. An ability-referenced extension of this practice to second-year and first-year class groups is encouraged. When planning for the delivery of the textile component of the Junior Certificate syllabus, provision must be made for the completion of a simple item of clothing in addition to a household item.
A programme of work has also been devised for the home economics module that is delivered during TY and for the Hotel Catering and Tourism vocational specialism, which is provided for in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme. However, these are not housed alongside the other programmes of work in the home economics plan. Arrangements should be made to provide for this. In light of the recommendation given previously with regard to the separation of Home Economics and Biology, consideration will need to be given to the drafting of a revised programme of work. It is important and essential that a departmental approach be adopted to the development of this programme. Careful consideration needs to be given to the aims and objectives of the programme and the content should be designed accordingly. An examination of the role that the TY module could play in encouraging a greater number of senior cycle students to study Home Economics to Leaving Certificate level might be one such aim. The inclusion of elements of some of the more interesting facets of the Leaving Certificate syllabus might, for example, be one approach that could be adopted. However, if Leaving Certificate material is chosen for study, it should be done on the clear understanding that it is to be explored in an original and stimulating way that is significantly different from the way in which it would be treated in the two years to Leaving Certificate. Creative approaches to the delivery of regular topics might also be investigated.
Planning for students with special educational needs is also apparent and the department reports the existence of good support structures to assist them in this regard. Special-needs assistants (SNA) are available to students in most need, the lines of communication between the special needs co-ordinator and the guidance counsellor are open and active, and plans are in place to provide a unit that is adapted for use by students with physical disabilities.
The short-term planning for lessons observed was of a high standard. As a result, lessons were delivered in a very structured and systematic fashion and at a pace that took account of students’ levels, abilities and previous knowledge. Resources were used effectively to support teaching and learning in the topics being investigated. Lessons were consistent with planned programmes of work and it was good to note that there is an established and consistent, departmental approach to following these programmes. On the whole, lessons demonstrated clear aims and, where applicable, the very open sharing of these with students is applauded. In some instances a greater highlighting of lesson aims, through the provision of a clear outline of the planned content as the lesson commenced, would have assisted in further motivating students and in providing them with greater responsibility for their own learning.
The level of teacher expertise and knowledge with regard to the topics being explored and other inter-related subject matter was most impressive. Teacher input was often informed by insights that went above and beyond those provided in the textbooks. This resulted in a type of instruction that was not only clear and accurate but also interesting and thought provoking. Students listened attentively, volunteering questions and comments in a manner that illustrated their enthusiasm and curiosity for Home Economics. There was a strong sense that teachers recognised that they themselves, the materials they had prepared and collected and the students in the class were the best resources for the teaching of a topic. This is a tribute to teachers’ professionalism and experience. A number of approaches were employed with a view to making the information being taught relevant to the students. This was achieved through the use of anecdotes, by referencing topical events, trends or issues, and by highlighting the value of information being presented to students’ present or future lives. Furthermore, an effective and efficient interlinking of new work and work previously covered, as well as work yet to be covered, also helped to underline the significance of lesson content.
Many different strategies were incorporated into lessons. Note-taking was one such method. As a precursor to taking notes, students were required to listen to and discuss the information being presented. This practice, which helped to ensure that students understood the essence of the topic being explored before noting it down, is commended. As a means of advancing this strategy, it is suggested that some consideration be given to introducing students to the practice of note-making as opposed to note-taking. Worksheets, which would act as a guide for students in relation to the task of note-making, could be pre-prepared for students. Alternatively students could be introduced to the concept of mind maps. The end product, whatever form it takes, can be used at a later date to assist students with learning and revision. Careful monitoring of students’ work in the preparation of notes is essential. Other strategies utilised over the course of lessons delivered included: brainstorming; visualisation exercises; online research and an associated completion of a worksheet; group work; the use of acronyms and analogies; and in practical lessons the inclusion of pair work and demonstrations. Many of these called for the very active and hands-on participation of students in lesson content. The inclusion of active methodologies is highly praised and is something that is further encouraged in all lessons. In addition, all opportunities to introduce and incorporate visual stimuli should be fully availed of during lesson planning, preparation and delivery.
The questioning of students was a significant feature of all lessons. A mixture of both global and directed questions was utilised in most lessons. Generally speaking, questions were also well distributed amongst students. In some instances there was a slight tendency to accept chorus answering. This student predisposition should be discouraged.
The forging of some very natural links between Home Economics and subjects such as Geography and Science was another positive characteristic of some of the lessons observed. This provides a meaningful way in which students can use knowledge learned in one context as a knowledge base in other contexts. This interdisciplinary approach is further encouraged.
In most cases, and in an attempt to teach all of the planned lesson content, little time remained for the completion of a lesson summary. Summaries help to ensure that students will recall critical parts of the lesson and synthesise the information into something they will remember for the next lesson or future tasks. Lesson summaries can take many forms but should be brief, student-generated and as interactive as possible. It is recommended, therefore, that the inclusion of a summary be prioritised when planning for and delivering lessons.
Each of the home economics classrooms provides a stimulating environment for students. Walls and display boards are used to present a variety of topic-specific posters and notices. Students’ work also features in each of the classrooms. The layout of the design room also allows for an easy rearranging of desks and seating. A ‘Home Economics News’ display board houses documentation relating to examinations and submission deadlines, relevant newspaper articles and competitions. This helps to keep students informed of important matters and encourages them to take some responsibility for informing themselves. All of the above, coupled with the very positive atmosphere that was apparent, provided a setting that was most conducive to high engagement levels and effective learning.
The level of organisation amongst students with regard to their approaches to project, journal and practical work is very impressive. This can be attributed to the many supports that the department has devised and put in place. One such example is the coursework planning sheet provided to fifth-year students in September. This outlines the theme of each assignment, the dates on which work will be undertaken and the deadlines for submission of journal work. Guides to the completion of the required investigative work for each assignment are also provided. It is positive to note that these guides demonstrate an appropriate balance between the provision of facts and the encouragement of independent research and learning. High, yet realistic, expectations are set for students in the assembly and completion of assigned work but, as can be seen from the example provided above, students are very well directed and assisted in the realisation of this.
The assessment of students’ progress and achievement in Home Economics takes many forms. Oral questioning is utilised in class to check students’ understanding and learning in work previously covered and in work being explored. Written topic tests are provided as appropriate. It was good to note that many of the assessment papers examined reflected the style and layout of the state examination papers. This is highly praised. Teachers’ folders also provided some examples of assessment paper answer sheets. Some more novel approaches to assessment are also in place. In first year, for example, a skills card has been put in place to monitor and track students’ progress and achievement in textiles. This card, which when completed certifies a number of students’ competencies, provides students with small but achievable challenges whilst making learning fun. Approaches such as this are to be commended and are therefore further encouraged. From first year, students are also required to assess their own performance in food studies practical work. Evaluation sheets, which are developmental in nature, have been designed for the different year groups. This is also to be credited.
Homework was assigned at the conclusion of each of the lessons observed on the day of the inspection. A review of students’ copybooks and folders suggests that, in some cases, a more regular assigning of homework should be considered. Monitoring of work assigned as homework was also apparent. Some of the monitoring seen demonstrated an excellent use of comment marking, where students were provided with constructive feedback on work completed as well as guidance for future work. This assessment mode, which follows the principles of an approach known as assessment for learning or AfL, is further encouraged. Additional information with regard to AfL can be accessed on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie. Furthermore, and where applicable, students should be encouraged to date homework exercises. The practice of dating corrections is also advocated.
Record-keeping methods in the home economics department are very thorough and systematic and are designed to ensure full teacher accountability with regard to areas such as students’ attendance, participation, progress and achievement. Records are also maintained with regard to work submitted by students. The department’s approach to this area of their work is applauded.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics is a very popular subject amongst the female, junior cycle students, with recent figures also illustrating a growth in popularity amongst the male students in first, second and third year.
· The facilities and equipment which have been provided for the teaching of Home Economics in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh are very satisfactory.
· The home economics department has adopted a team approach to subject department planning which is made viable by the high levels of co-operation and collaboration that are evident. The department is also highly organised.
· Agreed programmes of work have been devised for each year group and it is obvious that these direct and inform the instruction that is provided in every lesson.
· Short-term planning for lessons observed was of a high standard.
· Teachers’ instruction was highly informed, clear and accurate and often interesting and thought-provoking.
· Many different strategies were incorporated into lessons, some of which required the active participation of students.
· The home economics department has devised and put in place a series of supports designed to organise, guide and support students in the attainment of their goals.
· Students listened attentively, applied themselves diligently to tasks, and were eager and willing to contribute to lesson content.
· The assessment of students’ progress and achievement is well provided for by the home economics department.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the home economics department consider the adoption of a range of strategies designed to increase overall uptake levels in the subject at senior cycle and to encourage a greater percentage of male students to study the subject at both levels.
· A review of provision and planning for the home economics module in the TY programme is strongly recommended.
· The impact that thirty-five minute class periods are having on the delivery of the practical component of both home economics syllabuses needs to be borne in mind when timetabling in the future.
· The suggestions contained within the report with regard to planned programmes of work should guide future work in this area.
· The greater inclusion of methodologies that require students’ active participation and the utilisation of all opportunities to introduce and incorporate visual stimuli are strongly encouraged.
· It is recommended that the inclusion of a lesson summary be prioritised when planning for and delivering lessons.
· Comment marking is further encouraged in the monitoring of students’ work.
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.