An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Skerries Community College
Skerries, County Dublin
Roll number: 76078Q
Date of inspection: 27 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 Skerries Community College, 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and the subject teachers.
Home Economics is a popular subject in Skerries Community College as evidenced by the very good uptake levels in both junior and senior cycle. The gender balance in home economics classes at all levels is also impressive. While it is offered as an optional subject for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate, it is good to note that all students following the Transition Year programme (TY) take a mandatory ten-week module in Home Economics.
Teaching time allocated to almost all classes for the subject is adequate and in line with syllabus recommendations and lesson periods are generally well dispersed throughout the week. However, the double-lesson period for practical work is timetabled over lunchtime for one junior cycle class group. In another case, the time available for essential practical coursework for the certificate examinations is confined to one hour for a senior cycle class due to timetabling arrangements on that particular day. While these practices are not conducive to the smooth operation of practical lessons, it is acknowledged that management is aware of the issues and it is anticipated that this will not occur in the next and subsequent school years.
All Home Economics classes are mixed ability. The school reports that students are challenged to reach their full potential and, where possible, take Home Economics at higher level in the certificate examinations. The ongoing analysis and tracking of student outcomes in this regard is commended. While students at all levels achieve very good outcomes in the subject, it is noted that participation rates at higher level in Leaving Certificate are sometimes lower than might be expected. Bearing in mind the context of the school and the abilities of particular cohorts of students, it is recommended that participation rates at higher level in the Leaving Certificate be monitored on an ongoing basis and, where necessary, that consideration be given to how participation rates at this level might be improved, thus raising studentsí expectations.
Home Economics benefits from a good level of provision and whole-school support. There is evidence of very high commitment to the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject. Deployment of staff for Home Economics is excellent; three highly experienced and very dedicated teachers deliver the subject in the school. Co-ordination of the subject department is rotated amongst all three team members. This commendable approach results in a sharing of responsibility and provides an opportunity for all members of the team to assume a leadership role in the ongoing development of Home Economics in the school. The continuing professional development (CPD) of the teachers is supported and encouraged and it is noted that teachersí involvement in CPD is documented as part of subject planning. Management facilitates the process of collaborative planning. The minutes of subject department meetings reflect a proactive approach to the development of the subject and commendably, the minutes are used in communicating with management about issues that arise as well as the needs of the subject.
The specialist rooms for Home Economics comprise two kitchens, one of which is new, and a textiles room. The facilities are well maintained and organised and amply resourced with the full range of equipment necessary for the delivery of the subject. A work unit in one of the kitchens has been specially adapted for students with physical disabilities. The availability of computers, laptops and a data projector has increased access to information and communication technology (ICT) for teaching and learning in the school. All of the specialist rooms have internet access. School management is commended for the efforts made to facilitate the provision of ICT for Home Economics.
Good attention is paid to health and safety through teachersí involvement in the development of specific health and safety guidelines for the specialist rooms as part of the schoolís health and safety policy. Clearly defined health and safety notices are displayed at appropriate points in all of the home economics classrooms. Commendably, a formal reporting procedure is also in place regarding the repair and upkeep of equipment and facilities.
An enthusiastic and collaborative approach to planning is evident in the home economics department. Subject planning is very well advanced and a comprehensive home economics plan has been developed. This plan includes details of the organisation, planning, teaching and assessment of the subject in the school. While the plan has been generated using the template from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), it is good to note that it has been specifically tailored for Skerries Community College. In terms of curricular planning, the subject plan provides a concise summary of the topics to be completed by each year group on a termly basis. The summary of each termís work is further developed into detailed schemes of work that are clearly presented in tabular form. The schemes outline the content to be covered under each topic, the number of lessons assigned to topics, as well as the associated practical and project work, methodologies, suggested homework and opportunities for revision. Commendably, the integrated approach recommended in the syllabuses is reflected in some aspects of the schemes, and this is particularly evident for the food studies practical coursework assignments for Leaving Certificate.
In order to enhance the very good progress that has been made in planning, it is recommended that learning objectives be outlined for all topics to indicate what students should attain in terms of knowledge, understanding and skills as appropriate. This task could be carried out on a phased basis. Discussion with the subject department indicated that the monitoring and review of the schemes of work is an important aspect of the subject planning process. It is recommended that teachers should now use the schemes, on an ongoing basis, as working documents. As part of the ongoing review process, it would be useful for teachers to record the time actually spent on topics in comparison to the timeframe outlined and to reflect on and record any observations as to how the schemes of work are operating. This task could feed into any revisions of the schemes that might be considered necessary. As part of the review process, attention should be given to the order in which some topics from the Leaving Certificate syllabus are taught. As an example, consideration should be given to introducing students to the specific aspects of section 1.3.10 of the syllabus that relate to safe food preparation, in advance of the food studies practical coursework assignments. Section 3.1.6 of the core area of the syllabus should be completed in advance of the social studies elective. There is potential to integrate particular aspects of section 1.3.2 of the syllabus with the relevant areas of food science and nutrition.
Individual planning documents that were of a very high quality were also presented during the evaluation. There is clear evidence that the subject department has begun the process of self-evaluation. An example of a resultant change is an increased emphasis on the core textiles area of the Junior Certificate syllabus; this is commended. The plan to further stimulate studentsí interest in more challenging tasks in the practical aspects of textiles and design and craftwork is encouraged. The planning and organisation of the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities to support the work in the classroom provides opportunities for students to enrich their knowledge and experience, as well as for the application of their skills.
A significant feature of the thorough planning and preparation for Home Economics is the extensive range of resources that is available to support teaching and learning. A small library of well-chosen reference books is available in each of the specialist rooms. It is evident that students have access to and make good use of the reference books, as appropriate, during lessons. In addition to the assortment of commercial resources, such as videos/DVDs, charts, leaflets, internet resources and educational packs that are available, teachers have developed a wide variety of materials including worksheets, handouts, questionnaires, crosswords, revision sheets, acetates and PowerPoint presentations. A comprehensive folder of resources has also been compiled for the home economics module in TY. It is noted that attention is paid to differentiation in the development of the resources. There is much evidence of the very effective use of ICT in the preparation of resources and activities as well as in the subject planning process. It was no surprise to discover that the collaborative approach of the Home Economics teachers extends to the sharing of resources.
The quality of the advance planning and preparation for all of the lessons observed was exemplary, resulting in excellent outcomes in terms of teaching and learning. Lessons had very clear aims and objectives. There was some evidence of sharing the planned learning objectives with the students at the outset and returning to the objectives at the end of the lesson. This good practice is encouraged as it provides a structure for the lesson, as well as the opportunity to summarise learning and check understanding. It also helps students to reflect on and consolidate their learning. Lessons were well structured and paced and lesson content was developed by building on studentsí prior knowledge, experience and skills and through the effective integration of theory and practical work.†
There was evidence of very high quality teaching and learning throughout the lessons. Teacher instruction was clear, accurate and contextualised and the manner in which difficult concepts were simplified and explained was impressive. There was a good level of student engagement in lessons and they responded positively to the well chosen and effectively used range of teaching strategies and methodologies. In addition to teacher instruction and demonstration, effective use was made of brainstorming, pair work and group work, reference books, student research and reporting, practical activities, food packaging, food labels and food samples, worksheets and handouts, the overhead projector and PowerPoint presentations. The emphasis on the specific language of the subject and the reinforcement of key concepts in all of the lessons observed is commended. The whiteboard was used effectively to emphasise key points for students; textbooks should also be considered as an important resource in this regard. Discussion with teachers indicated their enthusiasm to incorporate ICT into teaching and learning and some good work has begun in this area. In order to make optimal use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool, a strategic plan could be developed for the further integration of ICT into teaching and learning.
Throughout the lessons, there was a good balance between independent, group and peer learning as well as an appropriate balance between teacher instruction and student activity. Learning activities facilitated the process of differentiation. Learning was active, visual and by discovery. As an example, in a theory lesson the explanation of food properties such as denaturation, emulsification, aeration and coagulation was accompanied by a number of well-managed practical activities carried out by the students. The activities provided excellent opportunities for the application of theory to practice. In addition to demonstrating the practical process in each case, each group of students had to explain the particular process to the whole class. This is an excellent approach to teaching and learning.
The introduction of the first food studies practical coursework assignment in a fifth-year lesson provided evidence of best practice in terms of setting the assignment in the context of the relevant theory, and of supporting students in the investigation, analysis and research aspects of the assignment. Students used a wide range of resources and research articles as well as reference books from the classroom library. There was a very good focus on independent and peer learning and the exercise facilitated differentiation in terms of process and content. Observation of sixth-year studentsí coursework journals indicates that good progress has been made in the completion of the assignments for the Leaving Certificate. In working through the assignments, students should keep a careful watch on the assessment criteria, particularly with regard to the requirements in relation to the key factors and safety and hygiene when completing the implementation section of each assignment. The Chief Examinersí Reports and associated marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission provide useful guidance and advice on all of the coursework components.
The practical lesson observed was very well managed and students have been well trained in the correct procedures for practical work. It was noted that all students in the class completed the practical work individually. Teachers reported that this is standard practice in the school. The focus on independent learning and responsibility was impressive and it was very clear that the practice of working individually is paying dividends in terms of studentsí competence and the development of skills. Appropriate emphasis was placed on the correct use of equipment and on the maintenance of high standards in hygiene and safety. The explanation and demonstration of key processes occurred at appropriate stages in the lesson. Students demonstrated a very good range of culinary skills and they were challenged and encouraged to build on their skills and aim for high standards in all aspects of the practical work. Individuality and creativity were fostered and, commendably, at the completion of the task, students received feedback on their performance. In keeping with best practice, the focus of the practical lesson was on the completion of a food and culinary skills task using the design brief process, as opposed to focussing exclusively on a particular dish. Observation and questioning of students during the lesson indicated that they were very much at ease with the design brief process and this is most commendable. The design process should be extended to the textiles and design and craftwork areas of the syllabus.
The display of a range of educational posters, studentsí project work and photographic exhibits in the classrooms contributes to a print-rich and stimulating learning environment. Classroom management was excellent. The effective organisation and management of learning activities contributed to a secure, positive and constructive learning environment. Teachers challenged students to strive for high standards, student participation was encouraged and good use was made of praise to affirm studentsí efforts thus building self-confidence. There was a very good rapport and a high level of mutual respect between students and their teachers.
Interaction with students indicated that they had a good knowledge of the subject matter of the lessons and that they understood the key principles underlying the processes in the practical work. Observation of students at work and interaction with them during the lessons indicated an enthusiasm and a sense of enjoyment for the subject; it is evident that this enthusiasm is passed on from the teachers who clearly display a passion for their subject.
Teachers are commended for the variety of assessment modes used that reflect the assessment objectives of the syllabuses. The assessment of practical food and culinary skills in junior cycle is commended and it is recommended that this good practice be further extended to include the assessment of the other practical components of the Junior Certificate syllabus. Consideration should also be given to the assessment of the coursework journal in fifth year. The allocation of marks for all components of the examination provides a more accurate indicator of studentsí progress in the subject; it also creates opportunities for self-evaluation by students as well as constructive feedback from teachers. Commendably, common examination papers are used for the formal in-house examinations. It was noted that good use is made of the marking schemes from the certificate examinations in the assessment of studentsí written work. The results of both formal and informal assessments are recorded systematically and results are communicated to parents on a regular basis.
Questioning was used in lessons to check on previous knowledge, recap on learning and ensure understanding of new content. While there were some good examples of the use of higher-order questions that challenged students to think, analyse and apply their knowledge, many of the questions were of the recall and lower-order variety. It is recommended that greater emphasis be placed on the inclusion and development of higher-order questions in all lessons. There is also scope to extend this practice to studentsí written work, particularly in senior cycle. Such practices would support the development of higher-order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of the Home Economics syllabuses. It is noted that, as part of subject planning for Home Economics, questioning has been identified as a strategy to be developed; this focus on self-evaluation is commended.
There was evidence of very good practice with regard to the regular assignment, checking and monitoring of homework. Commendably, this practice extended to the student workbooks. There were some good examples of assessment for learning practices, where students were provided with valuable feedback on their progress. Useful teacher comments affirmed work well done and suggested to students how they might improve. This practice is commended and it is recommended that it be further developed and used where possible so that students can benefit from teachersí feedback and use it to enhance their own learning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Uptake of Home Economics is very good in both junior and senior cycles and the gender balance in home economics classes at all levels is impressive.
∑ Deployment of staff for Home Economics is excellent and co-ordination of the subject department is rotated amongst all team members. The process of collaborative planning is facilitated and there is a proactive approach to the development of the subject.
∑ There is good access to ICT for teaching and learning in Home Economics.
∑ Subject planning is very well advanced and comprehensive schemes of work have been developed for each year group.
∑ The quality of the advance planning and preparation was exemplary and there was evidence of very high quality teaching and learning throughout the lessons.
∑ The high level of student engagement was facilitated by the well chosen and effectively used range of teaching strategies and methodologies.
∑ Lessons provided evidence of a good balance between independent, group and peer learning.
∑ The very effective use of the design process in the practical food studies assignments at both junior and senior cycle is commended.
∑ The focus on independent learning and individual responsibility in the practical lessons is paying dividends in terms of studentsí competence and the development of skills.
∑ The effective organisation and management of learning activities contributed to a secure, positive and constructive learning environment.
∑ The variety of assessment modes used reflects the assessment objectives of the syllabuses. The marking schemes from the certificate examinations are used in the assessment of studentsí work.
∑ There was good practice with regard to the regular assignment, checking and monitoring of homework, as well as the use of assessment for learning practices.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ Bearing in mind the context of the school and the abilities of particular cohorts of students, the participation rates at higher level in the Leaving Certificate should be monitored on an ongoing basis and, where necessary, consideration should be given to how participation rates at this level might be improved.
∑ Learning objectives should be included for all topics outlined in the schemes of work, to indicate what students should attain in terms of knowledge, understanding and skills.
∑ The schemes of work should be used as working documents on an ongoing basis.
∑ Greater emphasis should be placed on the inclusion and development of higher-order questions in all lessons and in studentsí written 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.