An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Mary Immaculate Secondary School
Roll number: 62000W
Date of inspection: 28 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna, carried out 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 the subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day 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 teacher.
Home Economics is a well-established and popular optional subject at Mary Immaculate Secondary School. At the time of this evaluation a third of the junior cycle cohort and almost half of the senior cycle cohort had selected Home Economics, thus illustrating its popularity as a subject choice. There is good gender balance, particularly at senior cycle, which is commendable.
The provision of a short taster programme in first year that allows students to sample all optional subjects in order to make an informed choice is praiseworthy. The school is commended for the student-centred approach to subject choice in both junior and senior cycles, where subject option groupings are created based on students’ initial open choice. Students and their parents are well supported in choosing subjects and levels within subjects. Every effort is made to ensure students’ satisfaction with regard to the granting of their preferred subject choices. The inclusion of a home economics module in the curriculum for all Transition Year (TY) students is to be commended as it provides students who have not studied the subject for junior cycle with the opportunity to experience the subject and therefore help them in making a more informed choice with regard to subjects for the Leaving Certificate.
There is a very good level of provision and whole-school support for the subject and a high level of commitment to the organisation, planning and teaching of the subject was evident. Teaching time is in line with syllabus recommendations. Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required. Classes are organised on a mixed-ability basis and the home economics department is pro-active in encouraging all students to fully realise their potential. Management’s support of continuing professional development (CPD) for Home Economics is laudable.
The home economics department is well supplied with information and communication technologies (ICT) resources. Very good use is made of the computer, data projector and printer and there is dedicated television and video/DVD equipment in the home economics room. Students are encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics when they have access to the school’s two computer rooms.
The school has a large specialist home economics room, which functions as a kitchen and a textiles room. In the context of annual stocktaking an audit of equipment is undertaken. Management is supportive of requests made for the ongoing maintenance, replacement and updating of equipment and resources for both Food Studies and Textiles as necessary. It is acknowledged that this specialist facility has benefited from some incremental improvements over time. However, the section of the kitchen dating back to the 1960’s is in need of modernisation. Bearing in mind health and safety considerations and syllabus requirements at junior and senior cycle it is recommended that the facilities for Home Economics be improved in line with best practice guidelines. In the absence of a specialist room for textiles, personnel should be vigilant regarding safety issues vis-à-vis the use of a dual purpose room for food and textiles studies.
A policy on health and safety for the school has been drawn up in consultation with personnel involved and there is evidence of good health and safety practices in home economics classes. Reference is made to health and safety in the planning documents for Home Economics and classroom rules are prominently displayed in the kitchen. Appropriate safety equipment is available in the home economics room. A gas isolation switch has been installed in the home economics room, however, management should advance the installation of an electricity isolation switch as soon as possible.
Management is supportive of subject department planning and has promoted the use of agenda and record keeping at department meetings. The home economics department collaborates with the art department during subject planning time and issues common to both practical subjects are discussed. Regular monitoring and review of subject plans to meet students’ needs is undertaken and subsequent issues are regularly communicated to the principal. Careful planning is undertaken to provide for students with special educational needs in home economics classes.
Subject planning for Home Economics is ongoing and a comprehensive subject plan has been developed which includes details on the organisation, planning, teaching and learning, and assessment of the subject. This subject plan is grounded in the school’s mission statement and includes a list of methodologies and information on teaching resources, cross-curricular links, homework, assessment procedures, record keeping, reporting mechanisms, health and safety, the use of ICT and information on planning for students with additional needs. Long-term outline schemes of work have been drawn up for each year group. Work in this area to date is commendable.
More detailed planning in the form of a short-term plan of work has been developed with regard to first year. This plan is syllabus based, time bound and provides a clear outline of the course content, proposed methodologies and homework to be completed each term. The further development of outline plans into more detailed plans of work for all remaining year groups is a stated intention of the home economics department. In this regard it is recommended that these short-term plans of work should be utilised as working documents, which are used to review subject matter covered and aid planning for the future. These working documents should incorporate additional and more specific information relating to delivery of the programmes. Suggested additions include: reference to expected learning outcomes; the specific sequence and timeframes for the completion of relevant practical/project/coursework; choice of teaching methodologies; choice and use of resources; links between theory and the related practical work; integration of the related course areas with five areas of study as recommended in the syllabuses; the specific timeframes and opportunities for homework and assessment and where required details on revision and examination preparation. These plans should also incorporate a review section for comments on the achievement of the learning outcomes. This further planning should be implemented on a phased basis.
The good practice of developing the design process from an early stage in junior cycle, in both food studies and the practical textiles work is adopted. It is evident that this approach enables students to develop crucial knowledge and skills over time, in the areas of analysis, investigation, problem solving, action planning and evaluation. In light of the current rebalancing of the Junior Certificate Home Economics syllabus by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), a review of the current programme for core textiles in junior cycle is planned in order to take full account of current syllabus requirements.
Well-structured revision plans are a key feature of subject planning for examination classes and it is notable that these revision plans are scheduled around students’ learning of new material. State Examination Commission marking schemes, chief examiners’ reports, syllabuses and teacher guidelines are well utilised as a resource to inform planning at all levels.
Planning for Home Economics in TY merits particular mention. The TY home economics modules are expertly developed varied in content and are selected each year on the basis of students’ aptitudes and interests. Personnel are to be commended for their creativity and dedication with regard to providing a challenging programme for TY students.
With regard to cross-curricular planning the home economics department engages collaboratively with teachers of Art, Business, Science and other practical subjects as appropriate. Co-curricular and extracurricular activities are well supported through the use of cookery demonstrations from local chefs and various guest speakers on selected topics that support and enhance learning. Students are also encouraged to enter a variety of local and national cookery competitions and have been quite successful to date.
A range of teaching aids and resource materials has been gathered and many have been developed using ICT. These include, for example, reference books, relevant publications, posters, DVDs, videos and commercially prepared resource packs. Ongoing investment in the development and expansion of resources to support teaching and learning in Home Economics is recommended.
The quality of advance planning, individual lesson preparation and teaching and learning was exceptionally high in both the practical and theory lessons observed. Lessons were clearly focused, well sequenced and presented at a pace that accommodated the individual abilities of the students. Learning outcomes for the lesson were shared with students at the outset and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning and appropriate integration of theory with practical skills.
Teacher instruction was clear, competent, accurate and frequently supported by the use of such resources as the blackboard, data projector, student handouts, samples, workbooks and textbooks. These were introduced into the lessons at appropriate times and were most effective in enhancing teaching and consolidating learning. Very good use is made of ICT in class preparation and to produce resources for class, and the incidental usage of ICT as a teaching tool in classrooms was evident in all of the lessons observed. The very good use of visual aids and PowerPoint presentations is lauded for the level of creativity displayed. There are plans for the continued integration of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
A suitable variety of methodologies was employed to support and enhance students’ learning which included explanation, questioning, board work, group work, pair work and discussion. Best practice was observed where these strategies included opportunities for students to actively engage in the learning process. One of a series of lessons on microbiology merits particular mention for the level of creativity and originality displayed by the teacher in organising and executing the lesson.
In all lessons observed high levels of subject matter expertise were demonstrated and comprehensive overviews of the topics under discussion were provided. Appropriate connections were made between new learning and relevant previous material studied which provided for a more meaningful learning context. Key concepts and terms that arose during lessons were clearly explained, repeatedly reinforced and highlighted on the blackboard and students recorded these in their copybooks. The use of such a practice is encouraged as these summary points provide a structure to the lesson content and can be a very useful revision aid for students.
Excellent questioning and explaining strategies were used in the classes observed to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding and to link new information with prior learning. Best practice was evident in instances where the development of students’ higher-order skills was facilitated by using gentle probing questions that encouraged students to analyse critically the information under discussion. There was some evidence of the use of differentiated teaching methodologies to meet the learning needs of students, and this should be further developed.
During practical work observed, there was an appropriate balance between teacher instruction, demonstration and time to allow students to work independently. Good emphasis on explaining of key concepts; the linking of theory to practical work and the development of appropriate manipulative skills were observed. Students worked collaboratively and participated actively in tasks. Students are encouraged to undertake evaluations of tasks completed and this informs continuous assessment of students’ work. In general, students were able to demonstrate their ability to undertake various practical tasks to a good standard.
Students’ behaviour was exemplary and very good student-teacher rapport based on mutual respect was evident in all lessons observed. The quality of the student-teacher relationships and the warm, enthusiastic and professional manner in which the teacher interacted with the students had a very positive effect on the quality of learning and reflects well the student-centred ethos permeating the school. Students were well managed, guided and directed in all learning activities and their work was monitored carefully in a very supportive, encouraging and caring manner. This contributed to a positive classroom atmosphere that was conducive to effective learning. The home economics department is commended for striving to provide motivational visual and print-rich environments to support teaching and learning. Students were challenged and motivated by the learning activities and they were attentive and demonstrated great interest and enthusiasm for the subject. The students were secure in their interactions and were affirmed and encouraged in all their contributions and efforts.
Very high expectations are set for students and every effort is made to devolve the responsibility for learning to the individual student. The majority of students aspire to the higher-level course, particularly at junior cycle. Thorough monitoring and appraisal of students’ work is regularly carried out and good study and revision practices are promoted. Students’ learning was evaluated through examination of their copybooks, folders, project work, tests and their ability to display their knowledge and skills. The students responded very well to questions and displayed very good knowledge and understanding of the subject and demonstrated good teamwork skills in practical work appropriate to their class group and level. Students were competent with regard to the organisation and presentation of coursework. The very good variety of students’ project work, in the area of Design and Craftwork merits particular mention for the standard and level of originality demonstrated. Processes such as appliqué, quilting, embroidery, knitting, crochet, tapestry, cross-stitch, beading and fabric dying are regular features of the craftwork completed. The great enthusiasm and commitment displayed by the home economics teacher to the students in her care is evident.
The home economics department has developed a homework and assessment policy in line with the whole-school policy for homework. Students’ progress and competence in Home Economics is monitored and assessed very well by a range of assessment modes that reflect the assessment objectives of the syllabuses. These include for example, oral questioning, regular class assessments, homework assignments, examination questions and continuous monitoring of students’ practical and project work. Students sit a number of formal assessments throughout the year. Insofar as possible the grades awarded for Home Economics throughout the year are an aggregated mark for written tests, food and culinary skills practical work, and coursework completed. Further consideration should be given to regular assessment of students’ learning in TY.
Relevant State Examination Commission documentation is used to inform assessment procedures employed. There was evidence of careful planning for and the incorporation of regular homework, revision and assessment, in order to maximise the learning experience of students. With regard to formative assessment, the good practice of annotation of students’ work was evident. This provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done and reflects the principles of assessment for learning effectively. An appropriate examinations focus is evident which provides student motivation for tasks. In order to provide students with more opportunities for examination preparation, it is suggested that students be allocated more of the section-B-style State examination questions to answer for homework. In addition students should use the State examination marking schemes to evaluate their own progress.
There is a good level of contact maintained between the school and parents. Assessment outcomes are recorded systematically and students and their parents are advised regularly on students’ progress in the subject. The homework journal is an additional valuable means of communicating with parents as the need arises. Furthermore, students’ progress is reported to parents at the annual parent-teacher meetings that are held for each year group. Examination results are analysed in the context of national norms and this analysis of results is used to inform subject provision and planning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Home Economics is a well-established and popular optional subject at both junior cycle and senior cycles for both boys and girls at Mary Immaculate Secondary School.
· There is a very good level of provision and whole-school support for the subject and a high level of commitment to the organisation, planning and teaching of the subject was evident.
· Subject planning for Home Economics is ongoing and a comprehensive subject plan has been developed. In addition long-term outline schemes of work have been drawn up for each year group.
· The TY home economics modules are expertly developed, varied in content and are selected each year on the basis of students’ aptitudes and interests.
· The quality of advance planning, individual lesson preparation and teaching and learning was exceptionally high in both the practical and theory lessons observed.
· The home economics department is well supplied with ICT resources and these are effectively utilised in teaching and learning.
· Students’ behaviour was exemplary and very good student-teacher rapport based on mutual respect was evident in all lessons observed.
· Students were challenged and motivated by the learning activities and they were attentive and demonstrated great interest and enthusiasm for the subject.
· Students’ project work, in the area of Design and Craftwork merits particular mention for the standard and level of originality demonstrated.
· Student progress and competence in Home Economics is monitored and assessed very well by a range of assessment modes that reflect the assessment objectives of the syllabuses.
· Thorough monitoring and appraisal of students’ work is regularly carried out and good study and revision practices are promoted.
· Assessment outcomes are recorded systematically and students and their parents are advised regularly on students’ progress in the subject.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The facilities for Home Economics should be improved in line with best practice guidelines.
· In the absence of a specialist room for textiles, personnel should be vigilant regarding safety issues vis-à-vis the use of a dual-purpose room for food and textiles studies.
· The recommendations made with regard to enhancing curricular planning in Home Economics as detailed in the report should be implemented over time.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of Home Economics and the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2008