An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Coláiste an Chroí Naofa
Carraig na bhFear, County Cork
Roll number: 62130M
Date of inspection: 8 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste an Chroí Naofa in Carraig na bhFear. 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. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Home Economics is a very popular subject in Coláiste an Chroí Naofa, as is evident from its very healthy uptake levels. Furthermore, a very good gender balance in uptake is also evident. Home economics students are encouraged by their teachers to aim for high academic standards, a finding that has its basis in the favourable percentage of students who opt to study the subject at the higher level in both of the Certificate examinations, as well as in these students’ results.
Equality of access to the subject for all students is supported by a number of school practices and structures. These involve: the inclusion of Home Economics in each of the school’s curricular programmes; the provision of taster programmes in both first year and Transition Year; the operation of an open system of subject choice, where students’ preferences determine the formation of option subject blocks; and the offering of Home Economics in a second option band, if and when student demand dictates.
In the main, timetabling of Home Economics was found to be favourable. In accordance with syllabus guidelines, sufficient time is allocated to the subject in both junior and senior cycles. All class groups are timetabled for double periods, and this facilitates the delivery of the practical elements of both syllabuses. Timetabling is also supportive of mixed-ability teaching. Overall, lessons are nicely spread over the weekly timetable, with the exception of two, third-year class groups, who are timetabled for Home Economics on three consecutive days. It is understood that management makes every effort to seek to avoid this timetabling pattern. In this regard, management is further encouraged in its efforts to ensure optimal contact time for all class groups. One key area for development was identified. It relates to the timetabling of double periods on a Wednesday, mid-morning, where classes are only thirty minutes in duration. This results in a very short double period and makes it difficult for teachers to ensure that students’ learning in practical food studies lessons is maximised. While there is only one instance of this in the timetabling of Home Economics for the current school year, it is a finding that should inform future approaches to the timetabling of Home Economics. It is recommended therefore that management seeks to avoid the timetabling of double periods of Home Economics on a Wednesday, but in particular for the four periods following the mid-morning break. With a view to responding to students desire to study Home Economics, two home economics classes are offered in one of the current second and third year subject bands. Such provision is commended. As a result, there is some concurrent timetabling of double periods evident. As the school has only one home economics kitchen this practice isn’t considered ideal, as it may restrict access to facilities. That said, teachers’ programme planning has sought to minimise any possible negative impacts. Teachers are commended for this adaptability. At any point, should it be found that such an arrangement is not workable, the pros and cons of maintaining or changing the approach should be discussed at school level.
All home economics teachers have a recognised and suitable qualification. In the deployment of staff for the teaching of Home Economics, management seeks to ensure that each member of the department is given the opportunity to teach the subject to all year groups. When and where possible, management also seeks to ensure that teachers retain the class group assigned to them in second and fifth years for each following year of the junior and senior cycles respectively.
It is very positive that management allocates an annual budget to the home economics department. The members of the department are strongly encouraged to consider using a portion of this budget to increase the stock in the room-based, subject-specific, resource library. Home Economics in Coláiste an Chroí Naofa benefits from the provision of two subject-specific classrooms: one base classroom and one home economics kitchen. The kitchen is large and bright, and it is well maintained. Modifications, which are intended to make the room more user-friendly, are made on an ongoing basis. Not discounting these positive findings, the room is old and it is clear that a number of areas would benefit from some upgrading or refurbishment. All concerned are encouraged to complete a room audit designed to identify the areas for development. In addition, consideration should also be given to the preparation of an action plan that would address the upgrading of aspects of this room in the short to long term. A priority for development, as identified during the subject inspection, is the students’ work stations. Students are required to work at centrally located tables and it was found that, from an ergonomic perspective, these tables are too low. It is recommended, with reference to guidelines in relation to desirable heights for kitchen units and work stations, that this finding be further investigated and addressed. The planning and buildings unit of the Department of Education and Science should be able to inform in this regard. Planning documents indicated that, on occasions, resources which find their basis in information communication technology (ICT) are utilised in the delivery of lesson content. In order to support teachers in this approach the home economics department has recently been supplied with a desktop computer and printer. This is praised. When budgets permit, the additional provision of a room-based data projector, would be a very valuable resource for this home economics department.
Practice regarding health and safety in Home Economics is well documented within the school’s overall health and safety statement. It is very positive that this is updated on an annual basis. As part of the next annual review, all concerned are encouraged to address the dual-purpose nature of the room, meaning the use of the room for both practical food studies and practical textile studies. Furthermore, consideration ought to be given to the installation of an electrical isolation switch. It was reported that the flooring in the home economics kitchen can become slippery, particularly when the cooker hobs are fully operational and a lot of steam is being produced in the room. Teachers are advised to ensure that in such instances additional cautions are offered to students as part of the general safety information that is normally issued.
Management’s support for collaborative subject department planning is apparent in the provision that is made for termly, subject department meetings. Following each meeting, for which minutes are maintained, the convenor of the meeting provides feedback to the principal on matters relating to items that were raised and discussed, and in relation to decisions that were taken. Both practices are commended, with the latter being particularly praised.
A subject co-ordinator is in place whose key role is to oversee the general planning work of the department. It is management’s stated intention that, in time, the role will be rotated between the two members of the subject department. This is fully encouraged. A subject plan has been put in place, a large percentage of which is handwritten. Teachers are strongly encouraged to prepare an electronic version of the subject plan, as this will facilitate greater efficiency in the annual review and updating of the plan.
Teachers’ professionalism and commitment are very obvious in the planning work that has been completed by the home economics department, particularly in relation to teaching and learning. This was most evident in the review of teachers’ individual planning folders and resource files, as well as in students’ subject folders. All three sources indicate that a lot of time and energy goes into planning lessons, developing resources designed to support student learning in a topic or series of topics, and providing for students’ varying abilities, levels and learning styles. Teachers are very highly praised for this very positive finding. In addition, much evidence was found to suggest that the department has adopted a very collaborative approach to planning and preparation for teaching and learning. This is also highly commended, for the discussions around pedagogy that this approach fosters and promotes.
An analysis, seeking to identify the subject’s strengths, challenges, opportunities for development, and any possible threats was completed recently by the members of the home economics department. This is highly suggestive of a very pro-active approach to planning for the further and future development of the subject in the school. This vision and outlook is very highly praised.
Outline programmes of work have been agreed and developed for each year group. A really positive finding is the very good work that is currently being undertaken by the home economics department in terms of the further development of these school-specific, curriculum planning documents. It is very commendable that the teachers are grounding this work in learning outcomes, which are being identified for each topic that is to be explored. In addition, valuable resources, suitable methodologies, desirable assessment strategies and relevant homework activities are also being identified as part of this planning work. The department’s approach to the further development of the programmes of work, which finds as its basis the recording on a day-to-day or weekly basis the work planned and completed, is both realistic and manageable. Teachers are deserving of recognition and praise for this work. The continued sharing of this work between the teachers is highly recommended for the discussions around teaching and learning that such a practice promotes.
More specifically, in relation to programme planning, the department is strongly encouraged to keep the recently revised TY programme of work under review. It is suggested that the key focus of this review should be the programme’s capacity to provide for the mixed levels of experience and the varying abilities of the students in each TY class. It is important that a balance be struck between providing for the up-skilling of students with little or no experience in relation to Home Economics, theory and practical, and ensuring a sufficient degree of challenge for students who have studied Home Economics to Junior Certificate level. Teachers are directed to the Second Level Support Service brochure entitled ‘Writing the TY Programme’, which may be of benefit in the preparation of a TY home economics programme of work. It is available to download at the following web site address: http://tyslss.ie/resources. In relation to the fifth year programme of work, teachers are strongly encouraged to build the food assignments into the programme on an annual basis.
Planning for the provision of co-curricular activities designed to enhance students’ learning in Home Economics is apparent, as is planning for the promotion of cross-curricular learning. Teachers’ work in this regard is to be commended. A good example of cross-curricular planning and co-operation in the area is where the produce of a TY gardening module is incorporated into dishes prepared and cooked as part of the TY home economics module.
Good quality teaching and learning in Home Economics was evident in Coláiste an Chroí Naofa.
Each of the lessons observed demonstrated a clear consistency with the relevant programme of work. Short-term planning was of a very high quality. Teachers’ individual planning folders suggest that a very methodical approach has been adopted to preparing for lessons. In addition, it is clear that a significant amount of time and energy is dedicated to lesson planning. A large number and range of very valuable resources were prepared and collected, and these were very well utilised in the delivery of lesson content. This included prepared acetates, handouts and worksheets, as well as a large selection of props designed to support student learning in the topics being explored. A good number of the chosen resources ensured that provision was made for students who demonstrate a tendency to learn more effectively with the introduction of visual stimuli. This provision included, for example, colourful posters and numerous foods and food products. This is commended.
All lessons commenced with a very thorough recap and examination of work completed in the preceding lesson. Following this, the plan for each lesson was openly shared with students. Best practice was where this included an identification of the planned learning outcomes; statements of the knowledge, skills, and abilities that individual students should possess or demonstrate at the end of a lesson. This exemplary approach is encouraged in all lessons. Teacher instruction was clear and accurate. Significant efforts were made to make the information being presented to students more interesting and more relevant. Links were established on an ongoing basis between new topics and work previously covered, as well as with other relevant areas of the home economics syllabus not yet studied in detail. This integrated approach to curriculum delivery, which is consistent with syllabus recommendations, is very highly praised. A range of strategies was utilised in lessons, the majority of which sought to provide for maximum student participation. This range, which included, for example, brainstorming, worksheet completion; note-taking and pair and group work, is very positive.
Group work was very well organised and managed. Teachers’ introductions to tasks included a modelling of what was required of students in the completion of each assigned task. Tasks were time-based, and students’ participation was carefully monitored, with support, advice and assistance being offered to students when and where deemed necessary. When choosing or designing group activities, teachers are asked to consider the degree of input that the activity will require from each and every group member. Furthermore, careful consideration should also be given to the activity’s overarching purpose and the relevance of this purpose to syllabus demands.
As mentioned previously, note-taking was a strategy that featured in some lessons. A key recommendation arising out of the use of this strategy is the need to explain information fully before allowing students to note the information down. More often than not the information that students were required to note was presented in full sentences or short paragraphs. As a result therefore, what students wrote into their copybooks bore a very close resemblance to that already provided in their textbooks. It is strongly suggested that the information that students are required to take down as notes should seek to summarise the information provided in textbooks rather than duplicating it. Teachers are asked therefore to consider the value of current practice and to look at alternative approaches to note-taking that would assist students in ‘chunking’ information, in identifying and emphasising key words and concepts, and in summarising essential information for the various aspects of each topic being explored. Consideration might be given therefore to the use of simple graphic organisers, such as flow diagrams and tables, for this task. In time, the exploration of the application of a bigger range of these learning tools to note-taking could be explored. The use of such tools in a more structured way could also help to build students’ capacity to identify key information themselves, and thereby develop the ability to make their own notes. Teachers are encouraged also therefore to look at the introduction of strategies that would lead to the development of students’ note-making skills which, in the long-term, would prove far more valuable than the skills associated with transcription.
In addition to the examination of work previously covered, questioning as a strategy was also very effectively used to involve students in the lessons, and to check students’ understanding of new work. Questions were posed globally, a show of hands was requested, and following this questions were directed to named students. This very structured and inclusive approach is commended. Students were very keen to answer questions posed by teachers and their contributions were readily and warmly affirmed. Students’ answers also demonstrated a very good knowledge of work previously covered. Where students’ answers were inaccurate, the teachers’ reaction was one that sought to build students’ confidence to propose an alternative response. In addition, subtle prompting by teachers supported students in their efforts to often provide the correct answer on this second attempt. This too is highly praised. In some instances questions designed to develop students’ higher-order thinking skills and their ability to apply learned information to a number of scenarios or situations, were apparent. The further incorporation of this type of questioning is fully encouraged.
In the practical food studies lesson evaluated, there was a very good focus on each of the following: the establishment of proper, safe and hygienic procedure and practice; the development of students’ basic culinary skills and competencies; and the enhancement, through practical activity, of existing student knowledge. This approach is very highly praised. Significant efforts were made to examine theory previously explored with students, as well as to introduce an appropriate amount of new theory. On-the-spot demonstrations or the provision of whole-class inputs by the teacher were utilised over the course of lessons to support student learning relative to the task at hand. This is very positive. A very thorough one-to-one monitoring of students’ participation and efforts was used to ensure that learning took place, with support and assistance being provided to individual students as required. This is also commended. Despite the fact that this was students’ very first practical lesson, students worked in a competent and confident fashion. Time was provided in the latter half of the lesson for students to evaluate the end product and their own work, with a very commendable introduction of a word-bank designed to assist students in this exercise. This very early introduction to an element of the design brief approach to practical food studies work is very highly commended. A reduction of between ten to twenty minutes instruction time meant that both the teacher and the students were under severe pressure to complete the task, with the reduction also compromising the full learning potential of the lesson. This, as mentioned previously in the first section of the report, can only be addressed by management through timetabling.
Classroom relations were notably positive and therefore classroom atmosphere was highly conducive to student learning. Students demonstrated interest in the topic being explored and were attentive and well behaved.
A range of assessment modes is utilised by the department in determining students’ progress and achievement in Home Economics. Students’ learning is evaluated orally in class on a regular basis. Short written tests are provided upon completion of a chapter or topic. Revision aids, such as What do I need to know sheets, are issued to all students in advance of these chapter or topic tests. The preparation by teachers of these very valuable resources is highly praised. More substantial written examinations are provided twice annually. The issuing of common examination papers in these examinations is noted as good practice. Clearly, some of the test papers and examination papers reviewed as part of the subject inspection drew inspiration from past Certificate examination papers, both in terms of layout and in relation to question type and style. Teachers are strongly encouraged to apply this approach in the development of all assessment papers.
The assessment of Junior Certificate students’ project and practical work is also established practice in the department. In tandem with this, teachers provide an aggregate mark in the school reports of all junior cycle students, part of which refers to a student’s written work and part of which applies to a student’s practical or project work. This practice, which seeks to give a truer indication of students’ overall and actual attainment in the subject, is highly praised. Similarly, fifth-year summer reports also recognise students’ journal work, although this recognition relates to the completion of this work versus the quality of the work. As a means of building on this approach teachers are therefore encouraged to address, on a more formal level, the marking of one or two of the Leaving Certificate food-studies assignments, and it is suggested that is an area where peer assessment could be introduced. As students must have a clear understanding of what they are to look for in their peers’ work, teachers would need to prepare, in conjunction with their students, a guide to marking. The Chief Examiner’s Report - Leaving Certificate Examination 2007, the Food Studies Coursework Guidelines and the recording criteria provided in each journal, together with exemplars issued by the Home Economics Support Service, should inform the preparation of same. This exercise should prove very valuable, both in terms of highlighting best practice to students in relation to the completion of journals, and in providing some formal indication to students of their progress and achievement relative to journal work.
Students’ copybooks indicate that homework is set on a regular basis and that this work is monitored by teachers. Some of this monitoring provides very good examples of work which has been comprehensively annotated. This approach is further encouraged, as it provides students with guidance as to how they might expand on and improve their answering of questions. In addition, it was observed that periodically students’ work is also marked and graded. In the marking of students’ work teachers are encouraged to provide a complete breakdown of the marks received in each part of each question. Furthermore, it is suggested that students be supplied with the marking scheme when the work is being assigned and that this scheme would be applied by the teachers when the work is being corrected. This has the advantage of training students in the interpretation of marking schemes, as well as in other examination techniques, such as depth of treatment. The application of a similar approach to the marking and grading of all test and examination papers is also suggested as an area for consideration.
Students’ progress and achievement in the subject is systematically recorded and filed, as are students’ attendance and the completion or non-completion of homework. This information provides the basis for the feedback offered to parents or guardians at the parent-teacher meetings, which are held once per annum for each year group. Reports are also issued home twice a year for non-examination classes and three times a year for third and sixth-year students.
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.
Published, April 2010