An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Coláiste na Trócaire, Rathkeale
Roll Number: 76061W
Date of inspection: 22 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste na Trócaire, Rathkeale 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teacher’s 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 an optional subject in all year groups at Coláiste na Trócaire. The school reports that Home Economics tends to be heavily subscribed in most year groups. Albeit traditionally a subject chosen predominately by the female cohort, uptake is generally in line with the national average. This uptake is supported by the teacher’s active promotion and marketing of the subject at open days and at information evenings; showcasing students’ work at school events and hosting of awareness campaigns. Such initiatives are praiseworthy and should be continued.
Despite efforts to influence traditional context factors that may exist in relation to subject choices, gender imbalance in take-up of Home Economics is apparent and there are currently no boys taking the subject at senior cycle. The school has recently made greater efforts to make the open day for primary school pupils more gender balanced. In this regard sampling of all optional subjects during open day is open to boys and girls. While recognising the constraints regarding subject choice options, it is recommended that the school continue to support students in choosing to make less traditional subject choices, in order to encourage gender balance. In this regard the school is actively considering the possibility of providing a short taster programme for incoming first year students and this is to be encouraged. Furthermore, it is recommended that contextual factors influencing student uptake in Home Economics be investigated, particularly at senior cycle and that every effort is made to attract students of all abilities and both genders to take up Home Economics.
The inclusion of an eight week home economics module in the curriculum for Transition Year (TY) students is contingent annually on the availability of home economics personnel. Home Economics is not available to this year’s TY students. It is recommended that every effort be made to include home economics in the TY curriculum every year 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.
Students at both junior and senior cycle are given an open choice of subjects and, subsequently, subject option bands are created within the constraints of available resources. Students and their parents are well supported in choosing subjects and levels within subjects. Every effort is made to ensure student satisfaction with regard to the granting of their preferred subject choices.
The school authorities are very supportive with regard to provision and whole-school support for the subject. Time is allocated for the purpose of subject planning. Class period provision is generally in line with syllabus recommendations. The facilitation of double class periods for each year group is to be commended, as they are essential for the development of design and processing skills through project work. 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 teacher is made aware of students with special educational needs and the nature of their learning difficulties.
With regard to continuing professional development (CPD) there is active engagement with the Teacher Professional Network as well as a variety of school-based in-service training. Engagement by home economics personnel in the marking of various aspects of the subject in the State examinations is to be commended as it provides opportunities to increase the breadth and depth of professional expertise and so enhance students’ learning experiences. The school has recently introduced the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). In the context of ongoing subject planning, there is scope for more in-service to support teachers involved in implementing the JCSP.
The school is fortunate to have two separate specialist rooms for Home Economics: a kitchen which functions as a food studies laboratory and a designated textiles room. These rooms are well organised and resourced with a range of equipment necessary for the teaching of the subject. Equipment and resources for Home Economics are maintained to a high standard. In the context of annual stocktaking an audit on equipment is undertaken and management should continue to be supportive of requests made for the ongoing replacement and updating of equipment and resources for both Food Studies and Textiles as necessary. In addition a number of cookers need to be replaced on health and safety grounds.
Very good use is made of the overhead projector, and classes have access to a television and video/DVD equipment when required. Students are encouraged to utilise information and communication technologies (ICT) for investigations and project work in Home Economics when they have access to the school’s computer room. There is scope for more use of ICT in subject planning, and as a teaching tool in the classroom. There are plans for the continued integration of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics, as more technology becomes available and expertise is developed over time.
The school’s policy for health and safety has been drawn up in consultation with teachers and is reviewed on a regular basis. The home economics department has developed its own safety guidelines for practical classes and there is evidence of good health and safety practices in home economics classes.
Subject department planning for Home Economics is ongoing and a subject plan is in place which includes such details as the subject’s aims and objectives, health and safety guidelines, and some information on cross-curricular links, resources, methodologies, assessment and homework procedures, and planning for students with special educational needs. It is praiseworthy that the home economics department engages annually in formal review of existing structures and procedures with a view to target setting at the beginning of each term. In addition, the monitoring and review of subject plans to meet students’ needs is a positive feature of subject planning. Careful planning is undertaken to provide for students with special educational needs in home economics classes. State Examination Commission marking schemes, chief examiners’ reports, syllabuses and teacher guidelines are well utilised as a resource to inform planning at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels.
In addition schemes of work have been drawn up for each year group and these provide a broad outline of the topics to be covered during the year including the relevant practical and project work to be completed. These plans are syllabus based and outline the content to be covered, the choice of teaching methodologies and resources to be employed to support the teaching of topics. Work in this area to date is commendable. In the context of ongoing subject planning, it is recommended that these plans be further developed into short-term schemes of work. These 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; 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 teacher’s comments on the achievement of the learning outcomes. These comments should assist in informing practice and should further enhance existing practices for the review of the course at the end of each year. Consideration should also be given to planning for the further integration of ICT into teaching and learning. This enhancement of subject planning should be fully implemented on a phased basis using ICT to assist regular updating. In the context of planning for coursework students should be introduced to the skills required for project work, for example research, investigations, surveys, problem solving and case studies on an incremental basis from first year onwards. In addition, the design process should be introduced as early as possible in the junior cycle in both food studies and the practical textiles work as appropriate. A review of the current programme for textiles is currently ongoing in order to take full account of current syllabus requirements.
In the context of planning for JSCP students the Home Economics materials that have been developed by the JCSP should be explored and an assessment of their appropriateness within education provision for students with additional needs should be undertaken, given that JCSP has a useful student motivation dimension. Furthermore, regular meetings of those teachers who have JCSP students in their classes would be beneficial.
Home economics students have opportunities to expand their learning through planned activities both inside and outside the classroom. This is currently achieved from time to time through participation in competitions and involvement in such activities as Healthy Eating Campaigns and the Green School Programme. It is suggested that visits to supermarkets, industry, relevant agencies and other such opportunities continue to be explored and further developed.
Classroom notice boards are used to good effect to display charts, articles and evidence of students’ work. This is to be commended as it contributes to a feeling of pride and achievement in students. A range of teaching aids and resource materials has been gathered and developed. 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 suggested.
The standard of teaching and learning was very good in all the lessons observed. Lessons were very well planned as was evident in the advance preparation of supplementary resource materials, the white board, handouts and worksheets, and the use of visual and tactile stimuli, which positively impacted on both teaching and learning. This resulted in lessons that 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. The teacher showed an awareness of the students’ various learning styles and adapted the teaching and learning to suit the students’ needs.
Teacher instruction was clear, competent, and accurate and the use of supplementary resources was most effective in enhancing teaching and consolidating learning. There are plans for the continued improvement of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics. There was great awareness of the varying abilities of students and opportunities were provided for students to build on their prior knowledge and skills through well-planned learning activities.
The use of appropriate active learning methodologies such as brainstorming, pair work, group work and peer learning demonstrated the teacher’s student-centred style. Other teaching methodologies observed included whole-class teaching, teacher demonstration, individualised learning, and the use of worksheets. Effective questioning and explaining strategies were used in the classes observed to engage students in the learning activity, to check understanding, to support students in the development of higher order thinking skills and to link new information with prior learning. Much emphasis was placed on students’ understanding of content and processes and there were very good examples of linking the lesson content to students’ every day experiences. Good practice was also demonstrated in utilising students’ experiences and prior learning to introduce and develop new concepts. Such elements of best practice should continue to be incorporated regularly into lessons. Differentiated teaching methodologies were employed to varying degrees to meet the learning needs of students; however, in the context of mixed-ability classes, the use of more active and differentiated teaching methods should be further developed in order to enhance provision for diverse student learning needs. This could be achieved through the use of differentiated worksheets or assignments where the task could be extended or reduced according to the students’ ability. In addition, the use of the JCSP profiling system to include the use of statements and learning targets for individual students would assist in achieving this goal.
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 student work. Students were competent with regard to the organisation and presentation of coursework. In general, students were able to demonstrate their ability to undertake various practical tasks to a good standard.
Learning activities were well managed and there was evidence of good time management. Students’ behaviour was exemplary and very good student-teacher rapport based on mutual respect was evident in all lessons observed. Students’ efforts were encouraged and affirmed. This contributed to a positive classroom atmosphere that was conducive to effective learning. Classroom discipline was sensitively maintained through teacher movement around the room and through engagement with students. Students were keen to participate in the learning activities and demonstrated good understanding of subject knowledge and various skills in practical work in accordance with their level and ability. Every effort is made to devolve the responsibility for learning to the individual student. The provision of motivational visual and print-rich environments to support teaching and learning is commended. The great enthusiasm and commitment displayed by home economics personnel is evident.
A range of assessment modes that reflect the assessment objectives of the Home Economics syllabuses is used effectively to monitor student progress and competence. These modes include oral questioning, class tests, homework assignments, examination questions and continuous monitoring of students’ practical and project work. Students sit a number of formal assessments throughout the year and where there are two or more classes in a particular year, common assessment papers are set as appropriate. Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students also sit pre-certificate examinations in the spring. Assessment outcomes are recorded systematically and used to identify trends in students' achievement, to inform future teaching strategies and to address the needs of individual learners.
Guidelines for homework and assessment have been developed for Home Economics. This good work will be further enhanced by the impending review of the whole-school policy on homework and assessment which is a stated intention of management. Homework is regularly assigned to reinforce and extend the learning that has taken place in the class and is appropriately recorded in students' journals. Good practice was observed with regard to regular monitoring and appraisal of students’ copybooks, work books, folders and practical work. With regard to formative assessment, the good practice of annotation of students’ work was evident. This provides valuable feedback to students on their progress, affirms work well done and reflects the principles of assessment for learning effectively. Such formative assessment is commended and encouraged as a means of empowering students to improve the quality of their work.
Parents are regularly informed of the nature of students’ progress. Comments written on homework, in the student's journal and regular school reports are used for this purpose. Parents also have the opportunity to discuss students’ progress at annual parent-teacher meetings held for each year group.
The home economics department is pro-active in encouraging all students to fully realise their potential. Whilst bearing in mind the mixed ability context of classes, participation rates at higher level are somewhat lower at senior cycle. With a view to attracting students of all abilities to study Home Economics it is recommended that consideration be given to how participation rates and achievement at senior cycle higher level might be increased. With regard to student achievement in State examinations management should continue to analyse student achievement and uptake of levels in the context of national norms. In doing so they should be mindful of individual students’ abilities and achievements.
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 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 April 2009