An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Roll number: 62981P
Date of inspection: 30 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in home economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Éinde, carried out as part of a WSE. 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 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 teachers.
Home Economics has a high profile at Coláiste Éinde where it is a very popular subject option at junior and senior cycle for both boys and girls. Home Economics was introduced to the school curriculum in the early 1990s and currently over a third of junior-cycle and almost half of senior-cycle students study Home Economics, thus illustrating its popularity. The school reports that Home Economics tends to be heavily subscribed and numbers are generally on the increase in senior cycle. The gender balance in uptake significantly exceeds the national average and is particularly good at junior cycle when one considers that the school is co-educational, with more boys than girls in attendance. Much credit is due to both school management and the home economics department for their continued commitment to the ongoing development of Home Economics at the school.
All Transition Year (TY) students study Home Economics and it is optional in all other year groups. The inclusion of a home economics module in the curriculum for all 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. In September a short taster programme enables first-year students to sample each subject on the option bands for two weeks. This provides additional opportunities to make informed subject choices and is commended. 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 are well supported in arrangements for subject choices and levels within subjects at junior and senior cycle through effective use of guidance resources, linked to teacher advice, communication with parents, and open nights at key stages.
There is very good resource provision and whole school support for Home Economics. Class period provision is in line with syllabus recommendations and class groups benefit from an even distribution of lessons across the week. Management’s support of the teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD) is laudable. In addition, relevant school-based in-service is scheduled regularly to support teachers. Students generally provide materials for practical work, supplemented by school provision where required, and management endeavours to provide for the purchase of additional resources and equipment on the basis of teacher requisition, which supports the subject well.
Classes are organised on a mixed-ability basis and it is good that every effort is made to attract students of all abilities to study the subject. The home economics teachers are made aware of any students with special educational needs and liaise with the learning-support department in the school on an ongoing basis ensuring that materials are adapted to suit the needs and abilities of students in line with best practice. Some other positive features with regard to supporting students’ needs are language support for newcomer students, effective communication between teachers and parents, provision of special needs assistants and the provision of supplementary teaching using various models such as withdrawal, team-teaching, and in-class support. The home economics teachers are pro-active in encouraging all students to fully realise their potential.
The school has a very large specialist home economics room, which functions as a kitchen and a textiles room. This facility is very well maintained, organised and well resourced with a range of equipment necessary for the teaching of the subject. Teachers share the kitchen and one general classroom for Home Economics as necessary. Teachers conduct regular audits on equipment and management is very supportive of requests made for the ongoing replacement and updating of equipment and resources for both Food Studies and Textiles. In this context the provision of some additional sewing machines and sewing equipment should be prioritised. Due to the room design and the layout of units which are positioned mainly on two walls of the kitchen there can be consequent poor visibility of students working in some areas of the kitchen. It is thus recommended that management endeavour to keep classes to a safe and reasonable size. When the subject is over-subscribed an additional class group should be formed in order to ensure safe work practices.
In view of the very high uptake in Home Economics, students have limited opportunities to access the kitchen in order to fulfill the requirements for practical work as required in the syllabuses. The school is aware of this issue and is anxious to provide an additional Home Economics room in order to meet students’ needs with regard to uptake in Home Economics. In the absence of a specialist room for textiles teachers must be vigilant when using the kitchen for textile work. Systems and procedures should be established to reduce the possibility of an incident occurring. The school has engaged in risk assessment in consultation with teachers as part of the review of the school’s health and safety statement. The Home Economics department has developed its own safety policy and there is evidence of very good health and safety practices in Home Economics classes.
Management is supportive of subject planning and the home economics department readily engages in the recommended practice of collaborative planning both on a formal and informal basis. A team approach to the co-ordination of the work of the home economics department has been adopted. Time is allocated for the purpose of subject planning throughout the academic year. Teachers also meet every Monday afternoon and throughout the week as necessary to monitor and review progress. Agenda are decided in advance of department meetings and records of subject department meetings are maintained. Key outcomes from such meetings are communicated to management on a regular basis. There is evidence of good practice in planning for common content, revision and assessment in Home Economics. It is praiseworthy that the home economics department engages annually in formal review of their existing structures and procedures. The monitoring and review of subject plans to meet students’ needs is built into subject department meetings, with specific review and target setting at the end of each term.
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 information on teaching methodologies, resources, cross-curricular links, assessment procedures, record keeping, reporting mechanisms, health and safety, the use of ICT and information on planning for students with additional needs. In addition long-term outline schemes of work which are time bound have been drawn up for each year group. Work in this area to date is commendable. A good outline plan has been developed for the TY home economics programme. This is module-based and merits particular mention for the variety and level of creativity in planning demonstrated. Options such as international cookery, project work and mini-company feature regularly in TY. This no doubt stimulates students’ interest in pursuing the subject to Leaving Certificate.
In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that these long-term outline plans of work be developed into more detailed short-term plans to be utilised as working documents. These documents should outline topics to be taught within shorter timeframes and indicate the corresponding resource materials, teaching methodologies, assessment modes and learning outcomes to be attained. Other suggested additions could include: the specific sequence and timeframes for the completion of relevant practical/project/course work; links between theory and the related practical work; integration of related course areas 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. These comments should assist teachers in informing practice and should further enhance existing practices for the review of the course at the end of each year. Consideration should be given to reviewing the first-year programme in Home Economics so that it reflects all aspects of the syllabus. In light of the current rebalancing of the Junior Certificate Home Economics syllabus by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), it is recommended that the home economics department begin the process of devising and implementing a plan of work for Textile Studies in order to take full account of current syllabus requirements. The enhancement of specialist facilities for textiles studies as recommended earlier in the report will be essential in achieving this goal. This planning should be implemented on a phased basis. The home economics department has developed a set of useful guidelines to assist students in carrying out the senior-cycle food studies practical coursework journal. These guidelines should support students in being more self-directed learners. The home economics teachers should continue to make good use of the State Examination Commission marking schemes, chief examiners’ reports, syllabuses and teacher guidelines as a resource to facilitate programme planning at all levels.
The existing informal cross-curricular links with subjects such as Science, Business, History, Maths, Religious Education and Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) are notable. Due to its central location the school is fortunate to have the opportunity to provide a range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities such as outings, guest speakers, cookery demonstrations and participation in competitions. These aim to enhance the students’ experience and enjoyment of the subject and extend learning beyond the classroom. Such initiatives are praiseworthy and should continue to be explored and provided.
The home economics department makes very good use of ICT resources and there is access to television and video/DVD equipment when required. Students are encouraged to utilise ICT for investigations and project work in Home Economics when they have access to the school’s computer room. Currently the home economics teachers make use of their own laptops during lessons and have access to one of the school’s data projectors. As more ICT hardware becomes available designated data projectors should be provided for both home economics rooms.
A resource library area is currently being developed in the home economics room. It offers a variety of learning resources including reference books, leaflets, relevant publications, posters, DVDs, videos and resource packs. Ongoing investment in the development and expansion of resources to support teaching and learning in Home Economics is recommended.
Very good quality teaching and learning was observed in all lessons during the course of the evaluation. Lessons were very well planned as was evident in the advance preparation of supplementary resource materials, the white board, the integration of ICT and the use of visual and tactile stimuli, handouts and worksheets. Teachers are commended for this short-term planning which positively impacted on both teaching and learning. Lessons were well structured, suitably paced and pitched at a level appropriate to the needs and abilities of students. Learning outcomes for the lessons were clear and shared with students at the outset and there was evidence of good continuity with previous learning and appropriate integration of theory with practical skills. Lessons were in line with syllabus requirements. The teachers showed awareness of the students’ various learning styles and adapted the teaching and learning to suit the students’ needs.
Teachers demonstrated very good subject knowledge and comprehensive overviews of the topics under discussion were provided. Key concepts and terms that arose during lessons were clearly explained, repeatedly reinforced and highlighted on the whiteboard 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 very useful revision aids for students. Good efforts were made to relate chosen subject matter to the lives of the students. Very good use is made of ICT in subject planning and class preparation to produce resources and the usage of ICT as a teaching tool to illustrate concepts and processes in the classroom is commended. There are plans for the continued improvement of ICT to enhance the teaching and learning of Home Economics.
Student interest was stimulated and maintained by the use of a variety of teaching strategies. Student engagement was most successful when opportunities were provided for students to engage with lesson content in an active way. There were some good examples of the use of appropriate active learning methodologies such as brainstorming, problem-solving, pair work and group discussion. Best practice was observed where students were encouraged to think, consider, analyse and synthesise issues and answers during activity-based learning. This practice is commendable as it assists students in developing higher-order thinking skills and should continue to be incorporated regularly into lessons. Good practice was also demonstrated in utilising students’ experiences and prior learning to introduce and develop new concepts. Effective 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. Differentiated teaching methodologies were employed to varying degrees to meet the learning needs of students. The use of differentiation by questioning was appropriate given the wide variety of learning styles and students’ abilities. However, in the context of mixed-ability classes, consideration should be given to the use of more differentiated methodologies in order to enhance provision for diverse student learning needs. This could be achieved through the use of differentiated worksheets, homework or assignments where the task could be extended or reduced according to the students’ ability.
A lesson on examination preparation provided a very good example of whole-class engagement. In this lesson, the use of a group work approach was most effective in eliciting and highlighting the main points and guiding students in developing and structuring their answers. Students were enthusiastic about exam preparation and it was evident that students would be able to apply the valuable learning from this lesson to their other subjects. In this regard the use of mind maps or other simple visuals is also suggested as a means of summarising material and highlighting the links between various aspects of a topic.
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 was observed. Students worked well both individually and collaboratively and participated actively in tasks.
In all of the lessons observed the teaching and learning took place in a supportive atmosphere where very good student-teacher rapport was evident. Students’ contributions to lessons were welcomed and affirmed. With regard to the culturally diverse student population currently attending the school, the home economics teachers are committed to creating awareness, respect and support for cultural diversity and tradition and this is reflected in planning documentation and in teaching and learning of Home Economics. Where necessary, the teacher circulated around the classroom to provide individual help to students in a supportive manner. The physical environment of the home economics room is stimulating and is enhanced by the display of a variety of educational posters and students’ project work.
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 well to questions and displayed good knowledge and understanding of the subject and demonstrated good teamwork skills in practical work appropriate to their class group and level. Written work completed in students’ copybooks and workbooks reflected the mixed-ability nature of classes. Students were competent with regard to the organisation and presentation of coursework. It is praiseworthy that good use is made of ICT for both research and presentation of coursework. Students demonstrated great interest and enthusiasm for the subject.
Teachers use a variety of forms of assessment to assess student competence and progress in Home Economics. 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. It was evident from an examination of a sample of students’ copybooks that their written work is regularly monitored and marked with comments to guide them in improving their work. This good work is illustrative of the principles that underpin assessment for learning and it should be further developed across all year groups. To further build on the good work currently taking place, with regard to homework, it is recommended that within the context of the whole-school homework policy, teachers should explore further the area of assessment and in particular to develop agreed guidelines for homework practices to include details on the type and frequency with which homework is to be given and the practices around correction, monitoring and student feedback.
Clear procedures are in place for regular assessment of student learning, record keeping and reporting procedures. Common assessments are administered, in so far as possible. This is good practice as it allows comparison of attainment across the year group. Records of student achievement in State examinations are analysed by the teachers and this informs future planning of teaching strategies and learning activities. 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.
Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations
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 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