An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Mountmellick Community School
Roll number: 91426A
Date of inspection: 25 March 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mountmellick Community School. 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 deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Home Economics enjoys a good profile in the school. The subject contributes positively to all available curriculum programmes. †Uptake of junior cycle and senior cycle Home Economics is very good.
Student-centred practice is evident in the procedures for accessing optional subjects. Commendably, option lines for junior and senior cycle are generated from an initial survey of student preferences. Home Economics is always placed in more than one option pool in an effort to accommodate as many students as possible. First-year students select optional subjects prior to entry. Senior management does allow some movement across options at the early stages of first year. However limitations in class size may understandably restrict movement. In light of the broad range of junior cycle optional subjects provided by the school, it is recommended that consideration be given to providing a short taster programme for part of first year. This would facilitate a more informed subject choice, possibly reduce the likelihood of student movement across options during first year, and could be instrumental in reducing the gender bias that traditionally exists in relation to subject choice, particularly in junior cycle.
Good efforts are made to support students regarding subject choices. Information evenings are held for parents of in-coming first-year students and third-year students. Third-year students are also provided with information talks by subject teachers in advance of subject selection and subject information booklets are available. It is recommended that the home economics team examine the content contained in the booklets to ensure that the information fully reflects current home economics syllabuses.
The subject benefits from a good level of whole-school support. Teaching time allocated to classes is generally very good. The arrangement of class time into double and single lessons facilitates a good spread of class contact time throughout the week. This maximises continuity in teaching and learning. However, in instances where two teachers share a class they should not be timetabled on the same day of the week.
The current deployment of teachers to Home Economics merits review. The teaching team comprises four teachers, two of whom hold a recognised teaching qualification in Home Economics. There is a very good level of collaboration among the team to support the delivery of the home economics programme. While the commitment and professionalism of all staff involved in the delivery of Home Economics is acknowledged, the current situation presents challenges for high-quality home economics provision. The teaching of Home Economics requires the integrated application of all the related core disciplines, as well as the integrated delivery and application of relevant practical coursework. Such an approach is very difficult given the fact that two teachers, a specialist and non-specialist sometimes share classes and that the subject specialist does not always retain classes from first year through to third year. The contextual factors relating to uptake of Home Economics and general staffing are recognised but a review of each subject specialistís timetable indicates that there is some scope to realign the balance of subjects taught. In the context of future timetabling, it is recommended that management maximises the deployment of specialist teachers to Home Economics. Only those who hold a recognised teaching qualification in the subject should be deployed to teach the subject.
There has been a very good level of engagement among the subject specialists with relevant continuous professional development (CPD). School management supports this good practice by releasing teachers to attend courses. It was noted positively that the board of management pays membership fees for teachers who wish to join subject associations.† This is laudable practice. It is suggested that records of key points of information from each in-service course attended, be stored in a CPD folder within the home economics department. This would ensure that the information is made available to each member of the team and can be referred to as the need arises.
Specialist rooms for Home Economics are adequately resourced, well maintained and organised. Management is supportive of requests made for additional resources or replacement equipment. The home economics team should use the outcomes of the annual stock take to replace or upgrade equipment and in particular ensure that there is an adequate quantity of small cookery utensils. †The teaching team has prioritised the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into Home Economics.†† Management is commended for supporting this move through the recent provision of a dedicated data projector for one of the specialist rooms.
Clear procedures are in place for health and safety. To complement the whole-school health and safety statement the home economics team has devised a set of classroom procedures for practical lessons in food studies and textiles. Safety notices are displayed in each specialist room. To enhance these very good practices, as each room is a dual-purpose room, safety notices for practical textiles lessons should also be displayed at appropriate locations in each room. †As a next stage in the development of a subject-specific statement, it is recommended that a hazard identification and risk assessment that outlines specific safety control measures for high risk equipment be carried out and included in the subject plan. This assessment should be reviewed and updated on an annual basis.
Subject department planning is well established and many collegial practices underpin the work of the team. Responsibilities of subject teams and duties for the position of subject co-ordinator have been agreed with senior management. It was noted positively that the responsibilities include pedagogic as well as organisational tasks. This is very good practice. The position of co-ordinator rotates among the subject specialists. This laudable practice shares the workload attached to this voluntary position and builds leadership capacity among team members.††
In addition to the formal meetings held routinely as part of the school year, the teachers meet regularly during their non-class contact time. The templates used to structure and record matters from each meeting facilitate a whole-school approach to subject planning and support good lines of communication between senior management and the subject team. Observation of these records indicates that an ethos of self-evaluation and improvement permeates the work of the team. As part of on-going long-term planning for the subject, the home economics team has prioritised student attainment as a key principle that will underpin future planning. This is a commendable initiative.†
Very good progress has been made in the development of a subject plan for Home Economics. A review of planning documentation indicated that many systematic procedures support areas such as the organisation of the department and the development of subject plans. It is laudable that the home economics team analyses student attainment in the certificate examinations against national data to inform a review of teaching and learning. It is particularly good practice that the team considers whole-school issues and other specific contextual factors that may have impacted on attainment. This is discussed with school management. This good practice facilitates a whole-school approach to planning for Home Economics.†
Good progress has been made in the development of schemes of work. The fact that each teacher in the department works from the same scheme is recognised as a key strength in planning for lessons. The Junior Certificate scheme of work outlines the topics to be covered each month. To complement the current whole-school focus on the development of learning outcomes, a set of general learning objectives has also been developed for each term. The list of practical dishes to be completed in each year is outlined in a separate document. To build on the good progress already evident, it is recommended that the template used for all schemes of work be reviewed to present information in a tabular format.† The scheme should be presented as a series of lessons that maximises integration across and between core syllabus content. The sequence of lessons and the range of practical coursework completed should promote the incremental development of studentsí theoretical and procedural knowledge as well as manipulative skills. Studentsí expected knowledge and understanding should be developed as a set of differentiated learning outcomes for each topic and information on specific teaching, learning and assessment strategies, and suitable resources should also be included over time. To progress this work, the teaching team should use each scheme of work as a working document to note the key learning outcomes planned and achieved for each topic as they work through the scheme. This level of individual reflection can then be analysed and used to develop a learning outcomes column in the collaborative programme plan. The agenda of planning meetings should routinely focus on the sharing of best practice in terms of teaching, learning and assessment strategies as well as suitable resources used. Such professional dialogue will support the further enhancement of the plan as recommended.
Some good practice was noted in the integration of the design brief process, particularly in the area of core textiles.† This good practice is encouraged further by integrating the various stages of the design process into the occasional practical food studies lesson from first year. To further enhance studentsí skills in the analysis, interpretation and evaluation of a task, it is recommended that consideration be given to reviewing the learning outcomes and expected levels of attainment for the design folder that forms part of first-year core textiles. †Information supplied in the chief examinersí reports and coursework guidelines issued by the State Examinations Commission should inform this review.
Good progress has been made in the development of the Leaving Certificate scheme of work. Overtime this scheme should be developed as recommended for the Junior Certificate scheme. To foster a more student-centred approach to the completion of the food studies coursework assignments, it is recommended that the sequence for completing each assignment be carefully managed for each fifth year class to support the integration of relevant theoretical knowledge and facilitate investigations for each task. Student routines for recording completed coursework into the official State Examinations Commission coursework journal should also be reviewed to avoid situations where assignments, though well completed, are not fully written up.
A very good range of additional resources is available to support classroom learning. The teachers work very well as a team with some very good practice evident in sharing of resources for home economics lessons.
All home economics classes are mixed ability and the importance of differentiating for students with additional education needs is recognised by the team.† There is some collaboration between the learning support and the home economics departments. The equipping of a small kitchen within the learning support department has proved effective in providing additional support in developing practical skills. Some informal communication mechanisms take place with subject teachers. In order to enhance inclusive classroom practice and to promote a whole-school approach to supporting students with specific needs, it is recommended that communication between the home economics teachers and the learning-support team regarding studentsí individual education plans be strengthened. This will inform the selection of teaching strategies to maximise learning and facilitate more formal consultations between individual teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) to ensure that students are only provided with the appropriate level of support based on the criteria outlined in their education plan. †
The quality of advance planning and preparation for all of the lessons observed was good. Written lesson plans carefully outlined the aims, learning outcomes and the range of teaching strategies to be deployed. Appropriate resource materials such as powerpoint presentations, handouts, worksheets and product samples were prepared in advance and proved effective in supporting studentsí learning. There was very good integration of theoretical and practical knowledge evident in the learning outcomes planned for some lessons and some of the outcomes promoted higher-order skills. This very good practice is encouraged in all lessons. To build on the good planning practice already evident and to inform the future development of schemes of work, it is recommended that learning outcomes for individual lessons also be clearly differentiated to accommodate the range of student abilities that are evident in mixed-ability settings. These outcomes should inform subsequent formative and summative assessment strategies used in lessons.
Lessons were generally well structured and paced with clear classroom routines evident. Lessons began in a number of instances by sharing the planned learning outcomes with students, which proved effective in supporting lesson structure. This strategy worked best in instances where the outcomes were framed in terms of what the students themselves would be doing and why. To enhance this strategy further the learning outcomes should be revisited at the end of the lesson. This would consolidate studentsí learning, by facilitating opportunities for self-evaluation and provide further opportunities for teachers to assess individual levels of studentsí learning.††
A good range of teaching and learning strategies was evident during the course of the evaluation.† In the theoretical lessons observed very good attention to detail was evident in explaining new subject matter.† Where appropriate, very good use was made of product samples and catalogues to enhance studentís understanding of the material being taught. This is very good practice. Some very good use of group work was observed to support students in applying lesson content and encouraging an atmosphere of co-operative learning. Student responses from the plenary session indicated that very good levels of understanding had been achieved. The use of group work or pair work is encouraged further as a means of enhancing peer learning and enabling students to analyse or apply the information covered in lessons. There was some good use of the classroom board to summarise information. This good practice allows students to make note of key points of information into their copybooks.
Very good use of ICT was evident in planning for and supporting the delivery of lessons. The use of powerpoint slides is particularly praiseworthy. Very good use was made of downloaded images to illustrate key points of information. Best practice in the use of powerpoint presentations was evident in instances where students received handouts from the slide presentation. This enabled students to keep a record of the work and enabled them to make additional notes to supplement and reinforce learning.
In all the lessons observed, questioning strategies were used to very good effect to elicit studentsí prior experiences and knowledge of the topic being taught.† This facilitated the introduction of new subject matter and contributed to student understanding. On occasion, students were challenged through questioning to analyse and apply or evaluate information. This commendable practice develops the higher order thinking skills that underpin some of the assessment objectives of the home economics syllabuses.
In the practical lessons observed there was some very good on-going integration of theory and practice. This should be a key principle of all practical lessons to support the rationale underpinning home economics syllabuses. Some good routines were evident for practical food studies lessons.† Students demonstrated good ability to work on their own and in pairs as they prepared dishes. Students preparing for the upcoming practical examinations were given appropriate levels of support in refining practical skills and very sound advice for completing the design brief sheets. In some of the other practical food studies lessons observed there was considerable scope for using spot demonstrations to stage the preparation, assembling, cooking and serving of dishes. Clear oral instructions need to be balanced with actual teacher demonstrations of key food preparation processes and new skills so students can model best practice and refine their manipulative skills. Spot demonstrations also provide opportunities to apply relevant theoretical knowledge.
In a number of lessons observed SNAs provided valuable assistance to students in their care. However, in some of the practical lessons observed there was a tendency for SNAs to support all students present. To encourage as many students as possible, including those with an additional learning need, to take ownership of their learning, it is important that clear directions and support are given to SNAs in relation to their role. The assistance provided by a SNA should be limited to supporting studentsí with particular learning needs as identified in their individual education plans. †
Very good progress was evident in student copybooks. To enhance practice, it is recommended that the information that students record from practical food studies lesson be reviewed. Students should be encouraged to record work from practical lessons in a manner that facilitates a critical appraisal of their task and provides opportunities to link theory and practice. An evaluation stage should be routinely incorporated as part of all practical food studies lessons. In instances where time is short students can complete the written evaluation as a homework exercise. To facilitate this work it is recommended that a recording template is designed to enable an incremental approach to the development of studentsí critical appraisal skills.
The physical environment of the specialist rooms was made attractive and stimulating through a display of educational posters and student project work.† Seating was appropriately arranged to allow teachers and students to move easily and safely round the room.† Adherence to health and safety practices was in evidence in the practical lessons observed.† The atmosphere in all classrooms was pleasant and conducive to learning.† There was a very good rapport evident between students and teachers with a high level of mutual respect and co-operation apparent.† Very good use was made of praise to affirm studentsí efforts.
Interaction with and observation of students during the evaluation indicated very good levels of understanding of theoretical knowledge. Student originality and creativity are fostered in the completion of core textiles and design and craftwork projects. This is very good practice. The majority of the craft items produced demonstrated a very good range of appropriate craft skills. It is worth noting that the chief examinersí reports and coursework guidelines provide very good advice regarding the completion of the Junior Certificate optional study. This information can be accessed at www.examinations.ie.
A commendable focus was placed on assessing studentsí learning in the lessons observed. A very good balance of open and directed questioning effectively checked learning. The fact that questions were frequently directed to individual students proved effective in monitoring individual student learning. Lessons sometimes began with recall questions to link with previous learning or the correction of homework. Student-teacher interaction indicated very good levels of understanding of previously taught material. In instances where homework is corrected at the start of lessons, it is important that this is balanced with the provision of constructive feedback on individual copybooks, particularly in instances where students need to enhance skills in answering long-answer style questions typical of the certificate examination papers.†
It is commendable that revision plans are being devised for students preparing for the certificate examinations. Over time consideration could be given to devising strategies that will assist student revision. The use of flash cards, graphic organisers and guided mind maps could be considered as a means of assisting students to make summary notes and reinforce learning.
There is no agreed assessment policy for Home Economics but some very good practice is evident in the range of homework activities assigned and monitored. Very good use was made of the studentsí homework journal in the lessons observed. Particularly good practice was apparent in instances where students completed a balanced combination of short-answer and long-answer style questions, and where timeplans, evaluations and investigative activities were routinely assigned and constructive feedback provided. The advice provided to students while completing Leaving Certificate coursework assignments and Junior Certificate tasks is particularly praiseworthy.† To build on this good practice it is recommended that a subject specific homework policy be developed to complement the whole-school policy. In devising the policy, particular attention should focus on the range of homework activities assigned to all classes to ensure that lower-order and higher-order skills are being developed. Strategies for balancing the amount of homework assigned with the provision of constructive feedback should also be considered.† The policy could also outline the subsequent responsibilities of the students on receipt of the marked work in areas such as practical coursework assignments. This revised policy should be discussed with students.
The monitoring of student achievement is built into the school year with summative examinations at Christmas and summer, bi-monthly assessments and mock examinations for third-year and sixth-year students.† This strong culture of formal assessment is a means of assisting students to become better learners and to raise their expectations to the highest realistic levels.† Some very good practice is evident in the setting of examination papers, although consideration should be given to reviewing the pitch and format of the end-of-term first-year papers. It is laudable that common papers are set where feasible. As a means of developing end-of-term examinations for Home Economics it is recommended that the range of assessment modes be extended to include an assessment of the food and culinary skills coursework where appropriate. Where practicable, junior cycle students could be awarded an aggregated mark for a written paper, a practical food studies assignment and any project work undertaken in the area of textiles or design and craft. The appropriate State Examinations Commissionís marking scheme should guide the development and application of assessment criteria. These revised assessment procedures would prove an accurate indicator of the studentís ability in the subject as they mirror closely the procedures for the certificate examinations.† Recognition for work completed in the food studies coursework journal could be considered as a means of encouraging fifth-year students to record assignments into the official journal on a phased basis.
Teachers maintain very good records of studentsí progress. Students are challenged in Home Economics. Participation rates at higher levels in the certificate examinations are very good. There is a commendable level of consultation with parents when students are making decisions regarding the final selection of levels for the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations.
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 deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1†† Observations on the content of the inspection report†† ††
The board wishes to congratulate the principal, staff of the Home Economics Department and students on this excellent report.
Area 2†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
†††††††††††††† activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection. ††††††††
The Board will continue to provide the necessary support and resources that will facilitate the Principal and staff in the implementation of the findings and recommendations of the inspection report.