An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Mary Immaculate Secondary School
Lisdoonvarna, County Clare
Roll number: 62000W
Date of inspection: 24 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in business subjects and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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. The board of management 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.
In Mary Immaculate Secondary School Lisdoonvarna, Business Studies is an optional subject for the whole of the junior cycle. Junior-cycle students have an open choice of two subjects from five optional subjects, including Art, Craft, Design; Business Studies; Home Economics, Materials Technology (Wood) and Technical Graphics. Incoming first-year students are well supported in these subject choices by an open day for students, when they are brought from subject area to subject area by Transition Year students to meet the teacher of each optional subject in order to get information about each subject. Students have a free choice of these optional subjects, based on which subject bands are set up. There is flexibility in movement from any optional subject to another up to the end of September, subject to class size. With a view to giving incoming junior-cycle students an opportunity to make more-informed decisions regarding their optional subjects for the whole of the junior cycle, it is recommended that consideration be given to the provision of short taster modules for optional subjects for some part of the first year of the cycle. The provision of such a programme could also improve the gender imbalance in the take up of Business Studies.
At senior cycle, students may choose either a three-year cycle, beginning with the Transition Year (TY), and following on with the Leaving Certificate (LC) or a two-year cycle beginning with the LC. In the context of the LC, students may also qualify for participation in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) by virtue of their optional subject choices. Access to LCVP is available to all qualifying students and an “ab initio” modern European language module is available to LCVP students, who may not have studied either French or German for the junior cycle. Accounting and Business are both offered to students for the LC, subject to one being subject timetabled, based on student demand from year to year, and also subject to resources. At present Accounting is the favoured subject among students and “ab initio” study is provided for those students, who may not have taken Business Studies for the full junior cycle. This is in line with the principles of the Accounting syllabus. A similar level of support regarding subject choices is offered to students entering the senior cycle as is offered to students entering the junior cycle. The school also offers a number of Post Leaving Courses (PLCs), one of which is Business Studies Secretarial. This course is awarded under Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) Level 5, and provision is also made for additional qualifications in the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). Both course design and module provision are flexible to ensure that students are equipped to avail of local employment opportunities and to accommodate parents of school-going children in timetabling. PLC students may complete their chosen PLC over two school years, and there is provision for such students to prepare for some subjects for both the Junior and Leaving Certificate Examinations. PLC students are well integrated into the school. This integration, the flexibility in timetabling, and the provision of ECDL is a strong feature of the PLCs. The take up of the Business Studies Secretarial PLC for 2005/06 is good, as is the retention rate. The school has a wide range of programme and subject provision, and students at all levels in the school are well supported in associated decision-making.
Class period provision for business subjects in all cycles is satisfactory in the mainstream second level provision. For junior-cycle Business Studies, four class periods per week are provided, made up of two single periods and one double period for each year of the cycle. It is recommended that attempts should be made to ensure a balanced weekly spread of class periods, especially for junior-cycle Business Studies. For TY, there is a business module with provision of one double class period per week. For the remainder of the senior cycle, five class periods per week are provided for Accounting, made up of three single class periods and one double class period. In the case of the LCVP Link Modules, two single periods per week are provided in year one and three periods per week are provided in year two, made up of one single and one double period. For the PLC module in Bookkeeping: Manual & Computerised one treble period per week is provided. It is recommended that the PLC provision is reviewed with a view to increasing it to four periods per week.
Information & Communications Technology (ICT) facilities in the school are good. The school has two ICT rooms. One of the ICT rooms is used primarily for PLC students. The school is not broadband enabled, but has ISDN line access to the internet. In junior cycle, first and second year students are timetabled for one class period per week in ICT, and at senior cycle, TY students obtain the ECDL with five class periods per week. For the remainder of the senior cycle, access to ICT is provided through participation in LCVP or PLC.
Classrooms are student-based; current space restrictions prevent the allocation of teacher-based classrooms. This is unfortunate as such rooms create a good opportunity to develop a resource base for business subjects, as well as displaying such resources for the benefit of students. As an interim measure, effective displays of such resources could be developed through a news board for business news stories and/or the display of student projects in business. While no annual budget exists for business subjects in the school, requests for resources are generally met with a positive response. Apart from the fact that the Business Studies has syllabus objectives relating to ICT, business subjects are particularly suited to the use of ICT as an aid to teaching and learning. In the context of ongoing subject planning therefore, the use and integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of business subjects could be explored not only in relation to further developing cross-curricular links between business subjects and ICT, but also by availing of ICT facilities as the opportunity arises.
Students are taught in mixed-ability classes. There are good support structures in place to meet the needs of students. Extra tuition in English and Mathematics is provided for designated students. This support was also evidenced by the sensitivity towards all students among the business teachers in all classes visited, and school promotion and supports for continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers in the area of mixed-ability teaching and special education. In the context of ongoing subject planning, it is recommended that the business teachers identify commonly used business terms and calculations, and share these with learning-support and resource teachers, with a view to including these terms in the extra tuition that is available to specific students in English and Mathematics. The Special Education Support Service at www.sess.ie may have prove useful in this area.
The school is engaged in school development planning (SDP). In this context, there is an emerging culture among the team of business teachers for subject planning. There was evidence of a well-structured subject plan for the range of business subjects. A feature of such planning was monitoring the implementation of the subject plan through the teacher’s journal. There was also evidence of extensive programme appropriate resources for all subject areas that have been developed over time. As the team of teachers continues to engage in subject planning, there is scope to ensure that the process is all-inclusive, and builds on an extended range of topics over time, especially the TY business module. Other topics for consideration include the use of ICT in business subjects, cross-curricular links in special education and TY, and the formalisation of practice in homework and assessment.
Inclusive planning has the potential to facilitate the sharing of experience and expertise of colleagues in the context of SDP. Such sharing would be especially beneficial not only for planning the TY business module, so that students, who had not studied Business Studies in junior cycle, may be given an enhanced opportunity to study a business subject for some or all of the senior cycle, but also as a professional support to those who teach the Enterprise Education element of the LCVP Link Modules.
There is a good approach to co-curricular activity for business subjects through TY, LCVP, and PLC work experience aspects of each programme, and the Enterprise Education elements of TY and LCVP. Co- and cross-curricular activity is a topic that could usefully form part of ongoing subject planning, especially in TY where one of the business teachers is timetabled for Business, ICT, and Guidance.
In all lessons observed, the team plan was being effectively implemented on an individual class basis. Individual teachers have built up valuable resources, and approaches to the teaching of their subjects. It was evident that attention was being given to the need to supplement textbook material with other aids to teaching and learning such as prepared worksheets, and worked solutions. The sharing of such good practice and experience in ongoing inclusive subject planning is a natural benefit that will accrue to the team of teachers over time, and thus further enhance the culture for such planning.
In all lessons observed an appropriate range of methodologies was used to teach selected topics. The range was well suited to the needs of both young and adult learners. Whole-class input was used for the teaching of new content and small-group or individual support was appropriately used to supplement student understanding and application of new material. Visual aids were used to complement class input. Effective use was made, not only of the whiteboard and the overhead projector, but also the data projector in an adult lesson. Continuity was built in from lesson to lesson mainly through homework, but also through ongoing assessments. The pace of lessons was suited to the needs of students, and every effort was made to support students on completion of key segments of each lesson observed.
Classroom management was good. Classroom layout and seating arrangements were effective in promoting student engagement in the flow of lessons observed. This engagement was enhanced by lesson planning, a high level of mutual respect among teachers and students, and a positive motivation among students for learning. Classroom atmospheres were positive and affirming, and were effective and supportive of the needs of both adult and younger learners. Students were encouraged to participate in class and to build on each other’s learning without undermining individual effort. The teachers adopted an effective conversational approach to their teaching and, apart from effectively managing planned activities, created a very positive learning environment. Progress in completing planned lessons was achieved through affirmation of student effort and engagement of students in the flow of the lessons observed.
With adult learners, the teacher adopted a style of teaching that was collegial, with the active participation of the adults evident in the flow of the lesson observed. The use of case-study businesses among the class group permitted the development of effective business transactions, so that when it came to recording these transactions in the books, the group could identify with the transaction in a relatively real way. With the younger students, the teacher acted as a supporter of student learning and used good teaching aids to provide a variety of learning modes, and also to engage student interest. The “Ratio game” was one such activity that had the effect of engaging students in learning a relatively difficult topic in a fun way. Such approaches to teaching are simple yet effective and are worth sharing in the context of ongoing subject planning.
Overall, students displayed a familiarity with concepts and a good ability to apply these not just to previous learning but also to practical situations. Teachers adopted a balanced approach to their subject by using age and interest appropriate examples, while giving practical advice in preparation for the State examinations.
The school has an agreed homework policy for younger students, and communicates student progress to parents and guardians four times per year in October, Christmas, February, Easter, and summer for all year groups, except TY students and students preparing for State examinations. Progress reports for TY students are issued twice per year and three times per year for students preparing for State examinations. Parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group once per year. While the business subjects’ plan does not have an agreed policy on homework linked to the whole-school policy, there was good practice evident in this regard from an examination of a sample of student copybooks as well as teacher records. Apart from the regular and significant build up of homework linked to lessons plans, there was evidence of regular annotation of this work by the teacher, especially with younger students. Affirming and guiding comments were also evident in such annotation, especially for junior cycle students. Continuous assessment was a strong feature of all classes observed, as was the recording and use of such information to encourage student learning. The approach to homework and assessment was cycle and age appropriate as was the approach that promoted self-assessment among older students. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) Assessment for Learning (AfL) project at www.ncca.ie may be of value to the team, as they begin to formalise their approach to homework and assessment inline with existing good practice, and as part of ongoing subject planning.
Students are encouraged to take business subjects at the highest level in the State examinations, and decisions on levels are taken at the latest opportunity subject to the needs of students. This practice is in line with the syllabuses for all business subjects. The school annually compares school performance in the State examinations with the national average performance in the Leaving Certificate, and shares this information with staff and the board of management. Local contextual factors are taken into account in such comparisons.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of business subjects at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board of management welcomes the positive report on the teaching and learning of Business Subjects in the school.