An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Árd Scoil Mhuire F.C.J.
Bruff, County Limerick
Roll number: 64020P
Date of inspection: 28 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Árd Scoil Mhuire FCJ Bruff. 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 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. 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.
In Árd Scoil Mhuire Bruff, Business Studies is a core subject for the first year of the junior cycle, and an optional subject thereafter. This is commendable as it permits students to make informed decisions on optional subjects for the final two years of the cycle. At the end of first year, students have an open choice of two subjects from six optional subjects, including Art, Craft, Design; Business Studies; Home Economics; Materials Technology (Wood); Music and Technical Graphics. Students are well supported in these subject choices not only by virtue of the fact that they have direct experience of each optional subject in first year, but also by a combination of teacher advice, and consultation with parents through the annual parent-teacher meeting. Students are given a free choice of these subjects based on which option bands are set up.
At senior cycle, students may choose the Transition Year (TY) and following this, the Leaving Certificate (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. It appears that some LC students, who qualify for participation in LCVP, have not taken up this opportunity. This is regrettable, as the programme has broad educational benefits for all students, apart from the benefit to be gained from the Central Applications Office (CAO) points’ allocation to the Link Modules. Therefore it is desirable that, where a student qualifies for the LCVP, the option is taken up. Accounting is the only senior-cycle business subject that is offered to students for the senior cycle. “Ab initio” study of Accounting 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 is offered to students entering senior cycle as is offered to students entering junior cycle.
Class period provision for business subjects in all cycles is satisfactory. For junior-cycle Business Studies, two class periods per week are provided to first-year students. For second and third-year students, four class periods per week are provided, made up of two single periods and one double period. For senior-cycle Accounting, six class periods per week are provided in the first year, made up of one double-class period and four single-class periods, and five class periods in the second year, made up of one double-class period and three single-class periods.
Information & Communications Technology (ICT) facilities in the school are good. The school has a well-equipped ICT room, as well as a media room. The school is broadband enabled, and the ICT facilities are networked across the school. In the junior cycle, first- and second-year students are timetabled for two class periods per week in ICT, and third-year students have one class period. At senior cycle, TY students study for part of the ECDL, and the remaining students have access to ICT through participation in either LCVP or by taking advanced ICT certification through the Commercial Examinations Board (CEB). This advance certification arises as a follow on to certification at foundation and intermediate level for junior-cycle students. Overall, students are well catered for in ICT.
Classrooms are teacher based. This is good as such rooms create a valuable opportunity to develop a resource base for business subjects, as well as displaying such resources for the benefit of students. The teacher base room visited had a good display of such materials, many of which had been student generated. 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 syllabus has certain objectives relating to ICT, business subjects are particularly suited to the use of ICT as an aid to teaching and learning. In this context the school has developed good cross-curricular links between business subjects and ICT.
Students are taught in mixed-ability classes. There are good support structures in place to meet the needs of students. This was evidenced not only by sensitivity towards all students in all classes visited, but also by virtue of the fact that the school promotes and supports 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 commonly-used business terms and calculations are identified, and shared 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 prove useful in this area.
The school is engaged in school development planning (SDP). In this context there is an emerging culture for subject planning. There was evidence of a well-structured subject plan for the range of business subjects. A feature of such planning was the monitoring of implementation through the teacher’s journal. There was also evidence of extensive programme appropriate resources that had been developed over time as an aid to teaching and learning in Accounting. As subject planning continues 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 include the development of cross-curricular links with special education, and in the TY and LCVP. Inclusive subject 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, but also as a professional support to those who teach the Enterprise Education element of the LCVP Link Modules. In the context of the LCVP, there is scope for formal time to be allocated for meetings of the LCVP team.
There is a good approach to co-curricular activity for business subjects, especially through TY and LCVP work experience aspects of each programme, and the Enterprise Education elements of TY and LCVP, as well as industrial visits and the use of guest speakers on selected business topics that support and enhance learning. Co- and cross-curricular activity is a topic that could usefully form part of ongoing subject planning, especially in TY where the business teacher is timetabled for Accounting and another teacher is timetabled for Enterprise. A strong feature of the TY Accounting module was the practical and enterprising approach to the application of the module through the running of the school tuck shop as an enterprise project for TY students.
In all lessons observed, the year plan was being effectively implemented on an individual class basis. Valuable resources have been built up, as teaching and learning aids, in place of a base subject text. These included extensive reference material, prepared worksheets, and worked solutions.
In all lessons observed there was an appropriate range of methodologies used to teach selected topics. The range was well suited to the needs of students. 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 of both the chalkboard and the overhead projector. There was continuity built in from lesson to lesson mainly through homework but also through ongoing assignments. 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. Lesson planning, a high level of mutual respect among teachers and students, and positive motivation among students for learning also assisted this engagement. Classroom atmospheres were positive and affirming. Students were encouraged to participate in class and were probed effectively to build on each other’s learning without undermining individual effort. Class sizes were generally small and thus enhanced student participation. An effective conversational approach to teaching was adopted. This allowed effective management of planned activities, and created an overall 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.
A balanced approach was adapted to the teaching of lessons observed by the use of interest appropriate examples, while giving practical advice in preparation for the State examinations. Students displayed good ability to apply Accounting concepts, and were well drilled in the application of such knowledge to set questions. Overall the high level of competence and confidence displayed in the teaching of the subject had a positive motivating effect on the students’ level of interest and ability to apply knowledge.
The school does not yet have a whole-school policy for homework and assessment. However there was good practice evident in this regard. The school’s expectation is that homework is given regularly and that students’ journals are used to record it. Parents are expected to sign the journal regularly and form tutors monitor the journals on a weekly basis. Where homework is not being presented by students, form tutors may link with parents through the year-head structure. Student progress reports are issued to the parents of all students three times per year, on foot of a progress report in October and two terminal examinations, one at Christmas, and either Easter for examination class students or summer for non-examination class students. Parent-teacher meetings are organised once per year for each year group. As the school begins to formalise a whole-school policy for homework and assessment, the Assessment for Learning (AfL) project, information on which may be accessed on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website www.ncca.ie, may be a useful resource.
An examination of a sample of student copybooks and teacher records, in classes observed, yielded a high level of homework build up that linked directly to the flow and sequencing of lessons. This homework was regularly annotated with affirming and supportive comments. Extensive records were kept by the teacher not only of homework, but also of a significant number of continuous assessments at both junior and senior cycle. These assessments were applied seamlessly to the pace and sequencing of planned lesson content, and acted as a good complementary guide to ongoing student progress, when linked to homework.
Students are encouraged to take business subjects to their highest level in the State examinations, and the school has good practice in place to support and advise students in this regard, especially where it is believed that students are choosing levels that are unsuited to their potential. Form tutors and year heads link to the parents of such students with a view to ensuring that the best interests of the students are being served.
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.