An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Thurles, Co. Tipperary
Roll number: 65450W
Date of inspection: 18 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Business Subjects
This report has been written following a subject inspection in CBS Thurles. 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 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.
Business Studies is a core subject for all junior-cycle students. At senior cycle, the school offers the Transition Year Programme (TY) as an optional programme for students, as well as the Leaving Certificate (LC), and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). There is a business module in place for the TY, and there are two TY class groups. While there is a plan for the TY business module, the business teachers should ensure that it is implemented in both TY class groups. Outside of TY, Accounting, Business, and Economics are offered to senior-cycle students on a free-choice basis. Their choices influence the make-up of optional subjects’ bands for the senior cycle. Students are encouraged and facilitated to participate in the LCVP through flexible subject choice arrangements, as well as the provision of a vocational modern European language module, under the terms of circular letter 0018/2006, for students who do not follow a LC programme in a modern European language. Class-period provision for all business subjects is satisfactory. Overall, business subjects are well provided for in the school, and students are well supported in subjects’ choices at key points in their education. Central to this support is aptitude testing, linked to individual interviews for students with the guidance counsellor, and information nights for parents. This is commendable. Individual subjects’ teachers also offer information and supplementary advice to students on an informal basis.
Business teachers are well supported in ongoing professional development, and the school responds positively to resource requests, where these arise. The teachers are encouraged to be active in the Business Studies Teachers' Association of Ireland (BSTAI), and to attend various in-service courses. Apart from this, the school accommodates student teachers from the Tipperary Institute in a pro-active and supportive way.
The school has well-equipped information and communications technology (ICT) resources. There is a progressive plan being implemented for the upgrading of existing hardware and software to maximise the benefit of ICT as an aid to teaching and learning. This plan also includes provision for the professional development of staff in ICT. In this context, it is recommended that the business teachers plan for the use and integration of ICT in teaching business subjects, especially as Business Studies and Accounting have stated syllabus objectives for ICT. In the immediate term, the business teachers could develop cross-curricular links with the ICT teachers, as ICT provision for students is good. All students receive a minimum of one class period per week, and TY students’ receive three class periods per week. TY students take the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) as part of these ICT classes.
Business students are taught in mixed-ability settings. This is good practice, as business subjects are capable of being taught in such settings. The needs of students are identified and catered for in conjunction with the learning-support and resource teachers. Linked to this, the business teachers are aware of and sensitive to the needs of all students including those with special educational needs. In order to further enhance this, it is recommended that the business teachers share with the learning-support and resource teachers a list of commonly-used business terms and calculations for use by these teachers, through extra English and Mathematics that may be offered to selected students.
The school is involved in school development planning (SDP). Central to this is a clearly defined structure, time, and format for subject planning among the business teachers. Records of regular subject planning meetings are kept, and there is a well-paced approach to planning leading to a good build-up of planning materials. At present, the focus is mainly on Business Studies with an emphasis on planning for content. It is noted that there is a common programme in place for Business Studies, and that the business teachers plan to develop a common assessment approach linked to the common programme. This is commendable. Within the LCVP, there was evidence of a team approach being applied to the development of co- and cross-curricular activity as part of the LCVP Link Modules. Overall, the business subjects’ department is strong.
Over time, subject planning will be further enhanced by broadening the focus to include aspects of teaching and learning, including sharing of experiences in teaching and learning methodologies, as well as the use of assessment as a means of tracking and encouraging individual student progress. Ultimate success in subject planning is achieved when students receive a similar teaching and learning experience in any particular year group.
The business teachers also plan for resources. There is a culture among them of sharing such resources. The main resources in evidence during the inspection were the Economist magazine as a resource in Economics classes, and the use of summary notes and charts, as well as State examinations materials in all subjects. As part of ongoing subject planning, the business teachers should develop a resource plan for their subjects, especially in light of the fact that the majority of these teachers have teacher-based classrooms, and the school is Broadband enabled.
In lessons observed, there were effective links made to previous lessons and subject plans, where these were in evidence. Advance preparation, for all lessons, was evident through the use of worked solutions to set questions, and, in some lessons, appropriate use was made of externally generated resources. Each lesson had clear structures with continuity from lesson to lesson evident through homework. Where students did not present homework, there was an effective procedure for recording this in the students’ journal for follow-up by parents and year heads. This is good practice, as it provides a clear link between home and school. Students’ needs were central to lesson pace and content. Effective use was made of student engagement in the flow of lessons through effective questioning by teachers. Best practice was seen, where an overhead projector and chalkboards were used to highlight key points of individual lessons and students were given adequate time to take down these points as summary aids to the lesson. The use of a blend of teaching and visual aids best serve the needs of students in mixed-ability settings, as these cater for the different learning styles of such students.
All classes observed were well managed. Where a few students were inclined to be disruptive, this was dealt with effectively and in a low-key way, so that the focus of the lesson was maintained. Clear communication by the teachers and encouragement for students to become actively involved in the flow of lessons were positive influences on classroom management. Each classroom was teacher-based. Variable use was made of these rooms as a resource for business subjects. Best practice was seen where a variety of related materials were on display for the range of subjects being taught in the classroom. This is best organised on a thematic basis. In order to ensure consistent use of teacher-based classrooms, the business teachers could consider it under ongoing subject planning. Useful resources to assist the development of these classrooms may be accessed through the web site of the Business Studies Teachers' Association of Ireland (BSTAI) at www.bstai.ie.
In all classes observed, there was very good interaction between teachers and their students. This was evident through teacher encouragement for and affirmation of student input to the flow of lessons, and contributed to the creation of positive learning environments. Overall there was a very good blend of experience and expertise among the teachers in all aspects of teaching. This will be a useful resource for teachers as they reflect on best practice in teaching and learning methodologies as part of ongoing subject planning.
Students displayed good knowledge of lesson topics, as well as good ability to apply these to practical and real situations. This was facilitated by the use of actual business documents in one lesson, and by the use of examples, which related directly to either the local community or topics of direct interest to students in their lives. Clear links were established to the requirements of the State examinations, especially in classes that were preparing for the 2007 examinations. Useful hints and advice on question structure and layouts for maximum marks were seamlessly given to students in these classes.
The school has a whole-school policy for homework with a specific focus on first-year students. This policy is well structured as each first-year subject is reflected in it. An effective link exists between home and school through the use of the students’ journal for recording non-presentation of homework. Very good practice in the monitoring of homework was seen in some of the lessons observed. This arose where students’ copybooks were regularly monitored, and annotated alongside comments that guided students for ongoing progress. The teachers should ensure consistent practice in homework, taking into consideration a cycle and subject appropriate approach to agreed practice. This could be done in the context of ongoing subject planning. The Assessment for Learning (AfL) project at www.ncca.ie may provide some useful guidance in this regard.
Assessment takes place on an in-class and whole-school basis. Parents receive two progress reports annually, and a parent-teacher meeting is organised once annually for all year groups. Outside of this, year heads have an active role in monitoring student progress, and are available to parents, outside of normal parent-teacher meetings, on a weekly basis.
Students are encouraged to take business subjects at their highest level in the State examinations, and decisions in this regard are taken as late as possible. This is good practice as business subjects’ syllabuses have common content. Parents are involved in decisions regarding subject levels, especially where students choose levels that run counter to teacher opinion. In fact, one of the posts of responsibility holders is responsible for correlating subjects’ levels uptake in an advisory capacity. Overall, parents are well informed and supported in relation to student progress.
The school monitors outcomes in the annual State examinations, and individual subject teachers consider these at the beginning of each school year, taking into consideration context factors applying from year to year.
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 business subjects and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.