An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Saint Joseph’s College
Newport, County Tipperary
Roll number: 72450N
Date of inspection: 27 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 29 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s College, Newport. 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 teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. 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.
St Joseph’s College is a small school with small class sizes. Business Studies is a core subject for the first year of the junior cycle, and an optional subject for the remaining two years of the cycle. For the senior cycle, students may choose Leaving Certificate (LC) Business which is the only senior-cycle business subject offered as an optional subject for the cycle. “Ab initio” study of Business is provided for students, who did not study Business Studies for the complete junior cycle. This is in line with syllabus objectives for Business. By virtue of optional subjects’ choice, students may also qualify for participation in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). As a result, participating students study Enterprise Education as a component of the LCVP Link Modules. The school has a well-established Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course in Business Studies with Computer Applications. This course is awarded at Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) Level 5. The school also offers the Back to Education Initiative (BTEI) at FETAC Level 3/4, as a means of preparing adult students for progression into the Level 5 PLC. Adult students are well integrated into the mainstream setting.
Every effort is made to cater for the needs of business students in support for subject choices and in the deployment of resources. Apart from the value of Business Studies being a core subject for first year, students are well supported in subject choices at key points in their education. Towards the end of first year, students are given a free choice of optional subjects, before subject option bands are set up. These students are further supported through meetings with the guidance counsellor, and advice from their business teacher. Parents have contact through the annual parent-teacher meeting, and flexibility of movement is provided for in the early part of second year. Similar arrangements apply to students moving into the senior cycle. In order to accommodate subject choice, business students, in the final two years of the junior cycle and in the complete senior cycle, are taught in the same class settings. This arrangement is similar to that pertaining in small primary schools, where different year groups are taught in the same classroom. While this arrangement creates challenges for such students and their teacher, it is an indicator of the willingness of the school to cater for the needs of students in the context of its resources. Class period provision is satisfactory for all business subjects. This, combined with small class sizes, affords students the opportunity to be well prepared for the State examinations.
The school is well equipped for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) with three computer rooms, and broadband connection. One room, equipped with eight computers, is used mainly for resource teaching. The remaining two rooms, one with fifteen computers, and the other with twenty-eight computers, are used for mainstream teaching including the PLC, the BTEI, and the LCVP Link Modules. PLC students may supplement their qualifications with the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). ICT provision for other students is limited. In the junior cycle, a small group of first-year students has formal time for ICT. Other junior-cycle students may have access to ICT through a combination of a double-class period for weekly activities, during lunchtime on request, and the use of ICT as an aid to the teaching and learning of other subjects. Business subjects are well placed to maximise the use of ICT as a teaching and learning aid. Business Studies has syllabus objectives relating to ICT, and Business is a subject that has the potential to make good use of the internet for up-to-date news stories in selected topics. Therefore, it is recommended that cross-curricular links between ICT and business subjects should be developed, especially in the junior cycle.
Teachers have teacher-based classrooms. The business teacher’s room was well utilised as a resource base for business subjects, and effective display of business materials. These displays created a print-rich environment for business students. Such displays have the potential to act as a motivating influence for students, especially where student projects on business topics are displayed. There is scope to further enhance this room by equipping it with some ICT equipment, so that cross-curricular links may be further developed between business subjects and ICT. The installation of a data projector and a computer would go a long way towards achieving this goal. Therefore, it is recommended that a resource plan for the teacher-based classroom should be developed to complement the development of ICT cross-curricular links, mentioned earlier in this report.
Students are taught in mixed-ability settings. The school has a proactive approach to catering for the needs of all students, including students who avail of learning-support and resource teaching. Good links are maintained with parents, feeder primary schools and external agencies. Continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged, as one of the teachers is currently taking the Higher Diploma in Learning Support. Sensitive deployment of resources ensures that the needs of students are met in an inclusive environment. The obvious care and concern for students, evident in lessons observed, and flexibility in timetabling are indicators of the centrality of students in the deployment of school resources. There is scope to embed basic business concepts among some students. Therefore, it is recommended that basic business terms and calculations should be shared with the learning-support and resource teachers for inclusion in extra tuition that is offered to some students in English and Mathematics.
The school is engaged in school development planning (SDP). To support ongoing SDP, time is provided on a weekly basis to support teachers in progressing issues to completion. There is an emerging focus on subject planning. This is good practice as the heart of the school is in the classroom, and thus it is desirable that teachers formalise their own best practice in teaching and learning. A team approach to planning is desirable, as it permits the sharing of best practice. In the context of business subjects, there is scope to develop a team approach through the range of business subjects: Business Studies; Business; the Enterprise Education component of the LCVP Link Modules; and the PLC. There is considerable expertise and experience in the teaching of business subjects that is worth sharing and formalising through the development of a subject plan for the range of business subjects. Therefore, it is recommended that, in developing this plan, the focus should be on teaching methodologies; the use of teaching and learning resources; including ICT; and approaches to homework and assessment, in line with the whole-school policy currently being developed. Useful resources to assist the process of subject planning may be accessed on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) at www.sdpi.ie.
Cross- and co-curricular links were evident mainly through the LC, the LCVP and the PLC. Cross-curricular links in the LCVP occurred through the use of ICT for portfolio of coursework development. Co-curricular links were evident in the LC, the LCVP and the PLC through the use of external resources, such as Business 2000, work experience, external links with the North Tipperary County Enterprise Board (NTCEB), and the Tipperary Institute, through its Entrepreneur in Residence scheme. External visits to careers exhibitions, and local community enterprises and projects complemented these co-curricular links. As part of the LCVP Link Modules, students also engage in charitable activities, thus highlighting a broad, and holistic approach to Enterprise Education. There was evidence of a well structured, if relatively informal, team approach to planning for the LCVP and the PLC. Best practice in cross- and co-curricular links could be included in the plan for business subjects. The web site of the Business Studies Teachers’ Association of Ireland (BSTAI) at www.bstai.ie has useful links that may assist this process.
In all lessons observed, lesson plans were supplemented by relevant resources. These resources were used as supplementary aids to class textbooks. The lesson plans were comprehensive in detail, and would form the basis of a useful template for the development of a subject plan for the range of business subjects. Supplementary resources ranged from summary notes to case studies for students. Effective use was made of these case studies to prompt focused discussion between the teacher and students. Visual aids were used effectively. The whiteboard was used as a summary aid, while the chalkboard was used as a working aid to teaching and learning. Continuity from lesson to lesson was established by homework assignments. Lessons were well structured, and a variety of teaching methodologies was used to meet the needs of students in a mixed-ability setting. These ranged from whole-class input to support for individual students, as required. The pace of lessons was suited to the needs of students, and every effort was made to ensure student understanding of key concepts, before moving on to new material. The level of student understanding was established by effective questioning that facilitated student discussion.
All lessons were well managed. This arose through effective management of planned activities, and well-behaved students in a positive learning environment. Students were at the centre of each lesson observed, and individual support was provided to students throughout each lesson. The teacher-based classroom was well utilised. The display of business-related materials helped to create a businesslike atmosphere in the classroom. Students were affirmed for their efforts and encouraged to develop their knowledge by applying key concepts to their own life experience and environment. This they did in a conversational way with the teacher acting as a facilitator of student learning. Overall classrooms were positive and conducive to effective learning.
Students were prompted to focus their learning on the real world and also on the State examination requirements. Points of common difficulty in the State examinations were highlighted, and students were familiar with the marking schemes for these examinations. Overall, students were keen learners of their particular business subject, and showed good knowledge and understanding, linked to their ability to apply this to practical situations.
The school does not have a whole school policy for homework and assessment. At the time of the inspection, this policy was being developed by a group of teachers on behalf of the whole school. There was however evidence of good practice in this regard. Formal in-school examinations take place twice per year for all students. These examinations are supplemented in the business subjects by a number of continuous assessments carried out at key points during the school year. These assessments are linked to regular homework as a means of monitoring and supporting student learning. Effective use is made of the students’ journal to record assessment results, and homework. The students’ journal also acts as a link between home and school as parents are required to sign it on a weekly basis. Class tutors also monitor the journals. Two student-progress reports are issued to parents annually, and parent-teacher meetings are held once per year for all students and twice per year for students preparing for the State examinations. An examination of student copybooks highlighted a good build-up of homework, and effective annotation of homework alongside guiding and affirming comment for student effort. It is recommended that information on the Assessment for Learning (AfL) project should be accessed on the web site of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie, as the whole-school policy for homework and assessment is being finalised.
Business students are encouraged to take business subjects at their highest level in the State examinations, subject to ability. This is good practice as the syllabuses are capable of being taught in mixed-ability settings. Students are well supported in advice regarding subject-level decisions, on lines similar to that offered to students in subjects’ choices. In particular an overview of individual students is taken in order to ensure that they are achieving a balanced approach to maximising their potential.
The school compares students’ results in the State examinations with the national norms for individual subjects. This is a part of a Vocational Education Committee (VEC) wide approach to promoting consideration of student outcomes in individual schools. Taking local context factors into account, teachers in individual schools discuss student outcomes and share best practice.
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 teacher of business subjects at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.