An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Coláiste na Sionna – Banagher College
Banagher, County Offaly
Roll number: 76105Q
Date of inspection: 24 September 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Business Subjects
has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste na
Coláiste na Sionna is a designated community college located in Banagher. The school was formed in 2007 from the amalgamation of two local schools, St. Rynagh’s Community College and La Sainte Union Secondary School. The school currently caters for 490 students and operates on two sites, with first-year and second-year students based in the former La Sainte Union site and the remaining students at the former St. Rynagh’s site. A new school is under construction in a Public Private Partnership trust and it is envisaged that it will open its doors to students in September 2010.
The business department in Coláiste na Sionna has a strong positive impact on the business and enterprise culture within the school. At junior cycle, there are two classes of Business Studies in each year group and at senior level two business options, Accounting and Business, are offered. After junior cycle, students can opt to participate in the Transition Year (TY) programme. A core element of the TY programme is the business module that has a strong emphasis on enterprise. Students at the school can also avail of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) which provides students with an appreciation of enterprise. The school also offers the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and students study the vocational specialism Office Administration and Customer Care (OACC).
It was brought to the attention of the school’s principal during the subject inspection that the current whole-school timetabling arrangements fall short of what is required with respect to instruction time as directed in circular M29/95 Time in School.
Approximately 40% of the junior cycle cohort takes Business Studies as an optional subject. Three option bands are presented to students before they transfer from primary school and they choose one subject from each band. Business Studies is offered within two of these bands. The choice of subjects within each band leads to imbalances both in terms of class size and gender composition for students of Business Studies. As most of the business students at senior cycle transfer from Junior Certificate, it is vital to widen access at this point. It was also evident, from the inspector’s interaction with first-year students, that not enough information was available to them in making their subject choices. It is recommended that the teachers of business, in association with the guidance department, provide additional information to students and parents prior to making their subject choice. This information should emphasise the objectives, learning outcomes and benefits involved in the study of business. On completion of junior cycle, a high percentage of the business students take at least one of the business subjects as an examination subject for the Leaving Certificate.
Time allocation on the time table is good at junior cycle there are four periods allocated, usually one double and two single periods. At senior level this extends to five periods, with two doubles and a single. The time allocation for TY is excellent at five periods per week. One junior cycle class visited had two double periods on two consecutive days. This is not to be recommended in future timetabling.
The school operates a policy of mixed-ability classes at junior and senior level and all student abilities are well catered for in this setting. An observation was made of the cohort that takes Accounting at senior level. It was noted that the students had all taken Business Studies in junior cycle at higher level and that the students themselves have set this entry requirement. It may be possible in the future to address this situation with a view to widening access. The student cohort in Business is of mixed ability.
Teachers are current in their knowledge of their subjects. They have attended in-service relating to their subjects. In addition to subject-specific continuing professional development (CPD), some of the team have engaged with broader CPD themes, including School Development Planning and the TL21 programme. The knowledge gained has been shared within the school. Of particular merit among the team is their skill in the use of information and communication technology (ICT).
There are subject co-ordinators in place for each of the business subjects. However, as there is not full rotation of teachers assigned to teaching the subjects, the co-ordinator roles do not always rotate. To enhance the development of the subjects, the teachers are advised to establish an overall business and enterprise department with one co-ordinator post. The position of co-ordinator should rotate among the team.
Very good subject plans have been drafted for each of the junior and senior cycle subjects. All plans are generated and stored electronically. This is very good practice as it allows for ease of access and amending, if needed. During the inspection there was evidence of recent review of the TY plan to reflect the changes in the current business environment. The collective plan agreed for junior cycle Business Studies demonstrates the team’s capacity to collaborate effectively in drafting and agreeing an appropriate scheme of work. This plan has been reviewed to reflect the context of the new school. This is commendable given that the amalgamation is so recent.
At senior cycle, the plans have traditionally been drafted by individual teachers. These plans clearly set out the schemes of work for the subjects and are closely linked to the syllabus documents. The quality of these plans is good but could be enhanced by the teachers working collaboratively on them in the context of the overall proposed business and enterprise department. The TY and OACC plans are excellent exemplars of plans and include detail with respect to proposed methodologies, assessment modes, teaching resources and related co-curricular activities. The TY plan also includes a section on teacher review of teaching outcomes. This approach should be adopted for all senior cycle plans.
The newly structured subject department should use the existing plans to compile an overall plan for the subjects. The overall plan should include a review of the contextual factors affecting provision for the business subjects at whole-school level. As part of the review, the team should consider the level of uptake of the subjects in each cycle and the factors affecting student choice of each of the senior cycle business options. The plan should also set out the supports that the subject department can give to students in helping them make informed subject choices as they transfer into each cycle.
Teachers are not classroom based and this militates against building up and sharing resources. The school’s ICT room is well resourced and is available to teachers, with prior planning. There are a few rooms available with data projectors but at present there are none in rooms that are timetabled for the teaching of business subjects. Nevertheless, teachers have built up their own resources and they frequently and competently use electronically-generated materials as a teaching and learning resource. In the context of the anticipated move to the new school next year, these concerns can be addressed through the designation of at least two specialist business classrooms that have dedicated LCD projectors and associated ICT equipment. During the inspection, the school’s management indicated that sufficient resources would be available to achieve this objective.
It was evident that the teachers had carried out considerable individual planning in advance of the inspection visit. Lesson plans were available for all lessons observed and these were very useful in the evaluation process. The detail of the lesson plans was mirrored in the teaching observed and appropriate and current business resource material was used in the lessons. It was also evident that the majority of the teachers have used their ICT skills to build up banks of resource materials that they use frequently and appropriately in the teaching of the subjects. Most teachers also reported that they were now using Moodle to develop additional teaching resources for junior cycle business.
The overall standard of teaching is very good. A range of classroom management styles was observed that sought to create positive learning environments where student interaction and positive engagement with the lesson content were promoted. Questioning skills were good, with a mix of global and targeted questions. The teachers made particular efforts to differentiate the questions and ensure that all students had the opportunity to engage with the lesson material. Positive feedback to students was a key feature of the questioning styles used.
Students were well mannered. Good rapport and very respectful interactions between teachers and students were observed in many of the lessons during the inspection visit. The use of appropriate business terminology by teachers is very good and is tailored to reflect the needs and ability levels of students, particularly less able students. The emphasis placed by teachers on promoting students’ understanding of enterprise through the teaching of the subjects is very good.
Teachers used many exemplars that reflected both the local and national business environment. Students were encouraged to apply the theoretical aspects of business to business models they were familiar with. The teachers made every effort to ensure that the exemplars used reflected the students’ own experiences and knowledge.
During the inspection visit, the business teachers showed enthusiasm and interest in ensuring that student learning outcomes for the subjects were attained and that students were well prepared for assessment outcomes in the subjects. All classes are mixed ability and appropriate methodologies are used to ensure that each student is enabled to reach a high level of attainment. It was evident that all the team are very skilled in teaching in mixed-ability settings as new information was introduced using an incremental approach. Also of significance in the teaching of the subjects is the delayed differentiation of student learning outcomes and tasks until late in each cycle. This is very good practice when teaching in mixed-ability settings and enables students to access all the learning outcomes.
At junior cycle, the business teachers are aware of the importance of balancing both the bookkeeping and the business elements in their teaching and this is reflected in the agreed plan for Business Studies. During both the junior and senior cycle accounting and bookkeeping lessons, it was observed that the students were encouraged to be neat, to number and date questions and to properly record transactions. As this is an essential skill in record keeping, it is commendable that it extends to all aspects of the presentation of both the teachers and the students work in class.
Additional learning aids are provided for students at both junior and senior cycle. The revision tools include mnemonics, summary notes, handouts and question sheets. At junior cycle, there was evidence in some classes of handouts that presented the information in a variety of formats, including text and visual images. This mixed approach is very good in catering for the range of learning styles and ability levels within class groups. Of particular merit in the teaching of Accounting was the audit trail approach used to summarise key aspects of the recording of transactions. In senior cycle Business, students are encouraged to generate their own summary notes as an aid to revision. This is good practice as it makes the students more active in the learning process. There is scope to extend the potential of this approach to include it within the assessment process for the subject.
Throughout the inspection visit it was evident that students were engaged with lesson content. In the TY lesson, some students had prepared their assignments using MSWord, indicating the emphasis placed within the teaching on skills transfer and cross-curricular links. Students’ interest was maintained by the teachers’ preparation and the range of teaching methodologies employed that accommodated the range of learning styles. In business and accounting lessons, introductions to theory were matched by appropriate practical activities. In TY and business, the case study approach was used and introduced in one instance by DVD, followed by a practical exercise. The teachers should continue to share these good practices.
The results of formal assessment tests are communicated to students and parents through written reports. Scheduled parent-teacher meetings provide an additional opportunity to teachers to discuss students’ academic and personal progress. It is optional for the parents of students in examination classes to have an additional meeting with teachers following the completion of the mock examinations. The school has an overall homework policy which is included in the teacher’s journal. It was evident from the records provided and student’s copies and record books, that the teachers are consistent in the application of the policy, especially with respect to assigning homework on a regular basis. It is recommended that a copy of the homework policy be restored to future print runs of the student journal.
While all teachers of the subjects regularly assign homework, there is a mix of approaches among the team towards assessing the completion of work and the associated learning outcomes. In the majority of cases, the work was regularly annotated and completion recorded. There were also some very good examples of the use of evaluative written comments by teachers. Good practice was evident, in a small number of lessons, of the use of peer review, with specific emphasis on observing the agreed standards in presentation and neatness, which are essential skills in bookkeeping at junior cycle.
There was evidence of very good practice in record keeping by the teachers of the subjects across the team. In instances where students transferred between cycles or between teachers, mid-cycle, the class teacher ensured that they were updated about the students’ progress and attainment to date. This was evident from the records and is very good practice.
There were some examples of the use of Assessment for Learning (AfL) techniques by some teachers during the inspection. In reviewing the individual subject plans, it is recommended that each plan should set out in greater detail the range of assessment modes to be used in the teaching of the subjects. This would build on the teachers’ experience and skills.
There is no formal system for comparing overall student results in the state examinations with the national norms. Individually teachers may compare gained outcomes. However, a system of formally measuring attainment would help with planning for the subjects.
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.
Published, March 2010