An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Kilrush Community School
Kilrush, County Clare
Roll number: 91448K
Date of inspection: 21 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Kilrush Community School. 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 two days 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 Kilrush Community School, Business Studies is an optional subject for the whole of the junior cycle. Junior-cycle students have an open choice of two subjects from six optional subjects, including Art, Craft, Design; Business Studies; Home Economics; Materials Technology (Wood); Metalwork and Technical Graphics. Students are well supported in these subject choices by a combination of visits to feeder primary schools, information re junior-cycle subjects, an open night for parents of incoming junior-cycle students, and flexibility in movement from any optional subject to another up to the October mid-term, subject to class size. Nevertheless, in the interest of giving incoming junior-cycle students an opportunity to make well-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 junior cycle.
At senior cycle, students may choose the Transition Year (TY), and either the Leaving Certificate (LC) or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). At present there is no take up of the TY. 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. Business is the only senior-cycle business subject that is offered to students for the senior cycle. “Ab initio” study of Business is provided for those students, who may not have taken Business Studies for the junior cycle. This is in line with the principles of the Business syllabus. A similar level of support is offered to students entering senior cycle, as is offered to students entering junior cycle. Currently the school offers one business subject for the senior cycle. As the existing business teachers have the necessary skills and experience to teach all of the senior-cycle business subjects, it is recommended that the school offers a greater choice of senior-cycle business subjects annually, in order to maximise students choices. The response to these choices could be met in the context of school resources from year to year.
The school also offers a Post Leaving Course (PLC) in Business Studies with Information Technology. This course is awarded under Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) Level 5, and provision is also made for additional qualifications in European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) and ECDL Advanced Certification. Course design is flexible so as to ensure that students may be best placed to avail of local employment opportunities. This flexibility alongside the provision of additional qualifications is a strong feature of the PLC. The take up of the PLC for 2005/06 is gender-balanced, and the retention rate is good.
Class period provision for business subjects in all cycles is satisfactory. For junior-cycle Business Studies, four class periods per week are provided, made up of two double periods. For senior-cycle Business, five class periods per week are provided, made up of two double-class periods and one single-class period. For the LCVP Link Modules, three periods for year one of the programme and two periods for year two are provided. In the context of double-period timetabling, it is desirable that class periods are spread evenly across the school week and that students have an increased number of individual exposure points per week. The recommended increase in the number of exposure points could be achieved by spanning one double period in each cycle across two days.
Information & Communications Technology (ICT) facilities in Kilrush Community School are good. The school has two ICT rooms, each with thirty PCs and a data projector, and a special education room with fourteen networked laptops. One of the ICT rooms was recently upgraded with new hardware, and the special-education room is used principally for learning-support and resource provision for selected students. The school is broadband enabled. In junior cycle, all students are timetabled for one class period per week in ICT, and at senior cycle, access to ICT is provided for through participation in LCA, LCVP or PLC.
Each business teacher has a designated base classroom. There was evidence of effective use being made of these rooms as a resource base for business subjects, principally through wall displays of teacher-generated business materials. As one of these rooms is used primarily for the PLC course, it is ICT equipped. 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 the context of ongoing subject planning, the further use and integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of business subjects could be explored not only in relation to developing co-curricular links between business subjects and ICT, but also by identifying and acquiring, over time, suitable ICT equipment for the other teacher-based classrooms.
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 among the business teachers in all classes observed, but also by virtue of the fact that the school promotes and supports continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers in the area of special education. In fact one of the business teachers was availing of such CPD during the subject inspection. The benefits of such CPD may be effectively shared among the business teachers in the context of ongoing subject planning. It is commendable that the team of business teachers has identified commonly used business terms and calculations, and shared 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 school is engaged in school development planning (SDP). In this context there is a culture among the team of business teachers for subject planning. The business teachers have developed a well-structured subject plan for the range of business subjects. This plan is extensive and, apart from linking to the school’s mission statement and school aims, covers course content, special education, and whole-school homework and assessment practice. Business teachers are supported in CPD for business subjects through school-funded membership of the Business Studies Teachers Association of Ireland (BSTAI), and teachers regularly attend course on development in business subjects. 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. The topics include the further integration of ICT in the teaching and learning of business subjects, the sharing of expertise and experiences in learning support, teaching methodologies and homework and assessment practices.
There is a good approach to cross-curricular and co-curricular activity for business subjects, especially, but not solely, at LCVP. Enterprise Education is part of the LCVP programme. As part of this module, LCVP students organise an annual school event during the first year of the programme. All students are encouraged to enter annual enterprise competitions promoted by Co. Clare Enterprise Board. These mini-company competitions create a natural opportunity for cross-curricular links to other subjects. Co-curricular links with local industry are established through a combination of work experience for LCVP, LCA and PLC students, as well as industrial visits and the use of guest speakers on selected business topics to support and enhance learning. Apart from this, use is made of externally generated business competitions. At the time of the subject inspection, plans were in place to establish a school branch of one of the local commercial banks under a bank sponsored “Build a Bank” competition for post-primary students. Students also assist in various in-school enterprise activities such as the school shop and the cafeteria. This high level of cross- and co-curricular activity is to be commended and may be further enhanced by accessing other suitable resources through the web site of the BSTAI at www.bstai.ie.
In all lessons observed, there was evidence of lesson planning on a yearly basis, and individual lessons were linked directly to the year plans. 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 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, there was good practice in teaching and learning. Each lesson had an appropriate opening focal point and structure. There was continuity built in from lesson to lesson mainly through homework but also through ongoing assignments. There was a suitable blend of teaching methodologies used to meet 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. In one case, effective use was made of a data projector to permit a build-up of lesson content by students, under the direction of the teacher. In another, effective use was made of the whiteboard as a suitable summary aid not only to the structure of the lesson but also to the content. The pace of lessons was suited to the needs of students. In fact the focus of all lessons was on the needs of the students as opposed to the need to cover planned segments of subject material.
Classroom management was good. Classroom layout and seating arrangements were generally effective in promoting student engagement in the flow of lessons observed. Lesson planning, a high level of mutual respect among teachers and students, and a positive motivation among students for learning also assisted this engagement. Classroom atmospheres were positive and affirming. Students were encouraged to participate in class and support each others learning. 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.
Students were mainly on task and motivated. There was a high level of student engagement through the use of age and interest appropriate examples for selected topics. This had the effect of generating opportunities for students to identify with selected topics from the syllabus and apply these to real-life situations. Students related very well to each other and supported each other in a relatively non-competitive way. The focus of learning was well-balanced in favour of broad education without losing focus on preparing students for either State or FETAC examinations.
Overall, there was a high level of experience and expertise among the business teachers in both teaching and learning, and the sharing of such, in the context of ongoing subject planning, would promote a continued collegial approach to such planning.
The school does not have a written whole-school policy on homework and assessment, but has a whole-school approach, that is contained in a draft homework statement, and the Teachers’ handbook. All students are assessed twice during the first and second term of the school year. School reports are issued to parents at both Christmas and Easter. These reports carry a cumulative result based on each of the two relevant assessments. A third school report is issued to parents of non-State examination students at the end of the third term. This report is based on terminal in-house end-of-year examinations. Parent-teacher meetings are held once per year for all year groups. In preparation for these meetings student progress is reviewed at staff meetings and parents of some students are contacted in advance of the parent teacher meeting by the school. This practice applies particularly to State examination students. Student journals are used as a means of recording homework and these journals are regularly monitored. Such monitoring creates an ongoing link between home and school.
In all classes observed, there was evidence of a suitable build up of homework and associated assessments linked to the yearly lesson plans. There was good practice in homework and assessment among all the business teachers, in line with the whole-school practice in homework. Homework formed an effective link from lesson to lesson. An examination of a wide sample of student copybooks highlighted the importance of homework in day-to-day teaching and learning. The practice of annotating homework and providing students with guiding and affirming comments was evident in all samples.
It was notable that a differentiated approach was taken to homework and assessment that was both realistic and age appropriate. Apart from taking into account the differences between adult learners in the PLC course and other mainstream students, there was also evidence of a variation in assessment approach at junior and senior cycle. This variation was best exemplified by the practice of encouraging senior-cycle students to become self-assessors of their own learning. This is good practice, as it encourages students to identify how to improve on one’s own performance following sufficient monitoring and advice from the teacher. In the context of ongoing subject planning, the team of teachers could examine the Assessment for Learning (AfL) project at the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) web site www.ncca.ie. This information could further enhance assessment and homework arrangements in the school, and inform school thinking as it begins to formalise a written whole-school policy for homework and assessment.
Students are encouraged to take business subjects at the highest level in the State examinations and decisions in this regard are taken at the latest time allowed in order for all students to maximise their potential. Support for decisions regarding levels is provided to students by their subject teachers, in conjunction with advice from the guidance counsellor as appropriate, and parents are involved at appropriate times. The school formally compares students’ results in the State examinations with the national norms for such results and takes local context factors 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
In the main, the school welcomes the Subject Inspection Report of Business Studies.
However, the reference on page 2 to greater choice of senior-cycle business subjects, which is reiterated on page 7, is incompatible with present staffing levels as provided to the school by the Department of Education and Science under the existing teacher-pupil ratio. The school may review this matter when current Department of Education and Science staffing provisions are changed to reflect present realities in medium-sized, stand-alone schools.