An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Castlerea Community School
Castlerea, County Roscommon
Roll number: 91493P
Date of inspection: 03 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Castlerea 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 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 an optional subject for the complete junior cycle. There is a staged process to optional subjects’ choices, whereby students, on entering first year, choose nine optional subjects for the year. On completion of first year, students further refine their optional subjects’ choice to five subjects for the remaining two years of the cycle. On entering the senior cycle, students may choose the Leaving Certificate (LC), or the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). All three senior-cycle business subjects are offered as optional subjects to students annually. At present Accounting and Business are the favoured business subjects among students. “Ab initio” study of both of these subjects is provided for students, who do not study Business Studies for the junior cycle. This is in line with syllabus objectives for these subjects. The school also has a Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) Level 5 Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) course in Business Studies. PLC students are well integrated into the school. There is flexibility in PLC course provision, as students may complete the course over one or two years. This arrangement is especially suited to parents of young children. Overall business subjects and students are well catered for in the context of curricular provision and school resources.
Students are well supported in decision making at key points in their education. The transition from primary to post-primary is catered for through contact with feeder-primary schools, an enrolment day for students, informal conversations with key school personnel, an open day during normal school time, an entrance assessment, and a mentor system for incoming students in September. The open day and informal conversations allow incoming students to gain insights into the various optional subjects on offer. On completion of first year, students have a free choice of five optional subjects, based on which option bands are set up. An options evening for students and their parents is organised around this time. On completion of third year, an options evening is organised for parents and students, and all students have access to formal guidance contact through normal timetable. Third-year students have a similar free choice of senior-cycle optional subjects, based on which option bands are set up.
Class-period provision for all business subjects is satisfactory. While the provision of two class periods per week for first-year Business Studies students is less than normal, this must be balanced against the breadth of subject provision for the junior cycle. Double-class periods are provided for business subjects for the final two-years of the junior cycle and the complete senior cycle. In this context, it is recommended that class periods should be evenly spread and distributed across the school week.
The school has well-equipped Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities, and is broadband enabled. Apart from two specialist ICT rooms, there are a number of computers and data projectors located in a number of specialist areas, including special education and resource. The LCA and PLC courses are heavy users of the specialist ICT rooms. PLC students may also supplement their qualifications with the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). All junior- and senior-cycle students are provided with one class period per week for ICT. Business Studies has clear syllabus objectives regarding ICT, and business subjects, in general, are suited to the use of ICT as a teaching and learning aid. Therefore, it is recommended that the business teachers ensure the fulfilment of the Business Studies syllabus objectives for ICT by developing cross-curricular links with the ICT teachers, and explore how best to use ICT as a teaching and learning aid, taking into account the fact that the school is broadband enabled and that most business teachers have teacher-based classrooms.
Most business teachers have their own base classroom. Good use was made of these and other rooms with appropriate displays of business-related materials. A good blend of teacher- and student-generated materials was in evidence in all classrooms, in which the subject inspection took place. Apart from creating a business environment for students, the display of student-generated displays, in particular, also has a positive motivating influence on students for business subjects.
Business students are taught in mixed-ability settings. Apart from the whole-school approach to meeting the needs of all students, it was obvious that a special focus is brought to bear on students, who require learning-support/resource teaching. In lessons observed, every effort was made to ensure that all students understood new material before moving on in lesson content. There is scope to develop cross-curricular links with the learning-support and resource teachers. In this context, it is recommended that the business teachers identify basic business terms and calculations, and share these with the learning-support and resource teachers for inclusion in the extra English and Mathematics support that is provided to selected students.
The school is involved in ongoing school development planning (SDP). As part of this, there is a culture among the business teachers for subject planning. This is facilitated by the provision of time for planning during the school year, and regular meetings of the business teachers during a common free-class period each week. A plan for the range of business subjects was in place. It was evident in all lessons observed that individual teachers were on track in plan implementation, and were monitoring plan implementation through their journals. Apart from the benefit of subject planning in promoting the sharing of experience and expertise among teachers, there is the added benefit of such plans ensuring that all business students have a similar experience in business classes ranging from teaching methodologies, the use of aids to teaching and learning, including ICT, and the range of homework and assessment techniques. This is especially important at junior cycle, where all of the business teachers teach Business Studies. As the business teachers continue to monitor and review their subject plan, it is recommended that this is done in the context of emerging whole-school policy, especially for homework and assessment, and a range of headings including the integration of ICT in the teaching and learning of business subjects, the use of teacher-based classrooms as a resource base for business subjects, and the further development of cross- and co-curricular links.
Cross- and co-curricular links in business subjects were evident through the use of external materials such as Business 2000, a business magazine for senior students, and various media reports on selected topics. There is scope to build on these links in the context of subject planning. In considering the further development of cross- and co-curricular links, the web site of the Business Studies Teachers' Association of Ireland (BSTAI) at www.bstai.ie has useful links for this purpose.
Each lesson observed had a similar structure. Lessons opened with student roll call and homework being monitored by teachers. Previous material was revised, before new material was introduced. A range of aids to teaching and learning supplemented the subject plan. These included teacher-developed handouts, and prepared worksheets for students. Effective use was made of whiteboards, chalkboards, and data projector as visual aids to learning, especially to show worked solutions to some topics, and as a summary aid to lesson content. Student textbooks were central to some lessons observed, and were used as a means of maintaining the focus and pace of lessons. Students were actively engaged in the flow of lessons by reading from the textbook, and participating in discussion on key points of lessons through effective questioning by teachers. An appropriate blend of teaching methodologies was used to meet the needs of students in a mixed-ability setting. This ranged from whole-class input to individual support to students, as the need arose. While the subject plan was mainly content-focused, the needs of students were central to lesson delivery. The sharing of approaches to teaching and learning is recommended in the context of subject planning, as there is a significant level of experience among the business teachers.
All classrooms were effectively managed. This was achieved by a combination of effective management of planned activities and encouragement of student engagement in lessons observed. There was good teacher-student interaction, and effective display of business-related materials in all classrooms. Students were affirmed for their contribution to lessons, and effectively probed to build on each other’s contribution for overall learning. Overall effectively managed classrooms and good teacher-student interaction contributed to the creation of positive learning environments.
Students displayed good knowledge and understanding of topics being taught. They were generally able to apply their knowledge to real-life examples. In some of the lessons observed, students were engaged in revision topics. In this context, suitable references were made to examination requirements for both the State Examinations Commission and FETAC. Overall business students displayed good ability to understand and apply their knowledge of business subjects.
A whole-school policy for homework and assessment is currently being developed, in the context of SDP. There is good practice in place in this regard. The students’ journal is used to record homework, as well as assessment results. Parents are expected to sign the journal each week, and the year heads and class tutors monitor these regularly. There is a common assessment approach at junior cycle with in-class assessments being given on completion of selected topics, as well as in November and at the end of the school year. Student progress reports are issued to parents twice annually, and one parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group. As the school formalises the homework and assessment policy, it would be useful to examine the Assessment for Learning (AfL) project in relation to the uses and benefits of formative and summative assessment techniques as a means of tracking and encouraging student progress. This information may be accessed on the web site of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie.
An examination of student copybooks and PLC assessment folders yielded a significant build-up of assignments in line with the subject plan and, in the case of the PLC, FETAC requirements. Teachers regularly annotated homework, and affirming or guiding comments were a feature of the samples examined. As the business teachers continue to review their subject plan, it would be important to amend it to reflect the emerging whole-school policy for homework and assessment.
Business students are encouraged to take business subjects at their highest level in the State examinations. This is good practice as the syllabuses are designed for mixed-ability settings and are generally common in content. Students are well supported in decision making for levels.
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.