An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
St Brendanís College
Belmullet, Co. Mayo
Roll number: 72050U
Date of inspection: 20 September 2006
Date of issue of report: ††26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Business Subjects
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Brendanís College, carried out as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
Business Studies is an optional subject for the junior cycle. Students, on enrolling in the school, may choose Business Studies, based on two pre-set subject option bands. One of these subject bands has Metalwork as an option alongside Business Studies, and the other has Home Economics. Apart from the fact that students are required to make these choices without having experience of the subjects, there is a gender imbalance in the make-up of Business Studies classes. It is noted that the school is conscious of these issues. There is a flexible approach to student movement between options up to the end of September in any year, and the school is taking steps to address the gender issue in a systematic way. The way forward here would be to consider the possibility of offering short taster modules of optional subjects early in the first year of the junior cycle.
Following completion of the junior cycle, students may choose the optional Transition Year programme (TY), which was introduced for the first time in 2006. There is a well-developed module for business subjects within the TY. There is scope to build on this module by integrating selected aspects of Accounting and Economics into it, so that TY students may experience an integrated approach to business subjects within TY. This would be especially useful to TY students, who did not study Business Studies for the junior cycle. Therefore, the business teachers should develop this in the context of ongoing subject planning.††††
At senior cycle, the school also offers the Leaving Certificate (LC), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), and a Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) in Business Studies and Administration at Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) Level 5. For the LC, Accounting and Business are offered to students as optional subjects on a free-choice basis. Ab initio study of Accounting and Business is available to students, who did not study Business Studies for the junior cycle. This is in line with syllabus objectives for both subjects. Students are well supported in subjectsí choices in the context of existing resources. This support arises mainly through a structured approach to advice being provided by various subject teachers at open nights organised for parents and students on completion of the junior cycle. Senior-cycle subject option bands are established each year, based on studentsí choices. Every effort is made to meet the needs of students. Participation in the LCVP is facilitated and encouraged through flexibility in subject choice arrangements and 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.
The PLC is well developed and in line with FETAC requirements. Local adjustments have been made to this course as a response to perceived employment opportunities. This is good practice as schools have local flexibility in such course design. Overall, business subjects are well catered for in the school, and students are well supported in subject choice arrangements especially at senior cycle.††††
While class-period provision is satisfactory for all business subjects, there are issues relating to the spread and distribution of class periods for some of these subjects across the school week. The school is committed to ensuring a more even spread and distribution in the future, through ongoing curricular review.
The school has a well-structured approach to the provision of information and communications technology (ICT) education for students in junior and senior cycle. Effective cross-curricular links have been created between the ICT teachers and the business teachers to ensure that syllabus objectives relating to ICT in Business Studies and Accounting are fulfilled.†
All of the business teachers have teacher-based classrooms. Variable use was made of these rooms. Best practice was seen where business materials were displayed on walls in a thematic way for the range of subjects and topics being taught. Such displays have the effect of creating a positive environment for the teaching and learning of business subjects. A wide range of resources for business subjects was also evident. Teachers shared these resources as the need arose. While there is no formal budget for business subjects, resource requests are generally met with a positive response.
Business teachers are well supported in ongoing professional development by encouragement for active participation in the Business Studies Teachers' Association of Ireland (BSTAI), and ongoing in-service for TY and the LCVP Link Modules. The school also facilitates student teachers in a supportive way during their teaching practice by ensuring that established teachers act as mentors for such student teachers.††††††††††††† †††
Business students are taught in mixed-ability settings. It was clear from inspection activities that the needs of students are central to the teaching of business subjects. The business teachers were aware of the needs of all students, including those with special educational needs. This was due in large measure to a very effective learning-support and resource co-ordination service, and the effective deployment of teaching resources to targeted needs. In order to enhance this service, the business teachers should share with the learning-support and resource teachers a list of commonly used business terms and calculations for inclusion in ongoing support provided in English and Mathematics.†
There is a well-established culture and structure for subject planning among the business teachers. This has been developed in the context of school development planning (SDP). The plan is well developed as it focuses on class organisation, text and course materials, studentsí needs including those with special educational needs, cross-curricular activity, teaching methodologies, resource acquisition, ICT, timed-content delivery, and a common approach to assessment at Christmas and end-of-year for junior-cycle students. The teachers have put a lot of work into developing the plan, and more importantly meet regularly to monitor the outcomes of it. This is very good practice, as it puts the plan into action for the good of students.
Apart from the subject plan, there was also evidence of co- and cross-curricular links being developed and implemented especially through the TY and LVCP programmes. These links include the use of guest speakers, work experience, mini-company, and a practical approach to aspects of course delivery especially in TY. This range of activity takes considerable co-ordination, and will prove to be of great value to students as a motivating influence for business subjects. Aspects of such co- and cross-curricular links could usefully be used at junior cycle also.
In all lessons observed, there was evidence of very good practice in teaching methodologies. Supplementary materials were used to good effect. Lessons were in line with the timed-content aspect of the subject plan. Each lesson had a clear structure with homework forming the link from lesson to lesson. Visual aids to learning, such as overhead projector and whiteboard, were effectively used as a means of re-capping on previous material, and as a summary aid to new material. Students were at the centre of each lesson. They were encouraged to assist the flow of lessons by sharing their knowledge and ideas in a relatively seamless way. The pace of lessons was well suited to students in mixed-ability settings. Effective use was made of a variety of learning activities including paired work, group work, and in one lesson, role-play. This had the effect of ensuring student engagement in lessons.
All lessons observed were very well managed. This was due in no small part to well-behaved students, clear communication by the teachers, and planned activities that were effectively managed. Teacher-student interaction was positive, and it was clear that a high level of mutual respect existed between teachers and their students. Students were encouraged to be actively involved in the flow of lessons and were affirmed for such involvement. Effective questioning techniques by the teachers ensured maximum student participation, and also prompted studentsí thinking around topics, so that students were encouraged to apply these topics to their own range of experience. Overall, there was a high level of experience and practice among the business teachers in all aspects of classroom methodologies, and classroom management, and this was put to very good effect in meeting the needs of students.
Students showed a keen interest in business topics. This was encouraged by the use of local and practical examples for selected topics. Students therefore could apply such topics to their own experience outside of school, either at home or in the local community. Students, especially those who found topics difficult, were well supported in class. Individual attention was given to students as the need arose. Sensitivity was shown to students who were absent for previous lesson content, with assistance being given to such students to catch up on learning. Overall, students displayed a high level of knowledge, and understanding of lessons observed, and a good ability to apply this knowledge to practical situations.
The business teachers operate an agreed homework and assessment approach in line with whole-school policy for homework and assessment. An examination of a selection of studentsí copybooks highlighted a good build up of homework assignments linked to the subject plan. Best practice in homework approach was seen where it was regularly monitored, annotated, and commented on. Linked to homework was good practice in assessment. The business teachers carry out regular in-class assessments outside of agreed end-of-term examinations. An examination of teachersí journals yielded evidence of very good record keeping of studentsí progress in continuous assessments and end-of-term examinations. As the business teachers review their subject plan, an examination of the Assessment for Learning (AfL) project at www.ncca.ie may prove useful in considering the use of homework and assessment as a means of encouraging and supporting ongoing student progress. Overall, there was a well-structured approach to homework and assessment among the business teachers.
Students are encouraged to take business subjects at their highest level in the State examinations, and decisions in this regard are taken at the last possible opportunity. Parents are involved in such decisions, especially where studentsí decisions are at variance with the opinion of their teacher. In comparing studentsí outcomes in the State examinations with the national averages, the business teachers place particular focus on the relative uptake at higher and ordinary levels among student cohorts 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.