An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Mount Sackville Secondary School
Chapelizod, Dublin 20
Roll number: 60120W
Date of inspection: 6 March 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Business Subjects
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mount Sackville Secondary School, Dublin 20. 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 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.
In Mount Sackville Secondary School business education is very well represented through the provision of Business Studies at junior cycle and all three business options, Accounting, Business and Economics at senior cycle. The strong uptake of the subjects in senior cycle indicates students’ positive experiences of the subject through junior cycle. The Transition Year (TY) programme is compulsory for all students. Business modules feature strongly in this programme and this is another strength in the provision for the subject in the school.
All first year students take Business Studies and when optional subjects are selected at the end of the year a majority of the students retain the subject to Junior Certificate level. The pattern of uptake in the subject at junior cycle has been relatively consistent for the past number of years and that is an indication of the strength of the subject’s profile within a school with such a broad curriculum.
The overall provision of time for the subject over the three years of the junior cycle programme is satisfactory. The subject is optional after first year, and there are changes in the teachers assigned to class groups. As a consequence, it is important that a common programme is followed by all first-year class groups. The practice of assigning teachers to class groups from second year for the remainder of the cycle is good. The school’s management are also commended for the student- centred system of subject selection that operates for the non-core subjects at junior cycle. With this system, the subject groupings are generated on a year-by-year basis and determined by student demand.
The allocation of periods to the subjects at senior cycle is good. The mix of double and single periods spread through the week encourages continuity between classes and provides an opportunity for homework to be assigned regularly.
Teachers are classroom based and there was good evidence in some classrooms of the use of additional resources to support the teaching of the subjects, for example CSO articles in Economics. However, individual practice is varied. The good practice that is evident in the teaching of the subjects should be extended and progressed among the team so that the physical learning environment is used to increase students’ awareness of the wider business environment.
The teachers’ commitment to professional development is evidenced in a number of ways. Teachers are members of the subject association; others have undertaken further studies and acted as assistant examiners for the State Examinations Commission. During the inspection visits there was evidence of self-learning among the teaching team that ensured current knowledge of the business environment. Also commended is the voluntary updating of information and communications technology (ICT) skills by most of the team. Of particular merit is the provision of a laptop by the school’s management to each teacher. This action is highly commended.
Comprehensive planning documentation has been drafted by the teachers of business. The team meets regularly during the school year and records are maintained of the main meeting outcomes. In addition to the overall planning documentation, detailed schemes of work have been drafted for both the Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes. Recent changes to the first year Business Studies programme are very good. Of particular merit is the re-balancing of the bookkeeping and business elements, and the prioritisation of learning outcomes related to students’ own experience as consumers. However, despite the plan, the approach to the teaching of Business Studies in first year is, on occasion, too individualistic. All members of the subject team should focus on supporting teaching and learning through the attainment of common learning outcomes in first year, especially as the class groups are re-formed in second year when the subject becomes optional. The balance of skills among the team should make this easily achievable.
One aspect of the subject plan that requires immediate review is the TY programme. A review of the existing business modules indicated that the content and sequencing of topics is too closely aligned to the Leaving Certificate programme, especially in Accounting. This is contrary to the guidelines issued by the Department of Education and Science for the development of TY programmes. The team is advised to review the modules and re-design them with an emphasis on the development of applied skills through self-directed learning opportunities. It would be useful to do this in conjunction with section 2.3 of the brochure Writing the Transition Year Programme. This is available from the website of the Second Level Support Service at www.slss.ie .
From the planning documentation it is evident that co-curricular activities are mainly completed within the TY programme. While these are of merit within the TY programme, there is scope to extend the range of co-curricular activities that support the teaching of business subjects across the year groups. One suggested option is to include a project activity in the early weeks of second year. The activity could be beneficial both as a revision aid, and as a means of developing teamwork skills for the newly formed class groups.
There was evidence that some teachers prepare and store lesson materials electronically and that these are updated regularly. This is very good practice. In addition, the teachers’ awareness of current trends and business developments ensures that the students are actively engaged with the subjects and have the opportunity to develop their applied business knowledge.
Classroom resources to support teaching are good, though there is scope for increased use of the laptops as a teaching aid. Individual lesson planning is very good and appropriate materials are prepared to support students’ learning.
The overall standard of teaching and learning observed during the evaluation was very good. Lessons were well structured and purposeful. Students were clear about the expected outcomes from each class. Each lesson commenced with homework correction and systematic revision of material from previous lessons. This helped improve and reinforce students’ knowledge of the subjects and curriculum topics.
In junior cycle lessons emphasis was placed on integrating both previous material with new topics and integrating business and bookkeeping elements, which is an underlying principle of the syllabus and best practice in the teaching of the subject.
Teaching methodologies were, for the most part, traditional with emphasis on whole-class teaching followed by practical exercises. Students’ familiarity with this approach was evidenced by the ease of transition from one part of the lesson to another. However, there were also some excellent examples of teaching using more active learning methodologies, particularly with junior cycle classes.
In one example of self-directed learning, junior cycle students were asked as a homework task to source and access materials related to the lesson objectives on-line and to share the results in class. All students had completed the task and a number indicated through their responses that their parents had assisted them, indicating the positive role of parents in supporting their children’s learning. This good approach encourages self-directed learning and when used in the following lesson can be structured to develop students’ applied business skills. Another similar methodology was used in senior cycle Economics. This is of particular merit in the current business climate where economic issues are so prevalent in the print and visual media.
The high degree of consistency in teaching methodologies results in the creation of secure learning environments for the students. Student learning was supported through the teaching of the subjects. Questioning was frequently used to assess student progress and in general a mix of whole-class and individually directed questions were used. Current examples were frequently used to enhance students understanding of business theory. Classes were well disciplined with an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust evident in the interactions between students and teachers. This was also obvious at a whole-school level as the behaviour of students between classes was very good.
While all classes are designated as mixed ability it was evident that the ability levels within classes were relatively homogenous. Pacing was suited to the class groups and, at junior cycle, set at a level that ensured learning outcomes were attained within the time allocation. Despite an implicit emphasis on achievement and assessment outcomes, over reliance on notes as a teaching aid within the subjects was not evident. It is commendable that the teaching objectives within the subjects remain focused on the delivery of the curriculum, in its entirety, to all of the students.
Seating arrangements were varied and included paired and group seating. The arrangements were managed effectively by the teachers to support the attainment of learning objectives and to enable teachers to support students in their learning.
Teachers are mainly classroom based and while there was some evidence of students’ work displayed in the rooms this was not evident across the year groups. This is an area that could be developed within the teaching of the subjects that would enhance the learning experiences of students in a practical and interesting way.
Junior cycle participation in Business Studies exceeds the national norm for the subject on a year- to-year basis. Of particular merit is the high proportion of students who take the Junior Certificate examination at higher level. Participation rates in the subjects collectively at senior cycle are very strong with the majority of students opting for Business as is consistent with the national pattern. The subject department has a very good consistent approach towards determining subject levels for examination purposes. Decisions about levels in examinations are delayed until late in each cycle. This affords students the opportunity to make informed decisions about the level appropriate for them.
Results in formal assessments are communicated to parents twice yearly through issued reports and through parent-teacher meetings held during the year. Teachers use a mix of manual records and the school’s e-portal system to record student results. Record keeping, by all teachers, including attendance records, is very good. Despite the absence of a formal whole-school policy on assessment there is very good consistent practice among the team as regards the frequency of homework assigned and continual formal assessment of student progress.
An examination of a sample of student exercises indicated that nearly all students were completing the homework assigned and teachers regularly checked the exercises. The examination of student exercises also indicated that in many cases attention is not paid to spelling errors. Improving students’ general literacy should be part of the evaluation of student written work in order to develop students’ life skills and consideration should be given to focusing on general literacy at a subject level within the subject plan.
There was a good variety in the modes of assessment used to assess student progress. Continuous assessment of student attainment on the completion of specific learning outcomes is frequently used to assess progress. These assessments and in-house examinations include an appropriate balance of long and short answer questions. In some classes, students that perform poorly in assessments must re-take the assessment in order to demonstrate improved performance. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed as it may be de-motivating for students for whom poor test performance is ability related.
There is an implicit emphasis on performance in the certificate examinations within classes. Questions used mirror those from past examinations and class tests are corrected using detailed marking schemes. Underlying many of the questions asked by senior cycle students were issues pertinent to performance in certificate examinations. However, most teachers were careful to ensure that the emphasis on examinations remained focused in examination classes and that the achievement of overall learning outcomes were emphasised in all years.
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, November 2009