An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Catholic University School
89 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2
Roll number: 60540V
Date of inspection: 25 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Business Subjects
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Catholic University School (CUS) conducted 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 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 deputy principal and subject teachers.
In CUS business education is well represented through the provision of Business Studies at junior cycle and the three business options, Accounting, Business and Economics at senior cycle. Business Studies is an optional subject for students entering first year and there has been a marginal rate of decline in the subject’s uptake in recent years. The number of students taking the subjects at senior cycle has been relatively consistent for the past number of years and that is an indication of the strength of the subject provision within the school.
The majority of students participate in the Transition Year (TY) programme, which means that those students who previously did not take business have an opportunity to engage with it before making their choices for senior cycle options. Despite this, the level of ab initio take up of the subjects to senior cycle is quite low. The majority of students who have taken Business Studies at junior cycle retain at least one of the options at senior cycle and take-up is strongest in the case of Business and Economics. In recent years the number of students opting for Accounting at senior cycle has been declining with no sixth-year class in the current year. The school’s management is to be commended for the continued commitment to providing the subject at senior cycle.
Time allocated to the subjects at senior cycle is excellent with five periods in fifth year and six periods in sixth year. The class periods are spread through the week, which is a good mechanism for promoting continuity between classes and providing students with the opportunity to complete assigned work.
At junior cycle however, the overall time allocated to the teaching of the subject is well below the recommended level. There are only three periods in each year. The occurrence of double periods in junior cycle, as may be necessitated by the option bands, creates an additional difficulty. If other scheduled activities occur on particular days then two thirds of a week’s lessons in the subject may be lost. There are also recurring instances in which class groups are shared among teachers and the teachers allocated to classes often change on a year-by–year basis.
Staff turnover among business teachers is high mainly because of the high number of part-time and contract teachers in the subject area. Preference is in assigning permanent staff to the senior cycle subjects. The timetable difficulties presently at junior cycle are due only in part to the turnover in teachers. Substantial revision to the timetable, especially the number of class periods allocated, and consistency in teacher allocation to class groups through the cycle is essential in order to support students maximising their learning outcomes in the subject.
As resources allow, within the school’s overall staffing allocation, consideration should be given to appointing an additional permanent teacher of business subjects. This would provide the school with greater certainty in teacher allocation and allow rotation at the senior cycle according to the particular skills and interests of teachers.
Students only have timetabled provision for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Transition Year (TY). There is some limited evidence that teachers of business incorporate ICT as an occasional teaching tool. The ongoing improvement in the school’s physical infrastructure provides an excellent opportunity to integrate further ICT into the teaching of the subjects. However, reflecting the high level of student access to ICT outside school, most teachers make reference in the teaching of the subjects to additional resource material available on-line to students.
The emphasis on planning is for the short term and is teacher centred. The level of individual teacher preparation for classes is very good. Work is organised to meet the needs and abilities of each student group, while ensuring that the overall curriculum objectives are achieved. Lessons are planned daily and there was evidence that appropriate materials and resources were sourced and prepared in advance by the teachers.
However, no overall agreed plan for the subjects exists. This creates particular difficulties in the junior cycle given staff turnover and the inconsistent allocation of teachers to class groups throughout the cycle. Furthermore, no formal provision is made for the retention of plans and schemes when teachers leave mid-year or mid-cycle. This makes it difficult for new teachers. It is strongly recommended that a plan be agreed for the teaching of junior cycle Business Studies. The schemes and plans already completed by individual teachers can be used as a basis for the overall plan. Formal time should be scheduled for the coordination of the material that currently exists. Of particular importance is the need to agree the sequencing and early introduction of the bookkeeping elements of the junior cycle programme.
Within the next three years an overall plan for business subjects should be developed. In preparing for the development of this plan, an analysis should be undertaken to assess the factors influencing subject choice at senior cycle. This analysis should include an assessment of the appropriateness of the TY modular business programme in informing student choice. Though some work has been undertaken to vary the learning experiences in TY, especially the modular programmes in Marketing and European Studies, there is scope to further review the business modules to ensure that they do not duplicate the senior cycle business syllabuses. In addition, there should be a greater emphasis on more active learning methodologies and project work in the business modules in TY.
A range of resources are used in the teaching of the subjects, including textbooks, notes, handouts, and question banks. There was evidence that handouts are prepared and stored electronically which is good practice as they can be retained and updated regularly. At senior cycle especially, teachers source current materials in order to maintain student engagement and develop students’ applied business knowledge. Screens and overhead projectors (OHPs) are available and used in an appropriate and timely manner to support the teaching of the subjects.
Lessons observed were generally well structured and appropriately paced to suit the mixed-ability levels of the students. The approach to the organisation of teaching time was quite similar and included an introductory statement of the lesson objective. Material from the previous lessons was referred to or revised and there was no over dependence on textbooks in the teaching.
A good range of teaching methodologies was observed. Many of the teachers are recently qualified and bring a freshness of approach and willingness to mix methodologies. Knowledge of the subject areas was good and the teaching of business theory was often supported through the use of examples demonstrating its application to the lives of the students.
Questions were frequently used to review, clarify and elicit information. However, questions were often addressed to the whole class and consideration should be given to the balance between directed and whole-class questions. Often when global questions are used, the more confident students respond more readily and other students may disengage from the learning process. Targeted questioning can be used effectively to differentiate between ability levels and is a very effective methodology with mixed-ability class groups. There was one good example where questioning strategies challenged students to analyse interpret and apply information. This good practice should be promoted in all lessons to develop higher-order thinking skills and develop class discussion.
Classroom management was good in the lessons observed. A positive rapport between students and teachers and clearly established behavioural expectations were evident in all the classrooms visited. Classrooms were generally well organised and often desks arranged to facilitate paired and group work as appropriate. This also eased the movement of teachers through the class to support students in their learning.
Teaching resources used were largely traditional. Presentation of material on the blackboards was good but there is scope for more use of other audio-visual aids in the teaching of the subjects. However, care must be taken to ensure that material presented using OHPs is accessible to all students.
On occasion students were somewhat passive in their engagement with the lesson content. It is advised that teachers use more active learning methodologies, especially in TY that facilitate the engagement of all students, regardless of learning style, with the material in the class. There was little evidence of the development of applied business skills at junior cycle but this is difficult given the constrictions of the time allocation.
There were very few examples of business materials in the classroom environments though some effort had been made to create print-rich environments in other subjects. As many of the teachers are classroom based, there is scope to develop the physical learning environment for the subjects. This is good practice as it creates a positive classroom atmosphere and can be used to encourage students to apply the learning outcomes in a practical and real way.
An examination of a sample of student exercises indicated that students were generally completing the homework assigned and teachers periodically checked the exercises. There was evidence that a variety of methods are used to check work completed including self annotation, in-class checking and teachers reviewing copybooks to evaluate and record completion of work done. However, there was little formal evaluation of the written homework completed and it is advised that regular reviews of student work should include comments advising on how students might improve their performance.
There was evidence of the use of regular in-class assessments by teachers. This is consistent with the school’s assessment and reporting policy. In junior cycle, the policy assignment of weekly grades culminating in monthly grades reported to parents is adhered to. In some classes a greater emphasis was placed on the use of frequent in-class tests. While there was a lot of good practice in the design of assessment tests, occasionally, there was an over-emphasis on short-answer style questions and this may not always allow for the development of higher-order skills. It is important to balance class tests with other modes of assessment especially in junior cycle because there are only three periods per week and there may be significant time gaps between lessons.
Assessments are corrected using marking schemes which mirror practice in the state examinations. This helps improve students’ exam techniques. Generally, the teachers were very careful to ensure that the emphasis on examinations remained focused in examination classes and that the achievement of overall learning outcomes was emphasised in all years. Care must be taken to ensure that revision lessons focus both on the revision of material and exam techniques.
As part of the development of an overall plan for Business Studies, it is recommended that common assessments be used in the junior cycle. Common assessments for the summer examination in first and second year would be appropriate in the existing mixed-ability groupings. These assessments would ensure consistency in completion of syllabus units on a year-by-year basis but would also allow teachers’ scope to sequence the outcomes according to their own and the students’ interests and abilities.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
The commitment of the management to continuity in provision from junior to senior cycle of the three business subject options is very good.
The ongoing improvement in the school’s physical infrastructure provides an excellent opportunity to integrate further use of ICT into the teaching of the subjects.
Individual teacher planning and preparation for classes was very good.
Classroom management skills were good with emphasis on creating a supportive learning environment.
The teaching of the subjects was supported through emphasis on the correct use of business terminology.
In some classes emphasis was placed on providing students with guidance with respect to Internet resources.
The teachers of the subjects adhered to the school’s assessment practices.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Improving the timetable provision for the subject at junior cycle is an immediate priority in order to ensure that:
The number of periods for junior cycle Business Studies class groups is increased from the current allocation of three periods per year
One teacher is assigned to each class group and there are no shared classes
Every effort is made to ensure that teachers are consistently allocated to individual class group through the junior cycle.
Business teachers should collectively agree and plan a common programme for junior cycle Business Studies.
A formal review of all business modules of the TY programme should be undertaken.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of business subjects and with the deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.