An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Scoil Muire gan Smál,
Convent of Mercy, Roscommon
Roll number: 65090S
Date of inspection: 5 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the quality of learning and teaching in business subjects
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Muire gan Smál, Roscommon. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Business subjects form a significant part of the curriculum in Scoil Muire gan Smál. All students take Business Studies in first year. At the end of first year the subject is an optional choice for students to Junior Certificate. The uptake of the subject to Junior Certificate is excellent, well above the national average. Subject selection for senior cycle is made in third year or Transition Year as appropriate. Many of the students taking business options at senior cycle do so as part of their vocational subject grouping (VSG) of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).
The management of the school is committed to offering the widest subject choice possible to students. At senior cycle all three business options, Accounting, Business, and Economics, are offered to students. This shows a commitment to continuity in provision of the subject within the school’s curriculum. While demand is not always sufficient to sustain a class group in Economics, as in the current school year, the teachers stressed their ongoing commitment to the provision of the subject. Overall, the uptake of business subjects to Leaving Certificate appears to be good but this may be because a number of students take more than one business subject. Therefore, it is recommended that the participation rates at senior cycle are reviewed as part of the subject planning process to monitor the level of uptake to senior cycle.
At junior cycle the time allocation to Business Studies is not consistent through the three years. There are three periods per week allocated in first year. This resulted from a decision by school management and the business teachers to allocate one of the business periods towards the teaching of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). This was a commendable decision and where business teachers are involved in teaching ICT to first years, the programme includes learning outcomes that develop students applied ICT skills towards Business Studies. It is important to ensure that all students benefit from this approach and agreement should be reached among all the teachers of ICT as to the business elements that should be included in the ICT programme for first years.
The allocation is restored to four periods in second and third year. Given the business learning outcomes included in the ICT programme for the majority of first year students, the overall allocation is therefore appropriate to the subject at junior cycle.
From second year, teachers retain classes through the cycle. There is an agreed programme for Business Studies at junior cycle which requires teachers to plan for the subject in a systematic way. This is good practice and ensures a very high degree of consistency in teaching and learning outcomes completed on a year by year basis.
At senior cycle the allocation of five periods per week to the subjects is appropriate. The inclusion of one double period in this overall allocation is particularly effective for the teaching of Accounting where longer practical exercises are undertaken in class.
Timetabled provision for the Link Modules of the LCVP is 5 periods spread over the two years of the programme and is in line with best practice. The business teachers are greatly involved in the teaching of the Link Modules and there was evidence of the development of cross curricular links, particularly with Business, during the inspection visit.
The allocation of subjects to teachers at senior cycle reflects their individual interests and competencies in the different aspects of the business curriculum. A positive feature in the allocation is the involvement of business teachers in the enterprise elements of both TY and the LCVP. When required, there is rotation of teachers in order to meet the needs of the school. This indicates good cooperation among the business team, and is important for both the professional development of the business teachers and ensuring continuity of provision of all business options on the senior cycle curriculum.
During the inspection visit a range of planning material relating to business subjects was made available. It was evident that considerable attention has been paid to the development of subject plans. This has been possible because of the regular formal and informal meetings among the team where the plans are discussed and reviewed especially the achievement of learning outcomes. The position of subject co-ordinator is rotated among the team on a voluntary basis.
At junior cycle, the team has agreed a planned approach towards achieving the syllabus outcomes. This is particularly important especially in first year as teachers do not retain the classes through the cycle though the school’s management strives to ensure that they do, as far as is possible.
Transition Year (TY) is an optional choice for students but the majority participate in the programme. The business programme in TY provides a number of modular options including, Tourism, Mini-Company and all students take Vocational Preparation. Though not included as part of this inspection visit it is clear from the planning documentation and discussion that a thematic approach is adopted in the teaching of business modules within TY. The content of these modules is consistent with the aims and objectives of the TY programme. The emphasis is on promoting a thematic approach and ensuring that the learning experiences and outcomes differ from those in the junior and senior cycle. While off-the-shelf modules are used, a future objective for subject planning might include promoting economic awareness through the modules which will assist in promoting students’ interest in the subject as they move towards Leaving Certificate.
The teachers showed an awareness of the need for review within subject planning to meet the changing needs of students. For example, the planning documentation included references for the teaching of newcomer students, whose first language is not English (ESL). This shows a positive awareness by the subject specialists to take account of ESL students in their class and to adapt their methodologies to best meet the needs of these students. This is of particular merit, and during the inspection it was evident that efforts were made to integrate these objectives and approaches into the teaching of the subjects
The involvement of business teachers with the Link Modules of the LCVP programme is a particular strength in the programme’s provision within the school. As many students take Business as one of their VSG’s it is important that cross-curricular links are developed between the Business and the Link Modules. This was evident during the visit with frequent referencing during Business lessons to the relatedness of the material to particular aspects of the Enterprise module.
Individual planning and lesson preparation by teachers is good. The emphasis on preparation was evident in many of the lessons observed. Of particular merit was the absence of textbook dependency in the teaching of business subjects. A review of student materials indicated that this approach is widespread in the teaching of the subjects in the school.
A range of resources was used and applied in an appropriate manner to support the teaching of the subjects. There were examples of the use of ICT’s in the teaching of the subjects. There was wide use of teaching aids including whiteboards, OHPs and handouts. The integration of these aids with the teaching of the lessons was good.
The overall standard of teaching in the subjects was very good. The lessons observed were well prepared and followed a logical approach that included; revision of past class work and homework; the introduction of new material; and the practical application of new concepts particularly in bookkeeping and accounting.
The business teachers are enthusiastic and interested in ensuring that student learning outcomes for the subjects are attained and that students are well prepared for assessment outcomes in the subjects. All classes are mixed ability in nature and appropriate methodologies are used to ensure that each student is enabled to reach a high level of attainment. Of particular merit in the teaching of the subjects is the delayed differentiation of student learning outcomes and tasks until late in each cycle. This is very good practice when teaching in mixed ability settings and ensures that student outcomes are maximised. It is commendable that while practising revision questions from past examination papers, questions set are from the same area of the syllabuses for both higher and ordinary level students, as was evident in Accounting lessons at senior cycle.
While teachers show distinct preferences for specific elements of the junior cycle programme all teachers are aware of the importance of including both the bookkeeping and the business elements in their teaching. This is also emphasised in the agreed subject plan for Business Studies. Students are encouraged to be neat and to number and date questions. As this is an essential skill in record keeping it is commendable that it extends to all aspects of the presentation of student work in class.
Teachers respond patiently and promptly to student questions and positively affirm the students’ contributions in class. The rooms and seating arrangements can facilitate paired and group work though in some class rooms the layout favours individual work. There is scope to improve the use of paired and group work in some of the junior cycle classes. This technique would further support teaching when student tasks are differentiated especially in examination year groups.
While print rich classroom environments have been created this has been mainly through the use of commercially sourced materials. At junior cycle there is little evidence of students’ own work displayed in the rooms. This is an area that could be developed by the subject team, especially with first year classes as it would enhance the learning experiences of students in a practical and interesting way and allow for the use of ICTs in preparing the materials.
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 was used. Current examples were frequently used to enhance students understanding of business theory and this was used to develop cross curricular links with the LCVP in senior cycle. Also good practice in the use of Applied Business Questions (ABQ’s) was evident where they were used as a revision tool in the teaching of Business.
An atmosphere of mutual respect and trust is evident in the interactions between teachers and students. This was also evident at a whole school level where the behaviour of students during breaks and lesson transition was very good, as was the level of compliance by students with the uniform code. This enables the teachers to concentrate during lesson time on teaching which benefits students’ attainment in the subjects.
A revised model of assessment has been introduced at whole school level that incorporates more frequent formal in-class assessment. These assessments form the basis of profiling student progress in the subjects. The teachers’ records indicated adherence to the policy as there was consistency across class groups in the number of assessments conducted since the start of the school year. In emphasising formalised frequent in-class assessment, care must be taken to achieve an appropriate balance between these assessments and other forms of assessing progress including formal written homework.
Common assessments are used in all examinations except for mock examinations. This reflects both teacher and student expectations in respect of achievement and supports the emphasis in delaying differentiation in students’ levels until late in each cycle thereby improving student opportunities to take the subject at higher level. Also team expertise has been shared in the development of formal marking schemes which are used in correcting in-house examinations. At a whole school level results are recorded using specialist software and results are communicated to parents/guardians through issued reports, and through parent teacher meetings held during the year.
Homework is monitored at the start of class and is used as a revision mechanism and a check on student knowledge and understanding. Homework exercises are corrected primarily on a whole class basis though there was considerable evidence, particularly at junior cycle, of teachers monitoring the completion of homework by students. An examination of a sample of student exercises indicated that students were generally completing the homework assigned and teachers periodically checked the exercises.
The school’s management regularly reviews attainment rates by students in examinations in comparison with the national norms and communicated to the subject team to be considered in the context of subject planning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Time allocation to the subjects is good and at senior cycle includes double periods, which are especially beneficial in the teaching of Accounting.
· The subject is optional at junior cycle and uptake is excellent, well above the national average.
· A thematic approach is taken to the structure and content of business modules in Transition Year, which is consistent with the principles of the programme.
· Subject planning and individual teacher preparation is very good.
· Student behaviour, both inside and outside the formal classroom environment, was evident during the inspection visit was excellent.
· There is a high degree of consistency in the approach to classroom management among the business teachers.
· Differentiation is delayed until the examination year. This is a very good approach in mixed ability settings and is supported through the pace and pitch of the teaching.
· Student outcomes and level of uptake at higher level in State examinations are very good.
· Good systems exist to review student outcomes against national norms that focus on subject development.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Having taken a very proactive approach in allocating one of the first year Business Studies class periods to the teaching of ICT, agreement should be reached with all
the teachers of ICT as to the business elements that should be included in the ICT programme for first years.
· In emphasising formalised frequent in-class assessments, care must be taken to achieve an appropriate balance between these assessments and other forms of
assessing progress including formal written homework.
A post-evaluation meeting was 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.