An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Cashel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65300D
Date of inspection: 7 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Business Subjects
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rockwell College. 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 this subject 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.
In Rockwell College 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. 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 strong uptake in senior cycle is an indication of the students’ positive experience of the subject through junior cycle. The inclusion of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme in senior cycle with its links to the business department is another strength in the school’s business provision.
The recent improvement in the number of classes allocated to the teaching of the subject in first year is welcome as is the allocation of subject specialist teachers. This is important as it ensures that students benefit from the subject expertise of the business teachers in the teaching of the subject. Should scope arise in the timetable in future years, consideration should be given to increasing the number of classes allocated in first year to 4, consistent with the other years of the junior cycle. The school’s management are commended for their continued commitment to the provision of Business Studies as part of the core curriculum in junior cycle.
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. The timetabled provision for the Link Modules of the LCVP falls marginally short of the recommended time of 5 periods over the two years of the programme. Among the options that might be considered to increase the allocation is the formal inclusion of the Guidance Teacher for a timetabled class with each group.
The school’s management respond on a needs basis to requests for additional resources. The recent refurbishment of some of the business classrooms includes facilities that maximise the potential of classrooms in creating positive physical learning environments. The inclusion of bookcases, poster rails and noticeboards allow for a focus on creating a print-rich environment and there is evidence that even in the short space of time since occupying the rooms teachers have started to create news boards and display materials appropriate to the teaching of the subjects. This approach was also evidenced in some of the older classrooms in the school. This is consistent with good practice in the teaching of the subjects and should be progressed so that the physical learning environment is used to increase students’ awareness of the wider business environment.
Students generally have limited timetabled provision for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) but LCVP students have good access to the resource for the completion of portfolio material. On occasion references were made in the teaching of the subjects to additional material available on-line to students.
The teachers’ commitment to professional development is evidenced in a number of ways. Some of the teachers are members of the subject association; others have undertaken further studies and/or acted as assistant examiners for the State Examinations Commission. Skills and competencies in the area of ICT have also been developed by some of the team and this was evident in the use of ICT as a teaching tool in some lessons.
One of the strengths of the provision for the subjects in the school is the capacity for the teaching team to work effectively towards planning for the subjects particularly in the short term. The working relationship between the team is characterised by regular formal and informal meetings to discuss progress in relation to achievement of outcomes. The subject planning template provided by the SDPI has been used to plan for the delivery of each of the subject areas. Co-operation with the teachers of the Link Modules of the LCVP is good and is strengthened by the involvement of business teachers with the programme.
At junior cycle, the team have agreed a planned approach towards achieving the syllabus outcomes. Review systems are in place as is evidenced by the decision to increase the concentration of bookkeeping in first year. The subject teachers are cognisant of the capacity of the junior cycle programme to determine students’ preferences and choices at senior cycle and actively review both the approach at junior cycle and the content of the Transition Year programme in supporting students in making these decisions. Future objectives for subject planning might include formalising the cross-curricular links between business subjects and the LCVP and strengthening the correlation between the subject teachers in relation to the achievement of agreed learning outcomes for the first year Business Studies programme. This is particularly important as teachers do not necessarily retain the classes through the cycle though improvements have been made by school management in relation to this.
Individual planning and lesson preparation by teachers is good and in some instances excellent. Outline lesson plans were presented by all teachers for the day of inspection. The emphasis on preparation was evident in the quality of many of the lessons observed. Of particular merit was the absence of textbook dependency in the teaching of business theory. Review of student materials indicated that this is integral to the teaching of the subjects in the school.
A wide range of resources was used and applied in a timely and appropriate manner to support the teaching of the subjects. There were some excellent examples of the use of ICT’s in the teaching of the subjects despite the limited resources available in the school. On occasion the school’s resources were supplemented by the teachers own resources e.g. laptop. There was widespread use of teaching aids including whiteboards, OHPs and handouts. The integration of these aids with the teaching of the lessons was seamless and also engaged the range of learning styles among the students.
The overall standard of teaching in the subjects was very good. Lessons were sequential and well paced with students clear about the expected learning outcomes from each class. In the lessons observed very strong emphasis was placed on the integration of new material with students’ existing knowledge of the topics. In addition, the incorporation of current and topical examples in the teaching of business theory engages students with the material and develops their applied business skills. A particular strength among the business teachers is their subject expertise and knowledge of developments in the wider business environment.
The teachers’ presentation of their own work is generally good but in some classes this is not mirrored by students in the completion of their own work. Increased emphasis, particularly in the teaching of bookkeeping and accounts, should be placed on encouraging students to be neat and number and date questions as this is an essential skill in record keeping. Improved emphasis will result in the practice extending in the students’ presentation of work in the subjects through to the senior cycle.
Classes were very well disciplined with an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust 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. This enables the teachers to concentrate during lesson time on teaching, which benefits students’ attainment in the subjects.
While business classes are mixed ability it was evident that the ability levels within class groups is relatively homogenous. The pacing of lessons is suited to the class groups and set at a level that maximises learning outcomes while meeting the needs of the ability ranges within class. This encourages students both to strive to achieve high outcomes in the subjects and participate at higher level in the state examination process. To support this, teachers of the subject delay differentiation until late in each cycle thereby improving students’ opportunities to take the subject at higher level.
Student learning is supported through the teaching of the subjects. Questioning was frequently used both to assess student progress and affirm attainment. A mix of global and directed questions was used and very good practice was observed in relation to questions tailored to students of different ability levels, thereby affirming individual student learning. Students’ use of appropriate business terms was very good as evidenced by their responses in class.
The physical classroom environments were structured to facilitate paired and group work and this was a feature of all of the lessons observed. Emphasis was placed in the completion of practical activities on paired work and it was evident from the students’ reactions that this was a regular feature in the teaching of the subjects.
Teaching methodologies were varied to ensure that the different learning styles of students were accommodated in order to engage whole class groups with the material. Some excellent examples were observed that include review and reinforcement through questioning; the introduction of new material through visual prompts and discussion; emphasis on key terms through notes and worked examples and application of theory through practice. In all instances appropriate exercises and follow-up activities were planned.
The application of whole-school policies in relation to development of study skills was also evident in the teaching of the subjects including the use of mnemonics and mind maps as revision aids for students.
The level of engagement of students with the subjects was generally very high as was evidenced by their responses in class and the spontaneity with which they asked questions, sought clarification and contributed with personal examples.
There are bi-annual house examinations for all year groups. Results in formal examinations are communicated to parents through issued reports and through parent-teacher meetings held during the year. In addition, monthly reports are issued to parents reporting on students’ progress and application in the subjects. Regular class tests are also given usually monthly or at the end of a topic or unit. Teachers are also encouraged to use the school journal to communicate weekly with parents in relation to students’ progress and there was evidence during the inspection that business teachers who are class tutors to junior cycle classes are adhering to this policy.
Consideration should be given to the setting of common formal examinations in first year as classes are mixed ability and the subject team have agreed the syllabus and learning outcomes to be completed. This would ensure consistency in attainment and would be beneficial as the class groupings may change for the remainder of the cycle.
Daily attendance records are maintained by each teacher as are records of assessment outcomes. There was little evidence of records maintained of homework reviewed and it is advised that teachers consider how this can be systematically maintained. The combination of formal examinations, regular class tests and homework ensures that a variety of modes of assessment are used to assess students’ progress. The balance achieved by the subject teachers also ensures that students have the opportunity to develop higher-order skills that test understanding and application.
In most cases homework is generally assigned at the end of each class. An examination of a sample of students’ exercises indicated that students were generally completing the homework assigned and there was evidence that most teachers periodically annotated the exercises. However, with little formal evaluation of the written homework completed it is advised that the teachers’ review of the work should include comments about how students might improve their performance. In addition, the review of exercises also indicated that students were generally not attentive to the presentation of their work. This was particularly evident in some classes in the presentation of bookkeeping and accounting questions. Neither was attention given to the development of general literacy skills. Neatness and presentation are important skills in record keeping and it is recommended that a subject department approach to this be incorporated as part of the plan for the subject particularly at junior cycle.
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.