An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of Business Subjects

REPORT

 

Clonaslee Vocational School

Clonaslee, County Laois

Roll number: 71470O

 

Date of inspection: 24 April 2009

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Business Subjects

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Clonaslee Vocational School. 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.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

In Clonaslee Vocational School business education is represented by the subjects Business Studies at junior cycle and Accounting at senior cycle.  Business Studies is a core subject for all students at junior cycle. The school is a small rural vocational school where Accounting at senior cycle, is by necessity, provided on the same subject band as History.  This results in a gender imbalance in the take up of the subject at senior cycle, with mainly girls taking Accounting. 

 

It is unusual for a school this size to provide Accounting rather than the more popular subject Business at senior cycle. However, this decision is appropriate given the skills and competencies of the teachers. It also accommodates the interests of students, and the emphasis placed on the bookkeeping elements in the teaching of the junior cycle subject.

 

The time allocated to the subjects at both junior and senior cycle is excellent. At both junior and senior cycle the class periods are spread through the week, which is important for establishing good interaction between students and teachers. While a double period at senior cycle would be desirable, the involvement of senior management in teaching the subject means that the single periods are preferable in order to ensure continuity in instruction time.

 

It is evident that the school’s ethos is very student centred. The school environment is clean and inviting and students move in an orderly manner between classes.  In the coming academic year it is proposed that all business students will have access to two sets of textbooks, a class set and a second set that is retained by students at home for their own use. This is a commendable decision, supported by fundraising by the parents’ association. It will minimise the weight of students’ school bags and ensure that they have access to the appropriate texts during class time.  Throughout the inspection visit staff demonstrated concern for their students and a desire to ensure that learning outcomes are met to a high level. This is further evidence of the student-centred school ethos. 

 

Ensuring continuity in provision of the specialist subject is challenging. The school is very dependent on existing staff, as well as its ability to attract staff with the relevant specialism if required. This is reflected in the current year with one member commendably taking on additional teaching responsibilities in the absence of a colleague. In the future, consideration should be given to broadening the range of senior cycle Business subjects provided if appropriate to the needs of the management of the school and the overall curriculum programme.

 

The school community is justifiably proud of its current campus.  However, constrained by an inadequate number of classrooms, some common areas have been adapted as temporary classrooms. This is not ideal as lesson continuity can be disrupted by the movement of students through these areas to enter other classrooms. The school is currently undertaking a building project that will add four classrooms. This is to be welcomed as it will alleviate the difficulties created by inadequate classroom space. It is recommended that one of these rooms is dedicated as a business room. This will provide a base classroom for all teachers of the subjects and facilitate storage of business resources. It will also enable the development of ICT resources to support the teaching of business and the development of students applied business skills.

 

The school shares a teacher of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) with another school in the area and this places constraints on the allocation of time to the teaching of ICT across the student cohort. All first-year students are timetabled for ICT and it forms an important part of the Transition Year (TY) programme. The school has broadband access though it was reported during the evaluation that the service was unreliable and slow.  This is disappointing as the business teachers are capable of using ICT to support the teaching of the subject in a dynamic and interactive way should the service prove reliable.

 

Planning and preparation

 

Comprehensive subject planning documentation was provided during the evaluation.  A review of the documents indicated that regular subject department meetings are held, and that the outcomes are recorded. During the evaluation it was evident that decisions reached at the meetings are acted on, for example, the move to common assessments at junior cycle. 

 

The subject plans are strongly influenced by the expectation that all students experience the full curriculum in each of the Business subjects. This maximises options when it comes to deciding the level at which they will take the subject in examinations. It was reported that decisions about the level at which students take subjects are delayed until late in the cycle as is consistent with best practice. Of particular merit is that additional voluntary support is available to leaving certificate candidates where specific needs are identified.

 

The Transition Year (TY) business plan is well structured and with emphasis on the completion of a range of modules that are designed to improve students business knowledge.  Revisions to the plan should specify the experiential learning outcomes and appropriate teaching methodologies required to encourage the further development of students applied business skills.

 

Lessons are planned daily and there was evidence that appropriate materials and resources are sourced and prepared in advance by teachers. The teachers were well prepared for the lessons observed. 

 

It is planned that the new classrooms will have improved access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities to support teaching and learning. Currently, most students do not have access to computers as a learning resource.  The new resource rooms will provide the school with an opportunity, in the context of development planning, to improve access to ICTs as a teaching resource particularly to junior cycle students.

 

Teaching and learning

 

Some good quality teaching and learning was evident in the lessons observed during the inspection. Lessons were generally methodical and students were clear about the expected learning outcomes. There was an appropriate mix of theory and practical exercises in each class. 

 

Students were well behaved and encouraged to engage in the learning activities, which were appropriate to their age and ability level. A wide range of abilities was evident in class groups and the principles of mixed-ability teaching applied in each lesson. The teachers have attempted to maximise room size and layout to accommodate techniques for mixed-ability teaching and the optimum learning environment for students.

 

An atmosphere of respect exists among students, both for each other and for the teacher.  Students, particularly at senior cycle, work in co-operation with the teachers to maximise their learning outcomes. Paired work is encouraged, particularly in the context of teaching accounting elements. This is an effective way of promoting co-operation and shared ownership of the achievement of learning outcomes. 

 

One excellent example was observed at junior cycle where knowledge of the wider business environment was improved through project work. The lesson was well structured and inclusive. Students were also encouraged to reflect on their contribution to the project with the whole group.  The approach was very effective in exploring the application of theory to practical examples. This good practice should be adopted by all the team and formalised within the subject plans.

 

Late in each cycle, when the level at which each student will take the examination is determined, smaller work groups are set up in the lessons.  This is a useful technique in promoting shared learning through the completion of practical exercises. 

 

In preparing for the Junior Certificate, teaching methodologies emphasised practice in completing examination questions to help increase students’ confidence and application skills. Care must be taken when using this approach that students’ capacity to interpret questions is also encouraged.

 

Affirmation of students’ achievements is integrated into the teaching style. Learning is valued and positive phrases are used when responding to student questions, which is to be commended.  Students are encouraged to ask questions. However, there was an overdependence on global questions in some lessons observed and the team are encouraged to broaden the range of appropriate questioning styles to encourage all students to participate. 

 

Students’ knowledge and abilities are generally good and they are familiar with the use of appropriate business terminology when responding to questions. There is a strong emphasis on the bookkeeping elements of the junior cycle syllabus. While in some lessons there was a very good emphasis on neatness and presentation of accounts this was not consistent among the team. Therefore the very good practice that does exist should be shared among the subject team. 

  

Assessment

 

The school has a homework policy that sets out the frequency, modes and expected duration of work to be assigned to each year group. All teachers are expected to maintain their own record of homework completed. In all lessons observed the teachers monitored homework at the start of each lesson, which helped revise previous material and check student knowledge and understanding. However, while records indicated that homework is assigned regularly, there are inconsistencies in how it is being recorded and evaluated. Where good practice exists, teachers use a combination of self-marking by students and periodic monitoring with evaluative comment by teachers. These periodic formal evaluations, supported by formal recording of attainment, are to be encouraged as they further affirm students’ achievements. Furthermore in relation to record keeping, teachers are advised to record student absence from individual lessons. This will promote continuity between lessons and minimise disruptions caused by teachers questioning students as to the reason why work is not completed.

 

Common assessments are used and at school level formal assessments are completed three times each year. Continual assessment was also evident during the evaluation. It was clear that these assessments were planned to complement the completion of specified topics on a regular basis.

 

Teachers are encouraged to work with the learning-support teacher in instances where differentiated tests are required to meet students’ specific educational needs. In examination classes, the same topics are covered concurrently for all students yet differentiated for higher and ordinary level candidates. This practice is effective and inclusive, involving all students in the work of the class.

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·     Time allocation for the subjects is excellent, and Business Studies is a core subject for all students in junior cycle.

·     The senior cycle subject choice reflects the skills and competencies of the subject team and the needs of students.

·     The proposed use of a double set of textbooks is commendable as it reduces the weight of students’ school bags and ensures that they have access to the

    appropriate texts during class time. 

·     Materials prepared are appropriate to the needs of students and matched to the designated learning outcomes for classes.

·     Good classroom management techniques are used by teachers that are appropriate to mixed ability settings.

  • Classroom atmospheres are positive with a substantial body of work completed by students during the academic year.
  • Student attainment is very good given the school’s contextual factors.

·     Appropriate and relevant homework is assigned for students.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • One classroom should be assigned and appropriately equipped as a specialist room for the teaching of business subjects.

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and teachers of business subjects at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published, November 2009