An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Raphoe, County Donegal
Roll number: 71230R
Date of inspection: 12 March 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Business Subjects
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Deele College, Raphoe 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and subject teachers.
In Deele College business education is represented through the provision of Business Studies at junior cycle and Business at senior cycle. The school provides a wide range of curricular programmes including both the Junior Certificate and Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) at junior cycle. At senior cycle students opt for either the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) or the Transition Year programme (TY) and Established Leaving Certificate or Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).
There is a high degree of commitment evident among staff towards meeting the needs of the students in the school. Awareness of the range of curricular programmes and their appropriateness to individual students is good. The school management and the business teachers demonstrate a willingness to embrace new initiatives in the expectation of improving student outcomes.
The time allocated for the subjects at junior and senior cycle is excellent. In first year the subject is part of the core curriculum for all students and three periods are allocated. This is balanced by the provision of five periods per week in each of second and third year when the subject becomes optional. The provision of six periods per week at senior cycle is very good and this provision is used to strengthen co-curricular and cross-curricular links including links between Business and the Link Modules of the LCVP.
At the end of first year junior cycle students choose three optional subjects to take with their core subjects to Junior Certificate. While subject choice is open, a combination of the schoolís overall subject provision and socio-economic contextual factors results in an imbalance in gender take up of the Business Studies at junior cycle which carries forward to take up at senior cycle. Students should be made aware that participation in junior cycle Business Studies is not a prerequisite for taking the subject at senior cycle.
Formal systems are in place for the provision of additional resources for the subject through the mechanism of the subject department. Records indicate that in addition to the acquisition of teaching aids, a percentage of the budget has been used to provide class sets of materials including calculators in order to support students in organising their learning. This is reflective of the student-centred approach in planning and teaching evident during the inspection visit.
In the current academic year three of the business teachers have been relocated to the newly opened classrooms. These rooms are well laid out. In the short space of time since taking up occupancy, much work has been undertaken by the teachers in enriching the physical environment and in developing each room as a resource that will support teaching and learning. The physical proximity of the new classrooms provides the business team with an opportunity to further engage in team teaching and sharing of resources. Management is commended for its decision to co-locate teachers of the subject in these new rooms.
The teachersí knowledge of the subjects is current and maintained through either post-graduate study or active membership of the subject association. Of particular merit is the sharing of information among the team. For example, minutes of subject association meetings attended are recorded and relevant content presented to the subject team within the school. This is very good practice and could extend to feedback of all in-service involvement relevant to the subject team.
The subject team is cohesive and has worked together over a number of years. Those teachers that have worked in the school for a number of years have a clear working relationship that was reflected in the quality of their interaction during the inspection visit.
Planning documentation is of a very high quality. Of particular merit is the matching of subject aims to the schoolís mission statement. The subject schemes are very well laid out. The format is clear, matching topics with methodologies and proposed assessment techniques.
The first-year scheme of work, while closely following the prescribed text, provides a very good introduction to each element of the junior cycle business programme. However, it is advised that the schemes and learning outcomes for the second and third year be revised. In particular, the sequencing of bookkeeping topics should be reviewed. Currently, many of the bookkeeping higher-level outcomes are included in the third-year scheme. If progress is delayed then these outcomes may not receive adequate attention. This would therefore affect the studentsí capacity to take the examination at higher level. Some of these outcomes should be brought forward to the second-year programme. Setting challenging outcomes for students in their learning will help develop their competencies and ensure that they have greater confidence in their abilities. Another option to consider is to use the co-timetabling of the subject in second year for at least one period per week to allow team teaching or setting of the classes for the bookkeeping elements in particular.†
For the business teachers there is the challenge of linking the aims of the different programmes together especially when students are mixed within one classroom setting for example JCSP and Junior Certificate. However, the subject team meets this challenge well through careful individual planning. Also, teachers have created links across curricular areas that enrich the teaching and learning outcomes for themselves and the students. Among the range of activities are student enterprise, school bank, and school-business links. The teachers are commended for including and fostering a broad co-curricular programme that supports the teaching of business subjects.
The level of preparation by teachers for their classes is very good. Lessons are planned daily and as the majority of classes are of mixed ability, teachers have organised their work to meet the needs and abilities of each group. However, during the inspection it was apparent that students are choosing the level at which they will take subjects in the certificate examinations early in the relevant cycle. While postponing the decision with respect to levels has implications for the methodologies used by teachers, and the assessment modes employed, it is desirable that students would not choose levels until later in the respective programmes. The overall outcome would enhance student learning and improve student motivation.
In planning for lessons there is some very good practice in the use of information and communications technology (ICT) both as an aid to teaching and in providing additional materials to support students in their learning. It was evident that the business teachers are very competent in their use of ICT to support teaching and learning. Overhead projectors (OHPs) were available in all classrooms and while the teachers have access to an LCD projector some use their own projectors.
The overall standard of teaching and learning is very good. The relationship between teachers and students is good with respectful interactions and good rapport observed in many of the classes visited during the inspection. It was also clear that teachers are very concerned for studentsí progress. However, this concern can lead to excessive support for studentsí learning through the provision of additional materials and aids, especially notes. It can also affect the pacing of lessons. However, the teachers have the necessary skills set to improve learning outcomes and challenge the better able students to achieve higher levels of attainment.
In both the junior and senior cycle students retain a note copy for the theory aspect of the courses. During the inspection visit an over-reliance on transcription of notes by students especially at senior cycle was evident. While there is merit in providing students with notes as additional learning supports, it is necessary to ensure that an appropriate balance is achieved in the use of class time to do this. As an alternative, students could be encouraged to generate their own summary notes, which could be reviewed by teachers as part of the assessment process for the subjects. Also, teachers should broaden the range of methodologies used to support learning.† More visual stimuli and active-based methodologies should be used to cater for the range of learning styles and ability levels within class groups.
The teachersí presentation of material is very good. This good practice is mirrored in the studentsí own presentation of their work. Also, very good emphasis is placed on the correct and accurate presentation of transactions and accounts in junior cycle. This is in line with best practice in the teaching of bookkeeping.
The language used by teachers is very good and customised to the needs and ability levels of students, particularly less able students. Of particular merit in the teaching of the subjects is the high level of awareness among teachers of the links between business subjects and the wider curriculum that the students follow. There is clear evidence of the integration of co-curricular and cross-curricular links at both junior and senior cycle. At senior cycle there is a clear link between the teaching of Business and the LCVP. A thematic approach, focusing on the schoolís established link with Donegal Creameries, was evident through its use as an exemplar across junior and senior cycle lessons.†
Teachers are consistent in their approach to classroom management with each lesson starting with roll call, revision of previous lesson material and an outline of the lesson objective. In some junior cycle classes that included students of the JCSP, particular attention was paid to meeting the needs of these students within the overall class setting. This is further evidence of the teachersí concern for studentsí progress. Classroom layout is good and good use is made of seating to assist paired and group work. Studentsí behaviour, as evidenced during the inspection visit, was good.
A particular strength in the teaching of the subjects is the wide range of co-curricular and cross- curricular links that are incorporated into the teaching of Business.† This is particularly beneficial to studentsí understanding of the application of business theory to practical situations. In addition to improving their understanding of business involvement in these activities it also improves their social and personal competencies.
Profiling of student achievement depends largely on formal assessments that take place twice yearly. Results are communicated to parents through issued reports. Parent-teacher meetings are also held during the year. There is also evidence of ongoing use of continuous assessment by all teachers in the team. All teachersí record keeping is very good with respect to attendance and formal assessments.
A whole-school policy is in place with respect to homework and the subject plans reflect this policy. However, the practice as evident during the inspection visit was overly focussed on formal assessments. While there is relative consistency among the team as to the frequency of class tests, the subject plan should include further detail in respect to an appropriate mix of assessment modes that are more closely linked to learning outcomes. When homework is given it is generally only annotated and lacks an evaluative aspect. However, good practice exists in maintaining records of completion or non-completion of work assigned.†
Some good practice was observed where the class teacher went through the homework to be assigned setting out its objective and suggesting approaches for completion. This practice should be adopted across the team. Also, some good test design was evident but an over emphasis on short answer style questions means that higher-order skills are not always tested.†
Within lessons all teachers frequently used questions to check progress and understanding. However, the questioning techniques tended to be global rather than directed at individual students. Neither was questioning sufficiently differentiated to challenge the more able students in the class. A small adjustment to questioning techniques will prove beneficial in improving learning outcomes.
Analysis of examination outcomes is undertaken at school level. The outcomes within each level at certificate examination are good within the context and abilities of the students. However, further analysis is required of the profile of students taking higher and ordinary level within each cohort in order to maximise the numbers taking higher level in the Junior Certificate.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Whole-school provision and support for the subjects is very good.
∑ Timetabled provision for the subjects is excellent.
∑ There is very good use of additional aids, including ICT, in the teaching of the subjects.
∑ Subject planning is well advanced. Of particular merit is the identification of subject aims that are consistent with the schoolís overall mission statement and aims.
∑ Classes are well managed and teachers show concern for student progress.
∑ Of particular merit is the range and quality of co-curricular and cross-curricular links included within the teaching of business subjects.
∑ Appropriate and current business terminology and exemplars are used in the teaching of the subjects.
∑ Record keeping, including both attendance and assessment records, is very good.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ In order to achieve the teamís stated aim of guaranteeing equality of access and opportunity to all students of business, the junior cycle subject plan should be reviewed.
Further exploration of appropriate techniques to raise expectations and outcomes for students in the higher ability range should be explored including:
1. Re-sequencing learning outcomes for bookkeeping with additional higher-level outcomes covered earlier in the cycle.
2. Using concurrently timetabled classes to team teach with an emphasis on bookkeeping learning outcomes.
∑ Practice relating to the assignment and assessment of homework should be consistent among the business team and in line with the whole-school policy.
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 December 2009