An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Business Subjects
Mountmellick Community School
Mountmellick, County Laois
Roll number: 91426A
Date of inspection:† 27 April 2007
Date of issue of report: ††8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Business Subjects
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mountmellick Community School 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 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 and subject teachers.
Business Studies is provided as an optional subject to all incoming first-year students in Mountmellick Community School.† Approximately 50% of each year group take the subject to junior certificate.† Take up in junior cycle is relatively consistent and though below the national average, is similar for schools of this size and with the same curricular provision.† At senior cycle two of the three business subjects, Accounting and Business are offered.† While the numbers taking business subjects at senior cycle appear to broadly match the junior cycle some additional analysis should be undertaken at school level to determine both the level of continuity and the factors influencing studentsí choice.
The time allocation for both junior and senior cycle is good with four and five periods respectively.† On occasion in the junior cycle the classes are unevenly distributed and clustered on specific days.† Care should be taken to ensure an even spread of classes throughout the week.† This will facilitate continuity in instruction and allow adequate time for the completion of homework.
The time allocation to the Link Modules of the Leaving Certification Vocational Programme (LCVP) is excellent with three periods in each of the two years of the programme.† Recently this provision was further strengthened through the allocation of one double period in the first year of the programme.† This is particularly beneficial as the schoolís programme plan places emphasis on completion of the core items of the portfolio in year one.† LCVP students also have timetabled access to the ICT resources for the completion of their portfolios. There is a strong sense of commitment to the LCVP within the school as presently around 50% of each year group at senior cycle participate in the programme.† The involvement of the business teachers in teaching the Link Modules is a strength in the programmeís provision.†
Resources available for the teaching of the subjects are very good.† The main business classroom has a computer with dedicated printer and Internet access.†† This room also has an LCD projector, which many of the teachers use with their own laptops.† In the technology building teachers also have access to a shared LCD projector.† Classrooms are bright and airy and equipped with OHPs and storage facilities. Subject teachers have also been supplied with subject specific posters to improve the learning environment. There was also some good practice evident in the use of Ďbusiness news boardsí within classrooms.
Subjects are allocated to teachers at senior cycle according to their particular skills and interests.† Junior cycle classes rotate between the teaching team and teachers take the classes through the cycle in line with the subject departmentís preference and school managementís policy.† It is the stated intention of the schoolís management to increase the involvement of newer teachers in the teaching of senior cycle subjects and this is achievable given the skill base among the business teachers.
Among the business teachers there is a strong sense of loyalty to the school and its students.† This is evident from both the level of preparedness for the inspection and the range of subject-planning material available.† A major strength in the subject provision is the quality and extent of planning processes and documentation.† Agreed programmes exist for all business subjects and there are systems in place to review attainment of planned outcomes by the subject teachers.† The minutes of the department meetings confirm that the post of subject co-ordinator rotates and that the discussion ranges from suitability of class allocation to programme planning.
Formal planning time is scheduled for the subject department and within the planning documentation there was evidence that the subject plans are reviewed.† At junior cycle the schemes of work set out the sequence of units to be completed yearly and common assessments are used for summer examinations.†† Of particular merit in the junior cycle agreed scheme is the early introduction and emphasis placed on the bookkeeping elements of the syllabus.† This is in line with best practice and the teachers are to be commended for this approach.† It is also one of the factors that influence the positive uptake of Accounting in senior cycle.
One area for development within subject planning is the Links Modules of the LCVP. Given the number of senior-cycle students who complete the LCVP, there was little evidence of the development of cross-curricular links between business subjects and the Link Modules.† It is recommended that these links be formalised within the overall subject plan at senior cycle.† The good practice that currently exists in relation to subject planning will mean that this can be quite easily achieved.
Lesson preparation is good and in some instances excellent. Classes are mixed ability and planning for the teaching of the subjects ensures that the syllabus outcomes are met for all ability levels within class groups.† Decisions about examination levels are generally delayed until the examination year and the subject planning supports this.† This should ensure that as many students as possible have the opportunity to take the subject at higher level.† However, there is some evidence of students opting to take ordinary level who would be capable of taking higher level.† Some assessment is required as to whether the banding system that operates at junior cycle is affecting student expectations and ambitions.
Visual teaching aids including LCD projectors and OHPs are frequently and competently incorporated in the teaching of the subjects.
The teaching and learning in the subjects is good. There is a very high degree of consistency among the subject teachers in the approach to classroom management including assigning seating, setting lesson objectives and reviewing content. Classroom-management skills are very good and supported by good lesson preparation. Classes are well disciplined and ordered with an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust existing between teachers and students. All lessons commence with roll call, and a review of the teachersí records indicated good attendance patterns among the majority of students.†
In observing the teaching of the subjects there is a strong sense of the teachersí commitment to supporting individual students in their learning.† A positive and secure learning environment was generally evident in classes and teaching methodologies emphasised questioning, listening, and observation skills with an emphasis on the practical application of the subjects.† Questions were frequently used to review, clarify and elicit information.† However, in many lessons questions were addressed to the whole class and consideration should be given to maintaining a good balance between directed and whole class questions as is appropriate in a mixed-ability setting.
In bookkeeping and accounting particularly the studentsí presentation of their material and exercises was very good.†† This mirrored the teachersí very good presentation and is best practice in the teaching of the subjects.† The work-completion rate of students and teachers is very high with students completing many practical exercises in bookkeeping and accounting.† Applied Business Questions (ABQís) are appropriately used when revising material. This is good practice as students can apply a wider range of subject knowledge to framing their answers.†
Subject knowledge among teachers is generally very good, and there was evidence that teachers engaged in self-directed learning to update their knowledge.† Some excellent examples were observed of teachers emphasising the development of studentsí applied-business skills through structured reviewing of current business developments.† Current examples were selected that related to the lesson content and learning outcomes.† This good practice could be further shared among the teaching team.
There is an overemphasis within the subject department on the use of transcribed notes to support the teaching of business theory.† This is of particular concern at junior cycle as it does not cater for the full range of learning styles among students.† While transcribed notes may be useful as revision aids particularly in examination year, consideration must be given to lessening the dependency on this approach in the teaching of the subject.†† If transcribed notes are being used, they should be integrated with other revision aids including photocopied handouts, mind maps etc as currently used in the Link Modules of the LCVP.†
Classrooms are generally arranged with paired seating which facilitates both paired and group work.† Some very good examples were evident of where the seating arrangements were structured to facilitate differentiated teaching in the mixed-ability settings.† Both teachers and students use of appropriate business terminology was good and the students engaged with the lesson content.† The rate of take up of higher level in the junior-certificate has increased in recent years and this is a positive development.† Of particular merit are the low failure rates in the subjects indicating that the teaching supports students to achieve their potential. ††
Among the subject teachers there is a high level of consistent practice in assigning and correcting studentsí work.† The schoolís homework policy is applied in the subject area and a review of a sample of student journals indicated a consistent approach across year groups to the regular assignment of homework in all subjects.† Also there is frequent in-class assessment by all teachers.† There was evidence that subject teachers were implementing the agreed approach to ongoing assessment as the number of class tests assigned since last September varied between six and eight.†
The teachers maintain comprehensive records of studentís achievements and homework is monitored and reviewed both within and outside of formal-class time.† Best practice is followed in relation to the correction of homework as it is used as a means of checking and affirming student progress. OHP projectors were used to speed up the correction of accounting/bookkeeping questions and this is effective use of class time.† Good practice is also evident in the preparation of portfolio material for the LCVP.† First drafts of portfolio items are corrected by the teachers with students responsible for reviewing and amending their own work.† This is a good technique in supporting students in directing their own learning, a characteristic of the programme.††
Homework was reviewed and corrected at the start of class. It was also evident that the completion rate by students of homework assigned was very good. Homework is also corrected by teachers outside of formal class time.† The homework assessment was both evaluative and developmental and in most cases suggestions for improvement were included with teacher comments.†
Excellent practice was evident in relation to assessment design.† Common tests are used in junior cycle as part of the subject plan.† This ensures that the learning outcomes of the agreed programme for each year are attained.† Responsibility for the design of summer tests rotates among the team and tests are designed with detailed marking schemes to maintain consistency across the team.† Tests are designed to include short and long answer questions which assist in testing higher-order learning outcomes.†
Student attainment rates in examinations are reviewed and compared with the national norms.† One of the main strengths of business subjects is the low failure rate in examinations which is consistent with the approaches within the teaching that affirm student progress across the ability range.†
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Time allocation to the Link Modules of the LCVP is excellent.
∑ Subject planning at both department and individual level is very good.
∑ A good range of resources are available to teachers to support the teaching of the subjects.
∑ Visual teaching aids including LCD projectors and overhead projectors are frequently and competently incorporated in the teaching of the subjects.
∑ Classroom management is very good with a consistent approach to lesson and classroom organisation.† Subject teaching supports studentsí learning in the subjects.
∑ There were some very good examples of the development of studentsí applied-business skills.
∑ The standard of presentation of work by both students and teachers is very high.
∑ Very good practice is evident in relation to homework and assessment.† The whole-school policy is applied within the subject areas and assessment techniques are both evaluative and developmental in approach.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ Timetabled provision for junior-cycle classes should ensure that lessons are spread through the week to facilitate continuity in instruction and adequate time for the completion of homework.
∑ In providing students with aids for revision, less emphasis should be placed on students transcribing notes during lesson time and alternative formats should be incorporated into the teaching of the subjects.
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.