Business education needs to be more inspiring -

View Latest News Publish Date: 2-Dec-2008

Business education needs to be more inspiring -

Young people are eager to learn about business and economics, but their keenness is not always matched by the quality of teaching they receive, which too often is 'thorough but uninspiring' and fails to bring a real sense of excitement to learning.

These were the findings of a report, 'Developing young people's economic and business understanding' published today by Ofsted - the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills.

It found that although there was much to celebrate in business education, around a third of lessons were thorough but uninspiring. There was too much 'talking-at' pupils, and an over-dependence on worksheets.

In around half the 118 schools and colleges visited, students complained that they had insufficient direct contact with businesses and 'hands-on' experiences, such as running mini enterprises. They were also disappointed that they could not make more use of the knowledge and understanding they gained through work experience placements and part-time jobs in their assessed work.

Over the past 25 years the Government has attempted to develop economic and business understanding for all 14-16 year old students through a series of initiatives and curriculum developments. Despite this, Ofsted found this component remains the least well developed aspect of work-related learning, and students' basic understanding is generally still weak.

One reason why teaching was not better was the variable availability and quality of professional development for business and economics teachers; this was 'good' in only just over half the schools and 'satisfactory' in the rest.

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, said:

"Business teachers must be given the training they need to produce inspiring lessons. The best lessons actively engaged students through case studies of real businesses, role play, games and simulation."

The report also highlighted a huge disparity in assessment methods. For example, some A-level courses were assessed entirely through external exams while other courses that led to the same level of qualification were assessed predominantly through coursework.

Much coursework was of mediocre quality because it was based too heavily on description rather than involving students in considering real business problems and issues. Students taking courses assessed mainly through coursework often revealed a weak grasp of key concepts and an inability to apply their business understanding to different contexts. Yet all the resulting qualifications in business were recognised nationally as being equivalent despite being arrived at through very different methods of assessment.

However the report also revealed good news - business courses remain popular with students, especially males, and they find them enjoyable and relevant to their future employment or self-employment.

The high quality of many trainee teachers in business is promising for the subject's future.

Inspectors found the quality of newly qualified business teachers was often good, with many of them able to draw upon their experience of working in business before moving into teaching, and the quality of initial teacher training for business good in nearly all places visited.

In the best lessons teachers took risks, breaking away from the traditional approach of explaining the concept first and then getting students to apply it. They actively engaged students by using case studies of real businesses, role play, games and simulations.

"Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, added:

"It's really encouraging that our inspectors found so many promising newly qualified business teachers with industry experience too. Students frequently complained that their courses did not include enough direct contact with businesses and 'hands on' experience. Hopefully these new teachers will be able to use their industry links to benefit students."

Ofsted's recommendations:

The Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Training and Development Agency for Schools should: 

  • ensure consistent and high-quality professional development and training for teachers of business education to help them improve their teaching
  • promote more strongly the development of economic and business understanding for all students as part of the statutory provision for work-related learning and citizenship education.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should:

  • provide detailed guidance on the learning outcomes that all students at Key Stages 3 and 4 are expected to gain in terms of economic and business understanding and financial capability
  • provide guidance on how schools and colleges can assess and monitor the progress students make in developing economic and business understanding and financial capability
  • ensure that robust moderation systems exist to monitor the quality of qualifications that are assessed mainly internally through coursework assignments.

Schools and colleges should:

  • ensure that coursework assignments place sufficient emphasis on students' demonstration of the skills of analysis and evaluation
  • provide opportunities for students taking business courses to engage with employers and businesses
  • provide explicit and coherent programmes to develop all students' economic and business understanding and financial capability, making the most effective use of the expertise of specialist teachers
  • develop further the use of information technology and other resources to enliven lessons.

Members of the Work Place Learning Centre team are available to provide journalists and media organisations with expert comment on all aspects of learning at work.

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