Syllabus just the ticket?

Kevin Berry

Kevin Berry on the new Nuffield-BP business studies and economics GCSE.

An entirely new GCSE course linking business studies with economics looks certain to stir interest at forthcoming departmental meetings. Prepared by the prestigious Nuffield Economics and Business Team the course will be administered by ULEAC. It will be available from September and the first candidates will be examined in June 1998.

The strength of the new GCSE is an integrated approach using closely related skills and the linking of the two subject areas is a first ever at this level. Syllabus materials are almost completed and nationwide introductory in-service training days have already been held. Further days for preparation have been arranged for late June in London, Leeds, Bristol and Worcester. Jenny Wales, a co-director of the Nuffield Project explained that the new GCSE is a natural follow on from the board's A-level course. "Integrating both disciplines should," she says, "provide answers to more questions by using two tool kits." The syllabus will include each subject's terminology, concepts, theories and investigative techniques.

Nuffield economics and business will exist alongside existing versions of these subjects, though, with approximate candidate figures for business Studies standing at 100,000 and a mere 14,000 for economics, the new qualification could have a profound effect if it takes off. Regulations in the Nuffield syllabus actually forbid candidates from entering for other GCSE courses with the words business studies or economics in the title, so what price no economics GCSE within a few years?

Reaction among teachers at an introductory Inset event in Leeds was more than favourable. The freshness of approach drew approving comment as did the encouragement of "enquiry by enquiry", the attention paid to national curriculum IT requirements and the scope for differentiation across the ability range. There was a definite buzz of anticipation.

BP have stumped up some hefty funding for the Nuffield team but there has been no editorial interference, and, says Jenny Wales, the relationship is a partnership. Indeed the significant attention paid to ethical and environmental concerns within the syllabus is worthy of praise and a section devoted to the Brent Spar story handles every aspect of that acrimonious affair with the greatest care and fairness.

The syllabus is split into six units with each unit posing an eitheror question, such as "Winners or Losers?" and "Create or Destroy?" and the schemes of work are enclosed in a textbook and a resource pack with lots of photocopiable material. A strong questioning, probing style underpins this syllabus. Within each unit are five sub-sections called Enquiries. Each unit covers a 10-week period including a two-week Enquiry; within the unit-period students will carry out a small-scale 1,000 word investigation for a coursework portfolio.

As Jenny Wales says, the syllabus is all about stories and the Nuffield team are anxious to use stories from the real world of business. There are a number of comprehensive accounts of business ventures offering a stimulating, yet disciplined approach with the accent always very firmly on investigation. Material is up-to-date, covering, as examples, the rise of the watch company Swatch, fluctuating ticket sales for the musical Miss Saigon, Comic Relief and the effects of the National Lottery on charities and the football pools. Even stakeholders get a mention!

The IT element covers most aspects of the national curriculum and looks to be very purposeful with a strong emphasis on enhancement of learning rather than merely prettying up presentation. Collins, who are publishing the course-work material, have set up a faxphone helpline and ULEAC have a separate advice-line for subject information.

Assessment is designed to cater for candidates with differing abilities, giving them the opportunity to show what they understand and can do. The examination will provide two tiers of assessment and a choice will be made from two differentiated papers aimed at two different grades. The coursework portfolio will be differentiated by outcome.

Second-language learners can use template response sheets designed by a teacher with experience in a multi-cultural class. "Language doesn't have to be the first form of communication," explains Jenny Wales. "They can still understand the beef of it and get the business and economics message."

This new syllabus looks impressive and is certainly student, and teacher friendly. It will require reassuringly disciplined thinking.

For details of the Nuffield-BP Business and Economics syllabus, tel: 0171 436 4512; fax: 0171 436 1869

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Kevin Berry

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