Investors in business education courses in secondary can draw on a mixed report from the inspectorate. The traditional HMI balance sheet highlights a series of pluses and minuses: good or very good teaching and attainment from S3 to S6 and pretty damning results between S1 and S2.
The latest HM Inspectorate of Education analysis of a secondary subject - the tenth in the sequence - takes schools to task for their continuing failure to recognise previous work in primary and their inability to push pupils in their first two years.
Almost half the S1S2 courses (45 per cent) in 38 schools examined by inspectors between 1996 and 2001 failed to deliver. Courses often lacked balance, breadth and depth and "in a significant minority" consisted of a series of unrelated units.
The inspectors note: "Too many pupils in S1S2 were undertaking school-devised courses which consisted of taster units comprising elements of the different Standard grade courses offered within the department. These frequently lacked coherence and were of little relevance or interest to some pupils. Too often, teachers paid insufficient attention to pupils prior learning in ICT and did not provide courses that would allow them to develop skills and knowledge in line with 5-14 attainment targets."
Similarly, attainment in S1S2 could be vastly improved in 38 per cent of departments.
In contrast, work at and beyond Standard grade was much better. Courses were well-planned and frequently complemented by a range of national units. There was good or very good teaching in most departments from S3 to S6 and teachers set high expectations.
The departments that deal with administration, economics, accounting and finance, and business management were effectively led and were supported by committed teachers who worked well in teams. Ethos was reported to be good or very good in over 90 per cent of departments.
The inspectors say a feature of many departments was the number of pupils who were to be found working at breaks, lunch-time or after school.
Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector, praises teaching from S3 to S6 and commends arrangements for assessing and reporting pupils' progress. However, he adds: "The pace of work in S1S2 needs to be increased, with teaching setting more demanding standards. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the quality and quantity of homework in courses leading to external certification. Development planning needs to be more rigorous."
"Standards and Quality in Secondary Schools: Business Education 1996-2001" is published by HM Inspectorate of Education.