Why is business education so popular? Brian McCafferty outlines what the inspectors see as the ingredients of successful lessons.
Between 1990 and 1995 the number of students entered for GCSE business studies more than doubled to almost 136,000. Business studies is the fastest growing A-level subject; the number of entries has also doubled over the same period. Business is the most popular GNVQ choice: the GNVQ business accounted for nearly half the total for all entries.
The learning objectives for business education include the development of a wide range of knowledge, understanding and skills communication, problem-solving, decision-making, all also as part of pupils' general education, as well as a variety of competencies as part of their preparation for the world of work.
The adoption of effective teaching strategies, therefore, will depend on such learning objectives. For example, the development of a motor or psychomotor skill such as the use of computer keyboards requires substantial drilling for mastery of technique. On the other hand, the development of a competency such as administration requires depth of understanding and may involve continual practice in problem-solving tasks. The development of understanding of business concepts requires other approaches and involves, yet again, different teaching and assessment strategies.
Good practice in business education has been recognised in a recent report produced by OFSTED* which points out that students' learning progress was enhanced in lessons in which they had been given effective responsibility for their own learning: for example, where they selected their own reading and research; presented their work in their own way; or carried out independent investigations.
In addition, effectiveness was often associated with a range of practical learning experiences which stimulated students' interest and involved active participation: business games and case studies developed problem-solving and decision-making skills, and linked abstract concepts with the practical reality of business. Practical investigations allowed them to collect and organise primary data, analyse and evaluate evidence, and draw conclusions; role playing and simulations created realistic practical work situations and therefore added a strong vocational element to the learning; and mini-enterprises, though time-consuming, provided a powerful learning experience in which students explored concepts and processes, and developed personal and social skills.
Students' learning experiences were enriched through effective links with business. For example, through linking classroom projects with real business problems; or visits to businesses to research and investigate current business practice. Such links provided relevance to students' work and, in turn, increased their motivation; they were able to gain an insight into the "real world" of business and put theory into practice with meaning.
Effective teaching involved the use of a range of strategies, depending on the purposes of the lesson.
For example, large group instruction followed by questioning was an effective, economical teaching method, especially when introducing new ideas or for reflecting on work in progress or work completed. Where whole-class instruction would have restricted many of the kinds of practical learning activities required, teachers, in addition, used small groupings for planning and executing complex tasks, games, simulations or for co-opera-tive learning. Small group instruction was especially effective for students who required special attention. Working in pairs was helpful where students were engaged in mutual research and investigation. Individually prescribed work allowed students to work more effectively at their own pace and to achieve personal autonomy and responsibility for their learning.
Effective learning occurred where there was good teaching whatever the approach. In the best lessons: * Teachers had a good command of their subject and emphasised the importance of understanding which they conveyed to their students * Lessons were well structured and organised to meet differing needs * Teachers used a good range of printed material and a variety of other stimulating resources * Students were given good quality, challenging tasks which provided appropriate opportunities to demonstrate their capabilities in accordance with the course requirements * The pace of the work was brisk, often associated with short tasks to extend students' understanding of skill development in a series of sequential steps * Where research assignments were given, they were sharply focused on specific learning objectives * Good use was made of the local business community * Teachers intervened effectively in students' assignment work, asking questions to test and develop their understanding * Teachers assessed students' work thoroughly, and fed back to them regularly.
Not surprisingly, such good practice was associated with high client satisfaction. In lessons, inspectors reported that students were responsive, well-motivated and displayed positive attitudes. Clearly, business is indeed popular with pupils.
Business Education and Economics - An Inspection Review 1993-95: free from OFSTED publications centre.