Many teachers of business and economics feel trapped in that little corner of the timetable reserved for subjects which are excluded from the national curriculum. But the scenario following Sir Ron Dearing's review of the curriculum should bring some hope, because from 1998 new opportunities will be created for both key stage 4 and post-16 students.
Part one GNVQ becomes generally available, Secretary of State permitting, in 1998. This enables students to use two GCSE time slots to take a vocational business qualification. The scheme has been under pilot for the past two years. In 1995 the course was introduced to 5,500 students in 115 schools. The numbers more than doubled in 1996 and from September 1997 approaching 500 schools will be involved. Part one is available at either foundation level which is equivalent to GCSE grade D to G or intermediate level which covers A* to C.
The interim report on part one, which the Office for Standards in Education produced earlier this year, suggests that the pilot has gone well. "A high proportion of the work in the vocational areas is satisfactory, and much of it is good," says the report. This is high praise indeed from Ofsted, especially as attainment is "best overall in business". When combined with the Ofsted inspection review of business and economics education, which was equally complimentary about the teaching of the subject, the hearts of key stage 4 teachers should be lifted.
For the post-16 student two new opportunities arise. The first is AS which is now the "advanced subsidiary" instead of "advanced supplementary" and is taken after one year of an A-level course. One objective of the Dearing review was to broaden the educational experience of students. To do this he advocated the selection of one subject from each of a range of domains. One of these, "The way the community works", is where business and economics can be found.
Even if this strategy does not work fully because of the needs of higher education, there may well be a desire to take four rather than three ASs. It seems probable that universities will be interested in AS results being included on UCAS forms as they will provide more information for selection purposes.
This provides a prime opportunity for business and economics teachers as the subjects both provide an excellent combination with arts or science A-levels. If we catch them for AS, they may stay with us and complete the A- level.
This new qualification recognises that students are not at A-level standard after one year of study. It is therefore set at a lower standard and accounts for 40 per cent of the full A-level. There are therefore major implications for course design and modular structures. The subject cores have not changed significantly, they are now just distributed across the two levels.
Currently, exam boards are deeply involved in developing AS and A-level syllabuses to meet the new criteria. By the end of June these will have been submitted to the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority for approval and we will have a clearer picture of the future. Let's hope for some exciting courses designed for student appeal, so economics can arrest the decline and start to grow again, and business can reach new heights of popularity.
Single-award GNVQs create the second post-16 opportunity. In the past a GNVQ student has had to commit a minimum of two-thirds of curriculum time to the qualification. The new single award cuts this in half so a vocational qualification becomes accessible to those who want to combine it with two A-levels or other types of courses. Both higher education and employers are impressed by students with the abilities required by the key skills so courses with explicit assessment may prove popular. It may be an alluring alternative for many 16-year-olds. Business has always been the most popular GNVQ and this new qualification may open opportunities for even more young people to experience vocational education.
If schools and colleges make the most of these opportunities, business studies and economics will become a de facto part of the national curriculum through student demand.
The Ofsted reports could be useful to help persuade management of your case for expansion. For Part One General National Vocation Qualifications Pilot Interim Report 199596, tel: The Stationery Office, 0171 873 9090; for Business Education and Economics: An Inspection Review 1993-95, tel: Ofsted, 0171 510 0180
Jenny Wales is vice chair of the Economics and Business Education Association