Ofsted finds little profit in vocational business courses

An Ofsted report found problems in post-16 business studies. They found that students work and teachers’ extending and deepening of their understanding was weak.

Business Studies

By James Easy

Ofsted’s latest report, Economics, business and enterprise education (pdf), has recently been published with generally positive outcomes. The report’s aim was to evaluate the effectiveness of these vocational subjects in 28 primary and 100 secondary schools across England based on evidence gathered from April 2007 to March 2010.

Some of the problems identified by Ofsted came primarily in the provision of Key Stage 4 and post-16 business courses. While generally, examination results have appeared to improve in line with other subjects, Ofsted found that there were insufficient opportunities for students to engage directly with businesses and employers.

They also found that teachers’ questioning of children to extend and deepen their understanding was weak.

Another more serious problem they found was that in 77 per cent of the schools inspected for vocational business courses, the quality of the students’ work, their knowledge and understanding, and their ability to apply learning to unfamiliar contexts and demonstrate higher level skills, was often weak.

This was attributed to the:

“Rather narrow and simplistic approach to the identification of assessment criteria common on such courses.”

Ofsted have said that their findings bring into question the case for claiming that vocational business courses are equivalent to between two and four traditional GCSEs.

The report also includes investigations into the quality of business, administration and law education and training for 16-18 year olds in colleges. Evidence for this was gathered from 33 institutional colleges, based on inspections which took place between September 2009 and August 2010.

This group of subjects is about:

“Equipping children and young people with the requisite knowledge, skills and understanding to help them make sense of the complex and dynamic economic, business and financial environment in which they live.”

Ofsted found that the overall effectiveness of economics and business education was satisfactory in 100 per cent of secondary schools visited. Of this, 78 per cent of secondary schools visited were found to be at a “good” or “outstanding” level.

Of the secondary schools visited, 33 had business and enterprise specialist status, and 88 per cent (29) of those schools were good or outstanding.

With regard to enterprise education (which is only statutory at Key Stage 4), Ofsted found that schools nevertheless regarded it as part of the whole-school curriculum. All primary (Key Stage 1-2) and secondary schools visited made “satisfactory” provision for enterprise education, with much of it being rated “good”.

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