Press release: Vocational courses failing to develop students' understanding of business

08 Jun 2011

Ref: NR- 2011-25

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An Ofsted report on economics, business and enterprise education has found that some students achieving good results on vocational business courses are failing to develop appropriate levels of knowledge, understanding and higher level skills.

The report, Economics, business and enterprise education draws on evidence from lesson observations, scrutiny of written work and discussion with students and brings into question the case for claiming that such courses are equivalent to between two and four single award, traditionally examined GCSEs at Key Stage 4.

In 30 of the 39 schools inspected for vocational business courses, that were assessed wholly or mainly by internally set and marked assignments, inspectors identified a serious problem. Despite good results, the quality of students’ work, their knowledge and understanding, and their ability to apply learning to unfamiliar contexts and to demonstrate higher level skills, were often weak.

The focus in some of these lessons on completing written assignments designed to meet narrowly defined assessment criteria meant there was too little opportunity for students to debate issues and engage in more challenging work, to extend their thinking and securely develop broader understanding and skills.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert said:

“Economics, business and enterprise education is about equipping children and young people with the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to ensure they leave school well-informed and well-prepared as consumers, employees and potential employers.

“This survey found that teaching of economics and business education was at least satisfactory in the secondary schools visited by inspectors. However, more should be done to directly involve students with the business world and local businesses.

“Vocational qualifications provide a valuable route to employment and further study for many learners. However, the report highlights the need to review the equivalency of vocational business qualifications that are assessed wholly or mainly by internally set and marked assignments with more traditional GCSEs and GCE A-levels.”

Inspectors evaluated the strengths and weaknesses in economics, business and enterprise education in 28 primary and 100 secondary schools across England. Inspectors observed over 250 lessons in formally assessed economics and business education courses and approximately 120 lessons relating to enterprise education in secondary schools.

The report also draws on evidence from 33 college inspections between September 2009 and August 2010 to evaluate the quality of business, administration and law education and training for 16–18-year-olds in colleges.

The overall effectiveness of economics and business education was judged to be at least satisfactory in all the secondary schools visited and good or outstanding in 78 of the 100 visited. Inspectors found outstanding examples of teaching and learning where schools engage students with economic and business ideas through good use of information and communication technology (ICT) and of real-world economics and business examples, such as the impact of factory closures on local communities and the extent to which government should intervene to correct market failure.

Over a third of the secondary schools visited were found to be failing to provide sufficient opportunities for students to engage directly with local businesses. Engagement with businesses was a weakness even on vocational courses. The schools visited where the economics and business education curriculum was outstanding tended to have very good links with local employers, which were used to good effect to enhance teaching and learning.

Inspectors also looked at whole-school enterprise education, for students not taking formally assessed economics and business courses, and found the schools visited did much to promote enterprise capability by a range of engaging teaching and learning. As a result, in more than half of the schools visited, students were developing good problem-solving and team-working skills, including negotiation, cooperation, planning and organisation. However, the other aspects of enterprise education - economic and business understanding and financial capability - were not as well developed at whole school level. As a result, students not taking formally assessed economics and business courses often had only vague ideas about the economy, interest rates and their impact, recession, inflation, why prices vary and the ownership of companies.

Notes for Editors

1. The report can be found at:

2. Enterprise education involves the promotion of economic and business understanding and enterprise and financial capability for all pupils and students in primary and secondary schools. It is regarded as part of the statutory work-related learning curriculum at Key Stage 4 but there is no statutory requirement to provide enterprise education at Key Stages 1-3. Despite this, it was generally regarded by the schools visited as an essential element of the whole-school curriculum, helping to prepare children and young people for their futures within the complex and dynamic economic, business and financial environment in which they live.

3. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

4. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 6899 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.

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