A Good Head for Business

Article excerpt

Business subjects have increased in popularity over the years and there have been many efforts to make the subject accessible to a larger number of students, many of whom may be of middle or low ability. But what of the higher achiever who arrives in the classroom? What can be done to identify and challenge students with a head for business?

There are many definitions of "the gifted and talented learner" within education. Generally, gifted students are deemed to be the top 5-10 per cent of the pupil population of a school, capable of demonstrating higher levels of academic performance, either in one subject or across many areas.

Talented students on the other hand have specific aptitudes, such as excellent physical or creative abilities. In our school, we extend this definition to include students with outstanding leadership skills and/or a social awareness that enables them to work effectively with a wide range of people. Could these students be the entrepreneurs of tomorrow?

What do these twin definitions mean for business studies education? The national curriculum subjects have subject-specific guidance for teaching gifted or talented students but we do not. Our department devised its own guidelines and came up with two distinct lists (see panels) that typified gifted and talented students within the business classroom.

The challenge

Our next step was to compare these attributes with the students in front of us. Armed with our own experience, plus the plethora of cognitive data that is provided for us, we concluded that:

only a few students exhibited characteristics from both lists

those who demonstrated entrepreneurial capabilities were often middle-high ability rather than the brightest students

some low-ability students demonstrate outstanding leadership or team working skills

some of the brightest students lacked entrepreneurial attributes.

Given that these subsets exist, our challenge is to motivate both the gifted and the talented in groups at GCSE and A level that are largely mixed ability in nature.

Closer inspection of our own practice revealed a tendency to teach to the middle and use teaching styles that helped engage the low achiever or disaffected. We find that our students respond well to learning activities that are based on role plays, presentations, mini enterprises and decision-making exercises. Students are given many opportunities to be creative, and they demonstrate their learning in nontraditional ways and are frequently invited to take part in extracurricular enterprise events.

Students enjoy their experiences, generally perform well in the exams (but obtain mainly B and C grades rather than A/A*) and respectable numbers opt for business courses in the sixth form. Consequently we reflected that we were probably quite good at developing the entrepreneurial talents of students. But were we catering effectively for the most able?

Focus groups

To gain a better understanding of how the more able students felt about their business education, we organised focus groups of students in years 10 and 11. We wanted to find out how they perceived the subject, what they enjoyed and disliked, and most importantly to identify how we could stretch them so that that they not only achieved A/A* grades, but also developed enterprise capabilities at the same time.

The study revealed that the most able chose business at GCSE because they believed that it is perceived by employers to be a "useful" subject. They took it seriously, believing it to be an option for "smart people" who "want to get on". They thought it had status, that it would be hard work with "serious content" but also different, fun, interesting and enjoyable.

Having started to study business they all agreed that it was not as difficult as they first believed and that the group activities, presentations, computer-based and research-type tasks were really enjoyable. …