If you were under the impression that an A Level in Business Studies was a walk in the park compared to Economics, think again.

While certain universities such as Cambridge and The London School of Economics branded it a soft subject in 2008, new specifications introduced in 2015 have reshaped the landscape.

“It requires the ability to produce analytical and evaluative essays and carry out complex calculations,” says Heather Carpenter who teaches Business Studies at King’s College Soto de Viñuelas. “It is not a soft subject at all.  Some of our students were misled into believing that Business would be an easier choice than Economics.  They discovered that it is not.”

To help her students digest some of the theory, Heather has been taking them to see how different companies operate in practice.

“I firmly believe that educational visits provide a much needed framework for the understanding and application of theory that simply can’t be achieved in a classroom alone,” says Heather. “This is particularly true for subjects like Business, where school children have very little prior experience of any of the concepts covered.”

A visit to the Codan cake factory helped to bring the manufacturing and service industries to life, providing the students with insight into how a production line works. “We referred to the factory a lot in subsequent lessons, making it easier for students with no prior business experience to understand new concepts and remember points more easily for the exam,” says Heather.

But it was the trips to Microsoft in Madrid that really fired the students’ imaginations. Cutting edge with a strong focus on teamwork, it is no surprise that Microsoft is currently the world’s most valuable company. And, as Heather points out, students were able to see how working together and drawing on individual strengths could be used effectively to improve efficiency and creativity as they rolled up their sleeves and got down to business.

 

“One trip involved a team activity to use software to operate a LEGO robot to perform a number of functions,” she explains. “ Some pupils emerged as leaders, some as ideas people and some as helpful team members. It provided a useful insight into team working and leadership in addition to familiarising our students with the latest microsoft technology.”

 

On a further visit, the students were again organised into teams – this time to design an object that could be printed out on the 3D printer using the latest CAD software.  “Each group had to give a presentation on the rationale behind their design,” Heather explains. “This provided the students with great experience of presenting in a formal business situation.”

When thinking of business studies in general, we tend to think of, well, business, and large competitive corporations as well as finance, marketing and start-ups. But this subject also comes into its own for those hoping to pursue a different agenda altogether. NGOs, for example, need many of the same skills as a corporation. As Christine Letts, faculty chair of the Strategic Frameworks for Non-profit Organisations executive education program at the Harvard Kennedy School, told The Financial Times, “Marketing, identity and communications is one of the weakest muscles in non-profits. We have conditioned non-profits to describe themselves in a way a potential donor will find attractive, instead of saying: ‘This is what we stand for’.”

What stakeholders are looking for is evidence that their money and efforts are being efficiently invested and, in response, business schools are actually coming up with degrees specific to NGOs.

But whatever route students take, Heather says the A Level itself turns out to be a winner. “Many ranked Business Studies their third or fourth choice when choosing their A Level subjects in Year 11,” she says. “But over the first year of study, it became their favourite subject because it is so varied and covers new and interesting concepts.”

 

Heather Galloway