An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta


Department of Education and Science





Subject Inspection of Physical Education




Rathdown School

Glenageary, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin

Roll number: 60090Q







Date of inspection: 22 September 2006

Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007





Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations




Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education


Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rathdown School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physical Education and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.  The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.  



Subject provision and whole school support


Rathdown School is an all girls fee-paying secondary school with a current enrolment of 390 students. The school caters for both day and boarding students. Physical Education enjoys a very high status in Rathdown School and it is provided as a core subject on the curriculum. Five qualified teachers of Physical Education are employed to provide a comprehensive curricular and extra-curricular programme.


There is a positive physical activity culture in Rathdown School. Management supports the Physical Education teachers in developing strategies to promote this culture. Such strategies include a detailed student profiling system that identifies each student’s participation and progress in extra-curricular activities, in addition to timetabled Physical Education lessons. Regular contact with parents ensures that this monitoring system is informed and up-to-date. These strategies enhance the student’s participation and enjoyment of the subject. This exemplary positive physical activity culture lays down important lifelong skills that may contribute to students leading well-balanced healthy lifestyles.


Management is highly commended for its support of the continuing professional development of the Physical Education teachers. Membership of the Physical Education Association of Ireland is common amongst the staff. All members of the Physical Education team have attended inservice for the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus and are now actively implementing this programme in the school. Management support in organising courses to suit the needs of the teachers, such as first aid, is highly commendable.


There are three classes in each year group, with all classes organised into mixed-ability groupings. First-year students receive two double periods of Physical Education per week, with second and third-year students receiving two double periods and one single period per week. Transition Year students receive one double period and one treble period per week. Fifth-year students receive one double and one single period, whilst sixth-year students receive one double period per week. The current time allocation for Physical Education is exemplary and illustrates the status of the subject in the school. Timetable provision at junior cycle is optimal for the development of physical competencies and understanding in each of the strands of the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus. The Transition Year timetable allocation enables the school to provide a full aquatics programme in addition to a range of activities appropriate to the ethos of Transition Year. Time allocation for fifth and sixth year ensures that all students have opportunities to engage in a comprehensive programme that builds on their experiences from the junior cycle and Transition Year. In most cases, classes from the same year group are timetabled concurrently. This system works well in this school as it has the facilities and teachers to accommodate all of the students within the planned programme. In addition, this system facilitates collaborative teaching and provides opportunities for the Physical Education teachers to observe and evaluate the quality of their teaching and student learning.


Rathdown School has a range of well-maintained and highly utilised facilities. These include a multi-purpose sports-hall, an international sized Astroturf pitch, a hard court area that doubles as either tennis courts or netball courts and a multi-purpose grass area that is used for activities including athletics and cricket. A health and safety audit of all fixed equipment is conducted regularly to ensure its suitability for use. Both staff and management are to be highly commended for their progressive approach of continuous auditing and upgrading of facilities and resources, including the recent resurfacing of the Astroturf pitch and tennis courts. An annual budget is drawn up each April to fund the Physical Education and extra-curricular programmes and it is reported that this system is working well. The school has recently developed an ambitious ten-year plan to develop all of its facilities. Part of this draft plan includes the development of a state-of-the-art facility for Physical Education and school sports. This is exemplary foresight and management is highly commended for the level of engagement with the Physical Education teachers in the consultative process at the design stage. The teaching professionals, as the practitioners most utilising the facilities, are well placed to provide practical feedback regarding the most suitable design to optimise teaching and learning of the subject.


The Physical Education teachers have acquired a range of activity specific resources such as reference books, videos and digital video discs (DVDs). There is limited access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) within Physical Education. Some computers are available in the staffroom to assist in the research and preparation of lessons, but there is limited availability for use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool. The situation is currently under review and management has stated that this area is a priority for development. It is recommended that the sports-hall and Physical Education office be broadband enabled, to allow for student and teacher access to the range of informative and exciting websites that support the teaching and learning of Physical Education. Ready access to such a resource may help to facilitate independent research by students as well as providing a host of topic specific technical demonstrations and information. Additionally, the introduction of digital video and photography into the teaching and learning of Physical Education, provides students with instant feedback on the quality of their performances.


The school encourages, monitors and supports student participation in a range of extra-curricular activities including hockey, netball, tennis, gym club, fencing, badminton and athletics. All of the Physical Education teachers, as well as several external coaches, are involved in the coaching, organisation and management of these activities. There is a complementary balance between team sports and individual activities, which caters for the wide diversity of student choice. Students are encouraged to participate in a variety of these activities and those students that excel in any one activity are well provided for. It is worth noting that a significant number of Rathdown School students have represented Ireland in netball at various international championships. The staff and school deserve high praise for providing the environment to foster such high-level achievement, whilst remaining totally committed to ensuring that all students have access to, and participate in the extra-curricular programme.


Planning and preparation


Planning in Rathdown School is exemplary and a credit to the collaborative approach of the Physical Education staff. Management facilitates regular planning meetings for teachers to prepare and develop the Physical Education and extra-curricular sports’ programmes. The role of subject coordinator is shared, on a rotating basis, amongst the teachers. This commendable system ensures that all teachers gain experience in directing the development of the subject. A clear system of recording and reporting at these meetings has been established and the minutes were available for inspection. All items for discussion are clearly listed and future actions decided upon are assigned to members of the teaching team and communicated to management. Items for discussion include planning for resources, units of work and student progress and assessment. Decisions are recorded and progress is reviewed at the subsequent meeting. This is very good practice as it promotes shared responsibility and facilitates the development of all factors influencing the quality of teaching and learning of the subject. The facilitation, frequency and documentation of these formal meetings is highly commended.


A strong, collaborative rapport exists within the Physical Education teaching team. The Physical Education teachers have taken significant time and effort to develop a comprehensive subject plan. A survey was conducted two years ago to determine the level of satisfaction of students and parents with the Physical Education and extra-curricular sports programme. Parents and students reported a high level of satisfaction with the current provision. Self-review forms an important part of planning as it helps to identify areas for future development. Management and the Physical Education department are to be highly commended for their proactive approach towards planning for the subject.


Long-term plans, such as planning for resources, facilities and activity option-blocks, as well as short-term planning are well structured, goal-orientated and geared towards significant and achievable outcomes. A comprehensive programme for junior cycle, Transition Year and senior cycle is planned and includes a mission statement and clear aims and objectives for the subject. A detailed unit of work supports each planned block of learning. These well-structured units of work, include planning for learning content, learning outcomes, resources, differentiation and assessment. Such detailed levels of planning is to be highly commended.


Implementation of the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus is well underway in the school. A thorough plan has been established and follows the guidelines recommended by the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service. The Physical Education department plans to implement six of the seven strands of the syllabus during the junior cycle with the exception of aquatics, which is more than adequately accommodated for during Transition year. The senior cycle plan includes a broad range of activities whilst also developing a more in-depth understanding of the aesthetic and artistic, kinesiological and psychosocial aspects of the subject. A strong emphasis is placed on students developing the knowledge and competencies to take personal responsibility for living physically active lifestyles.


A compulsory Transition Year programme is in operation in the school. A wide range of activities is planned to develop leadership qualities and personal development in keeping with the aims of the Transition Year programme. A dedicated time-slot in a local swimming pool is booked for the academic year to accommodate the teaching and learning of a broad aquatics programme. A treble period is allocated to aquatics and includes the time allowed for travelling to and from the swimming pool. Aquatics activities include water confidence, survival skills, stroke development and lifesaving skills. In addition to the aquatics programme, Transition Year students are afforded the opportunity to study activities such as umpiring courses, Pilates, Golf and Dance. Issues such as drugs in sport, women in sport and measuring human performance are also planned as part of the theoretical aspects of the subject.  This yearly plan is exemplary and provides students with the opportunities to develop valuable lifelong knowledge, skills and attitudes.


Teachers are to be highly commended for their approach towards micro planning. In addition to the subject plan, teachers prepare a personal plan for each of their classes.  In some cases, this includes planning for students who may require additional resources or adapted tasks to suit their level of motor-ability. Individual lesson plans were focused, well structured and student-orientated. Lesson plans are developed around the “Plan, Perform and Evaluate” model. Students are encouraged to plan their approach to set tasks, undertake performance through participation and evaluate their performance on each task. Teachers observe and note the level of student engagement in these tasks. The lesson plan framework is very effective and includes warm-up activities, main-skills/activities, relevant teaching points, safety considerations and evaluation.


The Physical Education teachers have prepared and filed an extensive range of resources to assist with the teaching and learning of the subject. A dedicated office is used to file and maintain these resources such as videos, texts and wall-charts and these are easily accessed prior to or during lessons. Advanced preparation for classes visited yielded positive outcomes in terms of participation, improved skill competency and understanding. Preparation included the set-up of activity areas, layout of all equipment and activity worksheets. The work of teachers in the preparation of these resources is commended. Whilst some aspects of multi-media are planned for, such as videos and DVDs, it is recommended that planning be expanded to incorporate the use of multi-media and ICT, where appropriate. These teaching and learning tools may be used to supplement existing classroom practice, with the aim of enabling students to engage in self-analysis, aided by visual feedback of their own performances.


The Physical Education department are in the process of reviewing and re-drafting their existing health and safety statement and are commended for regularly undertaking this practice. Guidance on drafting the health and safety policy, specific to Physical Education, should be sourced from appropriate relevant sources.


Teaching and learning


There is a very high standard of teaching and learning in Rathdown School. Teachers were well prepared and this helped the progression of lessons observed. Students were familiar with safety procedures for preparing and participating in their Physical Education lessons. High expectations of behaviour and cooperation have long been established and students were attentive, compliant and enthusiastic. Most classes in each year group are timetabled concurrently for Physical Education, resulting in the gathering of a large number of students at the same time. Therefore, the Physical Education department insist that safe practices are followed and that an efficient system exists to record attendance and assign students to their appropriate working groups. This was conducted expediently and with efficient ease prior to the commencement of all lessons observed. The implementation of and adherence to these organisational rules is complementary to the cooperative approach between the teachers and students.


In the classes visited, the topics taught were gymnastics, hockey, rounders and team-challenges. All lessons commenced with a roll call followed by the assignment of equipment and resources to students. Warm-up activities consisted of general mobility tasks or games followed by appropriate stretching exercises. In all cases, clear instructions and explanations were given to support the correct execution of these exercises. Questioning was appropriate to the age-group and ability of the students. This was used to elicit the relevance of stretching for improving joint range of movement, where students correctly related each exercise to the appropriate muscle groups and joints. The incorporation of physiological and biomechanical information, related to both performance and health-related fitness, engaged students at a cognitive level from the commencement of lessons. This practice is highly commendable.


The purpose and intended learning outcomes of each lesson were shared with the students from the outset. Previously learned material was revised and this helped introduce new and progressive activities. A good mix of questioning was interspersed with student demonstrations of the techniques required to execute the focused skills. In one case, an excellent teacher-led demonstration, coupled with higher-order questioning, encouraged students to apply their knowledge of passing techniques in hockey. Students were encouraged to analyse the transfer of body-weight in order to increase the power of the push-pass. Subsequent activities encouraged students to apply this skill and knowledge in a variety of different tasks. Engaging students physically and in higher cognitive thinking such as analysis and application of knowledge is exemplary practice in Physical Education.


The structure and pace of lessons was well planned and appropriate to the duration of the lesson. A range of methodologies was employed to achieve the desired learning outcomes. These included the use of questioning, teacher and student demonstrations and worksheets. Activities varied from individual concentration on skill acquisition to paired practice, small group and team games. Team-teaching was used to great effect with a large group. Teachers collaborated to organise and teach a series of exciting team-challenges. Students supported each other during these activities with regular rounds of applause and cheers, which created a very enjoyable atmosphere. All games played had a clearly specified focus. Students were regularly questioned regarding their positioning, decision-making and application of learned skills. Activity levels and skill competencies were to a high standard. This is a compliment to the challenging and motivating environment created by the teachers.


Teachers skilfully guided students through set-tasks by signposting the direction of the lesson, which clearly enhanced the students’ learning experience. For example, a whiteboard, which is provided in the sports-hall as a teaching and learning tool, was particularly effective when used to outline the stages involved in the construction of sequences of movement. This enabled students to have a clear understanding of the set task prior to engaging in the activity. Worksheets were also provided to reinforce the information displayed on the whiteboard. These worksheets contained illustrations and explanations of several skills that may be selected to achieve the desired learning outcome. This allowed students to select skills appropriate to their ability and creatively apply these skills to complete the set task. Teachers are highly commended for this practice.


In all cases, the learning environment was respectful, organised and affirming. Teachers have established an excellent supportive rapport with their students. Students who were unable to physically participate in lessons were assigned tasks. These tasks included peer review of performance, assisting partners to design movement sequences, officiating and the completion of topic-related worksheets. A fully inclusive, caring and supportive environment was very evident in all lessons and this is highly commended.

Lessons concluded by reviewing the material covered and outlining the topics to be covered in the next lesson. Student responses to questioning were informed and enthusiastic. The high participation rates, physical work-rate and level of skill attainment are particularly noteworthy and exemplary for this age group of females. Students’ enjoyment and progress in Physical Education is complementary to the skilled pedagogical practices of the teachers.




Physical Education forms part of the formal reporting process to parents and takes place twice a year, at Christmas and summer. In addition, senior cycle students receive a monthly progress report that includes comments on levels of attainment and progress in Physical Education. Physical Education teachers also attend parent-teacher meetings in keeping with good practice. Student records including progress reports, participation profiles and correspondence with home are available and presented for discussion at parent-teacher meetings. 


Assessment modes are varied and innovative. One form of continuous assessment uses the “Plan, Perform, Evaluate” model. Students may receive one of five grades for each of the three categories, E – excellent, G – good, S – satisfactory, W – work required and P – poor. A bank of descriptive comments facilitates the teacher in applying these grades to students. This is highly commendable practice as the grading process and criteria help focus students during each lesson.


The use of the “house-commend” system further enhances and motivates student involvement and effort in the subject. Students are assigned to one of four “houses” upon enrolment in the school. When effort and achievement in class activities merit a “commend”, students are awarded a point, which is then credited to their house. Points are accumulated throughout the year and prizes are awarded to the most successful house at the end-of-year awards ceremony.


As a result of participating in recent inservice, teachers have begun introducing additional assessment strategies. These include assessment for learning, self and peer assessment and engagement with completing “rich-tasks”. Zip-folders have been filed for each first-year student and contain a note-copy, self-assessment profile sheets, and completed task sheets. The aim is that students will maintain a record of all activities in which they have participated over the course of the junior cycle. These records will provide “before, during and after” self-rating profiles for participation in each activity to indicate progression in understanding and skill competency. The introduction of these methodologies will serve to further enhance the assessment process and is highly commended.


In addition to assessment in Physical Education, extensive records of participation in extra-curricular activities are maintained. The Physical Education department and management maintain a profile of the physical activity patterns and level of involvement of each student. The purpose of this profiling system is to ensure that all students feel part of the school culture and engage in some activities that suit their preferences. The success of this system is due to the diligence of the teachers in constantly maintaining and updating individual records. This level of on-going monitoring is highly commendable as it allows for early identification and intervention to help students who may not be engaging in any regular physical activity. 




Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:



As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:




Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physical Education and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.