An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta


Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



St Mary’s College

Rathmines, Dublin 6

Roll number: 60560E


Date of inspection: 27 March 2007

Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007





Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report




Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education



Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Mary’s College. 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 one day 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 deputy principal and the subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.




Subject provision and whole school support


St. Mary's College is a private Catholic school for boys, which was founded by the Holy Ghost Fathers in 1890. The school has expanded and developed since its origin and has a current enrolment of 468 students. The school offers the Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY) and established Leaving Certificate courses to meet the educational needs of its students. The TY programme is mandatory for all students progressing from junior cycle. Physical Education is a core subject on the curriculum at junior cycle, TY and fifth year. All junior cycle classes receive one double period of Physical Education per week. TY students are timetabled for a double period once per week plus an additional three periods one afternoon per week to facilitate both on-site and off-site activities. The timetable allocation for junior cycle is adequate for the implementation of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus, whilst the TY allocation for engagement in Physical Education and modular blocks of physical activities is exemplary.


Students in sixth year are not timetabled for Physical Education, a situation that arose from a recent change in the timetable. This is regrettable and management is encouraged to review the current provision to ensure that all students have access to quality Physical Education as recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools. A broad and balanced Physical Education programme that focuses on the principles and benefits underpinning engagement in physical activity, exercise and sport provides a valuable contribution to the holistic education of students. Excluding Physical Education from students’ timetables during an exam year may give the impression that physical activity is unimportant during busy or stressful times, which is counter-productive to the message advocated by several agencies promoting wellbeing and the aims of the Physical Education syllabus. It is therefore important that students learn the concepts of engagement in physical activity as part of a balanced lifestyle, especially during periods that may be stressful, such as when approaching examinations.


The Physical Education department consists of three teachers, two of whom are qualified in the subject and one who does not hold qualifications recognised by the Department of Education and Science to teach Physical Education. It is recommended that teachers be deployed only in the subjects for which they hold recognised qualifications in line with best practice.


Management is fully supportive of teachers’ engagement in continuing professional development and teachers have attended inservice for the implementation of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus. This is commendable as a range of innovative pedagogical methods have been introduced to enhance the teaching and learning of the subject and should prove beneficial to the Physical Education department in the school.


There is an excellent range of facilities and equipment provided to support the Physical Education programme. The college has invested heavily to provide these facilities, which include a large, newly built multi-purpose sports hall, a fully equipped fitness suite, hard court area and a series of playing pitches at the college’s grounds in Kenilworth Square. There is also a presentation room adjacent to the fitness suite that may be used for Physical Education classes and which has a range of multi-media equipment to support teaching and learning. It is recommended that a whiteboard be fixed in the sports hall to support the teaching and learning in the subject, as this will provide a focal point for displaying key concepts and recording student responses. The equipment storeroom is well stocked and maintained. A budget system is in place to support the subject and is reported to work well. In addition, a substantial budget is provided to support the extra-curricular games programme, with much of the equipment from this programme also available for Physical Education lessons. Management is highly commended for its substantial support in this regard, as it has provided the facilities, equipment and resources to create a learning environment of the highest standard. 


There is exemplary support for an extensive extra-curricular physical activity and sports programme in the college. The college and its students take great pride in its sporting traditions, which are long and illustrious and many past and present students have represented Ireland at the highest level. The main sports are rugby, athletics and cricket with basketball, badminton, squash, tennis and golf also facilitated by the school. It is highly commendable that students are accommodated to participate in the extra-curricular physical activity programme at a recreational as well as at a competitive level. This is laudable as it promotes the intrinsic value of physical activity for individuals who may not wish to participate in team-sports or be competitively orientated. There is a high level of staff involvement in the organisation and coaching of the various activities and it is especially noteworthy that many past students and parents are also involved in the coaching process. The quality of the extra-curricular programme, and the support that the school affords it, clearly establishes a positive physical activity culture in the school and is highly commended.


Planning and preparation


The school has engaged with subject planning as part of the school development planning process. Regular meetings are scheduled at the beginning of each term to facilitate formal planning for Physical Education. In addition, opportunities exist for informal meetings to facilitate professional collaboration. The accommodation and facilitation of this planning strategy is highly commended as it increases the potential for dialogue and the production of common resources as well as the sharing of practices amongst teachers of the subject. During the inspection process, the Physical Education department indicated that there was no formal coordinator of the subject but teachers meet regularly and discussions take place to deal with items as they arise. It is recommended that the role of coordinator be established on a rotating basis to facilitate the Physical Education department to plan for the further development of the subject in the school.


There is scope for the Physical Education department to optimise the value of the allocated formal and common meeting times to develop the Physical Education subject plan. There is a need for a clear rationale underpinning the Physical Education programme in the school. This should aim to develop students’ knowledge, skills and understanding of the principles of human movement, and factors influencing engagement in physical activity, exercise and sport. The subject plan should be expanded to identify the long-term priorities for the subject such as curricular provision and timetabling and the resources needed to support the teaching and learning of the subject. A clear pathway should also be identified in the subject plan to link Physical Education with opportunities in school sport and physical activity and in local community recreation and sports clubs. It is clear that some of these links and pathways are very well developed in the school but this good practice should be documented and expanded.


It is commendable that the Physical Education department has begun to use the planning framework available through the junior cycle Physical Education support service.  Teachers have produced a common programme of activities for junior cycle and fifth-year classes and have structured these activities into blocks for each year group. This programme of activities contains a strong emphasis on games and physical fitness development. Whilst this emphasis has many merits, it may create a narrow range of experiences for students. Therefore, the Physical Education department is encouraged to ensure that a balance is achieved across all strands of the syllabus and to expand the range of experiences where students may apply the underlying concepts of Physical Education. Furthermore, it is recommended that each block of activity be developed to identify the range of appropriate teaching methods, learning experiences, resources and assessment methods best suited to optimise learning. 


The Transition Year plan includes a range of certified courses including first aid, sailing, and foundation level coaching. This is commendable as it promotes the concepts of leadership and self-directed learning, whilst also ensuring that students’ learning is appropriately validated. TY students also study a module of exercise science, which covers many of the components of physical fitness and how these may be assessed and developed through the principles of training. Each student receives an informative handbook with all the course materials, and participates in a range of planned activities. Students are assessed through completion of physical fitness assessment profiles, written tests and projects. This innovative module is highly commended.  


There is a clear system for the acquisition of equipment to support the planned activities in Physical Education. A list is compiled at the commencement of the year and resource needs are periodically reviewed by the teachers and submitted for approval. Some resources such as videos and books have been compiled to support the teaching and learning of the subject in the school. There is scope for the expansion of the available resources to support and reinforce learning in each of the blocks of activities. It is recommended that the Physical Education department plan for the development of a bank of resources that may include additional videos, worksheets, task cards, posters and presentations. In addition, planning for the integration of information and communication technology (ICT), such as digital media, will support students towards becoming self-analytical performers and enhance the learning process.


It is commendable that the Physical Education department has been involved in the development of the school’s health and safety statement specific to the subject area. There was a good awareness and demonstration of safe practice in the practical organisation and delivery of the subject.


Teaching and learning


Students assisted teachers with preparing the necessary equipment and set-up of the learning environment, and were familiar with the well-established practice of assembly to facilitate the recording of attendance and participation. This good practice helped to minimise the time needed for organisation and administration and ensured that lessons began promptly. Topics covered in lessons visited during the inspection were based on invasion games and included basketball and soccer. In some cases, students were introduced to the content and proposed activities of the lesson, which is good practice. Sharing the intended learning outcomes with students can help them to remain focused during the lesson and prove motivational. It can also help students to set their goals relative to the teacher’s expectations for their learning and it is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons.


Lessons commenced with a warm-up and these activities were thorough and well structured and in all cases were progressive and appropriate. Best practice was observed when students led their peers in the warm-up activities. In this case, the students regularly diversified the type and direction of mobility activities to include all muscle groups and to prepare physiologically for the forthcoming activities. These mobility activities were followed by a series of correctly identified and executed stretching exercises. The practice of student led activities is commendable as it creates opportunities for students to demonstrate and apply their learning. It was especially noteworthy that this class had several international exchange students who were fully included and obviously enjoyed the experience of being instructed by their Irish peers. Teachers are encouraged to use opportunities to reinforce efficient biomechanics and expand the use of anatomical reference and physiological terms during the warm-up phase of lessons.


All lessons were well paced and tasks were changed at suitable intervals to remain challenging for students of all abilities. It is commendable that students were provided with ample equipment to optimise their time for practice at each task and at their own pace. In most cases, tasks were well structured and progressive, moving from skill-based practice to application in conditioned games and finally to application in full game settings, which is good practice. However, in one case, tasks were set as a knock-out drill, whereby students who were unsuccessful in executing a skill were excluded until there was only one remaining student in the group. This activity may prove challenging and motivating in a skilled and competitive environment and is usually used in   training settings to impose competitive stress on skilled performers. However, it is not appropriate as a teaching and learning activity for the purpose of acquiring and developing skill competence in novice and less skilled learners, as it is based on failure and exclusion. It is recommended that tasks and strategies to reinforce success be developed and used during all skill acquisition practices in the Physical Education setting.


Demonstration was well used to illustrate the organisation of the required tasks and in some cases to identify the characteristics of good technique. Questioning was effectively used in some cases to determine students’ knowledge and to reinforce learning of the key teaching points. It is recommended that questioning be used more frequently during all lessons to increase students’ involvement in higher cognitive aspects such as analysis and evaluation of key concepts and performance indicators.


Physical activity levels were high in all lessons and teachers were encouraging and supportive of students’ efforts. During game related play, best practice was observed when the teacher was continuously challenging students not only to apply their skills but also to process positional information to make tactically informed decisions. This led to students applying the concepts of support and space to create time for the skilled execution of their passing skills. In other cases, students applied themselves well to the organised games, which were very competitive. However, at times the execution of skilled performance suffered because of poor technical and tactical application arising from the highly competitive nature of the games. In these circumstances, students’ would have benefited from being assigned roles or positional responsibilities to reinforce the concepts related to tactical team performance, which would help impose control in the competitive setting.


It was highly commendable that students who are unable to participate in the physical activities of the lesson were engaged in tasks such as assisting with the organisation of class activities and umpiring of games. This is good practice as it ensures that all students remain actively engaged in the Physical Education process. Teachers have established a good rapport with their students and there was a very respectful, mature and calm atmosphere evident in all lessons. Students demonstrated a high active involvement with their Physical Education lessons, were enthusiastic about the activities and responded well to questions posed by the inspector.





Most assessment in Physical Education takes place through teacher observation, questioning and feedback to students regarding effort, participation and progression during lessons. In some cases, the completion of projects and task sheets are also assessed. There is no formal recording or reporting system to parents or students at present. However, the Physical Education department has plans for the subject to be included in the fortnightly “notes” system to parents. This system is in place for most subjects on the curriculum in the college, whereby parents receive a fortnightly report on student progress in each subject area. The frequency of this reporting system is exemplary and ensures that parents are fully informed of their son’s educational progress. The Physical Education department is encouraged to ensure that clear criteria are developed on which to base comments to inform parents of students’ progress in the subject. Detailed discussion and planning should take place prior to the introduction of Physical Education to the notes system to ensure its successful implementation.


The Physical Education department is also encouraged to engage with some of the new and innovative assessment methods currently being promoted by the junior cycle Physical Education support service. These methods include peer and self-assessment, the completion of rich tasks and projects, all of which may be compiled to produce student profiles and portfolios of learning. Further information may be accessed on






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 deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.














School Response to the Report


Submitted by the Board of Management












Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     



St Mary’s welcomes the positive affirming inspection and commends the professionalism and expertise of the inspector




Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection

               activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.          



All of the key recommendations are being implemented.  Physical Education has been introduced in 6th year with immediate effect.