An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta


Department of Education and Science







Subject Inspection of Physical Education





Saint Mary’s Academy C.B.S.


Roll number: 61120E






Date of inspection: 15 November 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 St. Mary’s Academy C.B.S. 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 principal and subject teachers.  The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.



Subject provision and whole school support


St Mary’s Academy, Carlow is an all boys’ secondary school with a current enrolment of 539 students. The school is run by the board of management, under the trusteeship of the Christian Brothers. Classes are organised into mixed-ability groups for all subjects with the exception of Mathematics, English and Gaeilge, which are banded from second year onwards.


Physical Education is offered as a core subject for all junior cycle and Transition Year (TY) students. Each class group receives one double period per week of Physical Education of eighty minutes duration. Whilst this allocation is adequate to implement the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus, it is below the two hours per week as recommended in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004/2005 (pages 7, 141). Senior cycle students, who are not eligible to study for the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), have the option to participate in Physical Education. These students alternate between participating in Physical Education and attending a study period every other week. LCVP students do not have any access to Physical Education. It is recommended that the current senior cycle provision and arrangements for Physical Education be reviewed. Quality Physical Education has an important role to play in promoting behaviours conducive to positive engagement in lifelong physical activity. It is important that all adolescents be afforded the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to engage in regular physical activity and to examine their own physical activity behaviour and its impact on their wellbeing.


There are seven teachers timetabled to teach Physical Education in the school. Two teachers on the staff hold qualifications recognised by the Department of Education and Science to teach the subject. Whilst some of the teachers who are not qualified to teach Physical Education may be very experienced in activities such as games, the quality of Physical Education they can offer students is quite limited. Additionally, there may be a health and safety risk associated with deploying teachers to take timetabled Physical Education lessons who are not qualified in the subject. Physical Education encompasses many of the underlying principles that are necessary to successfully understand and progress in a broad range of physical activities. These include physiological, biomechanical, sociological, psychological, aesthetics and pedagogical principles. The Physical Education teacher is expected to develop students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes through a broad range of physical activities, as outlined in the syllabuses, and to integrate the underlying principles through these physical activities and experiences. Additionally, a Physical Education professional is expected to have a high level of awareness of safe practice in all areas of physical activity. An appropriately qualified professional is the most important resource that a school requires to deliver a quality Physical Education programme and such teachers exist on the staff. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that only teachers who possess recognised qualifications to teach Physical Education be timetabled to teach the subject.


It is acknowledged that teachers, who are currently timetabled to teach Physical Education, make a valuable contribution towards developing a positive physical activity culture in the school. They also bring a level of vibrancy and enthusiasm to the extra-curricular sport’s programme. Therefore, it is recommended that the school endeavour to support the continued involvement of these teachers in the provision of extra-curricular physical activities. 


Management supports teachers’ attendance at relevant inservice. This is commended as such support leads to new and innovative methodologies especially in the areas of planning and organisation of teaching and learning. It is recommended that the qualified Physical Education teacher be registered to attend the current round of inservice for the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus.


The school has integrated Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) for third-year students into subjects, such as Home Economics, Science, Guidance and Physical Education that can deliver the various modules. This complements the subject matter of relevance to both subjects. The modules related to physical fitness are taught as part of the Physical Education programme. This is an innovative approach to teaching SPHE where the cross-curricular links allow for both the theoretical and practical application of the relevant concepts. This approach is commended.


The school has a well-maintained sports hall and a large courtyard area for the purpose of teaching Physical Education and it also has access to playing pitches for extra-curricular activities. However, due to the distance of the pitches from the school, it is impractical to organise Physical Education lessons at these venues. Management has ensured that only one Physical Education class is timetabled for the sports hall at any time. This avoids unnecessary overcrowding and provides each class group with maximum space and access to resources in order to optimise learning. This is good practice. The Physical Education storeroom is well organised with boxes and shelving labelled for items of equipment relevant to the strands of the syllabus. There is a wide range of resources available to support a comprehensive Physical Education programme. The school is commended for its maintenance and optimal use of its available facilities.


Management is commended for its support in the provision of resources required for the effective teaching and learning of Physical Education. The subject coordinator completes a standard requisition form for the purchase of new and replacement items as needs arise, with all items acquired on approval. All subject departments have access to the information and communication technology (ICT) room and staff are encouraged to avail of this facility with their students.


Students participate in a range of extra-curricular physical activities including Gaelic football, hurling, soccer, basketball, athletics, squash, golf, tennis, rugby and handball. Many members of the staff are involved in organising and coaching these activities, which is highly commended. In some activities, the school has developed links with local clubs and coaches, as is the case with rugby and handball. The assistance of these external agencies and coaches offers valuable support and club links for students. Such links provide accessible pathways for students to continue their involvement in sport within the wider community. There is excellent promotion of the schools achievements in extra-curricular sport throughout the school. A wide array of photographs and trophies adorn the walls of every corridor. Such promotion provides an awareness for students of the role of sport in forming the traditions of the school and of the contribution of past students to its many great achievements at the highest level.


Planning and preparation


There was a good level of short-term and long-term planning in evidence during the inspection. The school is well advanced in whole-school planning and has developed and reviewed many of its policies. Management facilitates the planning process by allocating time for three formal subject planning meetings during the year. Informal planning occurs regularly when needs or issues arise. Two teachers, who rotate the responsibility annually, coordinate the Physical Education department. The planning periods provide opportunities to identify areas of development for the subject. Issues that have been discussed include the implementation of the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus, attendance at inservice and the upgrading of equipment. This is commendable practice.


There is some collaborative planning taking place in Physical Education amongst the staff involved in delivering the programme. The subject plan documents a good range of activities covering most of the strands of the syllabus for junior cycle, TY and senior cycle. It is commendable that the Physical Education department has documented a curricular plan for junior cycle in line with the recommendations of the new syllabus. The TY plan includes activities appropriate to the ethos of the programme such as leadership skills & personal development. These activities include self-defence, dance and both soccer and GAA refereeing workshops. In addition, TY students visit an outdoor education centre and a local fitness centre. The range of activities and emphasis on personal development is to be commended. However, the subject plan is mostly content based and it is recommended that it be expanded to include the identification of teaching and learning methodologies appropriate to each of the activities. Additionally, future planning should include the development of an adventure activities module for junior cycle. Whilst it is acknowledged that there may be restrictions due to a lack of suitable outdoor facilities, this module may include both indoor and outdoor team challenges as well as orienteering within the existing school grounds.


In some cases, teachers have developed individual units of work identifying the learning outcomes, content, appropriate teaching and learning methodologies and resources required for each block of learning. This is good planning practice as it indicates the necessary requirements to effectively progress students through the relevant strands of the syllabus. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all members involved in the delivery of the subject. These units of work should also be included in the subject plan. To support these units of work it is recommended that the Physical Education department develop a range of resources such as age and ability appropriate worksheets, relevant video-clips, task-cards and explanatory notes. These may be used as reference, activity or supplementary materials for each block of learning.


Whilst computers are used to prepare class notes for Physical Education, it is recommended that ICT be expanded into the teaching and learning aspects of the subject. Teachers are encouraged to identify opportunities and plan methods to incorporate some form of movement analysis as well as other forms of ICT into the subject.


Teaching and learning


The lessons observed dealt with a variety of topics including athletics, invasion games and components of physical fitness. In most cases, students assisted in the movement of equipment and the setting up of the activity venues, which proved beneficial to the smooth running of lessons. On completion of the set-up and prior to the commencement of lessons, students assembled in an orderly manner to facilitate the recording of attendance and participation in the lessons. This good practice ensured that students were adherent to the established code of behaviour, which in turn helped to create a very positive and respectful learning environment from the outset. Students, who were unable to participate in the practical activities, were required to complete an observation worksheet based on the performance of one of their classmates. These students were provided with criteria to inform their observations including analysis of technique and suggestions for improvement. In some cases, these students were periodically asked to provide feedback on student progress during the lesson. This process ensures that students’ learning is enhanced through their understanding and application of relevant teaching points and by the requirement to provide technical feedback to the class. This is highly commendable practice as it maintains the involvement of all students in the learning process.


All lessons began with a series of warm-up activities that were appropriate to the age and ability of the students and related to the topic of study. In some cases, the purpose of the lesson was clearly outlined to students at the start and it is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons. Informing students of the desired learning outcomes prior to the lesson helps maintain their focus and provides them with tangible targets on which to base their learning.


In all lessons observed there was good use of oral questioning to determine students’ understanding of the assigned tasks. In some cases, questioning was expanded to develop students’ understanding and establish higher-cognitive reasoning. Such practice ensured that students applied their knowledge and understanding to positively enhance their performance in the set tasks. The use of the whiteboard to record student responses and to highlight relevant technical points is commendable. In some cases, students were required to explain and demonstrate their understanding of technical terminology such as “force”, “velocity” and “trajectory of an object”. Questioning and tasks were set to explain and demonstrate how the correct transfer of physical power may enhance the trajectory of an implement thereby improving throwing performance. This good practice encourages students to apply their knowledge and to develop analytical and evaluative strategies within the Physical Education context. It also encourages students to develop an understanding of the multiplicity of variables that may influence human performance. 


There was good use of paired and group-work in lessons observed. In particular the use of worksheets, where students recorded performance indicators for their partners, provided a focus as they completed the set tasks. However, it is recommended that information provided to students is clear and precise to avoid confusion. For example when teaching components of fitness, students should be aware of the distinction between the type of physical activity that is beneficial for all, regardless of age and ability and that which is required to reach high performance in sports. This is an important distinction, as some students, who may not wish to engage in performance related physical activity, still require the skills and knowledge necessary to incorporate appropriate forms of physical activity into their lifestyles. Additionally, when teaching the skills of invasion games, opportunities should be presented for students to apply these skills within a game setting. This will help students understand the application of the skill in developing game related competency.


In all lessons observed, the students were enthusiastic and diligent participants. Teachers provided regular encouragement and affirmation throughout all lessons and this created a positive working environment. There were many instances of good individual attention provided by teachers to promote student competency. This commendable practice ensured that the Physical Education lessons were inclusive and catered for the needs of the students. Student-teacher rapport was friendly and respectful and the atmosphere was one where students were secure and enjoyed their Physical Education lessons.




Some of the planned units of work reviewed during the inspection contained a series of recall questions. These could be better used to assess students’ understanding during, or at the completion of the module. It is recommended that these questions be expanded to include some higher-order questions or tasks, which should be used as part of homework assignments or as an end of module assessment. Teachers maintain records of attendance and participation for all Physical Education classes in keeping with good practice. Informal assessment is conducted through observation and regular questioning to determine students’ understanding. Additionally, peer and self-assessment occurs during some lessons. However, it is recommended that the Physical Education department develop an assessment system to record progress and achievement of each student for each block of learning. Involvement in the inservice for the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus will help to inform the Physical Education department of innovative approaches to assessment. The implementation of a range of assessment methodologies will contribute to a well-informed portfolio of student achievement in the subject.


Teachers involved in the delivery of the Physical Education programme are available at parent-teacher meetings for all year groups. Formal end-of-term reports are sent home to parents at Christmas and summer. However, Physical Education is not included in these reports. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed. Parents should receive a comment informing them of the participation, progress and achievement of their child in the subject.


Participation rates in Physical Education lessons observed during this inspection were high. Students were enthusiastic and demonstrated high levels of compliance to all instructions and tasks set by their teachers.



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.