An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Árdscoil Uí Urmoltaigh
Bandon, County Cork
Roll number: 62050O
Date of inspection: 6 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Árdscoil Uí Urmoltaigh, Bandon. 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 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Árdscoil Uí Urmoltaigh is a privately owned, all boys school with a total student enrolment of 227 students and a staff of eighteen teachers, thirteen of whom are employed in a permanent capacity. There are five teachers involved in the teaching of Physical Education in the school. Although these teachers do not have formal teaching qualifications in Physical Education, they are making a significant, positive contribution to the health and welfare of students and the overall culture of physical activity in the school. The teachers have a keen awareness of the limitations of their own expertise with regard to Physical Education and do not attempt to teach any topic with which they are unfamiliar. They are competent, dedicated professionals who are involved in providing physical activity for students as a result of a genuine interest in sport and physical activity. The commitment of these teachers is extended to providing extra-curricular activities for students, both during lunch breaks and at the end of the school day.
Despite this commendable involvement from teachers who do not hold teaching qualifications in Physical Education, the school would benefit from the breadth and depth of expertise that a qualified physical education teacher would be expected to provide and it is recommended that the school seeks to employ such a person, even on a part-time basis, to oversee the delivery of a comprehensive curriculum in Physical Education. In the event of such a person being employed, a challenge facing management in the school will be to maintain the positive contribution of the non-physical education professionals to the culture of physical activity and games in the school, while at the same time affording all students the opportunity to experience physical education lessons delivered by a physical education professional.
Although no unsafe or potentially dangerous practice was observed during the inspection, there may be a health and safety risk associated with the timetabling of non-physical education professionals to take lessons in Physical Education in the school. Such a potential risk is mitigated somewhat by the fact that these teachers have many years of experience in the activities which they teach and they, quite rightly, do not attempt to cover any activity with which they are unfamiliar. It is also noted that a staff member has qualifications in First Aid. Staff without qualifications in Physical Education however, cannot be expected to have the same depth of knowledge and understanding of potential health and safety risks associated with physical activity as a qualified physical education professional would be expected to have. This should be regarded as a further imperative toward having timetabled lessons in Physical Education taken by a fully qualified physical education teacher.
The employment of a qualified Physical Education teacher to oversee the delivery of a comprehensive curriculum in the subject would also allow the school to benefit from Department of Education and Science curricular initiatives such as the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus which is currently being implemented in schools throughout the country. This syllabus can be adapted and implemented to suit the particular circumstances of each individual school and provides a wealth of ideas and a clear structure to Physical Education at junior cycle. The implementation of this syllabus is recommended as it can be expected to impact positively on the physical education experience of all students.
A double-period of Physical Education is provided in first year and second year and again in Transition Year and all students are expected to participate in Physical Education unless otherwise requested by their parents. Some lunch-time physical activities are also provided, for first-year and second-year students in particular, as a support programme to complement provision in Physical Education. It is a matter of concern, however, that no timetabled Physical Education is provided for students in third year, fifth year and sixth year. Although parental pressure is cited as a reason for this decision, there is an onus on schools to promote a positive attitude to Physical Education and participation in physical activity among all age groups in the hope of combating many of the health problems which can result from living a sedentary lifestyle. The high drop-our rates from physical activity, particularly among students in their late teens, commented on in reports such as the National Task Force on Obesity Report 2005 and School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI 2005, make it important that all schools provide appropriate levels of Physical Education for students. By not having Physical Education timetabled in third year, fifth year and sixth year there is a danger that the perception may inadvertently be created among these students that physical activity is not a priority for them and that it is something that can be discarded when they are preparing for State examinations. It is therefore recommended that the school works towards providing Physical Education for all students in accordance with Department of Education and Science recommendations of two hours per week (Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005). Should parental resistance to this idea be encountered, the school should seek to elicit support through the parents’ association and students’ council. These bodies should be informed of the benefits of Physical Education for all students. The impact of initiatives in other countries, such as the Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) strategy in the UK, have shown that schools which provided two hours of quality Physical Education per week accrued many benefits, not just confined to Physical Education. These included a better motivated and engaged student cohort, lower absentee rates and less discipline problems. All of these positive attributes can be expected to assist, rather than detract from, student achievement in the State examinations.
The facilities available to the school on-site for the delivery of Physical Education are quite basic, consisting of a grass pitch, a smaller grass playing area and a small indoor hall. The latter, in particular, is a general purpose hall and is only suitable for physical activities that involve a small number of students, due to its size and the low height of its ceiling. It is commendable that the school has organised the use of locally available facilities, including the GAA pitch, rugby pitch, pitch and putt course and leisure centre to augment its own facilities. This has enabled the school to offer a physical education programme of greater breadth and variety than would otherwise be possible.
Planning at both a whole-school level and at subject level in Physical Education is well advanced. Management facilitates this process by allocating time at the start and end of the school year for formal planning and also using monthly staff meetings to discuss planning issues among other items. A range of policies are in place and many of the older policies have been given to staff for revision where such a need has been identified. Among the policies currently being reviewed are critical incidents, anti-bullying and health and safety. A portion of a school planning day this year was dedicated to subject department planning and a further day is planned for this term. There is an excellent level of planning in Physical Education both at whole-school level and with regard to individual lessons. The subject plan is a very comprehensive document which contains detailed information on the range of topics to be covered in Physical Education in all year groups and contains a range of resource materials to assist learning. The sourcing of relevant documentation and resource material on the internet is particularly commendable and is indicative of a serious commitment to providing a good quality programme in Physical Education. Student interests and the requests of parents are taken into account in deciding the range of activities that is provided and the school does its utmost to facilitate these requests, although the lack of a qualified physical education teacher naturally imposes some restrictions on the range of activities that can be offered. Taking student and parent views into account is commendable as it helps to create a greater sense of ownership of the learning process among students and can help student motivation levels. It is also considered good practice that the school employs the services of outside coaches to deliver areas of physical activity and sport in which expertise is lacking among the staff. When the services of these coaches are employed, the practice whereby a staff member is in attendance at all times during the lessons is commended.
There is an extensive programme of extra-curricular physical activities in the school and responsibility for extra-curricular and sports activities forms part of the duties of one teacher with a special duties post and one teacher with an assistant principal post of responsibility. The main areas of provision include Gaelic football, hurling, rugby, athletics and basketball with some aquatics, pitch and putt, soccer, table tennis, volleyball, golf and handball also provided from time to time. The involvement of a significant number of staff and students in these activities is commended as this can be highly rewarding and can help to extend learning in Physical Education outside formal lessons. These activities help to make up some of the curricular deficit for students in third year, fifth year and sixth year in terms of physical activity, though they cannot be regarded as an adequate substitute for an appropriate programme of Physical Education for these year groups.
The life skills module, which takes place for three periods during one afternoon per week for students in Transition Year, complements provision in Physical Education by providing additional opportunities for students to become involved in physical activities such as kayaking, orienteering, aquatics and athletics. This year it is also planned to introduce dance into this programme of activities. Other activities that are provided in Transition Year include rugby, golf, pitch and putt, table tennis, First Aid and health-related activity. The latter activity involves liaising with the Health Service Executive (HSE) in Cork to provide students with a four-week module on general health and well-being. There is a healthy culture of taking the views of parents and students into account when deciding what activities are to form part of the life skills programme and students are regularly canvassed as to what activities they would like to see included in the programme. All students with special educational needs are fully integrated into physical education lessons as much as possible and information regarding such students is communicated to teachers at the start of the school year.
The quality of teaching observed in this school was good with students engaged in a range of purposeful and enjoyable activities in all lessons. The use of handouts, worksheets and visual aids greatly assisted teaching and helped to aid student understanding of the theoretical aspects of learning in particular. Lessons benefited from very thorough planning and were carefully structured and paced in accordance with student understanding. Key concepts were elicited from students through group and individual questioning and strategies, such as the use of clever mnemonics, helped to aid student recall of information. This was particularly evident in a lesson dealing with some theoretical aspects of Physical Education and the range of questions asked by students indicated that they were engaged by the topic and that they found the activity to be enjoyable. Opportunities were also provided during this lesson for students to discuss with a partner responses to a questionnaire on physical activity. This is commendable as it encourages students to reflect on their own patterns of physical activity and provides opportunities for peer learning.
Practical lessons began with a warm-up activity that was thorough and enjoyable and achieved the objective of getting students physically and mentally prepared for more vigorous activity. Teachers used this time to explain the content of the lesson and to give some information regarding the need for warm-up prior to activity. The lack of space in the indoor hall, however, meant that scope for physical activity was rather limited and that students had to take turns sitting by the side of the hall so that others could perform safely. This is less than satisfactory and can only be remedied by the building of a dedicated physical education hall. It is recommended that the school investigate the feasibility of building such a hall.
The development phase of lessons involved students in performing a range of practices, individually, in pairs and in small groups designed to develop skills in a particular area. These practices were thoroughly explained by teachers and the key technical points with regard to the performance of each skill were highlighted. Students were given ample time to perform each practice and teachers gave individual attention to students as required. Small-sided games, which were organised at the conclusion of lessons, were designed to help consolidate learning by making students apply skills learned during the development phase of the lesson. This is commendable. Discipline was unforced and all lessons took place in an atmosphere of mutual respect between teacher and student. It is also considered good practice that students who were unable to participate in lessons were involved in setting up grids, officiating and doing other tasks that helped the lesson operate smoothly. This promotes a sense of involvement among these students and should help them to realise that they can be part of the learning in a physical education lesson even when they are not physically able to participate. At the end of lessons, teachers recapped on learning that had taken place and told students what would take place in the next lesson. This helps to reinforce learning and to place learning in context for students, enabling them to see each lesson as part of a block of learning.
Teachers are aware of their limitations in terms of their ability to deliver a broad physical education curriculum but, despite this, through creatively employing their own talents and the use of external coaches, a programme of reasonable depth and variety is provided in Physical Education. Responses to questioning indicate a good level of knowledge among students and they attended fully to instructions given during all lessons. A distinction has to be made between teaching and coaching however and it has to be accepted that the latter is what is being provided in many of the physical education lessons in the school. One of the challenges in teaching students through physical activities is to develop their capacity for critical analysis of performance in a reflective and informed manner and to help them see learning in many, diverse areas of Physical Education as part of a body of integrated knowledge in the subject. This is an essential difference between training or coaching and teaching. The latter focuses on higher order educational objectives such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation so as to promote learning and engage students in a process of systematic, purposeful reflection across a broad range of topics in Physical Education. The former are concerned primarily with complying with drill instructions where there is a specific, performance-related aim. There is a body of specialist knowledge pertaining to Physical Education which a person without specific training in the area cannot be expected to have and, as such, a person with the appropriate qualifications would be best placed to deliver instruction in the area.
There is no formal assessment taking place in Physical Education. Teachers of Physical Education attend all parent-teacher meetings and assessment during physical education lessons is by means of informal observation. Reporting to parents in first year and second year takes the form of a written comment. The involvement of many of the teachers of Physical Education with school teams etc. means that teachers regularly meet parents at matches and other school events and informal feedback is also provided to parents on these occasions.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
1. The school will apply to the Department of Education and Science for teaching hours in addition to the current allocation of teacher hours, so as to facilitate the possibility of employing a P.E. Teacher.
2. The school will, dependent on the provision of additional teaching hours, endeavour to employ a fully qualified P.E. teacher and duly implement the J.C.P.E. programme.
3. The school will explore the feasibility of building a P.E. hall.
4. The school will continue to time table P.E. in double period units, taking into consideration the wishes of our partners in education, the parent body, the local community, the student body and the teaching staff.