An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Loreto Secondary School
Fermoy, County Cork
Roll number: 62270F
Date of inspection: 19 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School, Fermoy. 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 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.
Loreto Secondary School, Fermoy is a single-sex girls school with a total student enrolment of 613 students. There is a teaching staff of forty four teachers, thirty-nine of whom are employed in a permanent wholetime capacity. The school provides a range of curriculum options to cater for its students including the established Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes as well as the Transition Year, Leaving Certificate Applied and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programmes. The school employs two physical education teachers, both of whom have considerable experience in the teaching of the subject and bring this experience and understanding to bear in a very positive manner in their physical education lessons.
Classes are organised into mixed-ability groups in first, second and third year for all subjects except for Mathematics, where streaming takes place in second and third year, and Gaeilge where classes are banded in third year. Classes in senior cycle are streamed into higher and ordinary level where numbers allow. Physical education classes are of mixed ability in all year groups. The time allocated to Physical Education is considered inadequate as most year groups have less than the two hours per week recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools, 2004-2005. Of particular concern is the practice of placing Physical Education in a rotating block with Social and Personal Health Education (SPHE) in second and third year. This has resulted in the actual time allocated to Physical Education being reduced to forty minutes per week over the course of the year or, as currently obtains, eighty minutes per week for half of the year. This has to be regarded as unsatisfactory from a number of perspectives. Firstly, although the school is involved in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education syllabus, it is not possible for the physical education teachers to achieve the aims of the syllabus within the present time allocation, as the syllabus aims were written on the basis of a two-hour allocation. Secondly, a variety of reports have pointed to the worryingly high drop-out rates from physical activity among teenage girls (National Task Force on Obesity Report 2005, School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI 2005 and Consultations with Teenage Girls On Being and Getting Active – Health Promotion Department, North Western Health Board.). Schools should do whatever they can to counter these trends in the interest of the long-term health and well-being of students. By offering Physical Education on a shared timetable slot with SPHE, the impression may inadvertently be created that Physical Education is not a priority for students in second and third year and that physical activity is something that can be readily discarded. It has to be acknowledged that the provision of a treble-period in Transition Year and the restoration of a double-period in fifth and sixth year goes a long way towards countering this perception and is to be commended. It is, nonetheless recommended that, timetabling difficulties notwithstanding, the school aims to provide two hours 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 indicates that schools that provided two hours of quality Physical Education per week accrued many benefits, not just in the area of Physical Education, including a better motivated and engaged overall student cohort.
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education in the school are good and consist of an indoor hall with balcony area, two outdoor basketball courts and an outdoor all-weather pitch. It is commendable that the school has also negotiated the use of a grass pitch, owned by another, local secondary school, to augment its own physical education facilities. The sharing of locally-available facilities in this manner is considered good practice and can enable schools to deliver physical education programmes of greater breadth than would be possible were they to rely solely on their own facilities. An annual budget, part of which is raised by means of voluntary subscriptions, is allocated to the physical education department and these funds are used to purchase materials needed for the teaching of the subject.
There is a very good level of detailed, purposeful planning in place in the school. Teachers are facilitated to collaboratively plan for Physical Education as part of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) planning days. There are at least three formal planning opportunities provided each year, one of which takes place at the start of the year and, in addition to this, the physical education teachers meet regularly on an informal basis to plan for the subject. It is commendable that the school is involved in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) Syllabus as this syllabus has the capacity to greatly enhance the quality of Physical Education experienced by students. It is also commendable that the school facilitates the attendance of the physical education teachers at in-service training provided by the Department of Education and Science as part of the implementation of this syllabus. The range of activities planned is consistent with the aims of the syllabus and provides a broad range of experiences for all students.
There is a good level of extra-curricular provision in the school with basketball, hockey, camógie and football the main areas of provision, with a recent all-Ireland ‘B’ success in football an achievement of which the school can be justly proud. The involvement of teachers and students in these activities is commended as they provide opportunities to extend learning in Physical Education outside the classroom and can form the basis for a lifelong interest in health and physical activity for many students. It is noted, however, that provision in the area of extra-curricular activity forms part of the official timetable of some teachers in the school. As Department of Education and Science regulations do not allow for extra-curricular activities to be timetabled in this manner, the teachers’ timetables should be amended accordingly.
A range of interesting and varied activities has been planned for Transition Year, in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the programme. These include modules in swimming, horse riding, pitch & putt, and First Aid. It is highly commendable that opportunities are provided for students to gain external accreditation for learning in some of these areas, notably in swimming, where all students do a safety level one course at a minimum, and in First Aid. The external validation of these activities can be very rewarding for students. In addition to this, students take part in an outdoor education course which typically lasts for one week. Leadership opportunities are also provided for Transition Year students as they organise a sports day for first year and another for second-year students. It is recommended that this good practice be extended so that all year groups have the opportunity to participate in a sports day. Opportunities to highlight success are availed of through the school’s awards night and, as part of these awards, the best sports star in junior and in senior cycle receives an award. This is highly commended as it recognises effort and achievement in sport and such celebration of success can be very motivational for all students.
Individual lessons benefited from very thorough planning and progressed smoothly as a result. Class materials were prepared as required and teachers have collaborated to collate a range of handouts and other materials that can be used in physical education lessons. Such collaborative planning efforts are commended.
The quality of teaching and learning in Physical Education at the school is very good, with all students involved in purposeful, enjoyable activities in all lessons. Warm-up activities at the start of lessons involved students in a range of different activities designed to raise the heart rate and also introduce the main body of the lesson. In many lessons, students who were not able to physically participate in the lesson assisted in the setting up of class materials. This is commendable as it both saves time for the teacher and also keeps non-participants involved in the lesson in a meaningful manner. Opportunities to extend this involvement to other areas of the lesson, such as officiating, were also availed of and this too is commended. Where stretching exercises were performed as part of the warm-up it was good to see that opportunities were provided for students to lead these activities and teachers used this time to question students regarding the names of the muscles being stretched.
Before the development phase of each lesson the teacher recapped on material covered in previous lessons. This is considered good practice as it helps students to place current learning in context and also helps them to see each block of learning as part of an integrated whole. The practice of recapping on learning through individual and group questioning was particularly effective where observed, and it is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons as it challenges students and also helps the teacher to estimate the amount of learning that has taken place in previous lessons and thus adjust the pace of the current lesson.
Good health and safety procedures were observed during all lessons and teachers regularly emphasised the safety elements of any potentially dangerous activity. Despite this, care needs to be taken to make sure that any activities that have an inherent potential health and safety risk are modified or re-examined in order to minimise the potential for injury. In particular, a warm-up activity that involves students in a reaction and chasing drill may need to be re-examined in this regard. A reduction in potential risk may be effected by having students facing each other before the command to run, rather than having them facing in opposite directions with the consequent danger that they may collide should they turn and run towards each other.
Opportunities were provided for students to perform skills learned in previous lessons before the development phase of the current lessons began, and the context in which this learning had taken place was reinforced for students. Drills and practices were carefully selected to build on this learning and teachers gave individual and group attention to students as required. Each activity performed as part of the lesson posed a different challenge to students and conditioned games, which were typically used toward the end of lessons, required students to apply skills and concepts covered earlier in the lesson. This is considered good practice as it emphasises the cognitive and physical elements to learning in Physical Education. Opportunities exist to extend this practice to all lessons through providing regular opportunities for student demonstration and questioning. A lesson dealing with throwing activities in athletics provided interesting opportunities for students to discover the most effective throwing technique by isolating different parts of the body used in throwing. Such constructivist approaches are commendable as they encourage greater reflection among students and enable them to become self-analytical in their performances. Lessons proceeded in a smooth and efficient manner and a feature of all lessons was the excellent rapport that existed between teacher and students. This was very apparent during a lesson in volleyball when students continued to play a conditioned game in a responsible and diligent manner despite the fact that the teacher was giving individual and group instruction to another group of students. This suggests a high level of student engagement with the topic and a commendable preparedness on behalf of the teacher to allow students to take responsibility for their own learning for a brief period of time. The provision of such opportunities is commended as it promotes student autonomy and can encourage students to become independent learners.
The performance of students during physical education lessons, their overall level of engagement with the lessons as well as their responses to questioning from both teachers and the inspector, indicate that students are achieving to a very good level in Physical Education.
Good records are maintained of student attendance and participation in physical education lessons and these, together with assessment through informal observation, are used to inform written reporting in Physical Education which takes place twice per year for all students. It is recommended that some records of student progress and achievement during each term or block of learning should also be maintained. A system of “comment only” marking is in place for reporting in Physical Education. This is regarded as appropriate to the subject and is very useful in providing accurate, relevant feedback to students and their parents. In addition to this, Transition Year students receive a longer report on their performance through the year and this includes a more detailed comment in Physical Education. A certificate is also provided to students at the end of transition year which details their involvements and achievements during the year. This, again, provides information regarding student participation in many physical activities and is highly commended. In addition to formal written reports in Physical Education, the physical education teachers attend all parent-teacher meetings.
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.