An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
De La Salle College
Macroom, County Cork
Roll number: 62310O
Date of inspection: 28 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College, Macroom. 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. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and teacher of Physical Education. 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.
De La Salle College, Macroom, is a secondary school with an enrolment of 290 students and a total teaching staff of twenty-two teachers, sixteen of whom are employed in a permanent whole-time capacity. Classes are generally organised into mixed-ability groups in both junior and senior cycle, though Irish, English and Mathematics classes are split into higher and ordinary level in junior cycle and senior cycle. Student preferences and consultations with parents and teachers are taken into account in assigning students to different levels. All Physical Education classes are mixed-ability groups as it is the practice that all classes in each year group are timetabled concurrently in junior cycle and that all senior-cycle classes are offered the option of participating in Physical Education together as one group outside of formal school hours. Although this practice allows all students participate in Physical Education for 80 minutes per week in junior cycle and affords senior cycle students the opportunity of participating in Physical Education for approximately 95 minutes per week, it is recommended that this be reviewed as it is regarded as unsatisfactory from a number of perspectives.
Firstly, the time being allocated is less than the two hours per student, per week, recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools 2004/05, (Pages 7, 141). Although the time allocation in junior cycle of eighty minutes falls short of the recommendations, it is of more concern that Physical Education is an optional subject in senior cycle. Secondly, the current situation means that a significant number of students have no formal Physical Education in senior cycle and this has to be viewed as a reflection of the stated lack of priority that the subject has in the school. It is recommended that the prioritisation of Leaving Certificate examination subjects at the expense of Physical Education be reviewed and that all students be provided with Physical Education in accordance with Department of Education and Science recommendations. The recent recommendations of the National Task Force on Obesity as well as other publications have highlighted the vital role that quality Physical Education can play in the fight against obesity as well as its role in providing students with the foundation for an overall healthy, active lifestyle. At a time when the drop-out rate from physical activity generally among people in their late teens is a cause for concern, there is a particular onus on schools to create a positive attitude towards physical activity among students. This can best be achieved by providing a comprehensive Physical Education curriculum which caters for the needs and abilities of all students. There is a significant danger that, where Physical Education is an optional subject at senior cycle, the perception may inadvertently be created among this population that physical activity is a low priority for them. The relatively low level of uptake of the subject at fifth and sixth year in the school can be seen as a function of this perception and it is recommended that the school makes every effort to counter this. In addition, it is not at all clear how the school would cope should all of the 153 students in senior cycle take up the option of doing Physical Education on Wednesday afternoons as there is only one teacher timetabled to teach them at that time.
It is also noted, from the school’s timetable, that the time allocated to senior cycle Physical Education forms part of the timetabled hours of one teacher, despite the fact that this takes place during a half-day on Wednesday when the school is closed. As this provision takes place outside of school time and is available to students on an optional basis it has to be regarded as extra-curricular provision. Department of Education and Science regulations do not allow for extra-curricular activities to form part of a teacher’s timetable and the teacher’s timetable should be amended accordingly.
The practice which obtains in the school whereby Physical Education lessons are taken by the qualified Physical Education teacher and other teachers who, though they have expertise in some areas relevant to Physical Education, chiefly games, are not qualified Physical Education teachers should also be reviewed. The current arrangement is that the teachers who do not hold qualifications in Physical Education take groups of students who opt for games, mainly invasion games such as Gaelic football, hurling and soccer, and the Physical Education teacher concurrently takes other students for a range of activities. From a Physical Education perspective, this is regarded as an inappropriate use of the time of the qualified Physical Education teacher. The most important resource that a school needs in order to deliver a quality programme in Physical Education is a professional with appropriate qualifications recognised by the Department of Education and Science. As such a professional is staffed in the school, it is essential that all students have the opportunity to benefit from the breadth and quality of experience which such a qualified Physical Education teacher would be expected to provide. Additionally, there may also be a health and safety risk associated with the timetabling of non-Physical Education professionals to take timetabled lessons in Physical Education. Although the years of experience, and some training, that these people have in various sporting and athletic disciplines helps to reduce any potential risk, they may not 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. Bearing the above in mind it is strongly recommended that timetabled lessons in Physical Education are taken solely by the qualified Physical Education teacher.
Despite the difficulties outlined above, it has to be recognised that the contribution that non-Physical Education professionals are making in the area of games and other physical activities in this school is noteworthy. The recent ESRI report School Children and Sport in Ireland (2005) highlights this fact and a challenge facing senior 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. It is recommended therefore that the school does its utmost to maintain the involvement of all teachers in the provision of extra-curricular physical activity as these involvements are making a significant, positive contribution to school life for many students.
The school is limited in the range of activities that it can provide in Physical Education due to the fact that it does not have an indoor hall in which Physical Education lessons can take place. It has applied to the Department of Education and Science for funding for the building of such a facility and is at stage two in this process at present. There is no doubt that the provision of an indoor hall would be of considerable benefit to the school in terms of improving the quality of experience available to students especially during inclement weather and it is recommended that, in the short term, the school investigates the possibility of gaining access to the local community hall which is approximately five minutes walk away. The fact that students would have to cross a busy street to access this facility should not be regarded as an insurmountable obstacle as there is a pedestrian crossing en route and students currently cross the same street at a point where there is no pedestrian crossing to gain access to local pitches during Physical Education lessons. The main facilities that the school has on site are a good-sized pitch which is used for a variety of activities, chiefly team games, and an outdoor basketball court. There is also a long-jump pit and a shot-putt area available, while the school has access to local community pitches and occasionally makes use of the local pitch & putt club. Although the nearest swimming pool is approximately forty minutes drive away, the school also makes use of this facility, usually with Transition Year students, and the willingness to use such facilities is commended as it can add variety and interest to the students’ experiences in Physical Education.
There was evidence of good planning in some of the individual lessons observed during the inspection and, although it was stated that a plan is in place for students not interested in Gaelic games in junior cycle, no planning documentation was available for inspection. Informal collaboration takes place between the teachers involved in Physical Education in order to plan the range of activities taking place. It has to be borne in mind, however, that the practice whereby students are given the option of participating in certain activities may lead to a narrowing of experience for some students who may opt for the traditional invasion games and not experience other activities. A distinction has to be drawn here between that which interests students and that which is in their interests. Students may feel that they would not like to participate in certain activities but might, having participated in these activities, feel that they were much more enjoyable than they had anticipated. The provision of a broad range of activities therefore opens up new experiences for students and means that choices that they make at an older age level are more informed and more valid. It would be regarded as appropriate, however, that fifth or sixth-year students, who had experienced a broad range of activities in their previous years of Physical Education, be allowed some freedom in deciding the activity in which they were involved for part of a lesson. This could be regarded as affirming their increased maturity and responsibility and should be seen as empowering them to make valid, informed choices about their health and physical activity. It is therefore recommended that the practice of affording students the option of not participating in certain physical activities in junior cycle be reviewed.
As a means of regularising the curriculum available to students in junior cycle, it is recommended that the school participate in the implementation of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus at the earliest practicable opportunity. This syllabus can be adapted and implemented to suit the particular circumstances of an individual school and provides a wealth of ideas and a clear structure to Physical Education in junior cycle. The implementation of this syllabus can be expected to impact positively on the Physical Education experience of all students and, while all of the topics of study in the syllabus are not within the scope of the school in the absence of an indoor facility, the provision of the majority of the topics is possible as the school has both the facilities and the qualified personnel required for its implementation. In senior cycle it is recommended that the optional nature of the programme be changed and that a broad and balanced range of activities be made available to all students during timetabled Physical Education lessons.
As the ESRI report referred to earlier mentions the virtues of the traditional dominant sports as energisers of both young people and adults these have to be recognised and valued as an essential part of the sporting culture and ethos of this school. The school’s long history of involvement and success in Gaelic football includes a recent victory in the Munster Senior Colleges competition, which is a remarkable achievement for a school of its size. This history of success is something of which the school is justly proud and can be expected to have a life-long positive impact on the attitude of many students to sport and physical activity. It is highly appropriate that the school should continue to promote the involvement of teachers and students in Gaelic games as part of the essential ethos of the school, though it is suggested that this promotion be targeted at extra-curricular provision and that greater balance, with less emphasis on competitive, invasion games, be provided in activities that take place in Physical Education lessons. Among the other areas currently being provided in terms of extra-curricular activity are athletics, golf and table tennis and involvement in these activities is highly commended as it can be extremely rewarding for both students and teachers alike.
A compulsory Transition Year is in operation in the school and a treble-period (120 minutes) is allocated to Transition Year students on Friday afternoons for a range of activities. It is commendable that some of this time is used to augment the range of activities available in the Physical Education programme. Among the activities provided are swimming, self-defence, golf, squash, and a coaching course in Gaelic games. Transition Year students also take part in a week-long adventure activities course at an outdoor education centre. The provision of such a range of activities is highly commended as it can add great variety and interest to the physical activities programme and is in keeping with the spirit and ethos of Transition Year.
The quality of teaching and learning observed in the classes inspected was good in the lessons in which teaching actually took place. However, it must be pointed out that in many lessons the role of the teachers who do not hold Physical Education teaching qualifications is a coaching or supervisory role and Physical Education as such does not take place during these lessons.
In lessons in which Physical Education took place students were engaged in warm-up activities and stretching activities prior to participation in vigorous physical activity. Students performed these exercises conscientiously and in accordance with teacher instructions. Students were attentive throughout the lessons and applied themselves well to a range of tasks that had been set, each posing a different mental and physical challenge. This helped to maintain student interest and the teacher was quick to offer affirmation and encouragement to students. Correction, where required, was offered sensitively and with a focus on a key factor of the skill or exercise being performed. Teacher demonstration helped to give students a clear understanding of what was required and it is commendable that students were also selected to give demonstrations as this practice can be motivational for other students. Some suggestions were made regarding the desirability of heightening student activity levels at all phases of lessons. During the skills phase of a lesson in particular, it is suggested that all available class materials, such as footballs, are utilised. This allows the creation of smaller groups and therefore affords each student proportionally more time with the ball thereby helping to consolidate skills. It should also be borne in mind that a fundamental concept of team-sports is team-identity. The use of coloured bibs is therefore recommended as this will allow students, and teachers, to clearly identify team members and develop the social concept of “team”.
Classroom management in all lessons was generally good and was characterised by teacher control of an organised learning environment, though it was suggested that students be asked to move closer to the teacher when any detailed instruction is being given. This helps to create a natural break from one skill phase of the lesson to another and also encourages students to attend to teacher instruction more closely by preventing opportunities for continuing to practice or play with the ball while instruction is being given from a distance.
In the development phase of the lesson students participated fully in a competitive, small-sided games and the standard of play observed in these games was good with students showing a clear ability to apply many of the skills learned earlier in the lesson. The small-sided nature of these games assisted the consolidation of learning that had taken place earlier and it is suggested that the conditioning of these games for a short period of time would also prove beneficial in this regard. As such, students could be instructed to play one-touch football only, or keep the ball below knee height, or allowed take only one solo etc., depending on the focus of the lesson and the nature of the activity. This practice adds variety to the games and helps to challenge students intellectually as well as physically.
Although many of the students benefited from teaching during Physical Education lessons there were also many students who did not receive any teaching per se during the lessons. These students were involved in teacher-supervised games in which some coaching but little in the way of actual teaching or instruction took place. These activities were well-supervised in most cases, though an athletics session being taken by an external coach involved three potentially hazardous throwing activities taking place simultaneously. This has to be regarded as a potential health and safety risk and it is recommended that only one such activity should take place at any one time. When external coaches are used to complement the teaching staff for Physical Education lessons, it is recommended that a fully qualified member of the teaching staff remains in overall charge of the lesson and the external coach is there in a temporary, assistant capacity to deliver coaching in a particular activity. In this context it is recommended that the qualified Physical Education teacher is consulted regarding the establishment of safe practice where an activity is being coached or supervised by non-qualified Physical Education teachers.
Students were active participants in and clearly enjoyed all lessons being delivered by both qualified and unqualified Physical Education teachers, and students at all times co-operated well with their teachers and each other. Such positive outcomes, however, cannot be regarded as an appropriate substitute for a formal Physical Education lesson delivered by an appropriately-qualified professional. As all students are entitled to an education during Physical Education lessons, not merely an opportunity to participate in supervised activity or coaching sessions, this is regarded as a further imperative toward having all Physical Education lessons taken by the school’s Physical Education teacher. 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. 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. The former are concerned primarily with complying with drill instructions where there is a specific, performance-related aim.
Student responses to questioning as well as overall performance in Physical Education lessons indicate that students are achieving to a reasonable level in Physical Education in this school, and achievement is good in the area of team games in particular. The majority of students are actively involved in Physical Education lessons, though the emphasis on coaching means that students who opt for coaching in a particular sport or sports may not be exposed to a sufficiently broad range of activities. The achievements of school teams and the performances of individuals in athletics and other competitions, though highly commendable in their own right, should not be used as a yardstick to measure the success of the school Physical Education programme. A distinction has to be made between school sport, in which there is a relatively narrow, performance-related emphasis and Physical Education which has at its core the holistic development of each individual student. A properly-constituted Physical Education curriculum contributes to the physical, mental, emotional and social development of each student and it is therefore recommended that the school institutes such a curriculum at the earliest opportunity. Such a curriculum in Physical Education should not take place at the expense of school sport but rather it should be regarded as having the capacity to enhance and complement the programme of extra-curricular sporting activity taking place in the school.
There is no formal assessment taking place in Physical Education and the subject is not part of formal reporting to parents which takes place at Christmas and summer, though teachers involved in the teaching of the subject are available to parents during parent-teacher meetings. It is recommended that Physical Education be included in all written reports to parents so that learning taking place in Physical Education can be affirmed and acknowledged and parents can obtain informed feedback on the progress of their child in Physical Education.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
All students in the school are afforded the opportunity to participate in Physical Education for a minimum of eighty minutes per week.
A fully qualified Physical Education teacher and five teachers who do not hold Physical Education teaching qualifications are involved in the delivery of Physical Education at the school.
There may be a health and safety risk associated with the timetabling of teachers who do not hold Physical Education teaching qualifications to teach Physical Education.
Two hours of extra-curricular provision are incorrectly being included as part of the timetabled hours of one teacher.
The lack of access to an indoor hall imposes some limitations on the range of activities that can be covered during Physical Education lessons.
There is some informal, collaborative planning taking place among the teachers involved in Physical Education and individual lessons showed evidence of good planning.
Students are given a choice of activities in which to become involved during many Physical Education lessons.
Students who opt for participation in team games during Physical Education lessons are not receiving a broad experience in Physical Education.
The provision of a range of activities in Transition Year that complement the existing Physical Education curriculum is highly commended.
In lessons observed in which the emphasis was on teaching rather than coaching, the standard of teaching was good.
Students are achieving to a reasonable level in Physical Education and achievement in team games is good.
There is a good range of extra-curricular activities provided in the school and the school’s achievements in Gaelic football in particular are a tribute to the commitment of staff and students alike.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
All Physical Education lessons should be taken only by the qualified Physical Education teacher.
Timetables should be adjusted so that any activities taking place outside of school hours are not included as part of formal teaching hours.
The school should participate in the implementation of the revised Junior Cycle Syllabus in Physical Education with the intention of adding more breadth and balance to the Physical Education curriculum in junior cycle.
The practice of allowing junior-cycle students chose the activity in which they become involved in Physical Education lessons should be reviewed.
The school should investigate the possibility of using the local community hall to augment its own facilities.
All students in the school should be provided with two hours of Physical Education per week in accordance with Department of Education and Science recommendations and the optional nature of Physical Education for senior cycle students should be reviewed.
Teaching should take place for all students in all lessons and Physical Education lessons should not be used as an opportunity for coaching or for supervised recreational activities
Physical Education should be included as part of all written reports to parents.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
(i) The Board disagrees with the comments made in the report, in relation to health and safety. All the teachers involved in the delivery of Gaelic games as part of the schools P.E. programme have very significant skills sets and qualifications.
With reference to Health and Safety in schools, the Board is guided by “Litigation against schools – Glendenning & Binchy” in particular the chapter titled “Secondary School Sports and the law” (Dr. Neville Cox).
(ii) The Board is particularly concerned that the Report fails to give due recognition to the contributions being made by non-P.E. teachers in the delivery of the P.E. programme and that such failure may have a negative impact on the voluntary dimension which is inherent in the traditions of De La Salle College.
(iii) The Board considers that the views of parents and students and the school traditions are extremely important in putting together a suitable P.E. programme for the College and believes that Gaelic games form an essential element in our P.E. programme.
(iv) The P.E. participation levels among students are extremely high and this is in no small way due to the great variety of sports offered and the very high levels of performance achieved among a wide variety of disciplines.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board agrees that the profile of P.E. in the school should be increased and undertake to make every effort to do this.