An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Christian Brothers Secondary School
Dungarvan, County Waterford
Roll number: 64880T
Date of inspection: 30 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christian Brothers’ School, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. 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 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 teachers involved in the teaching 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.
Christian Brothers’ School, Dungarvan is a co-educational secondary school with a total enrolment of 308 students, thirty-three of whom are girls. There are twenty-three teachers on staff, nineteen of whom are employed in a permanent, whole-time capacity. It is a cause of some concern, however, that there is currently no Physical Education teacher on staff as this has resulted in some limitations to the Physical Education programme being provided. Though genuine attempts are being made, with the generous co-operation of a number of staff, to provide a range of physical activities for students, this cannot be seen as an appropriate substitute for a quality programme in Physical Education, delivered by a teacher with the appropriate qualifications. It is therefore recommended that, as a matter of priority, the school recruit the services of a qualified Physical Education teacher, even on a part time basis, to oversee the delivery of a comprehensive curriculum in Physical Education.
The commitment and involvement of teachers who do not hold Physical Education teaching qualifications to the culture of physical activity and sport in the school should not go unrecognised, however. The recent ESRI report School Children and Sport in Ireland (2005) highlights, inter alia, the contribution that such teachers are making to the health and welfare of students through the provision of physical activity and school sports. 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.
There may also 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, quite rightly, do not attempt to cover any activity with which they are unfamiliar and they supervise and coach activities in which they themselves have some background and expertise. Although their years of experience and training in various sporting and athletic disciplines also help to reduce any potential risk, they 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 all timetabled lessons in Physical Education taken by a fully qualified physical education teacher. The teachers currently involved in the teaching of Physical Education in the school, mindful of health and safety concerns, have expressed a desire to take a course in basic first aid, as they feel this would be of professional benefit to them. This is highly commendable and it is recommended that the school should facilitate this if possible.
The employment of a qualified Physical Education teacher to oversee the delivery of a comprehensive curriculum in Physical Education 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 and will enable the school to deliver a physical education programme of greater breadth than presently obtains in the school.
The facilities that are available for the teaching of Physical Education in the school are good, although the fact that the school does not have a physical education hall imposes some limitations on the range of activities that can be provided. An indoor games room containing four table-tennis tables is available and these, together with a small indoor assembly area used for some health-related activity and circuit training, are primarily used during inclement weather. There are two full-sized Gaelic football pitches on site as well as a basketball court and it is highly commendable that the school has also negotiated the use of some locally available facilities such as the local tennis courts, swimming pool and sports hall. Access to these facilities is of considerable benefit to the school though they are not all available on a continuous basis due to demand from other local schools and sporting organisations.
Generally, in the school, classes are of mixed ability for all subjects at junior cycle and are divided into higher and ordinary level at senior cycle in preparation for the Leaving Certificate examination. All physical education classes are of mixed ability and the time allocated to the subject is eighty minutes per week for all students. This is less than the two hours per week recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005 and it is recommended that the school provides Physical Education for all students in accordance with these recommendations. The practice of block-timetabling all classes in first year and Transition Year for Physical Education at the one time and of timetabling all second and third years together, and all fifth and sixth years together, should also be reviewed. Though it is understood that this practice has been established in order to provide sufficient student numbers to allow a variety of activities to take place concurrently, it can place considerable demands on the school’s facilities, particularly during inclement weather. It is also regarded as desirable from an educational perspective that each individual class has separate, timetabled lessons in Physical Education, as this facilitates a greater focus on developmental learning, promotes continuity in the learning experience and also allows more individual teacher attention to be given to students.
Very good collaborative efforts have been made by all teachers involved in Physical Education in the school to plan and deliver as broad a range of activities as their respective expertise will allow. A questionnaire is given to first-year students upon entry to the school to ascertain their previous sporting involvement and interests and this is used to inform planning. This approach is highly commendable and is indicative of a commitment to meeting the needs of as many students as possible on the part of teachers. In particular the aim of giving all non-swimmers a basic level of competence and confidence in water by the end of first year is commendable as basic water safety and survival skills will be of benefit to students throughout their lives.
The main activities organised for students during Physical Education lessons are hurling, Gaelic football, soccer and some rugby and teachers have organised mini-leagues in these activities. Tennis, athletics, basketball, swimming and table tennis also take place and a very well-planned and structured programme of activities has been documented for each year group. The Transition Year programme provides opportunities for students to participate in a range of activities which would not normally be possible in Physical Education lessons. This approach is to be commended and is in keeping with the spirit and ethos of Transition Year. Among the additional activities offered are self defence, first aid and a module on refereeing in Gaelic games.
The main areas of extra-curricular provision are hurling, Gaelic football and soccer, with some athletics, tennis and golf also taking place. It is not surprising to find that these sports dominate extra-curricular provision as the ESRI report, referred to earlier, mentions the virtues of the traditional dominant sports as energisers of both young people and adults and these have to be recognised and valued as an essential part of the sporting culture and ethos of this school. It is highly commendable that a significant number of teachers continue to provide extra-curricular physical activities for students, as involvement in these activities may be the first step in a life-long interest in health and physical activity for many students. Management acknowledges the commitment of teachers in this regard and the priority given to extra-curricular sport in the school is reflected in the fact that part of the duties of the holder of an assistant principal post of responsibility is for the co-ordination of games.
The quality of teaching and learning observed was satisfactory, bearing in mind the fact that none of the teachers involved in the teaching of the subject holds a physical education teaching qualification. Lessons began promptly with a roll-call and students were aware of the activities in which they were involved and the teams with whom they were playing from the start of the lesson. Fixtures and results as part of mini-leagues were displayed prominently on the notice board in the assembly area and this is commended, as it enables students to check the activity in which they are engaged prior to the lesson and can also be motivational for students as they can see the performance of their team from week to week. Care has to be taken in the formation of teams for these leagues, however, so as to ensure that the emphasis is always on participation and enjoyment rather than competition. It is also important to ensure that students all achieve success at some stage of the year as a negative experience in an overly-competitive environment can be de-motivational for some students.
All activities were well organised and, though little in the way of physical education teaching per se was observed, teachers were involved in coaching and refereeing activities that were enjoyable and invigorating for students. Some conditions were applied to games and this is considered good practice as it focuses the attention of students on a particular aspect of the game. It is recommended that plastic cones or other markers be used to clearly delineate pitch boundaries and that, from a health and safety perspective, the wall at the side of one of the pitches should never be used as a pitch boundary. Instead, the boundary should be set at least 5 metres inside this wall so as to minimise the risk of students running into it when competing for possession.
Some suggestions were also made regarding strategies which could be employed to increase student involvement and to maximise activity levels. In particular, a progressive, topic-specific warm-up involving mobility and stretching exercises is recommended at the start of all physical education lessons in order to prepare students for participation in more strenuous physical activity. A developmental approach should also be adopted to skill development within a lesson whereby students ideally are provided with an opportunity to practice skills individually before doing so in small groups and then in small-sided games. These games should be conditioned so as to encourage students to focus on the skill learned earlier. A lesson focussing on the skill of hand-passing in Gaelic football, for example, might lead to a conditioned game whereby there was no kicking of the ball allowed for a period of time. This helps to consolidate learning by encouraging students to apply the skill learned in a situation where the correct execution of the skill is essential for success. It is noted that an awareness of this good practice has been identified in the planning documentation reviewed as part of the inspection.
Although the games and coaching sessions observed during the inspection were well organised and ran smoothly, a distinction has to be made between coaching, in which there is a relatively narrow, performance-related emphasis and Physical Education which emphasises the holistic development of each individual student. It is suggested that a qualified physical education teacher is the only person in a position to deliver the latter.
Students are achieving to a reasonable level in Physical Education and teachers are making very genuine efforts to provide students with a purposeful, enjoyable and physically challenging programme of activity. The stated emphasis on participation, inclusion and enjoyment is borne out by the evidence of the inspection where participation levels were high and students appeared to thoroughly enjoy themselves, despite the fact that the majority of activity took place outdoors during bad weather. Student responses to questioning from the inspector revealed a good, basic level of understanding of the key concepts of the activities in which they were engaged.
With the exception of Transition Year, Physical Education does not form part of formal reports to parents although teachers involved in the teaching of the subject attend parent-teacher meetings where they report to parents on the progress of students in Physical Education in all year groups. It is recommended that Physical Education be included in all written reports to parents. This is regarded as essential so that learning taking place in Physical Education is acknowledged and so that student achievement in the subject is affirmed. Though the allocation of a mark or grade in Physical Education might not be within the scope of non-physical education professionals, it is suggested that a brief comment on the performance, attitude and effort level of each individual student should be included in written reports. Such a move towards “comment-only marking” can be expected to provide useful feedback to students as a means of formative assessment in Physical Education.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management accepts 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
The Board of Management is not in a position to employ a fully qualified PE teacher without the assistance of the Department of Education and Science. In the school year 2007/08 we are applying for concessionary hours to provide for the requirements as specified by the PE inspection report.