An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Loreto Secondary School
Clonmel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65330M
Date of inspection: 5 December 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, Clonmel. 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, Clonmel is an all-girls secondary school with a total enrolment of 486 students. There are thirty-four teachers on staff, twenty-six of whom are employed in a permanent capacity. The delivery of Physical Education is overseen by two, fully qualified, physical education teachers.
Subject provision for Physical Education in classes in junior cycle and Transition Year is a double period per week, amounting to between sixty and eighty minutes. Though this level of provision is not uncommon in second-level schools, it is less than what is regarded as desirable for the achievement of the aims of Department of Education and Science syllabuses. It is of particular concern that students in fifth year have only one period of Physical Education and that students in sixth year have the option of participating in Physical Education or using the time for additional study. Although this arrangement means that students who opt to participate in Physical Education in sixth year are highly motivated to do so, and allowing them the option of participating in the subject could be seen as affirming their increased level of maturity and right to make choices about their physical activity levels, it is nonetheless regarded as desirable that all students are guaranteed some physical activity during the school week. As the physical education teachers displayed excellent levels of creativity and class management skills during the inspection, it would be expected that they would find activities that would interest even the most reluctant participant, for whom the week’s physical education lesson might be the only vigorous physical activity in which she engages. It is regarded as essential that this minimum level of physical activity be safeguarded so as to combat the worryingly high levels of drop out from physical activity among teenage girls nationally, mentioned in reports such as National Task Force on Obesity Report, 2005 and Consultations with Teenage Girls On Being and Getting Active – Health Promotion Department, North Western Health Board, 2004. The reduced allocation to Physical Education in fifth year may also, inadvertently, create the impression that it is acceptable for students to have less physical activity as they become older. Although timetabling difficulties are cited as the reason for this level of provision, it is nonetheless recommended that the school work 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).
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education are excellent. These consist of an indoor hall, an astro-turf pitch and a small grass area. These facilities are very well maintained and allow the school to implement a comprehensive curriculum in Physical Education. As part of the long term developmental plan for the subject, the school might consider purchasing some exercise and fitness equipment. Such equipment could be located in the balcony of the physical education hall, or any other location deemed suitable, and could be expected to impact positively on the physical education experience of all students but might be particularly beneficial to senior- cycle students, particularly those who are not interested in the more traditional physical education activities.
Some external coaches are used by the school in the provision of certain activities, notably for the coaching of Gaelic games and tennis and the provision of modules of self-defence and horse riding to Transition Year students. The willingness of the school to recruit the services of such personnel is commended as this allows the school to extend the range of activities that it can offer to all students.
An excellent level of planning and preparation was observed during the inspection. Individual lessons were very well planned with appropriate class materials prepared in advance of the lesson. The subject plan for Physical Education is a comprehensive, well-informed document that has been formulated in line with the school’s planning policies. It contains detailed information on matters such as the overall role of Physical Education, the aims and objectives of the subject, the structure and curriculum overview of the subject, the school’s subject options structure, the facilities and resources available, disciplinary procedures as well as the areas of study in Physical Education. Other information contained within the plan includes a statement on the complimentary role of extracurricular games and physical activities with physical education lessons, the minutes of subject department meetings and yearly plans. It is evident that a considerable amount of thought and effort has gone into the preparation of this document and the physical education department is commended for this effort. Such high-quality planning should provide a clear focus for developments within the subject well into the future.
It is commendable that the school is involved in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus and the broad range of activities planned is in line with the requirements of the syllabus. It is recommended that the school work towards the provision of some aquatics as part of the provision at junior cycle as this is the only area of the JCPE syllabus that the school currently does not provide. It is acknowledged that, due to a high level of demand from other schools in the town, it is difficult to obtain time for aquatics lessons in the local pool. In addition to this it may not be possible for the school to take advantage of any time that does become available, as physical education lessons may not be timetabled concurrently. As a possible solution to this problem, and as part of the planning process in Physical Education, the school might consider identifying when the local swimming pool is available for hire for the next academic year. It may be possible to structure the timetable for physical education lessons around such availability, thus enabling the provision of aquatics for some students as part of their physical education lessons.
A range of interesting and varied activities, not normally available in physical education lessons to other year groups, has been planned for Transition Year. Activities provided include self-defence, horse riding, yoga and First Aid. Students’ achievement in the latter activity is certified by the local Red Cross and this module involves a visit to the local fire station for a fire drill involving a simulated fire. Such provision, containing novel activities and involving the local community as appropriate, is commended and is in keeping with the spirit of the Transition Year programme. Other physical activities provided for Transition Year students include residential outdoor education trips to an outdoor education centre and day trips for activities such as surfing and hiking, the latter involving collaboration with other Transition Year groups from other schools in the locality.
A very good range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities is also provided in the school with hockey, basketball, camógie, football, tennis, badminton, swimming and rugby the main activities in which the school is involved. It is commendable that captains for the various school teams are selected by the players themselves as this promotes a sense of ownership of these activities and a spirit of leadership among students. The physical education department has, as part of subject planning, produced a document outlining the procedures for this process and also outlining the roles and duties of team captains. This is considered very good practice.
Although the provision in the area of extracurricular activity is very good, and it is acknowledged that this is having a significant positive impact on the physical activity patterns of many students, it is noted from the school’s timetable that involvement in extracurricular activity forms part of the timetabled hours of both physical education teachers. Although the selfless commitment of both physical education teachers to such activities, far in excess of the amount timetabled, is recognised, Department of Education and Science regulations do not allow for extracurricular activities to form part of a teacher’s timetable and the teachers’ timetables should be amended accordingly.
The quality of teaching and learning observed in this school was excellent. Lessons began promptly and teachers took a roll call once all students had entered the physical education hall. This had the effect of providing a natural beginning to the lesson and teachers followed this with an introduction to the lesson and an explanation of the lesson content and objectives. This is considered very good practice as the sharing of learning goals with students can be highly motivational and can increase students’ sense of ownership of the learning process. Where a new activity was being introduced to students, such as a dance lesson to junior cycle students, the teacher took time to discuss the activity with students at the start of the lesson, thereby eliciting much useful information regarding students’ prior knowledge of the activity and also emphasising key aspects and setting a context for the activity. The writing of key words and phrases on the whiteboard was particularly beneficial in this regard and this provided a focus and stimulus for discussion.
The quality of teacher demonstrations was very good in all lessons and was a considerable aid to students’ learning. During a basketball lesson at senior cycle the teacher demonstrated the techniques and key points associated with many of the skills of the game and drills and practices were organised so as to consolidate learning of these skills. Students’ performances in these practices were excellent and showed that they had attended closely to the demonstrations of the teacher. As an aid to increased participation among sixth-year students in the optional physical education lesson, it may prove beneficial to assign greater freedom and responsibility to students in fifth year and sixth year by giving them an increased role in the planning and organisation of activities in physical education lessons. As mentioned earlier, this should be regarded as affirming their greater maturity and should encourage them to critically reflect on their physical activity interests and involvements. Allied to this, the provision of more opportunities for student-led learning is also recommended, particularly for senior cycle students. Adjustments to more traditional teaching methodologies involving drills and practices may prove beneficial when dealing with these students, through providing opportunities for students to exercise creativity. Such strategies as allowing students to occasionally decide on the format and nature of games and practices, allowing students to design and implement individual health and fitness programmes as well as using some aspects of the “Games for Understanding” approach might prove successful in engaging a larger number of sixth-year students in physical education lessons. It must be pointed out, however, that the sixth-year students who opted for Physical Education (approximately one quarter of the year group) were highly engaged by the learning experience provided and thoroughly enjoyed the lesson observed.
Tasks set by teachers ensured an excellent level of cognitive engagement on the part of students and this helped to maintain a high level of student motivation throughout all lessons. Teachers frequently set tasks that forced students to recall learning from previous lessons and this, together with recapping which took place at the end of most lessons, helped to consolidate learning for students. Lessons in gymnastics and dance provided students with opportunities to reflect on their own and each others’ performances and students’ comments in this regard were expertly handled by the teacher. Students were allowed to work in small groups during these lessons and there was a significant amount of peer-to-peer learning in evidence. This is commendable as the use of such aspects of assessment for learning is regarded as being effective in motivating students and improving the quality of student learning.
Students were happy and enthusiastic at all times and co-operated fully with their teachers. A feature of all lessons was the effortless rapport that existed between teachers and students and the mutual respect with which each regarded the other. Teachers effortlessly went from group to group or from student to student to offer assistance and advice which was readily received and applied by students. General and directed questioning was used effectively by teachers to elicit key points of understanding and all students’ questions were handled in a sympathetic and sensitive manner. This had the effect of encouraging students to volunteer answers and was effective in maintaining students’ interest. This is highly commendable.
The performances of students during the lessons observed during the course of the inspection, together with the responses of students to questioning by both their teachers and the inspector, indicate that students are achieving to an excellent level in Physical Education in this school.
Teachers use informal observation in assessing students’ progress in all lessons. In addition to this, formal records are maintained of students’ attendance and participation in physical education lessons. It is noted, and is regarded as indicative of a thoroughly professional approach, that this practice is extended to extracurricular training sessions as attendance at these sessions is also recorded. Both formal and informal modes of assessment are used to inform written reporting in Physical Education which takes place at Christmas each year. The “comment-only” marking system in place is regarded as appropriate to Physical Education. In addition to this the physical education teachers attend all parent-teacher meetings. The use of these assessment strategies and the procedures in place for reporting to parents are commended.
Although there are eighty comments available to teachers on the Facility software package used for written reports, not many of these have specific relevance to Physical Education. It may prove beneficial to expand the range of comments available to include comments that would be specifically relevant and informative for each individual student and their achievement in Physical Education. Such a move is recommended in order to enhance the formative nature of comments regarding the students’ achievement in Physical Education.
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.