An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Saint Fanahan’s College
Mitchelstown, County Cork
Roll number: 71040M
Date of inspection: 12 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 St. Fanahan’s College, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. 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 physical education teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. 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.
St. Fanahan’s College is a co-educational second level school under the management of Cork County Vocational Education Committee (CCVEC). There are 153 students enrolled in the school and the teaching of Physical Education is managed by one, fully qualified physical education teacher. Physical Education has a healthy status among students in the school and the positive impact of the subject and the extra-curricular commitments of the physical education teacher and others are acknowledged and valued by management.
Subject provision for Physical Education consists of two periods per week for all years and a single period to final year Leaving Certificate students. This is less than the amount recommended by the Department of Education and Science. Additionally, although two periods are allocated to the subject in most years, it is of concern that timetabling difficulties mean that this allocation is in the form of single periods in all but first and second year. The lack of opportunity for teachers and students to explore a topic in any great depth in a lesson of forty minutes is one of the main shortcomings of having single periods of Physical Education as the time needed for students to change and shower leaves very little time for actual physical activity in the lesson. Department of Education and Science recommendations are that all student should have a minimum of two hours of Physical Education per week (Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005) and it is regarded as essential that at least one double-period of Physical Education per week is provided for all students as part of this provision, so as to ensure a quality experience in Physical Education. It is therefore recommended, timetabling difficulties notwithstanding, that the school work towards this level of provision. The fact that final year Leaving Certificate students have only one period of Physical Education per week is also of concern because it may, inadvertently, give these students the impression that it is acceptable to reduce one’s level of physical activity as one becomes older, or as one prepares for State examinations. As a variety of reports such as The National Task Force on Obesity Report 2005, Consultations with Teenage Girls On Being and Getting Active” – Health Promotion Department, North Western Health Board 2004, and School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI 2005, have highlighted the high drop out rates from physical activity among students in their late teens, it is important that all schools provide appropriate levels of Physical Education for students and that there is no reduction in Physical Education as students progress to their final years of second-level schooling.
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education are good with a very spacious physical education hall the main facility utilised. There is also a grass pitch available, although this can be prone to waterlogging in winter months. The hardcourt area, adjacent to the school, is a very useful facility for certain activities but it needs attention as the condition of the surface and surrounding fencing means that it may pose a potential health and safety risk. The refurbishment of this facility should be considered as part of long term planning for Physical Education in the school as it is a resource which will be extremely useful in the teaching of the subject.
The quality of planning at both whole-school level and in individual lessons in Physical Education is very good and is commended. The physical education teacher has collated a very useful range of resources for use in the teaching of the subject, many of which are available in electronic format as well as in hard copy. These are included as part of three separate folders maintained for Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) class groups and detailed schemes of work have been outlined for the year for each of these groups. Also included are task sheets, attendance records and records of planning meetings between the physical education teacher and management.
The involvement of the school in the implementation of the JCPE syllabus is commended as this syllabus is aimed at providing a clear structure to activities in junior cycle and has the capacity to greatly enhance students’ experiences at this level. The difficulties highlighted above regarding the timetabling of single lessons in Physical Education for third years, however, make if difficult to achieve the aims of the syllabus. The range of activities planned in Physical Education is in line with syllabus requirements and the school intends to provide some aquatics in the next academic year, subject to the availability of the swimming pool in Fermoy. It is also hoped to introduce some aerobics into the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) curriculum and to recruit the services of locally based coaches to take modules with Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) students.
A good range of co-curricular and extra-curricular physical activity is provided with Gaelic football, hurling, camógie and basketball available. Although there are a number of teachers involved in providing these activities, and such voluntary commitment on behalf of the teaching staff is highly commended, it is clear that the physical education teacher is carrying a disproportionately heavy load in the area of extra-curricular sporting activity. In this regard, it may prove worthwhile for management to have discussions with the physical education teacher aimed at clearly defining the roles and responsibilities appropriate to his position. While it is acknowledged that promoting physical activity in curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular areas are an accepted part of the role of any physical education teacher, care must be taken that the teacher’s extra-curricular involvements do not adversely affect timetabled lessons in Physical Education. Although involvement in co-curricular and extra-curricular activity is commended and brings with it many benefits for both teachers and students, it is desirable that timetabled physical education lessons are not affected inasmuch as possible, so that the commitment of teachers to co-curricular and extra-curricular activities has as few negative consequences as possible for other students. Involving additional staff, and perhaps parents, to share the work load of co-curricular and extra-curricular activity with those staff already involved may be beneficial in minimising the impact of these activities on timetabled lessons. It is recommended that strategies to involve additional personnel in extra-curricular and co-curricular physical activities be considered as part of the planning process in Physical Education.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection in Physical Education was good, although the achievement of the general aims of the subject was compromised somewhat by the fact that students have single periods of Physical Education. As time has to be allowed for students to get changed at the start and end of the physical education lesson, there is, consequently, a relatively short time available for actual physical activity. Although the teacher, mindful of the aims of the Junior Cycle Physical Education syllabus, usually attempts to cover the prescribed material, this is not always feasible. The need to maximise students’ activity levels will often mean covering less material in some lessons than would be desired, but it is suggested that this is preferable to trying to cover too much material and consequently having too much teacher talk and reduced activity levels for students. Reducing the amount of material covered in each lesson is recommended as this will allow students to engage with the subject matter of each lesson in greater depth and should lead to a more fulfilling learning experience for all concerned.
Lessons typically began with a warm-up activity that was vigorous and enjoyable and prepared students for more intense physical activity that was to follow. Because of the short duration of lessons, it is recommended that no more than five to seven minutes be allocated to this phase of the lesson. It is also recommended that all students engage in warm-up activities simultaneously and that sequential warming-up of one group followed by another be avoided as this is regarded as a less than efficient use of the available time. Strategies used by the teacher to maximise the use of lesson time, such as the explanation of lesson content while students were performing stretching activities and the involvement of students in the setting up and storing of class materials, worked very well and enabled the lesson to progress in an efficient manner.
A good atmosphere was evident in all lessons and a good rapport existed at all times between teacher and students. Although students generally applied themselves well to tasks set, the quality of play by one group was significantly better than another during a basketball lesson. It was commendable that the teacher used the better group as an example of good practice by stopping the lesson and highlighting the correct manner in which this group was completing the task set. This had some beneficial effect, as the quality of performance of the weaker group subsequently showed a little improvement. It may prove beneficial to repeat this procedure, i.e. stopping those who are not adhering to instructions or rules of games and making them observe good practice among other groups, so as to reinforce the need for all students to apply themselves conscientiously to the tasks set.
The tasks set during a team challenge activity were enjoyed by students, encouraged them to co-operate with each other and to think creatively in order to achieve success. The well-structured nature of these tasks placed an increasing physical and mental demand on students and this helped to maintain their interest. The use of such co-operative activities as “team challenges” is commended as these are regarded as being more effective than competitive activities in promoting lifelong involvement in physical activity, particularly among students who are not interested in traditional games. Part of a lesson which involved students in learning map reading skills provided some interesting opportunities for peer learning through setting courses which other students had to follow. Where such learning opportunities are provided, it is essential that students are given sufficient time to reflect on such activities and to have a second or even third attempt at the tasks in order to test the validity of their reflections. This, again, highlights the need for students to be provided with double-periods of Physical Education as it is very difficult for the teacher to adequately facilitate student reflection in single-period lessons while still maintaining high student-activity levels.
Carefully phrased individual and group questioning on the part of the teacher was very successful in eliciting learning that had taken place. This was particularly noticeable in a gymnastics lesson where teacher questioning at the end of the lesson revealed a level of understanding among some students that was better than might have been anticipated by their practical performances. Further questioning by the inspector also elicited a good understanding among students of the nature of stable and unstable balances and the relationship between balance and centre of gravity. This is taken as evidence of real learning taking place, even though a small minority of students did not always have the ability to demonstrate this learning in a practical performance. Aspects of assessment for learning were also used to good effect during this lesson with individual students asked to perform and others asked to comment on particular aspects of their performances. Although this worked very well and students demonstrated a good ability to analyse the performances of their peers, it is recommended that students first engage in this activity in pairs and give feedback to a partner. The non-threatening nature of this forum may be more enjoyable for some students, particularly younger students, who may initially be self-conscious about performing in front of the whole class.
As part of the conclusion to lessons, the teacher routinely reinforced the learning that had taken place by re-emphasising key concepts and by showing how the material covered was related to past and future lessons. This is considered very good practice as it helps students to place learning in context and to see each lesson as part of a wider block of learning.
An excellent system of reporting to parents is in place in the school with written reports being sent home monthly. Physical Education is part of this reporting process on two occasions per year and this is regarded as appropriate to the subject.
The physical education teacher assesses each student by observation and includes a general comment on the student’s achievement in the report. The use of such “comment-only” marking is regarded as appropriate to Physical Education. The physical education teacher also attends all parent-teacher meetings and keeps records relating to students’ skill, performance, knowledge, participation and social development which are used to provide feedback to parents at these meetings. This level of detailed, purposeful record-keeping and provision of information to parents is commended. In order to further develop the system of assessment in Physical Education, some consideration should be given to assessing and recording student learning.
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 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.