An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Saint Ailbe’s School
Tipperary Town, County Tipperary
Roll number: 72480W
Date of inspection: 26 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Ailbe’s School. 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 lessons 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 teacher. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St. Ailbe’s school is a post primary school under the management of South Tipperary Vocational Education Committee (VEC) with a total enrolment of 239 students, 119 of whom are girls and 120 of whom are boys. Physical Education has a high profile and is generally well provided for in the school.
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education are very good, reflecting a commendable commitment on the part of the school and the VEC to expansion and development over a number of years. The available facilities include playing fields (both grass and all-weather), tennis courts, basketball courts, a running track and a large indoor area in the main school building. The sports hall and swimming pool of the nearby Canon Hayes Centre are also available to the school. Although the acoustics in the hall in this centre are not ideal for the teaching of Physical Education, it is nonetheless an excellent facility and the fact that the school has access to it is of considerable benefit to the physical education programme, allowing the provision of activities which could not otherwise be provided. Management provides all necessary equipment to facilitate the delivery of a comprehensive curriculum in Physical Education and funds generated from activities such as the school lotto are sometimes used to purchase additional materials as required.
The timetabled provision for Physical Education is a standard double period for most year groups. Although this time allocation is not uncommon in many post-primary schools, it falls short of the two hours per week recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools, 2004-2005. It is of concern, however, that fifth-year and sixth-year classes currently have no timetabled provision in Physical Education. As a variety of publications have pointed to the worryingly high drop-out rates from physical activity among people in their late teens, particularly 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.) there is an onus on the school to do whatever it can to counter these trends in the interest of the long-term health and well-being of students. By having no Physical Education timetabled in fifth year and sixth year, students may inadvertently form the impression that physical activity is primarily for young people and that it can be discarded as one gets older or begins preparing for important examinations. The school is therefore encouraged to revisit timetabling arrangements for Physical Education with a view to working towards the level of provision recommended by the Department of Education and Science.
The school has one, fully qualified, teacher of Physical Education on staff and another teacher often assists in the delivery of some aspects of the physical education programme. Although this teacher does not hold physical education teaching qualifications, the teacher is only timetabled to take physical education at a time when a qualified physical education teacher is also timetabled. The teacher acts in an assistant capacity during these lessons, providing valuable assistance on an individual and small-group basis to students. It is important that this teacher continues to be timetabled to take physical education lessons only at a time when a qualified physical education teacher is timetabled concurrently, as the school’s duty of care to all its students is such that the students should always be in the care of a fully qualified professional. Bearing in mind the background in physical activity and coaching which the teacher possesses however, the deployment of the teacher in this manner is regarded as appropriate.
The school is commended for its initiative in securing the services of an additional physical education teacher through the School Completion Programme. The employment of this teacher is of considerable benefit to students and this frequently allows team-teaching strategies to be employed in physical education lessons. Some external coaches are also deployed appropriately to deliver certain aspects of the school’s physical education programme, notably coaching modules in Transition Year (TY).
The quality of planning and preparation in Physical Education is very good. A very good subject plan has been formulated as a result of the school’s involvement in the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The genuine commitment of the school to cater for the varying needs of all students is apparent from the very outset in the plan where the desire of the school to meet the needs of every individual in a safe, supportive environment is stated as part of the core aims of the subject. Among the items dealt with in the plan are class organisation, teaching of students with special educational needs, strategies for differentiated teaching, teaching methodologies, resources and equipment, assessment and record keeping and continuing professional development (CPD). In addition to these planning elements which focus on the needs of the school, a useful array of generic planning materials has also been collated, including national reports, sport and coaching manuals, books and a range of other resource materials.
Long-term developmental aims have been documented including the need to further develop assessment in Physical Education, the need to further integrate the use of information communication technologies (ICT) into the teaching of the subject, the need to acquire greater skills and knowledge in the teaching of students with special educational needs, and the desirability of having a purpose-built physical education hall. The awareness of these matters is indicative of a subject department that is proactive and reflective in its desire to continually provide the best quality Physical Education for students. The availability of this comprehensive, detailed plan is of considerable benefit, both to the school’s existing teaching staff and to teachers who are teaching in the school on a part-time or temporary basis, such as a student teacher who was on teaching practice at the time of the inspection. Management is commended for facilitating the planning process by providing opportunities for subject departments to meet on a regular basis throughout the year. The teachers involved in the delivery of physical education typically meet formally about 5 times each year in addition to the many informal meetings that take place.
The school is commended for its involvement in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus and the blocks of activity planned are in keeping with the syllabus aims and objectives. Detailed schemes of work have been documented for all of the syllabus core areas. It is suggested that planning for a rich task approach in the delivery of some aspects of the JCPE syllabus should also be considered. This will allow students to engage in a deeper, more comprehensive, student-centred learning experience and can allow them to demonstrate a wider range of skills and talents than might be possible in a more traditional lesson.
Management is commended for facilitating the attendance of the school’s physical education teacher at CPD courses provided as part of the implementation of the JCPE syllabus. The commitment of this teacher in availing of other CPD opportunities that have arisen, notably in relation to attending seminars on the law and schools, is also commended. The fact that management also pays the physical education teacher’s annual subscription to the subject association, the Physical Education Association of Ireland, is also commended as membership of the association helps teachers to keep abreast of key developments in the subject.
The provision of outdoor education trips and other activities such as the “Kick Start” programme are having a very positive impact in TY. Other activities provided include modules of First Aid, golf, and rugby coaching and refereeing. The provision of these activities is commended as they add variety to the learning experience for students and allow them to experience activities that are not normally part of a physical education programme. This is very much in keeping with the spirit and ethos of TY.
A good range of extracurricular and co-curricular physical activities has been planned and is provided in the school. These include athletics, basketball, equestrian, Gaelic football, hurling, rugby, soccer and tennis. The philosophy underpinning the provision of these activities, whereby they are seen as an extension of learning in physical education class and an opportunity for students of all abilities to become involved, is commended as is the selfless involvement of many teachers in their provision.
The school makes considerable efforts to promote interest and involvement in health and physical activity in all aspects of school life. As an example of this, the reward which a class receives for overall good performance as part of the school’s merit system is always a physical activity event, such as a trip to an outdoor education centre or some similar activity. This is commended as it helps students to develop a positive attitude toward physical activity. The physical education department has also contributed to cross-curricular initiatives, such as the school’s healthy eating week, by providing information to students on the need to balance exercise patterns with food intake. Other areas of cross-curricular planning have involved collaboration with the geography, science and social, personal and health education (SPHE) departments.
The school also operates a generous, highly commendable scholarship programme to enable students to progress to third level education once they leave St. Ailbe’s. The fact that sporting achievement is one of the four categories under which such applications can be made is further testament to the high priority which sport and physical activities are afforded in the school. This does much to promote and affirm sporting excellence in the school and it was reported that seven students who received scholarships in the past year were prominently involved in sport.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection was good. Individual lessons were very well planned and operated smoothly as a result. Use of lesson time was efficient for the most part, although some students were a little slow to come to class at the start of one lesson. It is suggested that, in order to maximise the use of available time, vigorous and enjoyable warm-up activities are started promptly once the majority of students have arrived to class. Those who are less punctual can be asked to join in as they arrive. This is considered preferable to waiting for all students to arrive to class before commencing the warm-up. The good practice of calling the class roll at the start of the lesson can, if desired, be deferred until after the warm-up is completed. The practice employed of allowing students to come to school in their physical education kit on days when they have physical education lessons is commended as this helps to maximise the use of available time.
Very good class management and control strategies were in evidence in the lessons observed and an excellent relationship existed between students and teachers. Students were purposefully engaged in a range of practices and drills which were enjoyable and varied, thus helping to maintain their interest. At the start of lessons students were exhorted to make a genuine effort and the teachers also used this time to recap on learning from previous lessons and link this with the content of the current lesson. This is considered good practice as it helps students to see each lesson as part of an integrated block of learning. Excellent warm-up activities were organised and these had the effect of preparing students, both mentally and physically, for more demanding activity which was to follow. Some useful health-related information was also given at this time through asking students to take their heart rate so as to enable them to monitor their level of exertion and also through asking them to identify the various muscle groups being stretched. Students were also questioned as to the need to perform a warm-up and the possible consequences of inadequately warming-up. Students’ answers during this phase of the lesson revealed a good level of knowledge and understanding. This integrated approach to teaching health related activity is commended as it helps students to understand the effect of exercise on the body as part of any activity in physical education.
Excellent questioning strategies were employed throughout the lessons observed. These included the use of directed, general, higher-order and lower-order questions. The range of these questions was such that all students were able to answer at least some of the questions and students’ answers, whether correct or incorrect, were sensitively handled and often used as a stimulus for further discussion. Although the information given to students during these discussions was relevant and accurate, some of the discussions and explanations could have been shortened a little so as to ensure that this did not disrupt the natural flow of the lesson or reduce students’ activity time too much. Despite this, the quality of the information, particularly the many excellent examples of cross-curricular information which was provided helped to ensure a very worthwhile learning experience for students. During a badminton lesson for example, the execution of specific shots was skilfully linked to aspects such as time and space and this helped students gain a better understanding of the appropriateness of particular shorts to particular game situations and thus develop their tactical awareness. A lesson focusing on health related activity also made explicit links to learning in Science and SPHE in an excellent worksheet that had been prepared as part of the lesson.
Commendable efforts to include aspects of assessment for learning (AfL) in the teaching of Physical Education were seen in many lessons. Lesson content was always outlined to students at the start of the lesson and, in some lessons, lesson objectives were also outlined. The latter is preferable as it can, over time, help students become reflective performers and can help to increase their sense of ownership of the learning process. Good efforts were also made to engage students in peer assessment. Despite the fact that this is useful and educationally very worthwhile, its introduction to physical education lessons should be gradual as students cannot be expected to fully utilise its potential at the first attempt. The giving and receiving of peer feedback should therefore focus on one or two basic concepts in the initial stages. As students become more familiar with the methodology, more demanding standards can be set, focusing on a greater number of performance indicators for example, and on the more technical aspects of skill acquisition. This should eventually lead to students being able to attempt a rich task, involving a comprehensive, integrated learning experience in which students have to work co-operatively in large and small groups and in which the teacher acts as facilitator. The use of this approach has been advocated as part of the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education syllabus and its use can be expected to impact positively on the physical education experience of students in the school.
Key technical aspects of skills were carefully explained to students where a new skill was being learned. In this regard, the use of clear teacher and student demonstrations helped students to visualise the skill being learned. Students participated with enthusiasm in games organised as part of a basketball lesson and the quality of students’ performances was good. It is suggested that these games be conditioned for part of their duration so as to focus on key aspects of skills that had been dealt with earlier. This should help to consolidate learning and can also be used to provide more difficult challenges for more skilful students while facilitating higher levels of involvement and greater success levels among the less skilful.
Students clearly enjoyed participation in all of their physical education lessons and had a very positive, worthwhile experience. Regular encouragement and affirmation from teachers helped all students to feel that their efforts were noticed and appreciated. Teachers routinely recapped on learning at the end of the lesson and the responses of students to teachers’ questioning, as well as their responses to questioning from the inspector, suggests that students are achieving to a good level in Physical Education.
A good range of assessment strategies is in place to report on students’ performance and learning in Physical Education. The inclusion of Physical Education in school reports to parents is commended where it is noted that a grade and a comment are included to indicate the progress of each student. The weightings assigned to elements which contribute to the grade are 50% for attendance, 25% for attitude to participation and 25% for knowledge and understanding. This is considered good practice as the weighting assigned to participation should help to reward students who make a genuine effort to participate and help to reinforce a key message regarding the importance of participation in physical activity. In order to further develop reporting in Physical Education, it is recommended that a range of comments, specifically appropriate to learning and achievement in Physical Education, be developed. This should allow teachers to provide a more focused, individual comment for each student and should help to improve the formative nature of assessment in Physical Education. As a further extension of this process, the physical education department should also consider developing descriptors of achievement levels for practical performances in Physical Education. It is suggested that these could be used as part of an assessment of practical performance which should take place for all students at least once per year.
Plans which the school has to develop an e-portal type system to allow students and parents to remotely access assessment results and reports are commended. When these plans come to fruition they have the capacity to provide greater access to such information and can be very useful to parents and motivational for students.
The teachers involved in the delivery of Physical Education attend all parent-teacher meetings and are also available to meet with parents on request.
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.