An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh,
Cashel Road, Cahir, County Tipperary
Roll number: 76063D
Date of inspection: 5 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Dún Iascaigh, Cahir, County Tipperary. 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 of Physical Education. 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.
Coláiste Dún Iascaigh, Cahir is a co-educational post-primary school under the management of South Tipperary Vocational Educational Committee. There are currently 632 students enrolled in the school, half of whom are girls and half of whom are boys. There are 54 teachers on staff in the school, 38 of whom are employed in a permanent whole-time capacity. The school has two, fully qualified teachers of Physical Education who oversee the delivery of the Physical Education curriculum in the school, as well as being centrally involved in the school’s extra-curricular sporting provision.
Classes are organised into mixed-ability groupings in first year and are streamed for Irish, English Mathematics, History, Geography and Science in second and third year. Classes at Leaving Certificate level are split into higher and ordinary level for all subjects. Physical Education is a compulsory subject for all students in junior cycle where the timetabled provision is between 70 and 75 minutes per week. As the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004/2005 state that each student should be provided with a minimum of two hours of Physical Education per week, it is recommended that the school works towards increasing this level of provision. Transition Year students have a treble period, totalling 165 minutes, of Physical Education and this level of provision is commended as it facilitates the organisation of a range of activities which would not be possible in a normal single or double period. In fifth and sixth year, however, the provision for Physical Education is unsatisfactory. Sixth-year students currently have no provision in Physical Education and though two periods of the subject are provided in fifth year, the timetabling of the subject and fact that a significant number of fifth-year students do not participate in lessons, mean that it is, de facto, an optional subject for this year group. The subject is timetabled for two single periods for one class group in fifth year and students are allowed to opt out of Physical Education even when there is a double period provided. It is regarded as essential that, as a minimum, double periods in Physical Education are provided for students whenever possible. The inability of teachers and students to explore a topic in any great depth in a lesson of 35 or 40 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. It is also regarded as essential that Physical Education does not become an optional subject at any level. The recent recommendations of a variety of publications such as the National Task Force on Obesity Report 2005, European Year of Education through Sport (EYES) Report 2004, Reports of the Houses of the Oireachtas on Women in Sport 2004 and, School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI 2005 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. It is therefore recommended that the school seeks to proactively change the culture extant in the school whereby some students in senior cycle are allowed to opt out of Physical Education. Strategies to effect change in this area might include talks to parents of third-year and Transition Year students on the benefits of health and Physical Education. These talks could take place during open nights, for example, and should help to discourage the practice whereby some parents give notes to students excusing them from participation in Physical Education for comparatively minor reasons. The views of students in fifth year as to what activities they feel are most beneficial and enjoyable could also be sought in order to inform planning in the subject. If a student persistently refuses to bring in the appropriate clothing and footwear for Physical Education and therefore cannot participate fully in Physical Education class, this should be regarded as a breach of school rules and treated as a disciplinary matter, similar to failure to bring in the appropriate class materials for any other subject. For the reasons mentioned above, it is also recommended that Physical Education be timetabled for all students in sixth year. It is noted that management intends making some provision in this area from the start of the 2006/2007 academic year.
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education in the school are excellent. These include a Physical Education hall, two 7-a-side astro-turf pitches, one other astro-turf pitch suitable for hockey or tennis, two hardcourt tennis courts, an outdoor basketball pitch and two full-sized grass pitches. Management authorities and parents in the school are to be highly commended for their vision in becoming part of a co-operative venture which led to the building of this range of high-quality sporting facilities in the immediate vicinity of the school. Such co-operation, involving the local community and local sporting organisations, is a tribute to the commitment of all parties and has resulted in a state-of-the-art sporting campus being built. The fact that teachers and students have access to these facilities during the school day is of considerable benefit to the school.
There was a good level of short-term and long-term planning in evidence during the inspection. The level of whole-school planning is good, with policies such as admissions, discipline, homework, bullying, substance abuse, health and safety, guidance and special educational needs all developed as part of the school’s involvement in school development planning. Good, collaborative efforts at subject planning are also taking place in Physical Education with a broad range of activities planned and documented throughout the year. Management facilitates this process by allocating time to subject planning during each staff meeting. These meetings usually take place every month. It is commendable that a range of priorities has been identified for the Physical Education department’s ongoing development. It is suggested that, in addition to the areas identified, a focus on teaching methodologies and assessment strategies should also be included as part of the subject plan.
Although the level of planning for Physical Education is good, it is disappointing to note that the school has not yet participated in the implementation of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education syllabus as it has both the facilities and qualified personnel to do so. The implementation of this syllabus has been ongoing nationally for the past three years and it is recommended that the school participates in its implementation as soon as is practicable, as this can be expected to impact positively on the Physical Education experience of all students in junior cycle. There is a range of activities planned for Transition Year that add variety and interest to the Physical Education programme. Among these are self-defence, golf, first-aid and horse riding, and students are also allowed use the fitness suite at the local leisure centre. A residential outdoor education trip is also organised and an opportunity to complete a coaching course in Gaelic games is also provided. The provision of this range of unique and interesting activities is commended and is in keeping with the spirit and ethos of Transition Year.
There is a very impressive range of extra-curricular and co-curricular physical activities being provided in the school, with Gaelic football, hurling, basketball, rugby, soccer, golf and gymnastics being the main areas of provision. The recent success of a girls’ Gaelic football team at all-Ireland level was a particular highlight for the school and it is good to see that this, together with other successes, are highlighted by the prominent displaying of photographs throughout the main corridor of the school. It is commendable that sporting excellence is also acknowledged during the annual school awards night and a gymnastics display takes place at the end of the school year which parents are invited to attend. It is highly commendable that a significant number of teachers are involved in extra-curricular provision, as involvement in these activities can provide the foundation for lifelong interest and involvement in physical activity among students.
It is of some concern, however, that involvement in extra-curricular activity forms part of the timetabled hours of two teachers in the school. As Department of Education and Science regulations do not allow extra-curricular activity to form part of a teacher’s timetable this matter should be rectified as a matter of priority.
The quality of teaching and learning observed in this school was good. Individual lessons were well planned and structured, and students who participated in the lessons were active and engaged throughout. The level of participation among senior-cycle students, as mentioned earlier, was less than expected, with a number of students in class without the appropriate Physical Education clothing or footwear. Remedying this situation should be seen as a priority for the development of the subject.
Lessons began promptly with the teacher taking a roll call and introducing the topic of the lesson. Stretching and mobility exercises were performed thoroughly in advance of involvement in any vigorous activity and students demonstrated a familiarity with good practice in this area by stretching slowly and holding each stretch for the required time. At this phase of the lesson teachers often questioned students as to the name of the muscle groups being stretched and this is considered good practice, though the short time available in single-period lessons was not conducive to in-depth exploration of this aspect of the lesson. A variety of exercises were used during the warm-up and this helped to maintain students’ interest and engage them in the lesson. The linking of the warm-up activity to the main activity of the lesson was also beneficial in this regard and this is considered good practice as it creates a natural flow of activity between the warm-up and developmental phase of the lesson.
The development phase of all lessons involved students in tasks and practices that were well structured and challenged them mentally as well as physically. Students were given an opportunity to work individually and in small groups and worked well in each of these settings. Teachers were attentive to student needs and gave individual teaching points to students as required. Students with special educational needs were fully integrated into class activity and it was commendable to see that differentiated learning tasks were set for these students. Teacher demonstration was of considerable benefit to all students in helping their levels of understanding. This was particularly evident in a lesson in which students were being introduced to a topic for the first time. It is suggested that demonstration should involve students from time to time as this can be highly motivational. Opportunities for self-directed learning should also be explored as these too can be motivational and can increase student ownership of the learning process. Thus students could be allowed form their own groups from time to time for group activity and they could also be encouraged to explore a variety of responses to a particular task set, rather than being shown the correct response ab initio. In this regard it was good to note that one lesson ended with the teacher asking students to comment on their own performance of a particular task, with particular emphasis on what they found difficult about performing the task. Double-period lessons, in particular, offer opportunities for exploration of such strategies.
Though the quality of teaching was good in all lessons observed, time constraints during lessons of single-period duration led to an experience that was less satisfactory for both teacher and students. In these lessons students were often not wearing the appropriate clothing, as they felt that they did not have sufficient time to get changed, though most wore appropriate footwear. It is undesirable, for a number of reasons, that students are allowed to participate in Physical Education class while wearing their school uniform. From a hygiene perspective alone, it is regarded as unsatisfactory that students may have to sit in class for the remainder of the school day wearing clothing in which they had participated in vigorous exercise. Where students were provided with a double period of Physical Education, sufficient time was available to allow students to change clothing, and possibly shower, at the end of the lesson. It was also noticeable that teacher instruction was much less rushed in these lessons and that students had more opportunity to ask questions and to explore a variety of responses to the tasks set. It is suggested that, in single-period lessons, teaching methodologies should focus on the maintenance of a high level of student activity and that teacher interventions that stop the entire class group for periods of one minute or more should be kept to a minimum. Instead it would be more appropriate to give teaching points to students individually or in small groups so as to maintain a high level of activity for the majority of the lesson.
All lessons took place in an atmosphere of mutual respect between teacher and students and there was a firm, unforced code of discipline in place. Students received affirmation from teachers for their efforts and student questioning was handled sensitively and appropriately and was often used as a stimulus for further discussion. Classes ended in an orderly fashion and students, often without prompting from the teacher, assisted in the storing of equipment that had been used in the lesson.
The evidence of the inspection in this school indicates that students are achieving very well in Physical Education. Students were very well engaged in lessons observed and students who were participating in these lessons did so enthusiastically and to the best of their ability. Student responses to questioning, both by the inspector and teachers, revealed a good level of understanding and knowledge in Physical Education.
Teachers keep records of student attendance and participation in Physical Education and these are used to inform written reports that are sent to parents at Christmas and summer. Informal assessment takes place by observation and it is recommended that teachers keep records of student achievement by means of a comment recorded each term or after each significant block of learning. The Physical Education teachers attend all parent-teacher meetings and the student journal is also used for the communication of information to and from parents.
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.