An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta


Department of Education and Science




Subject Inspection of Physical Education




Coláiste Pobail Naomh Mhuire

Buttevant, County Cork

Roll number: 76067L




Date of inspection: 16 May 2006

Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007





Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education

Subject Provision and Whole School Support

Planning and Preparation

Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Achievement

Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations

School Response to the Report




Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education


This Subject Inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Pobail Naomh Mhuire, Buttevant.  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 subject teachers. 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.



Subject Provision and Whole School Support


Coláiste Pobail Naomh Mhuire is a co-educational school under the management of County Cork Vocational Educational Committee.  The school has a total enrolment of 182 students, 92 of whom are girls and 90 of whom are boys.  The school has a total teaching staff of seventeen teachers, ten of whom are employed in a permanent wholetime capacity.  It is a matter of some concern that there is currently no qualified teacher of Physical Education on staff and, consequently, the programme of Physical Education in place in the school has certain shortcomings.  This programme consists of a range of games and other activities which take place during the last two periods of the day on Tuesday and Thursday for junior-cycle students and last three periods before lunch on Wednesday for Transition Year students.  The teachers involved in the provision of these activities are to be commended for their commitment to the provision of physical activity for students.  However limitations in their expertise means that what is taking place is a programme of well-structured and well-supervised activity rather than actual Physical Education.  The genuine attempts being made by these teachers to provide a range of physical activities for students cannot be regarded 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 seeks to 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.


It must also be pointed out that there may 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 the teachers 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 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.  While it must be acknowledged that no unsafe practice was observed during the inspection, it is commendable that the subject plan for Physical Education identifies the necessity of completing an incident report form should a student suffer an injury during a physical education lesson.  This is regarded as good practice and a review of any incidents that take place is recommended in order to inform best health and safety practice in Physical Education at the school. 


Although seventy minutes are allocated to Physical Education in junior cycle, this time is still less than the two hours per week recommended for all students in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005 (pages 7 and 141).  In Transition Year, although ninety minutes are allocated to a variety of activities, not all of these involve physical activity or exercise.  It is a matter of some concern, also, that fifth- and sixth-year students currently have no timetabled lessons in Physical Education.  The 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.  There is a significant danger that, in the absence of timetabled provision for Physical Education in fifth and sixth year, the perception may inadvertently be created among these students that physical activity is a low priority for them and that it is mainly for younger students.  This is a cause for concern in view of the fact that national and international evidence suggests that drop-out rates from physical activity among people in their late teens, particularly girls, are on the increase (Consultations with Teenage Girls On Being and Getting Active – Health Promotion Department, North Western Health Board.)  Bearing this in mind, there is a particular onus on schools to create a positive attitude towards physical activity among students in their late teens and it is suggested that students in fifth and sixth year would benefit considerably from having timetabled provision in Physical Education.  It is therefore recommended that, timetabling difficulties notwithstanding, all students are provided with timetabled lessons in Physical Education in accordance with Department of Education and Science recommendations.


The facilities available to the school for the teaching of Physical Education include two small hardcourt areas, a small grass pitch and a very small indoor area.  It is highly commendable that the school has sought to augment the on-site facilities available to it by negotiating the use of local community facilities such as a local all-weather pitch and the local GAA pitch and training grounds.  The use of these facilities is a considerable benefit to the provision in Physical Education in the school. 


Planning and Preparation


Although there is no qualified teacher of Physical Education in the school, it is commendable that the teachers involved in the teaching of the subject have put together a detailed plan outlining the activities taking place in Physical Education lessons from first year to Transition Year.  This plan also contains information on the philosophy which guides Physical Education provision in the school and how this relates to the school’s mission statement.  Although the range of activities planned is as varied and interesting as the available facilities and expertise of teachers will allow, provision in the area of games, notably invasion games, dominates and there is inadequate provision in key areas of activity such as gymnastics, dance, athletics, aquatics, adventure activities and health-related activity.  The employment of a qualified Physical Education teacher to oversee the delivery of a comprehensive curriculum in Physical Education could correct this imbalance and 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 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 Transition Year programme provides activities that are not normally part of the school curriculum such as bowling, horse riding, and health and hygiene.  Students also participate in a two-day outdoor education course at a local outdoor education centre.  The provision of these activities is commended and is in keeping with the spirit and ethos of Transition Year. 


There are a number of teachers involved in the provision of extra-curricular physical activity for students and the main areas of provision include under 14 hurling and Gaelic football for boys, under 16 camógie for girls and Gaelic football for boys, and under 18 camógie for girls and hurling for boys.  The commitment of teachers to the provision of these activities is commended as this can form the basis for a life-long interest in sport and physical activity for many students.  Other activities that take place include the annual school sports day and an annual 10 kilometre school walk which is used for fund raising for the physical education department.  It is commendable also that part of the duties of the holder of an assistant principal post of responsibility involves the co-ordination of sporting activities such as school matches and lunchtime sporting activities.  This is indicative of an interest in, and commitment to, the physical health and well-being of students on the part of school management.


Teaching and Learning


As previously outlined, there is no Physical Education per se offered as a subject in the school.  In its place, a number of teachers have organised a range of purposeful and enjoyable activities where the emphasis is placed on student involvement and enjoyment.  The role of the teacher in these activities is chiefly an organisational and supervisory one, with some individual and group coaching points being given from time to time.


The activities in which students participated during the lessons observed form part of a block of learning whereby teams are organised to participate in mini leagues over a period of several weeks.  Students were aware of their teams and who their opponents were right from the start of the lesson and this facilitated a prompt start to activity.  It is highly commendable that students were allowed to officiate at and referee the games being played and thus take responsibility for the smooth running of matches.  This even involved the referee signing off on the score at the end of the match so that a written record was maintained of the results of all matches.  Such practice is commendable as it gives students greater autonomy in the learning process, can help them to accept more responsibility for their own learning and thus increase their sense of ownership of the learning process.


While a variety of activities were organised with the intention of heightening student activity levels and maintaining interest in physical activity, some suggestions were made as to how lessons could be made more satisfactory for students from a learning perspective.  As an example of this it is suggested that students be instructed to keep the ball below waist height while playing soccer on the tarmac area due to the small size of this facility.  Thus a pass that goes above waist height would result in the opposition gaining possession.  This would force students to keep the ball low and would create a further dynamic towards encouraging students to move into space to receive a pass.  Other conditions can be set as required depending on the ability level of students and the focus of the lesson.  Thus a lesson in Gaelic football, focusing on the skill of hand passing for example, might require students to pass the ball with the hand or fist only for a time during the match.  This integrated approach to skill acquisition helps to challenge students mentally as well as physically and promotes a more reflective approach to learning in games.


If students are being introduced to a new sport such as volleyball, for example, it is essential that the basic rules of the game are explained to students in advance, as these rules represent the defining characteristics of the sport.  Even when students are performing at a basic level therefore, a focus should be maintained on observing the fundamental rules of the game.  Key rules such as only allowing three touches before playing the ball over the net, not allowing players to touch the net, rotating positions for service and restarting the game correctly once the ball has gone dead are fundamental to the game and should be enforced from the outset.  It is acceptable, however, that the more technical rules associated with the game would be ignored until students have gained a reasonable level of proficiency, so as not to disrupt the flow of the lesson unduly.  Information on the basics of the game can be obtained from a variety of websites such as and it is recommended that such resources be consulted in advance of the introduction of new topics to students.


Notwithstanding the above and the fact that little in the way of Physical Education actually took place, students had a very positive and enjoyable experience during the lessons observed and the majority also had a good cardio-vascular work out.  Activities took place in an atmosphere of mutual co-operation and respect between students and teachers and this spirit of co-operation greatly benefited the smooth operation of the lessons.


Assessment and Achievement


The evidence of the lessons observed, together with student responses to questioning, indicates that students are achieving to a satisfactory level in the area of games but that achievement in other key areas of Physical Education, such as athletics, aquatics, adventure activities, gymnastics, dance and health related activity, is less satisfactory.  This is not surprising as the level of competency of teachers who do not hold Physical Education teaching qualifications cannot be expected to extend to all key areas of the Physical Education syllabus.  There is no formal assessment taking place in Physical Education and the subject does not form part of written reports to parents.  Although the teachers involved in the teaching of the subject do not attend parent-teacher meetings specifically for the purpose of reporting on Physical Education, it is commendable that they make themselves available to parents where they give informal feedback if required.  The employment of a fully qualified Physical Education teacher would enable the school to formally report on student achievement in the subject in both written reports and parent-teacher meetings and it is recommended that the school works towards this objective. 



Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations


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.










School Response to the Report


Submitted by the Board of Management






Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection  

               activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection                      



Since the Physical Education Inspection on May 16th 2006 and the subsequent report received on 1st December ’06 the school has acted on most of the recommendations made as far as possible.


The school recruited a qualified Physical Education Teacher from September ’06 who is currently delivering a comprehensive curriculum. This teacher is following the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education syllabus with the exceptions of gymnastics. The school does not have a physical Education Hall or any space adequate enough to allow gymnastics to take place. This is a health and safety concern. Gymnastics will not be carried out until such time as the ‘New School’ for the Coláiste is built in the near future.


The Parents Association of Coláiste Mhuire has generously donated €3,000, which was spent on the purchase of much needed sports equipment. This is being used to enable dance, athletics and health related activities be taught successfully. The school has included a module of aquatics (swimming) for First Year & Transition Year students. This is presently running for duration of 8 weeks. Students are being taught life saving skills and are following the JAWS course.


The Physical Education teacher has also introduced Orienteering, Aerobics and Dance as extra curricular activities. Students from the school have been involved in several successful Orienteering competitions. Outdoor pursuits is also featuring as a module for Transition and First Year students.


The Physical Education teacher is available at all Parent’/Teacher meetings to update parents on student achievements and progress in this subject. A system of reporting home to parents on Physical Education is presently being devised. It is also planned to include Physical Education in the 5th year timetable from September ’07.


We in Coláiste Mhuire would like to thank the Department of Education for this inspection and for recommendations made. We are pleased to have been in a position to take on board most of the recommendations made and would like to thank all concerned for their guidance and support. We have viewed this inspection as a positive guide to helping the school move forward in the subject.