An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Abbey Community College

Abbey Road, Ferrybank, Waterford

Roll number: 76082H


Date of inspection: 16 May 2006

Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006








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



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 Abbey Community College, Abbey Road, Ferrybank, Waterford.  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.  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 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.



Subject Provision and Whole School Support


Abbey Community College, an amalgamation of Sacred Heart of Mary Secondary School and Slieverue Vocational School, is a coeducational second-level school catering for 591 students.  The school was established in 2000 under the trusteeship of the Sacred Heart of Mary Sisters and County Kilkenny Vocational Education Committee (VEC).   Prior to the amalgamation, some students did not study Physical Education and only one Physical Education teacher was employed on a part-time basis.  The school has been actively engaged in developing the subject and now employs two qualified Physical Education teachers.  As a result, Physical Education is now provided as a core subject on the curriculum for all students.  School management and the Physical Education teachers are to be commended for the priority given to the subject and for the way the status of the subject has been consolidated since the amalgamation. 


The school has a special duties post for coordinator of extra-curricular sports as well as a voluntary coordinator of Physical Education.  Management has facilitated attendance at inservice training for the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus.  The school has also hosted some of the practical sessions for this inservice, which is indicative of the level of engagement in professional development by the Physical Education department.  Both Physical Education teachers are also members of the Physical Education Association of Ireland.  Involvement in professional development has many positive benefits to offer teachers and students of Physical Education, and this will serve to advance the quality of teaching and learning of the subject within the school.


All students receive two periods of Physical Education per week.  Timetable provision varies with some classes receiving one double period and other classes receiving two single periods per week.  This time allocation is below the recommended two hours per week, as outlined in the Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools 2004/05, (pages 7, 141).  It is recommended that management review this level of provision.  The duration of the single period is quite short for students to have a full and active engagement with the subject matter.  Sufficient time is required for students to participate, observe and evaluate the topic of study in order to develop the range of physical, cognitive and social learning outcomes.  It is recommended that management explore the provision of double periods for Physical Education.  A phased approach may be suitable to allow the Physical Education department time to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of this type of provision. 

The school provides a range of sports facilities.  These include a large sports-hall, a full size all-weather hockey pitch, a hard-court area with two basketball and tennis court markings and a multi-purpose grass pitch area.  In addition, a well-maintained storeroom has an ample supply of equipment to provide for all aspects of the syllabus.  Management facilitates purchasing of additional equipment and resources when items are in need of replacement.  Management is also aware of the role of a health and fitness suite for improving the physical activity levels of students and is currently assessing the feasibility of providing such a resource.  It is highly commendable that senior management is exploring this avenue and values the physical development of each student within the education process.


Whole-school involvement and support for co-curricular and extra-curricular physical activity is to be commended as it can create the foundation for a lifelong interest in physical activity and the associated health related benefits.  The school is involved in a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular physical activities including hockey, basketball, soccer, hurling, Gaelic football, table-tennis and athletics.  In addition to the Physical Education teachers, there are a number of staff involved in the planning and organisation of these activities.  Some of these activities are organised on a participant rather than competitive basis such as games of soccer and table-tennis and provide a beneficial physical activity outlet for students.  The combination of competitive and non-competitive physical activities is praiseworthy as students are empowered to engage at a level most comfortable to them.  Staff support for these activities is also to be highly commended.



Planning and Preparation


Abbey Community College is proactive in the school development planning process.  This is viewed as an ongoing systematic process that enables the school to enhance the quality of teaching and learning and to manage change.  A staff handbook clearly outlines the role of school development planning and contains aspects for attention during the current year.  Subject department planning is advanced in the school and regular subject department meetings are organised.  There is a good collaborative and cooperative team approach to planning within the Physical Education department.  The Physical Education teachers have had three formal planning meetings during the year.  A clear system of recording and reporting on these meetings is established and the minutes were available for inspection.  The facilitation, frequency and documenting of these formal meetings is commended and the Physical Education department is encouraged to expand on this good practice.


Plans have been documented to seek access to the neighbouring GAA pitches to expand the range of facilities at the school’s disposal.  Also, access to a swimming pool has been discussed by the department, and the long-term development of the balcony area as a health and fitness suite has been given considerable thought.  Research of cost and feasibility is ongoing at present.  In addition, plans are underway to develop orienteering within the school grounds and to introduce dance/exercise to music.  This is highly commended as the achievement of these aims will extend the Physical Education experience of all students.


Subject content accounts for most of the subject plan developed by the Physical Education department.  It is recommended that the subject plan be expanded to include teaching and learning methodologies and modes of assessment and achievement.  Future planning may reflect on the appropriateness of methodologies and inform change and development.  Student engagement and motivation may also be further enhanced through planning for self and peer assessment by clearly defining learning outcomes.


The subject content plan lists a wide range of activities for each year group.  The duration of each activity module may extend from one period to three or four periods depending on the activity.  It is recommended that the Physical Education department consider reducing the number of activities experienced in each year group and instead plan for more in-depth study of fewer activities.  Students should still experience each of the core areas of activities included in the Physical Education syllabus but this can be spread over the three years of junior cycle.  The Physical Education experience of senior cycle students may be further enhanced through planning for areas such as kinesiology, aesthetics, psychological and sociological aspects of physical activity, exercise and sport.


Students of all abilities participate in Physical Education classes and there are clear guidelines to enhance participation of all students in the subject plan.  Students with special educational needs have been successfully included in Physical Education classes and teachers have noted considerable progress by these students.  This is highly commended.


The school is fully broadband enabled and there is considerable access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities within the school.  Integration of ICT and digital media as a teaching and learning tool should be given some consideration by the Physical Education department.  Movement analysis is enhanced through access to video recording and promotes the concept of student as self-analytical performer. This may enrich the student experience and develop responsibility for self-directed learning.



Teaching and Learning


There is a good standard of teaching and learning evident in the school.  The observed lessons dealt with a variety of topics such as fielding-games and athletics events.  Students assisted in setting up the various activity venues and this preparation was beneficial to the smooth running of the lessons observed.  In general, the purpose of lessons was explained to students and each new task was linked to the intended learning outcomes.


In all lessons observed, student-teacher rapport was very positively established from the outset. Sometimes, this was done in a humorous fashion, whilst at other times it was achieved through enquiring about student well-being following injury.  At all times, teachers were clear and natural in their instructions to students, whether dealing with venue layout, accessing equipment or introducing the central topic for the lesson.  The results were that, in all lessons observed, a very happy and work-focused atmosphere was evident from the start.


All lessons began with warm-up activities that were practical, enjoyable and linked to the lesson content.  In some cases, warm-up activities incorporated team challenges and cooperation games and were purposefully introduced by teachers.  These activities developed an excellent atmosphere amongst the students, and in one case received a spontaneous round of applause. When stretching exercises were incorporated into the warm-up, some anatomical references were used.  It is recommended that teachers expand this good practice as it establishes clear links between stretching exercises and joint range of motion, mobility and postural health.  This approach also stresses the need for students to view themselves as reflective, intelligent participants as well as active performers in the Physical Education context.


Tasks set for students during the development phase of lessons were well structured, enjoyable, and increased in level of difficulty as student competence improved.  In some lessons, clear links were made with the knowledge and skills acquired in the previous lesson.  Students responded well to this strategy as it gave structure and progression to their learning.  Lessons were also very well paced given the duration of single period classes.  Both students and teachers have adapted well to this situation.  However, the observed single period lessons were limited in the range of possible teaching and learning methodologies, due to the time constraints.  For example, there was little time for in-depth questioning of students understanding as tasks were changed quickly to progress the activity.  At times, opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of the various aspects involved in the activity such as the physical, social or tactical experiences were lost.  Longer duration activity blocks or double period lessons would further enhance the quality of the learning experience for students.


Students were regularly affirmed for their efforts and in some cases, individual attention was given to students who were experiencing technical difficulty.  Tasks were sufficiently challenging to maintain the interest of the more able students and teachers displayed good sensitivity towards students of weaker physical ability by adapting the task to ensure success.  This strategy is to be highly commended as it empowers students to feel that successful participation in physical activity is for everyone not just the elite athlete or gifted performer.  As a result, students are more likely to continue lifelong participation in physical activity.



Assessment and Achievement


The performance of students in lessons observed as well as responses to questioning indicate that they are achieving to a good level in Physical Education in this school.  Students demonstrated good coordination and movement ability during lessons observed and were enthusiastic and energetic in their participation.  Students are encouraged to participate fully in each lesson and clear sanctions are in place under the “points-system” in the school for students not having the appropriate Physical Education kit.  This system sets out clear guidelines for students and parents and encourages maximum participation in the subject. Participation levels were very high and students applied themselves enthusiastically to all tasks and clearly enjoyed their Physical Education lessons. 


Formal grading and reporting to parents takes place twice a year at Christmas and summer.  Each student is awarded a grade for Physical Education, which is based on continuous assessment.  The basis of these assessment criteria is unclear and it is recommended that more structured criteria for grading of students is clarified and communicated to students and parents.  These may be based on physical competency, attendance, effort and progress, written assessment, task or project completion.  However, in some lessons, attendance records were not recorded. It is recommended that a record be maintained of attendance and participation in all classes.  This is necessary to determine the activity patterns of students and to document levels of attainment on a regular basis.  Records may also form the basis of determining grades awarded for achievement in the subject.  Student assessment may be enhanced as the Physical Education department continues to implement the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus.  Modes of assessment such as self and peer assessment may also be explored as part of the assessment process. 


Physical Education teachers are available at all parent-teacher meetings for discussion of student progress in the subject.  This is commendable as it firmly establishes the subject as a core component of each student’s education.

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.