An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Newpark Comprehensive School
Newtown Park Ave, Dublin
Roll number: 81001I
Date of inspection: 4 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Newpark Comprehensive School, Blackrock, Dublin. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
All students in Newpark Comprehensive School study Physical Education. First and second-year students receive two double periods of Physical Education per week. This provision is highly commended as twice weekly participation can develop positive attitudes towards regular physical activity as part of a health related lifestyle. Third, fifth and sixth-year students are timetabled for one double period of Physical Education 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 Transition Year programme is mandatory for all students and they receive three periods of Physical Education per week. This allocation is blocked together and is good practice as it facilitates the planning and organisation of a range of either school-based or off-site activities. Students in the Leaving Certificate Applied study the Leisure and Recreation course and receive three periods per week in year one and two periods per week in year two of the programme. This is a suitable time allocation for this course.
The block timetabling of year groups for Physical Education works well in this school. This is because of the resources at the school’s disposal, including the skilful teaching staff and a comprehensive range of facilities. The organisation of the timetable provision for junior cycle classes is to be highly commended. Each year group is divided evenly with students timetabled concurrently between either Physical Education and Science or Physical Education and Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE). Both Science and SPHE are subjects with strong cross-curricular links to Physical Education. The block timetabling of senior classes allows for a range of activities to be offered simultaneously and facilitates student choice. This encourages students to make informed choices and promotes responsible participation in physical activity.
There are three class groups block timetabled in junior cycle and up to six class groups in senior cycle. The Physical Education teachers rotate groups during the term, with each teacher delivering one activity to each class in the year group. This type of organisation ensures that all students are taught the activities on the syllabus. This is effective practice as it allows each Physical Education teacher to get to know all students in each year group and ensures continuity in the teaching of each activity. However, teachers expressed their own awareness of the limiting effects of teaching only one or two activities. It is recommended for the purpose of continual professional development that each teacher continue to expand their skills in the teaching of the broad range of activities in line with the syllabus. This will help to maintain the already high level of professional competency of each teacher and avoid activity specific “labelling”.
Whole school support for Physical Education in Newpark Comprehesive School is very strong. All Physical Education classes are mixed ability. There are six qualified Physical Education teachers on the staff at present. One of these teachers acts as coordinator of Physical Education, in a voluntary capacity, and has done so for some time. This commitment is to be commended. However, consideration should be given to rotating this responsibility amongst the other members of the department. This will ensure that all teachers in the department gain the experience and skills necessary in the execution of the duties of this position.
Continued professional development is strongly supported and all Physical Education teachers have received inservice training in the new junior cycle syllabus. Commitment to professional development has served to enhance the skills of teachers in learning new and innovative methodologies for teaching and learning, as well as planning and assessment in Physical Education. There is a broad range of expertise amongst the Physical Education staff. To further engage in professional development it is recommended that the department upskill each other in their own particular areas of expertise, such as dance, anatomy, and integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into Physical Education.
The school is fortunate to have a range of top-class facilities at its disposal. These include a twenty-five metre, five-lane swimming pool, a large sports hall, a health and fitness suite, a new regulation size astro-turf hockey pitch which can be divided into three sections, three outdoor basketball courts and a five-a-side hard-court pitch. The school also has a mini-bus that may be used in transporting groups to off-site venues. These facilities are well maintained and managed. The sports facilities are extensively used by local clubs and the general public and a full-time manager is employed by the school. The Physical Education department ensures maximum usage of all these facilities and this is reflected in the wide and varied programme being implemented. The school is to be commended for its role in developing these facilities. These are a major boost to the physical well-being of students and the local community.
The school employs two nurses on a job-sharing basis. This resource is accessed on a needs basis by students. The Physical Education department has used this resource to compile a list of students with specific medical conditions that may present contraindications with certain physical activities. This has facilitated the Physical Education department to adapt activities and differentiate for students with specific medical conditions such as epilepsy or asthma. This is exemplary practice.
The school has a strong participation culture in co-curricular activities. The majority of the Physical Education teachers, as well as several other staff members, are involved in the voluntary organisation and coaching of a variety of these activities. A complementary balance exists between team-based and individual activities, both competitive and recreational. These activities include basketball, rugby, hockey, athletics and swimming. A lunch-time and afternoon “free-swim” session for students wishing to develop their aquatic competencies is also offered once a week. The support and provision of these co-curricular physical activities is to be highly commended as involvement in these activities can provide lifelong positive experiences for teachers and students.
Commitment to subject and professional development in the school is highly commended. Management supports time for formal subject department planning during the commencement of the school year and some additional planning periods are facilitated on request from individual subject departments.
The school has incorporated subject planning into the School Development Planning (SDP) process. Formal subject department planning meetings take place at the commencement of the school year and the Physical Education department holds regular informal meetings as needs or issues arise. There is good collaborative planning and a sense of collegiality among the Physical Education teachers. A thorough and extensive Physical Education curriculum has been planned for junior cycle, Transition Year and senior cycle. This plan has been developed by the subject team and assembled by the voluntary subject coordinator. Physical Education teachers follow the same common plan for each year group and in this way there is consistency of practice among all teachers. This common plan is reflected in each of the teachers individual schemes presented during this inspection and is to be commended.
The school has implemented the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus and teachers have incorporated many of the planning documents and schemes from inservice into their subject plan. In all cases teachers’ planning incorporated assessment and the inclusion of planning for “rich-tasks” into their teaching and learning methodologies. This is in keeping with progressive pedagogy and is to be commended.
Teachers prepared a curriculum content plan for each class group. These plans were well structured and there was evidence of good progression. In one instance, the term plan was annotated with personal reflective notes highlighting the problem created by absenteeism during a gymnastics module. This reflective practice is praiseworthy and it is recommended that this good practice be adopted at a departmental level to complement the good work and high standard of individual planning already in existence.
There is an ethos of inclusion in Physical Education for students of all abilities. The medical department identifies students with specific medical problems and a list is included in each teachers plan. Teachers keep this information in strict confidence and use it only to inform planning for the students’ needs. This is laudable practice. Students allocated resource teaching hours are sometimes provided with additional periods of Physical Education and this experience is of particular benefit to these students. Evidence of differentiated planning was presented during this inspection to accommodate students with specific learning disabilities. For example, students with diagnosed dyspraxia benefit from additional activities to improve fine and gross motor coordination, balance and posture. This is highly commendable practice as the development of these fundamental skills can have positive lifelong benefits for these students.
Physical Education is timetabled concurrently with either Science or SPHE in junior cycle and it provides an opportunity for cross-curricular planning. It is recommended that the Physical Education department explore this opportunity to plan for complementary topics of study in consultation with these subject departments. Such topics may include basic anatomy, human physiology, nutrition and energy production with Physical Education providing the opportunity for the practical exploration of these systems.
The Physical Education department has planned for the extensive use of the variety of facilities in the school in order to provide a comprehensive Physical Education programme. As well as the structural facilities there are numerous other resources. There is a well-equipped storeroom, together with a large video collection, a computer, relevant reference books and a range of worksheets. A television and video player is available in the Physical Education office within easy access of the sports hall. Organisation and management of these facilities and resources are to be commended. It is recommended as part of the long-term subject development strategy, that the Physical Education department explore ways of incorporating ICT into some lessons. Digital media and user-friendly editing software can play a major role in the development of critical analytical thinking among students and enhance their level of technical competence in selected activities.
An annual budget is available to the Physical Education department for the replacement of equipment or the purchase of additional resources. Currently this is conducted on an ad-hoc basis, and it is recommended that the Physical Education department implement better structures to plan for identifying, sourcing, costing and ordering equipment and resources.
A compulsory Transition Year is in operation in the school and a treble period is allocated to Transition Year students once weekly for a range of activities. Planned activities use both the school facilities and off-site venues. Among the activities provided are skiing, sailing, bowling and Aikido. Transition Year students also take part in a week-long adventure activities course at an outdoor education centre. The provision of such a range of activities is highly commended as it can add great variety and interest to the physical activities programme and is in keeping with the spirit and ethos of Transition Year.
The quality of teaching and learning observed in this school was of a high standard with students actively engaged in purposeful, well-planned physical activities. Lesson venues were set-up prior to the arrival of the students and this preparation facilitated the effective commencement of lessons. All lessons began with teachers recording attendance in keeping with good practice. In general, students were questioned on previous learning and teachers outlined the topic of the current lesson related to students’ previous experience. This approach is beneficial to students as it provides continuity and a clear focus on intended learning outcomes.
Students were thoroughly warmed up through general mobility-based activities and games. These were varied, enjoyable, and clearly linked to the development phase of the lesson. Warm-ups also consisted of stretching exercises. In most cases, teachers used the stretching time to question students’ anatomical knowledge and to associate each exercise with the joint and muscle group being stretched. This is good practice and develops an understanding of the health-related role of flexibility when applied to other aspects of human functionality. In one lesson, dynamic stretching activities were conducted by students and were demonstrated with excellent technical competence. It is suggested that students are taught to clearly distinguish between the various modes of stretching and understand why one method of stretching may be preferable over another for specific activities and purposes.
Lessons progressed at a pace commensurate with the abilities of the students. Teachers set new tasks regularly to maintain interest in the activities being studied. In some cases, students had problems trying to hear instructions due to the acoustics of the venues. When changing tasks it is recommended that teachers call the students to a central zone. This will afford the teacher the opportunity to make technical points to students, question their understanding and help them to distinguish between the progressions in the activities.
Students were regularly affirmed and encouraged for their efforts in all lessons with opportunities provided for individual, pair and small group work. Teacher mobility ensured that many students received individual attention during the lessons and this contributed to the good work rate observed. Peer analysis was used as a learning strategy in some lessons. Individual students were assigned to observe their partners or small groups performing set tasks. This is good practice as it develops a greater understanding of the underlying principles of the activity through the application of knowledge. This direct purposeful methodology provides students with an experience of becoming critical analysts of human movement. It is recommended when using peer analysis that students are given clear guidelines on the technical aspects of the skill or activity to enhance their observation and analytical skills. This will further challenge student engagement with the activity and develop their knowledge and appreciation of the subject.
There was a relaxed atmosphere with all students appearing to enjoy the lessons while engaging fully in vigorous physical activity. In all lessons observed, there was a good rapport between teachers and students based on mutual respect. This promoted a positive atmosphere, good behaviour and encouraged student participation. Students were eager and interested in the activities and approached each task with enthusiasm. This is a compliment to the enthusiasm and effort of the teachers and is highly commended.
The performance of students in lessons observed as well as responses to questioning indicate that they are achieving very well in Physical Education in this school. Extensive class records of individual student attainment were provided for inspection. These records are maintained by class group in a dedicated filing cabinet and also in each teacher’s journal. Records are maintained of topics covered in Physical Education lessons and these are used to inform planning in the subject. Records are also maintained of student performance on a series of physical fitness tests. These results are used by each student to identify areas of development for their own physical well-being. This is commendable practice and one that addresses many of the issues related to the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle.
It is particularly commendable that students are provided with the opportunity for self-directed learning, self-assessment and the opportunity to set their own learning goals. This is achieved through self-assessment profiles completed by students at the commencement of each activity module. Students then identify areas for development and set their own goals to be achieved over the duration of the module. Such an approach is to be highly commended as it values each student not only as a performer of physical activities but also as a cognitive participant, through informed reflection on their own performance.
In all cases, teachers keep comprehensive records of attendance, participation and attainment in each lesson. Formal grading and reporting to parents takes place twice a year at Christmas and Summer. There are two grades awarded to each student in Physical Education, one for attainment and one for participation, effort and progress. This is commendable practice as it rewards students not only for the level of competency achieved but also for their application in the learning process.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
There is good whole-school support for Physical Education in this school. There is a range of top-class facilities and resources for the teaching and learning of Physical Education. These are well organised and managed by the school and are a major asset to the physical well-being of its students and the local community.
There is an ethos of inclusion in Physical Education for students of all abilities, and strategies for identification and planning for students with specific needs are in place.
The school has implemented the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus and there is an extensive provision for a range of activities within the school and using off-site venues.
There is a good level of planning and preparation.
Students are educated in a positive, caring environment where an atmosphere of mutual respect exists and where the quality of teaching and learning is of a high standard.
Students play an active role in self-directed learning and goal setting in Physical Education.
Extensive records of attainment and progress in Physical Education are maintained and formal reporting to parents takes place twice a year.
The school has developed a strong participation culture in co-curricular activities among its students and staff with a good mix of team and individual based activities.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
An additional period of Physical Education should be allocated to those year groups currently below two hours per week in accordance with Department of Education and Science recommendations.
Opportunities should be explored by the Physical Education department to plan cross-curricular links with Science and SPHE.
As part of a long-term development strategy for Physical Education within the school, the Physical Education department should explore ways of incorporating ICT into some lessons to enhance the teaching and learning of the subject.
It is recommended that the Physical Education department implement better structures to plan for identifying, sourcing, costing and ordering equipment and resources.
To avail of the strong collegiality and broad range of expertise within the Physical Education department, it is recommended that the department continue to expand their professional development through delivering topic specific modules to each other.
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.