An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Boherbue Comprehensive School
Boherbue, County Cork
Roll number: 81009B
Date of inspection: 12 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 Boherbue Comprehensive 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 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. 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 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.
Boherbue Comprehensive is a second-level school with an enrolment of 373 students, 173 of whom are girls. There are forty teachers on staff in the school, thirty-one of whom are employed in a permanent wholetime capacity. There is one fully qualified teacher of Physical Education in the school and this teacher has overall responsibility for the delivery of the school’s Physical Education curriculum. Two other teachers, who do not hold Physical Education teaching qualifications, are involved in teaching small amounts of Physical Education and are also very involved in the school’s extra-curricular programme of physical activity.
The current, timetabled provision for Physical Education in the school has to be regarded as inadequate, though it is acknowledged that the school intends increasing this allocation from the start of the 2006/2007 academic year. Currently, only first-year classes have a double-period of Physical Education, totalling between sixty and seventy minutes, and all other year groups, apart from sixth year, have a single period of Physical Education. This level of provision across all years is significantly less than the two hours per student, per week, recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools 2004/05, (Pages 7, 141) and it is recommended that the school works towards providing this amount of time to the subject. Notwithstanding the present single-period allocation to most year groups, 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 thirty or forty 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. Sixth year students currently have the option of taking Physical Education, Mathematics or a study period during two periods per week and this is reduced to one period in the case of students who are taking Mathematics at higher level for the Leaving Certificate. Although this provision at least means that students who want to take Physical Education have the option of doing so, this is also regarded as unsatisfactory as it means that a significant number of students in sixth year have no Physical Education each week. 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 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 drop-out rates from physical activity among people in their late teens are on the increase both nationally and internationally. It is suggested that students at sixth-year level would benefit considerably from having timetabled provision in Physical Education.
Although the majority of Physical Education lessons are taken by the school’s Physical Education teacher, there are two periods per week when lessons in Physical Education are taken by teachers who do not hold Physical Education teaching qualifications. This practice should be reviewed as there may be a potential health and safety risk associated with having non-qualified personnel teaching Physical Education. Although the background and years of experience that these people have in various sporting disciplines helps 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. Bearing the above in mind, it is recommended that timetabled lessons in Physical Education are taken solely by the qualified Physical Education teacher. Despite these difficulties, the contribution that non-Physical Education professionals are making in the area of games and other physical activities in this school is noteworthy. This fact has been recognised by the ESRI report mentioned above. It is highly desirable that the significant, positive contribution of non-Physical Education professionals to the culture of physical activity and games in this school be maintained. It is recommended, however, that extra-curricular activity is the most appropriate vehicle for this contribution and that all students should be afforded the opportunity to experience Physical Education lessons delivered by a Physical Education professional, where such a professional is available.
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education in the school are good. These include a full-sized hall, an outdoor hardcourt area and a good-sized pitch. All of these facilities are well maintained and it is commendable that the school is developing a mini-fitness suite adjacent to the hall by purchasing and installing some exercise equipment. This facility will be of particular benefit to older students when it is fully developed. It is recommended that the basketball markings in the floor of the indoor hall be updated to include a 3-point line as this is now a standard part of the game.
Planning at whole-school level and individual subject level in this school is good. A range of policies have been developed as part of the school’s involvement in the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) including policies relating to homework, admissions, health and safety, discipline and school tours. In Physical Education a very thorough plan of activities has been documented for all year groups although this contains an over-emphasis on games. Although both invasion and court games are an essential part of any Physical Education programme, other activities such as athletics, aquatics, adventure activities, gymnastics, dance and health-related activity should also be provided. As the school has the facilities to provide most of these key areas it is recommended that future planning in Physical Education seeks to provide a greater breadth of experience for all students. In order to effect this, the involvement of the school in the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus is strongly recommended. This syllabus has been implemented nationally for the past three years and a fourth year of inservice is to be provided as part of this implementation from the start of the 2006/2007 academic year. The 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 in junior cycle. The implementation of this syllabus can be expected to impact positively on the Physical Education experience of all students and is well within the scope of the school as it has both the facilities and the qualified personnel required for its implementation. As part of the subject plan for Physical Education, it is also recommended that the future development of the subject be addressed. Planning in this area should involve not only the qualified Physical Education teacher on staff but also all other teachers involved and interested in the provision of extra-curricular physical activities for students. Such a developmental plan should provide the long-term focus for the development of the subject in the school. It is noted that management provides opportunities for such planning to take place by allocating time at the start of the school year for subject department meetings. Informal meetings of the teachers involved in sport and physical activity also take place throughout the year.
All of the activities observed during Physical Education lessons in the school were well planned and operated within strict health and safety guidelines. However the inclusion of certain activities in the programme raises some questions as to their appropriateness. In particular, the scheduling of trampolining as an activity in Physical Education class is a cause for concern. There is some concern internationally about the appropriateness of this activity from a health and safety perspective and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (USA, 2002) in its paper The Use of Trampolines and Mini Tramps in Physical Education recommended, among other things, “that trampolines should never be used in the home environment, in routine physical education classes, or on playgrounds” and that their use in Physical Education should be confined to elective Physical Education lessons where a list of strict safety guidelines are followed. It is strongly recommended that these guidelines be consulted prior to any future use of the trampoline in the school’s Physical Education programme and that a purpose-built safety harness be installed by suitably-qualified personnel and employed in all future use of this item of equipment. It is also suggested that the introduction of first-year students to golf, even in a very limited way, might be better delayed until later in their school life such as in Transition Year, for example.
There is a good range of extra-curricular physical activities provided in the school with a number of teachers providing such as Gaelic football, camógie, hurling, athletics, handball, golf and basketball for students. Such level of provision is highly commended as it can provide the basis for life-long interest in sport and physical activity for many students and can also be highly rewarding for teachers. It is commendable, also, that part of the duties of an assistant principal post of responsibility involve the organisation of extra-curricular games. This is indicative of the high priority afforded these activities by school management.
The quality of teaching and learning observed in this school was good, with students engaged in a range of purposeful and enjoyable activities that were both mentally and physically challenging. Lessons began with a warm-up in which students engaged in a range of mobility and stretching exercises in order to prepare for more vigorous activity. The thoroughness with which these exercises were performed, together with the fact that, in some cases, they were performed independently and without prompting from the teacher, is indicative of a culture of good practice established by the teacher. The warm-up phase of the lesson was also used to explain the content and the objectives of the lesson. This is also considered good practice as the sharing of learning goals with students can help to increase their sense of ownership of the learning process and can be highly motivational.
A range of class materials was prepared in advance of each lesson and these were used appropriately throughout the lesson. Classes ran very smoothly and a firm but unforced code of discipline was in place with teacher and students operating in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Safety procedures were well observed. Explanations and demonstrations from the teacher were clear and appropriate to the developmental age and ability level of students. Student questioning was dealt with sensitively and students received regular affirmation and encouragement for their efforts. It is commendable that, in a double-period lesson, students were given an opportunity to assess and comment on each others’ performances as such opportunities can help to consolidate learning by promoting a culture of reflection and analysis. Unfortunately, in single-period lessons, the shortage of time did not allow for such teaching and learning opportunities to be explored.
In one single-period lesson observed the participation rate of students was less than desirable, with many students not having the appropriate clothing and footwear. It should be made clear to students that failure to bring in the appropriate clothing and footwear for Physical Education lessons is regarded as a breach of school rules and that this will be treated as a disciplinary matter, similar to failure to bring in the appropriate class materials for any other subject. In these lessons a premium was placed on enjoyment and on maintaining high levels of student activity. While both these goals are commendable, it is suggested that student learning also has to be prioritised even in comparatively short lessons lasting from 30 to 40 minutes. During team games such as soccer for example, some conditions could be imposed on the play for even a short period of time. This should not limit student activity levels or student enjoyment in any way and should provide a variety of challenges for students from week to week. This can be particularly motivational for the more able players and, depending on the conditions set, can increase the level of involvement of the less able. It should then be possible to give teaching points during the game to individual students without the need to stop the entire class for more than 15 to 30 seconds at a time.
It is also suggested that, when an individual activity such as golf is being introduced to students, the school pitch would be a more appropriate facility for this activity. The use of plastic golf balls would afford students more opportunities to practice the skills of the game as the health and safety risk associated with their use would be significantly less than with real golf balls. This, together with the greater space available outdoors, would lead to higher activity levels and greater opportunities for skill assimilation. These aspects of the learning process should be regarded as essential, especially when a new skill is being introduced to students.
All lessons ended in an orderly manner with students, again often without prompting from the teacher, assisting in the storing of class materials. This is indicative of a good level of co-operation on the part of students and suggests a willingness to assist in the smooth running of the lesson. The teacher recapped briefly on learning that had taken place at the end of the lesson and this is also considered good practice as it helps to consolidate learning.
The evidence of the lessons observed as part of the inspection as well as student responses to questioning indicate that, despite a certain lack of breadth in the Physical Education programme, students are achieving to a good level in Physical Education. Achievement is particularly good in the area of games. The Physical Education teacher has maintained thorough records of student attendance and participation in Physical Education class and it is recommended that formal written records of student progress and achievement during each term or block of learning also be maintained so as to inform reporting to parents. Currently, written reporting to parents takes place twice per year and the use of “comment-only” marking for Physical Education in these reports is commended as this is regarded as a useful means of formative assessment which is highly appropriate to Physical Education.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management accepts the findings and recommendations of the report.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection