An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical
Holy Child Community School
Sallynoggin, County Dublin
Roll number: 91330K
Date of inspection: 15 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Holy Child Community 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, examined students’ work, 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Holy Child Community School is a co-educational secondary school catering for 265 students, of which 134 are male and 131 are female. The school offers a range of curricular programmes to cater for the needs of its students including the Junior Certificate, Transition Year (TY), established Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). The LCA programme caters for both students progressing through the school system from junior cycle and for adults wishing to return to school to complete second-level education. Additionally, the school has two classes catering for the educational needs of students with moderate learning disabilities. The school is to be commended for recognising and providing for the educational needs of the local community.
The Physical Education department consists of three teachers, all of whom are qualified in the subject and have extensive experience in teaching the subject. One of these teachers acts as the subject coordinator, and this position forms part of an assistant principal’s post. The subject coordinator’s role is well defined and management has developed a clear list of duties and responsibilities associated with this position. Management is fully supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development. All of the Physical Education teachers have attended inservice for the introduction of the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus. Both management and the Physical Education department are to be highly commended for organising and hosting some of the current inservice courses for this new syllabus in the region. Involvement at this level in professional development should prove to be very beneficial to the staff and students of the school, as new innovative approaches to teaching and learning in the subject are implemented.
Physical Education is a core subject on all curricular programmes. Every class receives one double period of Physical Education per week, with the exception of TY classes who receive three periods. Classes for TY are block timetabled on one afternoon each week to accommodate an enhanced Physical Education programme. This is good practice. The current timetable provision for the subject is adequate to provide for a comprehensive Physical Education programme and meets the minimum requirement for the implementation of the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus. However, management is encouraged to work towards providing two hours of quality Physical Education for all students per week, as recommended by the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools 2004/05, (Pages 7, 141).
Management is to be commended for its innovative approach to the timetable arrangement for junior cycle Physical Education. These arrangements have been made to accommodate males and females in separate classes for participation in Physical Education. This is a product of considered departmental reflection to improve participation in lessons, particularly regarding female students. It is reported that this arrangement has resulted in higher participation and progress for females and has had no adverse effect on the males. To accommodate this arrangement males are timetabled for one period of Civics, Social and Political Education (CSPE) followed by one period of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), whilst the females participate in their double period Physical Education lesson. The same arrangement is then made for the females whilst the males are attending their Physical Education lesson.
The school is to be commended for its promotion of Physical Education and a physical activity culture within the school. A senior member of staff has recently completed a master’s thesis entitled “Planning Changes in a Community School to Increase Enrolments”. A section of this thesis was devoted to investigating the “Perception of the School Reputation, Sporting and Extra-Curricular Activities”. The results showed that almost 50% of the total student population participate in some form of extra-curricular physical activity. This has a significant impact on school life and creates a positive school experience for those students. This exemplary practice illustrates the vision of the school in developing its position within the community.
There is a good range of facilities to support the teaching and learning of Physical Education. These include a large sports hall, complete with gymnastics wall bars and a large storeroom. The storeroom is well stocked and maintained with all items easily accessible. In addition to the indoor facilities, the school has two outdoor hard-court areas and a small grass area that is primarily used for athletics. These are exceptionally valuable resources to support the range of outdoor activities on the syllabuses. However, the hard court areas are in need of refurbishment and the various court markings need to be repainted. The presence of algae on the surface of the courts may render them unplayable due to health and safety reasons particularly during the winter and early spring. It is recommended that the school seek to refurbish the surface on these courts to optimise their deployment throughout the academic year.
The Physical Education department undertakes an annual equipment and resources audit. As a result of this audit, the subject coordinator plans for the purchase of replacement items, new equipment and additional resources. A clear system of procurement exists with management facilitating the purchase of any items on a needs basis. It is reported that this system is working well. Any equipment in need of repair is listed and attended to as expediently as possible.
There is a good range of extra-curricular activities provided in the school including, athletics, badminton, basketball, soccer and golf. These activities are organised and coached by the Physical Education teachers, additional staff members and some external coaches. All members of the school community who devote their free time to the promotion of sport and physical activity amongst students are to be highly commended. The school has enjoyed notable success in many of the sports provided. The provision and promotion of these extra-curricular activities has many benefits for students, including positive socialisation, development of confidence and laying the foundation for a life-long interest in sport and health-related physical activity.
Management and staff of the school are to be highly commended for arranging subsidised lunches for students, which is supported by the Health Services Executive. Lunches consist of a fresh sandwich, fruit juice and a piece of fruit at a minimal cost to students. This initiative enhances and complements the physical activity culture in promoting an awareness of the components of physical wellbeing. Additionally, the Physical Education department organises a health and fitness week every second year to promote positive health-related behaviour. This is highly commended and the Physical Education department is encouraged to make this an annual event if possible.
Management facilitates formal subject department planning meetings on three occasions throughout the year. These meetings usually take place during dedicated times prior to parent-teacher meetings. The subject coordinator documents and records all items discussed in keeping with good practice. The Physical Education department also meets informally to discuss any issues as needs arise. Communication amongst members of the Physical Education department and senior management is open and effective.
The school is currently implementing the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus and has developed a comprehensive subject plan. This plan has been formulated through reflection and collaborative departmental effort. Many of the recommendations of the junior cycle Physical Education support service have been adopted to develop the subject plan. The plan includes a framework for each year group illustrating the placement of activity blocks throughout the year. Short-term units of work support each activity block and outlines the content for each lesson. This is good detailed planning. It is recommended that the department build on this content planning to expand each unit of work to include the desired learning outcomes, the range of teaching and learning methodologies best suited to the activity and some possible modes of assessment.
Planning for students with special educational needs in Physical Education is noteworthy. The school actively promotes the concept of inclusion. The Physical Education department identifies students with moderate learning disabilities who are capable of participating in mainstream Physical Education lessons. These students, in addition to their own Physical Education lessons, are included in some classes per week with their age-matched peers. Teachers discuss the abilities of each of these students and the benefits of being included in the mainstream class. Strategies that promote successful inclusion are developed and this is highly commended. Arrangements have been made to timetable both of the classes for students with moderate learning disabilities together for Physical Education to facilitate team-teaching. Activities and blocks of learning are planned that account for differentiation in rates of progression and achievement. The organisation and enthusiasm to adopt teaching styles and methodologies to ensure that each of these students makes progress in the subject are laudable.
The Physical Education department has included the scheduling of trampolining as part of its programme of activities. It is reported that every reasonable precaution is taken during the teaching of this activity to ensure the health and safety of the participants. However, the Physical Education department is directed to consult with the position paper of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (USA, 2002) entitled Use of Trampolines and Mini Tramps in Physical Education. In this paper, it is recommended “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 is followed. It is recommended that the Physical Education department review their own safety guidelines on the use of trampolines, to ensure that they are in line with international best practice.
The Transition Year plan includes many activities that are appropriate to the spirit and ethos of the programme, including bowling, self-defence, swimming and golf. Additionally, trips to an outdoor education centre are included in the plan, as well as guest speakers on a variety of relevant topics. Securing access to a swimming pool has presented problems for the Physical Education department as they only require one hour per week for ten to twelve weeks per year. To overcome this obstacle, the school has collaborated with two other neighbouring schools to block book one hour for the duration of the school year. Each school then rotates access to the swimming pool on an agreed basis. This is exemplary planning practice that is cost effective, as well as providing for the needs of the students in learning a lifelong skill. Modes of assessment are also planned for TY, which are specific to each of the activities and include certification at the completion of each block. This is also commendable practice.
A health and safety statement is included in the subject plan and outlines procedures in the event of an accident, considerations for safe participation in Physical Education lessons and during extra-curricular activities. An annual audit of all equipment is conducted to determine its suitability for continued use. The health and safety document also includes reference to the importance for teachers of raising students’ awareness of health and safety risks associated with each activity. This is very good practice.
Planning for extra-curricular activities is highly commendable. The Physical Education department has developed a position for a Games Captain, who is given responsibility to oversee many of the activities catered for by the school. Applicants wishing to be considered for this position are interviewed and once appointed, assume the position of chairperson of the games committee. Each sport nominates its own captain who then becomes a member of the eight-person games committee. As well as assisting in organising lunchtime and after school activities, the games committee is involved in some fund-raising such as organising sponsored walks and staff versus students basketball matches. This innovative initiative is very laudable as it empowers students with real responsibilities and actively supports them in developing organisation, administrative, communication and leadership skills.
There is a very good quality of teaching and learning in Physical Education in this school. All lessons visited were well prepared and this prior preparation ensured the efficient commencement of lessons. An effective system of recording student attendance and participation in preparation for lessons promoted adherence to the established code of behaviour. During this time, students were questioned about the content of the previous lessons and were instructed on the topics of the present lesson. This good practice helped to focus students and provide them with tangible goals to be attained by the end of the lesson. Students who were unable to participate in the physical activities were assigned duties such as assisting with the set-up of equipment, timing and monitoring of peers. This is good practice as it ensures that all students are actively engaged in the lesson, either physically or cognitively.
Topics covered in lessons visited during the inspection included, health-related fitness, volleyball and basketball. All lessons were well structured and paced to suit the abilities of the students. Students were thoroughly warmed-up prior to engaging in more vigorous physical activity. In some cases, there was good use of references to the muscle groups and joint actions associated with each exercise and students were questioned on their knowledge of this information. A strong commitment to questioning was evident and students were eager in their responses. It is recommended that teachers address questions to named students to avoid blanket responses.
In all cases, teaching points related to the technical execution of skills were appropriate and informative. This ensured that students acquired an understanding of the techniques for successful acquisition of the focused skill. A combination of demonstration and questioning was effectively used to highlight the main points of learning for students. This good practice ensured that students had definite reference points from which to build their competency. In one case, a flip chart was used to highlight the main points of each phase of the lesson. The main findings of students’ heart-rate response to the assigned physical activity tasks were highlighted. This is very good practice and it is recommended that a method be developed to ensure that students retain this valuable information. Additionally, such information could be recorded on computer, plotted during class and displayed using a data-projector. Other tools, such as digital video, may also be of benefit when teaching new techniques, especially related to the acquisition of discrete skills.
In another lesson observed, teachers were very effective in team-teaching a group of students with moderate learning disabilities. Special needs assistants (SNAs) were also fully engaged in participating with their students to help with the class activities. The pace, selection of activities and methodologies observed in this lesson were appropriate in ensuring a very enjoyable and successful lesson, where students showed excellent progression in their learning. It is highly commendable that all adults present in the lesson participated fully and demonstrated good knowledge of each student’s ability. Clear efforts were made to differentiate for the needs of these students and some students were assisted in following their own individual programme. Progression through the activities was excellent from the development of simple individual passing and shooting drills to more dynamic small group drills and applying these skills in a full game. Students demonstrated a high active involvement and showed very good application of learning.
A positive working atmosphere was evidenced in all lessons, where students were afforded individual attention when required. This was always given in a manner sensitive to the needs of the student. Teachers demonstrated a very good knowledge of students’ needs and abilities and a firm and affirming approach to classroom leadership led to effective student behaviour. Student-teacher rapport was very positive and respectful, which contributed to a productive learning environment and is to be commended. Students were attentive and interested in participating in the activities and displayed good teamwork when assigned to work in groups. The facilities and resources were well used in the lessons, which ensured that all students were actively engaged throughout. Safety points were given and attention to student adherence of these points was stressed throughout the lessons, which is commendable.
Attendance and participation levels are recorded for all lessons in keeping with good practice. These records are used to create a profile of students’ participation rates in class. This information is used to inform the Physical Education department of any issues affecting participation and is regularly reviewed. This is commendable practice and is exemplified by the use of this information to change the timetabling arrangements for junior cycle Physical Education.
Reports are sent home twice per year at Christmas and summer. Comments informing parents of students’ progress in Physical Education are included in these reports. Additionally the Physical Education teachers are available at all parent-teacher meetings to discuss students’ progress in the subject. This good practice ensures that parents see Physical Education as an important component of the curriculum.
Transition Year students are awarded a grade for Physical Education on the completion of each module. These grades are based on participation, effort and progress made during the module. Grades awarded are categorised as merit, distinction or pass. Transition Year students are also assessed by external agencies on completion of certification courses in self-defence and first-aid. Efforts to develop a meaningful and informative assessment process are commended. It is recommended that the Physical Education department examine the use of the new assessment methodologies available through the junior cycle Physical Education support service.
Students demonstrated an engaging and active involvement in all Physical Education lessons and seem to be progressing well in Holy Child Community School.
The following are the main strengths 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.