An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta


Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Mercy Secondary School,

Goldenbridge, Dublin 8

Roll number: 60872A


Date of inspection: 10 May 2007

Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007





Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations





Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education



Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mercy Secondary School, Goldenbridge. 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 the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher.


Subject provision and whole school support


Mercy Secondary School is a voluntary secondary school for girls with a current enrolment of 189 students. The school offers a range of curricular programmes to cater for the educational needs of its students including the Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Transition Year (TY), established Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA).


Physical Education is a core subject on the timetable for all students. The time allocation to students in the TY programme is one afternoon per week, which is in line with recommended practice as it facilitates the planning and organisation of a range of on-site and off-site activities. Students following the LCA programme receive one double period per week as recommended for the study of the Leisure and Recreation syllabus. First-year students are provided with a single period of Physical Education per week and receive an additional three periods per week for half the year, to facilitate an aquatics module. In second, third, fifth and sixth year, the time allocation for the subject is significantly below the Department of Education and Science recommendations as outlined in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools. Furthermore, single period lessons place significant restrictions on students’ potential for in-depth study and practical experience of the subject. It is recommended that the timetable allocation be reviewed to provide for a minimum of one double period per week for all students, with management working towards increasing the provision for the subject in line with the recommendations of the Department.


The school employs one qualified Physical Education teacher who is responsible for the planning, development and implementation of the subject in the school. Management is fully supportive of continuing professional development and a range of inservice courses related to Physical Education have been attended including inservice for the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus, for the LCA Leisure and Recreation syllabus and for the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). Participation in such a range of courses is highly commendable as it ensures that the Physical Education department is familiar with best practice in the subject to meet the needs of the diversity of students in the school.


The facilities in the school are adequate to support the delivery of a comprehensive Physical Education programme and consist of a small sports hall, an outdoor hard court area and a small grass pitch. It is highly commendable that the Physical Education department has sourced and purchased a range of cardio-vascular exercise machines and has established a health related fitness suite in the school. This initiative is exemplary as the health-related exercise facility provides students with the opportunity to learn the intrinsic value of engagement in self-paced, self-monitored physical activity. A range of informative exercise posters are displayed on the wall and serve as a good reference guide for students to monitor their exercise intensity and duration. The storeroom is well maintained and a good range of equipment and resources has been acquired to facilitate teaching of all strands of the syllabuses. The acquisition of resources is supported through a requisition system on a needs basis. This was reported to work well and management expressed the view that the Physical Education department is diligent when deciding the need for additional equipment.


A health and fitness week is a valuable fixture on the school’s calendar and collaboration with other subject areas, such as Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Home Economics, to support this initiative is highly commended. The school is commended for establishing links with some sports providers in the community and for supporting the provision of extra-curricular sports and physical activities in the school. However, the range of extra-curricular physical activities and their provision are restricted due to a limited number of people available to organise, coach and supervise these activities. The school has recently established links with a local soccer club to provide some coaching for the students in this sport and plans to extend similar club links to other sporting organisations in the community, which is commendable. It is highly commendable that the Physical Education department provides a range of leisure and recreation activities one afternoon per week to facilitate students who wish to participate in physical activities in a non-competitive environment. The school is encouraged to conduct a whole school review of the provision, support and value of physical activity and sport as part of the culture of the school. The extension of the community links and expansion of the personnel involved in the provision of extra-curricular physical activities and sports are encouraged.



Planning and preparation


There was clear evidence that the Physical Education department has worked hard to develop the subject in the school. The school has engaged with subject planning as part of the school development planning process. Formal subject planning meetings are arranged for all staff three times per year. The Physical Education department also liaises informally with other subject departments to plan for the organisation of a variety of whole school events, such as an annual health and fitness week and sports day. Furthermore, it is highly commendable that planning meetings take place with the Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator and with the learning-support co-ordinator to discuss and plan for the needs of students who may require additional assistance. The recording of proceedings and proposed actions arising from these meetings is good practice.


Good detailed planning documents were produced to support the teaching and learning of Physical Education during the inspection. Each activity module is supported by schemes of work that identify the learning outcomes, content, appropriate teaching and learning methods and resources required. The use of the planning framework recommended by the junior cycle Physical Education support service is commended and this has led to the production of a comprehensive programme. However, the depth of experience attainable by students given the current timetable restrictions is limited and therefore these plans may be aspirational without the support of increased timetable provision. The Physical Education department is encouraged to plan for as many of the strands of the syllabus as possible, whilst ensuring that each module is studied in sufficient depth to be of relevance to the students. This may require a reduction in the number of activities within each strand, whilst ensuring that each module is studied in greater detail to achieve successful learning of the relevant physical, cognitive and affective outcomes.


Planning for the senior cycle Physical Education programme involves a survey of student preferences from a list of possible modules. This is good practice as it empowers students with a sense of ownership of their Physical Education programme and may increase participation rates in activities of relevance to these students. The TY Physical Education programme is well structured and includes a range of leisure and recreation activities, such as pitch and putt and bowling as well as modules in aquatics, health related activity, horse-riding and orienteering. It is commendable that the TY programme aims to highlight the range of leisure and recreation physical activities that students have access to in their local area. This is good practice as students learn how to access and participate in these activities. Planning for the organisation and delivery of these activities is commendable.


Some useful resources have been sourced and developed to support each unit of work of the Physical Education programme and the continued expansion of these is encouraged. There has been some good use of relevant websites to acquire information to support each unit of study. In addition, a range of worksheets has been developed to include all students in the Physical Education process, including those who may be unable to participate in the physical activities. Students who follow the LCA programme use the internet to access information and use the school’s computers to write up their assignments. This good practice engages students in independent learning, which is commendable. It is recommended that the Physical Education department identify opportunities for the further use of information and communication technology, especially digital video, and plan for its inclusion when practical.


It is suggested that the school develop a structured network to support a physical activity culture in the school. Several international research studies have shown the many benefits that accrue to schools when a positive physical activity culture is fostered and supported. These include improved retention rates, lower incidence of challenging behaviour and improved academic attainment.


Teaching and learning


There is a good standard of teaching and learning in Physical Education in this school. Students were expedient in their preparation for the lesson and some students assisted with laying out the equipment required for the planned activities, which is good practice. Effective prior preparation ensured that the lesson commenced without delay which optimised the time available for teaching and learning. The topic of the lesson visited was circuit training, which aimed to integrate concepts of health-related fitness and the development of basketball skills. The purpose and content of the lesson were outlined to the students at the start, which helped students to understand the rationale of the lesson and its placement in the context of previous learning. Students had studied basketball as an invasion game in previous lessons and the objective of this lesson was to experience one method of fitness training to improve performance to play the game of basketball.  


There was good use of demonstration to illustrate the appropriate techniques for each exercise of the circuit. This good practice ensured that the content and requirements of the lesson were clearly explained and opportunities for clarification were presented to the students. Good practice was observed when students were given the opportunity to monitor some basic bio-indicators such as heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature prior to engaging in the warm-up activities. Students demonstrated good familiarity with the process of measuring heart rates and clearly understood the relevance of their results. This exercise effectively set the context for students to compare the effect of the circuit training on their physiological state and skill performance. Warm-up activities began with gentle mobility exercises followed by stretching activities. Opportunities were effectively used to question students’ understanding of basic anatomy during this phase of the lesson and students demonstrated a good knowledge of the various joints and muscles being stretched.


Classroom management and organisation of the participating students were very effective and these students responded promptly to requests. The structure of the lesson was very good and was accurately paced to suit the short duration of the single period. There was a strong commitment to ensuring that physical activity levels were high, although students would have benefited from more time to help consolidate some of the very important concepts of the lesson. The circuit training exercises were well structured and it is commendable that each exercise was presented with beginner, intermediate and advanced degrees of difficulty to accommodate students of varying levels of ability. However, students should also be advised to work at their own intensity when performing these exercises to avoid one person imposing too much of a competitive element on their partner.


Questioning was very effective when used to help students identify the effects of exercise on their physical state as well as on their ability to perform the specific basketball skills under fatigued conditions. It is commendable that questions were targeted to individuals and differentiated to suit the ability level of the student. It is recommended that a greater emphasis be placed on ensuring that students can identify and differentiate the specific components of general physical fitness such as aerobic endurance, joint range of motion, muscular strength and muscular endurance and those more specific to performance such as speed, coordination and agility. This will ensure that students will be able to distinguish between the mode and intensity of exercise and its relationship to health and physical wellbeing or to performance in sports.


A positive atmosphere was evident in the lesson and students were regularly encouraged and praised for their efforts at each of the tasks. There was good evidence of a caring approach to the students and there was a respectful student-teacher rapport in all interactions. There is a need to implement strategies for the greater inclusion of students who are unable to participate physically in the lesson. It is recommended that some of the strategies, as outlined in the subject plan, be deployed to determine their effectiveness in maintaining the involvement of these students in the Physical Education process.  


The lesson concluded with a cool-down activity, which is commendable as the circuits were performed at a very high level of intensity. It is unfortunate that the time available was too short to consolidate students’ understanding of this very important component of a high intensity physical activity session.  





Comprehensive records of attendance and participation are maintained for each Physical Education class. Formal reports are sent home to parents twice per year at Christmas and summer and comments on students’ progress in Physical Education are included in these reports. In addition, the availability of the Physical Education department at parent-teacher meetings for each year group is commendable.


Questioning is regularly used in lessons to determine students’ level of understanding and progress in Physical Education. Furthermore a variety of modes of assessment are used, with students following the range of curriculum programmes provided by the school. In junior cycle the use of the relevant JCSP statements ( provides comprehensive information regarding the modules completed and the level of attainment achieved in each of the activities. Students following the LCA programme complete key assignments related to their studies in the Leisure and Recreation module and this forms the basis of their assessment. Students in Transition Year are graded on the completion and presentation of their portfolio, part of which contains reports relevant to work completed in Physical Education.


Other modes of assessment are used to determine the level of progress and learning in the junior and senior cycle including skill-based assessment such as the First Badminton Certificate and the “Sunny Delight” skill-based levels in basketball. It is recommended that modes of assessment which can be applied to help create a student portfolio of learning be developed. Some of these methods are outlined in detail on Self and peer-assessment and the completion of rich tasks help to engage students in their learning. Self analysis and the application of pre-determined criteria provide the basis for students to monitor their progression of learning in Physical Education. The compilation of a portfolio of learning will assist the Physical Education department in determining the level of the student’s engagement and attainment in learning and provide more informed comment to parents.


Students responded well to questions and demonstrated an understanding of the concepts of the lesson observed.



Summary of main findings and recommendations


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 teacher 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.