An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Clongowes Wood College

Clane, County Kildare

Roll number: 61720F


Date of inspection: 20 November 2007

Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008






Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report




Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education



Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Clongowes Wood College. 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 two days 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.  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.


Subject provision and whole school support


Clongowes Wood College is a boarding school for boys. The school has a long tradition of involvement in sport, particularly rugby, and promotes and supports the participation of every student in all aspects of sporting life in the school. The residential status of the school, the available facilities and the support structures to promote high quality teaching and coaching, ensure that students are provided with an optimal environment to pursue their physical activity and sporting interests.


Physical Education is a core subject on the junior cycle curriculum and the Transition Year (TY) programme in the school. First-year, second-year and TY students receive one double period of Physical Education per week and third-year students receive one single period of Physical Education per week. Notwithstanding the curriculum pressures at junior cycle, it is recommended that the timetable arrangements for third years be reviewed to provide for a minimum of a double period per week. This will facilitate the full implementation of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus as outlined in circular M15/05, and afford students sufficient time to engage fully with the subject matter. The evidence from observing a single period is that it is not sufficient to allow for in-depth engagement with the practical exploration of the key concepts of the lessons.


It is regrettable that Leaving Certificate students do not have access to any Physical Education. All students are involved to some extent in the co-curricular sports programme and this involvement more than meets their weekly physical activity needs. However, students should be afforded the opportunity, through the formal curriculum, to develop a full and complete understanding of their physical functionality and the factors that underpin engagement in physical activity, exercise and sport. A comprehensive Physical Education programme aims to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes for lifelong involvement in physical activity, exercise and sport. It is recommended that the school reflects on its provision as part of its next curriculum review and works toward providing quality Physical Education for all students in line with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science, Rules & Programmes for Secondary Schools.


The Physical Education department consists of three fully qualified teachers. One member of the subject department takes the majority of Physical Education lessons with the remaining three classes shared between the other two teachers. It is recommended that management review the timetabling of its Physical Education teachers to achieve a balance, where possible, between their deployment to teach Physical Education and their elective subjects. This will ensure that all members of the Physical Education department remain skilled in each of the strands of the syllabus, which will also further their professional development in the subject. Management is fully supportive of the continuing professional development of its staff and it is commendable that the Physical Education department has participated in the in-service programme for the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus and the recent Action for Life programme. In addition, the school has been proactive in seeking to advance its own practice and has availed of the services of the regional development officer for Physical Education to support the implementation of the revised syllabus in the school. This is highly commended.


The school has a vast range of facilities at its disposal to support Physical Education, sport and physical activity. These include a floodlit Astroturf pitch, ten rugby pitches, a soccer pitch, a Gaelic football pitch, a nine-hole golf course, a cricket crease, a grass track with accompanying pavilion, a long-jump pit, two throwing circles for athletics, nine hard-court tennis courts, a small indoor heated swimming pool, a large sports hall and a small fitness gym fully equipped with a range of resistance equipment. Whilst the indoor facilities are fully functional and very well maintained, the school has ambitious plans to develop a new high-specification sports complex, complete with indoor sports hall, swimming pool, fitness suite, changing rooms, and classrooms. These plans are highly commendable and indicate the status afforded to sport in the school.


A very good range of resources and equipment are available to support teaching and learning in Physical Education. The budget system for Physical Education was reported to work well and supports the provision of all items of equipment and resources for the subject. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is well advanced in the school and is integrated into the teaching and learning process in Physical Education. The sports hall is broadband enabled and this facility, coupled with a data projector and laptop, increases the level of interactivity possible with the various topics of study. In addition, access to a classroom with smart-board technology provides an excellent facility to enable students to develop their movement analysis skills. The Clongowes Wood College moodle site provides an exemplary virtual learning community, where students can access home tasks, view reference material and download assignments.


Detailed attention has been paid to health and safety issues in the school. Regular risk-analysis audits are conducted to ensure that all facilities and items of equipment are fully functional. Clear systems are in place for reporting and recording should any accident or sports injury occur. The school provides a full-time medical service and a part-time physiotherapy service to treat and provide rehabilitation for any injuries, the majority of which arise on the playing fields. This level of detail and care to provide a safe learning environment and to ensure student wellbeing is highly commended.


Sport plays a significant role in the life of Clongowes Woods College. Students have developed a strong sense of identity, community and sportsmanship through their involvement in the sports programme and spoke very highly of its provision, support and organisation during the inspection. The school prepares students to compete in rugby, soccer, Gaelic football, cross-country running, track and field athletics, tennis, basketball and golf. The winter term is mostly devoted to preparation and participation in rugby and it is commendable that every student is facilitated to participate at a level commensurate with his ability. In addition, a number of activities are provided at a recreational level such as swimming, indoor and outdoor soccer, orienteering, hill-walking and golf. This is commendable as it provides students, who may not be competitively orientated, with ample opportunities to engage in some form of physical activity for its intrinsic value.


The post of games master is well developed and there is detailed planning and coordination for the provision of the co-curricular sports programme. Teachers wishing to become involved in coaching any of the sports provided for are facilitated to undertake certified courses, whilst existing coaches are encouraged to pursue further coaching certifications. In addition, there is close monitoring of all students’ participation, physical development and performance. The coordination, coach education structures and monitoring of students are exemplary. It is particularly noteworthy that the school recently conducted an analysis of the co-curricular sports programme and this level of self reflection is highly commended.


Planning and preparation


Subject planning for Physical Education is well advanced in Clongowes Wood College. Members of the Physical Education department meet formally twice per year in addition to regular informal meetings to discuss all aspects of subject provision. Records of meetings are maintained and illustrate the commitment to quality planning and preparation undertaken by the Physical Education department. A senior member of the Physical Education department acts as the subject coordinator in a voluntary capacity and takes responsibility for organising meetings, liaising with senior management and for the acquisition of resources and equipment, as well as other budgetary items. The subject is very well coordinated and organised in the school. To ensure that all teachers gain experience from the role of coordinator and to share the responsibility equitably it is recommended that this position be rotated on a regular basis.


A good collaborative rapport exists within the Physical Education department and teachers have collectively produced a comprehensive subject plan. It is highly commendable that a mission statement specific to Physical Education has been developed and informs the aims of the Physical Education programme. The core section of the subject plan provides details of the curriculum allocation, teacher allocation and organisational aspects that support the implementation of the Physical Education programme for each year group. The plan also includes cross-curricular links to subjects such as Geography, Science, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), ICT and Gaeilge, and addresses inclusion of students with special educational needs (SEN), teaching and learning and assessment strategies.


It is commendable that the planning framework developed by the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service has been adopted and this provides a clear overview of the programme content for each year group. Detailed attention has been devoted to the development of this content plan and all strands of the syllabus are catered for at junior cycle. The plan ensures that the use of all of the available facilities and resources are optimised and that students develop a good degree of competency in each of the activity strands over the three-year cycle.


The TY Physical Education programme is well planned with a clear rationale that aims to empower students with the knowledge and skills to become independent learners. There are very good opportunities planned for TY students to learn about the relationships between physical activity and physical health and wellbeing, as well as human performance for sport. The TY Physical Education plan includes modules on the principles of physical conditioning, physiological assessments, posture and biomechanics and skill-related fitness. In addition, students undertake a certified course in first-aid incorporating cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the prevention and treatment of sports injuries. The Physical Education department in collaboration with the TY coordinator run three dedicated “skills-weeks” interspersed throughout the year. During these weeks, students are provided with opportunities to participate in a range of onsite and off-site physical activities and to complete some preliminary coaching awards. External validation and certification of learning is good practice and in keeping with the ethos of the Transition Year programme. A residential week at an outdoor education centre is also planned as part of the TY Physical Education programme.


The school runs a programme entitled “social outreach”, which aims to provide opportunities for people with moderate to severe learning disabilities to avail of the college facilities one afternoon per week. TY students work with small groups or individuals in a range of activities including art, music, computers and a variety of sports. This is highly commended as the role of coaching facilitator, or teaching assistant, provides very valuable learning experiences for students to apply their knowledge and skills in helping people with a range of learning disabilities.


The Physical Education department has developed its own lesson plan template, which is used for each lesson within an activity block. The template identifies the learning outcomes, the criteria for success and how these are to be shared with students, as well as outlining the key tasks and class organisation. In addition, the template provides space for teachers to identify what went well, what could be improved and suggestions for future lesson plans. This is exemplary practice and the sharing of these post-lesson appraisals should further enhance this excellent reflective practice.


Planning for resources is well developed. The Physical Education department has gathered a substantial range of materials including relevant books, posters, handouts, charts, videos and DVDs. All of these are centrally stored in a dedicated office and can be accessed by all the Physical Education teachers. The Physical Education department has collated a list of useful websites that provide information, reference material and video clips related to effective teaching and learning in Physical Education. There is a vast array of equipment to support teaching and learning of all strands of the syllabus and management is to be commended for its generous provision and support in this regard.


Teaching and learning


There is a very good standard of teaching and learning of Physical Education in the school. All lessons observed followed a similar pattern of assembly, recording of participation and introduction to the lesson. In the lessons visited, the topics covered were gymnastics, athletics, resistance training and orienteering. All lessons were well planned and structured and teachers shared the learning intentions with their students at the outset. In some cases, the learning intentions were displayed on the board and this good practice helped students to remain focused on their learning throughout the lesson. A range of very effective teaching strategies was used to introduce students to the focus of the lessons. These included reviewing previous learning through the use of video analysis, discussion of the basic biomechanical aspects of javelin throwing from a website video and reviewing the fundamentals of map-reading. Effective questioning was an integral part of the introduction phase of all lessons. This good practice ensured that students were fully informed of the purpose and content of their lesson and had a good understanding of the criteria for successful learning.


The practical phases of lessons commenced with appropriate warm-up activities that were purposeful and related to the topics of study. Students displayed good levels of knowledge and understanding of the principles of warm-up through their responses to questions by their teachers and the manner in which they executed the techniques of each exercise. In one case, students were afforded the opportunity to undertake their own mobility exercises and most displayed a high level of maturity and technical competence. It was evident from this practice that students were well versed in taking responsibility and ownership of their own learning, which is highly commended. In all cases, health-related fitness principles were effectively integrated into the warm-up phases of the lessons, which is good practice as it helps students to associate physical activity with well-being as well as physical performance.


A variety of effective teaching strategies was observed in all lessons, including whole-class teaching, question and answer sessions, teacher and student-led demonstrations, pair and small group work. In all cases, clear instructions and explanations were given to support the correct execution of tasks or exercises. Task cards, posters and relevant web-based video clips were also used as resource materials to help promote student learning. Key teaching points were appropriately stressed to ensure that all exercises or tasks were performed safely. In some cases, useful discussions were held regarding the adverse effects of poor technical execution that lead to chronic sports injuries. Peer-review was also used in most lessons to promote learning. In such cases, students provided feedback to their partners regarding the quality of the observed performance, whether it was the performance of a sequence of movement in gymnastics, the technique of performing a resistance exercise or throwing the javelin. When using this strategy, it is important that students are fully aware of the key performance indicators that should be applied to critically analyse their peers. It is recommended that once feedback has been received, students are afforded additional opportunities to apply the critical analysis to improve their performance. In this way, learning will be consolidated for both the giver and receiver of the feedback.


The promotion of higher-order thinking through discussion, analysis and application in all of the lessons observed is highly commendable. In one case, students learned and demonstrated how to differentiate between exercising for physical health and well-being and training for performance through the manipulation of the load, volume and speed of contraction when performing resistance-based exercises. Students in gymnastics displayed a good level of creativity when combining basic body-management skills to construct and perform a sequence of movement. In addition, valuable learning opportunities were identified for students such as social development using communication and cooperation skills and practising patience, and tolerance of members of their group in orienteering. Very good cross-curricular approaches were observed that linked students’ learning in Science and Geography and applied this knowledge to the topic of their Physical Education lessons.


In all cases, the learning environment was well organised, respectful and affirming. Teachers have established a close rapport with their students and there were humorous exchanges in some instances that added positively to the learning atmosphere. Students who were unable to physically participate in lessons were assigned meaningful and related tasks. These tasks included peer review of performance, assisting small groups with their movement sequences and officiating. A caring, inclusive and supportive environment was evident in all lessons and this is highly commended.


Lessons concluded by recapping on the key points of the lessons and outlining the topics to be covered in the next lesson. Students expressed their enjoyment of their Physical Education lessons, were enthusiastic and knowledgeable in their responses to questioning and demonstrated a good command of the vocabulary related to human movement. Participation rates, physical work-rate and level of skill attainment were very good in all lessons observed.




Teachers maintain good records of students’ attendance, participation and engagement for each class group in Physical Education. Assessment takes place in all Physical Education lessons through question and answer sessions and observation of students’ engagement and progress with the set tasks. Assessment for learning approaches have been adopted by the Physical Education department to help promote student learning. Students complete a self-profile at the commencement of a new block of learning and complete a performance wheel to document their progression in the key concepts and skills of the focused activities. The use of these and other methods are examples of good practice as they help students to document their progress in Physical Education through the production of a portfolio of learning. Whilst good records are maintained for each class group, it is recommended that the system for retaining students’ portfolios be further developed. Individual folders, either hardcopy or electronic may be possible given the resources at the Physical Education department’s disposal.


Reporting to parents is frequent and exemplary. Parents receive written reports on their sons’ progress and achievement in Physical Education at Christmas and in the summer. In addition, headmaster or ‘diligence’ reports are made available to parents through the college website five times per year. These reports contain a mark for student engagement, cooperation and attitude as well as a grade for achievement. Physical Education teachers attend parent-teacher meetings, which are held once per year for each year group.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         Physical Education is a core subject for all students at junior cycle and in TY.

·         There are excellent facilities and resources available for Physical Education, school sport and physical activity.

·         All aspects related to the planning and preparation for Physical Education is of a very high standard. 

·         The college is implementing the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus.

·         Management is fully supportive of continuing professional development and the Physical Education teachers have been proactive in their own professional learning.

·         There is exemplary use of ICT as an integral component of the teaching and learning process in Physical Education.

·         There was a very good standard of teaching and learning in Physical Education observed in this school. Students’ learning was developed in a logical and incremental manner and in a caring, respectful and positive environment.

·         Lessons were purposeful, challenging and well structured and were paced commensurate with students’ age and ability.

·         Physical Education lessons promoted learning in the physical, cognitive, social and affective domains and facilitated students to be independent and responsible learners. 

·         Students observed were knowledgeable and enthusiastic in their Physical Education lessons and demonstrated a good command of vocabulary related to human movement.

·         There is exemplary provision, promotion, involvement and achievement in co-curricular sport and physical activities. 

·         Parents receive frequent reports detailing their son’s progress and achievement in Physical Education.


As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

·         It is recommended that the timetable arrangements for third year be reviewed to provide for a minimum of a double period per week to facilitate the full implementation of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus.  

·         It is recommended that the provision for Physical Education be extended to all students in the school in line with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science, Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools.

·         The role of Physical Education coordinator should be rotated on a regular basis between all members of the subject department.

·         When using peer-review, students should be afforded additional opportunities to apply the critical feedback received to improve their performance and consolidate learning.

·         It is recommended that the system for retaining students’ portfolios of learning in Physical Education be further developed.


Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physical Education, and with the deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed. The principal was also briefed on the draft findings and recommendations.










School Response to the Report


Submitted by the Board of Management







Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     


Reflecting the views of the three Physical Education teachers, the Board of Management is delighted with this report.