An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Thomastown, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 70640I
Date of inspection: 16 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Grennan 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 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Grennan College is a co-educational school under the trusteeship of County Kilkenny Vocational Education Committee (VEC) and caters for the educational needs of 200 second-level students. Physical Education is a core subject on the timetable for all students, but the current arrangements at junior cycle impose many restrictions on the breadth and depth at which the subject may be studied. Students in junior cycle receive one double period of Physical Education per fortnight, a situation that impacts on the range of learning experiences and the coherence of the programme due to the time interval between lessons. It is recommended that management review the current timetable arrangement for these students and provide for the subject in line with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools.
Transition Year (TY) students receive one double period of Physical Education per week, whilst an additional three periods per week are block timetabled to accommodate a range of on-site and off-site activities, many of which involve physical activities. This is exemplary provision. Students in Leaving Certificate receive one double period of Physical Education per week, which is adequate for the implementation of a balanced Physical Education programme.
Management is fully supportive of the continuing professional development of teachers and the Physical Education department has attended inservice for the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus. The implementation of this syllabus is a valuable contribution to the educational experience of junior cycle students but should be supported by adequate timetable provision, as outlined in circular M15/05. The Physical Education department consists of two teachers, one of whom holds recognised qualifications to teach the subject. It is recommended that teachers be deployed only in the subjects for which they hold recognised qualifications in line with best practice.
The school has no suitable indoor facilities for Physical Education but is highly commended for its efforts to support the provision of a comprehensive programme. A prefabricated classroom is dedicated to the subject and the Physical Education department uses this facility to provide modules in gymnastics, dance and health-related activity. In addition, a large indoor equestrian centre attached to the college may be accessed to provide modules in invasion games. The school has also hired a local community hall in the past but this has now been closed for health and safety reasons. The external facilities include one basketball court, one tennis court, a small five-a-side soccer court and a small grass area. The school has been proactive in its attempts to improve its range of facilities for Physical Education, sport and recreation. Plans are well advanced to develop a new pitch on neighbouring grounds, but the school has been unsuccessful to date in its application to the Department of Education and Science for a suitable indoor hall. Furthermore, the school provides a bus that is used extensively by the Physical Education department to access a range of facilities in the community. Despite the restraints imposed by the existing facilities, great credit is due to the Physical Education department and the school for their flexibility and adaptability in organising the Physical Education programme.
The school is commended for its extra-curricular programme and for ensuring its successful co-ordination. A balanced programme of activities is offered to accommodate as many students as possible and includes athletics, badminton, basketball, camógie, Gaelic football, horse-riding, hurling, soccer and volleyball. It is commendable that the range of activities strives to cater for students who may prefer to participate in either individual or team-based activities. To support the greater involvement of students who may not wish to participate in competitive sports, the school offers activities such as hip-hop dancing and this activity has been well received by the students. The organisation and implementation of daily lunchtime activities and leagues are highly commendable, as they contribute to a positive physical activity culture within the school and maximise the numbers of students involved. A large number of staff members are involved in the organisation, coaching and supervision of these activities, which is also highly commendable. It was reported by the co-ordinator of extra-curricular activities that there is good co-operation and collaboration between the school and local sports clubs. This synergy is mutually beneficial to the clubs and school as it provides clear links and pathways for students to further develop their talents and interests in their chosen activities.
It is also highly commendable that the school has embarked on the development of a healthy eating and healthy lifestyle programme to promote wellbeing amongst the school community. Arrangements have been made for the provision of a dedicated exercise room that will host a range of fitness equipment. It is anticipated that this additional facility will be available at the start of the next school year and will be used by students wishing to learn how to exercise and increase their physical activity levels. The Physical Education department also organises an annual sports day for all the students. All of these initiatives and events provide a valuable contribution to the culture of physical activity established in the school and all involved in their development and support are highly commended.
The school has engaged with subject planning as part of the school development planning process. Formal subject planning meetings are scheduled twice per year and regular informal meetings take place between members of the Physical Education department, one of whom acts as subject co-ordinator. Records of planning meetings are maintained and indicate that the issues discussed are relevant to the development of the subject.
Detailed plans have been developed for Physical Education and were presented during the inspection. It is commendable that the subject plan includes a rationale for Physical Education on the school curriculum and is linked to the school’s mission statement. Long term planning for the subject includes a five year plan that outlines the development of the subject including the phased introduction of the revised junior cycle syllabus, the issues and strategies addressing assessment and the identification of continuing professional needs. A section of the subject plan addresses the inclusion of students with special educational needs. This section is well developed and outlines a system of identifying and supporting these students, which is to be commended. It is recommended that, in addition to the areas identified, the Physical Education department expand the subject plan to include the development of resources to take account of other students who, for various reasons, may be unable to participate in the practical physical activities of lessons. In addition, attention should also focus on documenting the teaching and learning strategies appropriate to each module of activity. The use of information and communication technology (ICT), especially digital video, may enhance the learning experience of students and should be included in the teaching and learning section of relevant schemes of work.
Planning for the introduction of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus is well advanced and a comprehensive programme is well structured following the guidelines recommended by the junior cycle Physical Education support service (www.jcpe.ie). All strands of the syllabus are included and structured to improve learning incrementally over the three years of the junior cycle.
There is a range of activity modules planned for Transition Year (TY) that adds variety and interest to the Physical Education programme. Among these are equestrian activities, orienteering, aquatics and rowing. These modules are well planned and the school avails of facilities in the community and its environs such as the Grennan Equestrian Centre, Woodstock Gardens, James Stephen’s Leisure Complex and Graiguenamanagh Rowing Club. In addition, links with other local clubs such as Thomastown GAA and Coolwagon Soccer Club have been forged and the use of their facilities is included in the Physical Education plan.
It is commendable that a module of invasion games in the senior cycle plan includes resources developed by a number of students to support teaching and learning. These resources aim to assist students to learn the tactical application of key concepts of invasion games involved in playing the game of basketball. This approach to resource development is highly commendable as it provides students with a sense of ownership of the learning process. The senior cycle Physical Education plan is predominantly games focused, with some emphasis on health-related physical activity. Whilst games may form a significant portion of the Physical Education programme, activities should be balanced between those that promote lifelong involvement in physical activity and sport and those that have a predominantly competitive focus. It is recommended that some thought be given to restructuring the senior cycle plan to expand the range of practical experiences across as many strands of the syllabus as possible. In addition strategies should be deployed to enable students to become self-directed learners.
It is highly commendable that assessment has been given considerable attention and that a detailed approach has been outlined in the subject plan. It is especially commendable that the Physical Education department has planned for the introduction of an assessment booklet that will inform students of their learning as they progress through the Physical Education programme. It is suggested that the Physical Education department ensure that this booklet and associated modes of assessment, document students’ progression and reflect the attainment of key learning outcomes.
The acquisition of resources takes place through the school requisition process and materials are provided upon request as needs arise. Management reported that this system works well. Planning for health and safety in Physical Education is exemplary with a regular audit conducted to identify potential hazards. Steps are clearly identified to reduce the probability of an accident and to minimise the potential danger to participants in Physical Education lessons and the physical activity environment.
Lessons began promptly with the teacher recording attendance and participation and introducing the topic of the lesson. In the lessons visited, the topics covered were tag-rugby and rowing. Warm-up activities consisted of mobility and stretching exercises and, in all cases, questioning was used to good effect to identify the key points of correct technique and to identify the targeted joints and muscle groups. Once the warm-up was completed, students were introduced to the drills and activities of the lesson. Whilst this is good practice, it is recommended that teachers also identify the key concepts or intended learning outcomes and share these with the students at the beginning of the lesson. This will help ensure that students are aware of where their focus should lie during the lesson and provide attainable targets for their learning.
Individual lessons were well structured and paced appropriate to the ability level and time available. Students who participated in the practical activities were actively engaged throughout. There is some scope for the development and use of resources such as worksheets, task cards and peer-review forms to engage those students who are unable to participate in the practical activities of the lesson. These resources may also be used by participating students as a means of reinforcing and recording learning whilst giving them an opportunity to rest and reflect in between activities.
The rowing lesson took place in a nearby rowing club on the river Barrow and the water-based aspects of the lesson were taught by members of the rowing club. Details of the module were presented to the inspector and were developed in collaboration between the Physical Education department and the rowing club. Two rowing ergometers were located in the clubhouse and were used for technique training. Students were set tasks to complete based on targets for stroke efficiency, stroke power and distance covered on the rowing ergometers while they waited for their opportunity to apply this learning on the water. This is commendable practice as it provides students with the opportunity to learn the technical aspects of rowing skills including the effects of technique on the boat. The transfer and application of this learning on the water provided students with a good understanding of basic hydrodynamics. It is recommended that opportunities be used by the teacher to integrate aspects of health-related fitness, such as aerobic endurance and muscular endurance with this activity. The organisation and use of the rowing club facilities and resources in addition to the involvement of the club members to assist in the teaching and learning process is exemplary practice. The team approach to teaching worked well in this situation.
Demonstrations were effective in providing good criterion references for students in the execution of skill-based drills for tag-rugby. The purpose and quality of the focused drills were appropriate for the development of the key skills of passing, receiving, positioning and pace as they relate to the game. However in some cases, the management of the drills would have benefited from some re-organisation to allow for continuity and to avoid unnecessary queueing. Key teaching points were effectively given to guide students’ understanding of the requirements of the skill-based drills and these yielded good improvements in the quality of students’ movement.
There was a very positive atmosphere in all lessons. Students were respectful of each other and their teachers and responded to all requests promptly and in an orderly manner. In some cases, there was very good affirmation of individual students and this was well received and appreciated by these students. Learners demonstrated a high level of involvement and participation in their lessons and appeared to have a good level of motor skills. Students were knowledgeable of the technical aspects of the activities such as equipment, rules and techniques. However, teachers are encouraged to expand this knowledge at a higher cognitive level of application, analysis and evaluation.
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. At present comments to parents are based on participation and it is recommended that the introduction of the assessment models outlined in the subject plan be deployed as soon as possible. This will ensure that parents and students receive informed feedback on the quality and depth of learning that has taken place. To this end the assessment booklet may contain modes of assessment which can be applied to help create a student portfolio of learning such as self and peer-assessment and the completion of rich tasks. Further information regarding these modes of assessment and their application may be obtained on www.jcpe.ie. The completion of the assessment booklet will assist the Physical Education department in determining the level of the student’s engagement and attainment in learning and provide more informed comments to parents.
The availability of the Physical Education department at parent-teacher meetings for each year group is commendable.
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.